a curious Yankee in Europe's court

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Reading Barzun: decoding today’s headlines

Posted on the February 25th, 2010

This morning, I read in the New York Times that the banks who helped Greece hide its massive debt  may actually now be pushing the nation closer to the brink of financial ruin (“Banks Bet Greece Defaults on Debt They Helped Hide” Feb 24, 2010):

…credit-default swaps, effectively let banks and hedge funds wager on the financial equivalent of a four-alarm fire: a default by a company or, in the case of Greece, an entire country. If Greece reneges on its debts, traders who own these swaps stand to profit.

“It’s like buying fire insurance on your neighbor’s house — you create an incentive to burn down the house,” said Philip Gisdakis, head of credit strategy at UniCredit in Munich.

Crazy, right? Legal, oh yes. Perfectly. These days. (see here)

As I wrote about in an earlier post, I’m reading Jacques Barzun’s history of our past five hundred years (“FROM DAWN TO DECADENCE 1500 to the Present/500 Years of Western Cultural Life”).  Today, reading the Times story, I recalled something I just read in the Barzun book.

He is describing the 16th century Protestant Reformation,  a revolution against the widespread (Perfectly. Legal.) institutional decadence of the time:

The system was rotten. This had been said over and over; yet the old hulk was immovable. When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent. The term is not a slur; it is a technical label.

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