NEW YORK (Real Money) -- Maybe the talks aren't anything like we think they are. Maybe when these various ministers get together there is a much more common theme that doesn't leak out.
It goes like this. First, the Greeks pitch: "You can't afford to keep kicking this can down the road, so you can either crush those who own our bonds in euros or we will crush them in drachmas." In return, the Germans are saying: "You haven't done what we want and you get nothing."
In other words, they aren't even having the same conversations. The Greeks want a default and are offering the Germans -- and it is just the Germans, as these other countries are bystanders -- a default that's either in euros, orchestrated by the Germans, or in drachmas, orchestrated by the Greeks.
The Greeks want the Germans to agree to cut the amount owed by Greece altogether by two-thirds NOW, and they will start getting paid back NOW in euros, or they will get 30 cents on the euro in drachmas sometime in the future when the Greeks feel like paying, if they feel like paying at all.
The Greeks think they are offering a pretty darned good deal because Greece will most likely bounce back more quickly in drachmas than in euros. The Germans just want their money back. Period.
Two different conversations. If you can call them conversations.
That's why these talks are going so horrendously. The Greeks have nothing, so they have nothing to lose. The Greeks know the Germans have everything and have way more money than they need, so they can lose something to preserve their ill-gotten, euro-derived bounty.
Think about it: There's going to be a default someday without massive forgiveness on this debt because the Greek economy, even if going full tilt, is not going to generate enough income to pay back the roughly 280 billion euros ($313 billion) it owes to the IMF, the European Union, the European Central Bank, European governments, banks and private investors. That's just a fact of life.
You could, theoretically, cut and stretch out the debt payments, and that had at one point been the offer to the Greeks, but the Greeks don't want ANY debt payments if the principal isn't slashed by two-thirds. Without that two-thirds cut -- and yes, I am being arbitrary but that's the percent that makes sense to the Greeks -- a stretch-out of payments just means another trip to the bargaining table a year from now, something I think Germany now feels is simply insufferable.
I know, the Greeks sound like pigs, but this is a democratically elected government that has one mandate, and that mandate is to make no more sacrifices. All sacrifices must be made by the other side. All sacrifices must be made by those who have benefitted mightily by the euro. All sacrifices have to be made by the Germans.
We tend to forget right now that there has been a huge winner with the euro and, frankly, a lot of losers. Germany's been the winner -- and a big, selfish winner at that, with all of its insistence on austerity and moral turpitude. Sure, the euro may work for some companies in some countries, but it isn't like their countries' economies wouldn't be doing better without the euro. They are just stuck.
Germany isn't stuck. Germany thrives. Look at the numbers. Looks at the stocks! The manufacturing companies that do well in Europe are almost all German. They aren't from these other countries. The German economy is unbelievably strong. There has been no pain whatsoever experienced by Germany, and its companies can sell into the rest of the euro region -- and now, with this crisis and a further weakened euro, to the rest of the world -- better than ever. The country is virtually debt free and has done nothing to stimulate the rest of Europe. It's pretty much all been one way. They don't even have to have a defense bill. We pay that!
In return, ask yourself, what has Germany sacrificed? If it wants to be partners with Greece and doesn't want the euro hurt, then it has to authorize transfers to Greece in return for the preservation. But that transfer is somehow unfathomable to them. That's why I call Angela Merkel Herbert Hoover in a pant suit. Merkel sounds like Hoover before even he recognized that there had to be fiscal sacrifices to help the poor -- even if it was their own fault (which by the way, it wasn't.).
To me, at this point, it isn't the Greek position that's absurd, it's the German position. This government in Greece is repudiating the debt because it was elected by people who threw the bums out who took the debt in return for austerity that obviously has not worked.
Sure, you could argue the Greeks haven't given it the old college try. But I could just as easily argue that the lenders should have known better. The Greeks should never have been allowed to borrow as much as they did, and now the lenders should suffer for their ignorance and their pie-in-the-sky hopes that Greece would change. They were the idiots who thought that Greece would enact real reform. The Greeks just took the money and tried to fix things, but didn't have the heart or will to do so. Shame on them for taking the money? I say shame on the bankers for lending it to them, which is why I feel very little sympathy for the German position.
Before you get too critical of my "support the deadbeat" view, consider two important skeins of thought.
First: President Obama's Justice Department socked the big banks with billions in penalties for ostensibly lending money to people who couldn't afford it and not knowing better when they did it and then demanded to be repaid. Sure, in some cases the banks just packaged the loans to those who couldn't afford it and then sold them to pensioners and hedge funds and mutual funds. In other cases, they solicited the loans that couldn't be paid off. So they, ultimately, paid a steep price for lending to those who couldn't pay them back. But they paid it because they didn't have to go to jail and the shareholders footed the bill anyway. The bankers, like the Germans, will do just fine.
What's Germany's price been for lending money that they should have known couldn't be paid back? Nothing. Our Justice Department would be indicting the German politicians and bankers who approved these loans to Greece!
Second, why can't Germany make a transfer payment to Greece? What would be so wrong with that? One of the most praised ideas in the history of our nation was the Marshall Plan, when we helped Europe -- including our sworn enemy, Germany -- get back on its feet after World War Two.
We sacrificed because we were in better shape than they were and we knew it would be for the common good, which, by the way, it was.
Germany's in better shape than anyone. Why can't it just take a hit and write off this darned country? It either does it now or does it later.
That's why I increasingly doubt that we are going to get a deal. Given the pools of capital out there that are now revealing themselves -- from the Russians (they may not be doing well but they have enough to help the Greeks) and the Chinese -- why the heck are the Greeks even bothering with this nonsense? They can get short-term financing from the "east" or the "communists" to pay the bills while they set up a drachma-based economy. It could be a huge win after a short, ugly, blip down.
So, when you think of it like that, when you understand that the Greeks think they are deserving of a Marshall Plan while the Germans are playing this out like they are a World War One creditor to Greece, you can understand that the talks almost have to end badly.
Once you get your arms around that, you are going to be in better shape for this weekend, because that, I believe, is precisely where the talks have gotten to, and, realistically, to call them "talks" is a giant joke being played on the media and the markets.
Don't be fooled. The Greeks want a second Marshall Plan. The Germans want their pound of flesh like the Allies got at Versailles. Ironic, isn't it?
Editor's Note: This article was originally published at 11:25 a.m. EDT on Real Money on June 25.