Via Mark J. Grant, author of Out of the Box,
“In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now.”
-George Elliot, Silas Marner
In the raging battle taking place in Europe between the haves and the have nots, the North and the South, those with money and those that are begging for it; there are moments when the calm sets in before the lightning strikes and the thunder booms. The silence is almost eerie and the air resonates with a certain kind of vibrant electricity that is somewhat reminiscent of Dickens and his Great Expectations which is what really seems to be driving the markets these days.
“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule.”
-Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
I happen to be in St. Tropez at the moment and I find myself in a similar state; a land of dreams where everything is bigger, grander and worth more than can possibly be imagined or counted. It is not just the cost of things but some inherent belief that more and more and more is coming and it is without limit forever and for always and to the end of time. Let France meander, let Europe dissolve; the property values will increase without limit and the Champagne will flow at Les Caves du Roy and Chateau Petrus will be available at every small café and each barge sailing up the Mediterranean contains Beluga caviar of such copious quantity that to even discuss a shortage would be blasphemy and a sin against God and no one engaging in polite conversation ever mentions some secret hesitation that it may, one day, run out.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
It is no wonder then that so many in Europe cannot imagine any change of significance. It is almost culturally impossible and it would be such a striking blow to the shared consciousness that it would be the ultimate disaster of having to turn to the Queen and ask for cake; not even la gateau St. Tropez, but actual cake. Sacre Bleu!
In fact the more thoughtful here speak in hushed tones, wonder aloud but quietly, if the dream is not going to turn from angelic floating near the gates of Heaven and be forced down to some darker place. The questions come slowly, “What does Hell look like, when might we arrive there, how hot does it get and is one likely to meet the Devil himself?” After thirty-eight years in the financial markets I can report that have seen the rascal more than once, that he is not a pleasant being and that the heat can be far hotter than what is experienced on these fabled beaches of France. “Will Greece be saved or tossed back into the cauldron, will Frau Merkel pay the ultimate political price for either playing the Savior or refusing to do so, will Spain and Italy begin the trek down the road of good intentions to finally meet Dante who awaits them at the end of the path and will the noble lands of the Sacred Kingdom stand or be split asunder once again in this European Game of Empires?”
I sit, like some mental practitioner of the Martial Arts, and wait. The ship upon which we sail is about to get battered because it must now, I am afraid. We can tack left or we can tack right but we are about to sail into the belly of it. The consequences of saving Greece and the addition of $50 billion in shared debt to rescue her comes with consequences that will either loudly echo within the walls of Berlin or within the walls of Athens but this is a Trojan horse than cannot be avoided no matter what path is chosen. Spain is preparing to beg because she must and it is only a question of on which street she stands and which corner will produce a larger or smaller amount of benefactors. Italy is pondering a similar fate and while not down to her last mouthful of sautéed calamari the pot is running thin.
The easy choices are now behind us and the hard choices are in front of us and wild speculations hanging upon the syllables uttered by Mr. Draghi may bring disastrous results. In a very real sense Ms. Merkel is going to be hanged if she does and hanged if she doesn’t and it is quite difficult to find a safe place to stand when on the platform where the noose and executioner resides. The present situation has one certainty, one block of bedrock upon which you may plant your feet and that is that a storm is coming; of that you may be sure. It may be Hell to pay with Greece or Hell to pay in the governing chambers of Berlin or Hell to pay with the other troubled nations of Europe but the storm, the Hellions at the gates, will be arriving in the next thirty to sixty days because real choices must now be made and real consequences will leap like Cerberus from those choices.
“Hell isn't merely paved with good intentions; it is walled and roofed with them.”