Olympic Stimulus

Posted by on 03/03/10 in Debt, Ethics, Global Politics, Sports

Imagine if…

“(Untrue Press Irrational): Tension continued to mount in the European Union today as Greece petitioned fellow EU member Germany for emergency intervention. After years of mismanagement and underinvestment, matters have finally come to a head for Greece. Not able to draw on its historic stature, nor able to sufficiently appeal to its citizens’ civic pride, leaders are desperate for solutions to this persistent, intractable problem: the dearth of Greek Winter Olympic medals.

“Berlin and Munich were abuzz with speculation as to the number of hard-fought medals Germany would concede to Greece. As the widely recognized Olympic engine of the EU, Germany’s intervention is an expectation; the only remaining variable is the actual number of medals Germany will grant Greece and how they will manage the communication without disrupting major endorsements. The head of the German and Greek Olympic committees have been coy about their negotiations. Aides report that they are working hard to avoid inflaming global Olympic anxiety and thus potentially causing uncertainty about the value of current and future Olympic medals.

“There is widespread angst in Germany about the potential Olympic medal bailout. One farmer lamented that Germany would even consider a medal-sharing agreement with another country. He claimed ‘I have nothing against Greece, but where does this go next? We dilute German achievement in the bobsleigh, in cross country, in biathlon—and for what?’ An anonymous German gold medalist in the downhill dodecahedron struggled to support the spirit of the Games, ‘Yes, I trained ceaselessly for ten years and sacrificed everything to win my medal, but…but…but…’ He could not complete his sentence. His mother, standing nearby, teared up as she tried to describe the long hours of training and scrimping she and the rest of the family witnessed and shared. ‘But we earned those medals! We earned them!’ was all she could say.

“Bureaucrats in Brussels were reporting that France also may be tapped to grant medals to their Grecian neighbors, though in far smaller proportion than the German athletes. Yet even as speculation regarding medal-donor nations grows, so too does the list of potential medal-aid recipients. Failing to join Greece in failing to make the podium in Vancouver are European Union members Portugal, Ireland, and Spain; taken together, the four non-medal winners are known as the PIGS. Even the UK has raised serious concern, with a “negative watch” from key Olympic analysts. Their one medal—albeit gold—hardly assured Olympic investors about the country’s long-term prospects.

“Questions remain: How many of its 30 medals will Germany sacrifice in the name of solidarity? Does a medal bailout demonstrate the strength of the EU or merely reveal its core weaknesses?  Who is next? Can Italy hold it together? And will the nations that have lagged in these Olympics make the tough choices, move forward with unpopular sacrifices, and dig deep in their quest for Olympic Gold? Or will we see them next time in Sochi, standing by the podium, hands outstretched as their fellow EU members hand over their well-earned bounty?”

Next step
For you Americans feeling smug because the EU is in such a difficult place and for anyone thinking that the recent rally in the US dollar is sustainable over the next several years, just substitute your state of residence for Greece, Portugal, Ireland or Spain (or if you are lucky, for Germany or France) and see how it fits and how that feels. Some of the largest states in America—California, New York, Illinois—are in terrible financial condition. Like our friends, colleagues, and allies in Europe, we, too, face difficult questions about the meaning and obligations of our union.

One of the first acts of the United States was the absorption of debt from 13 colonies that could not stand alone economically. It will be interesting to see how our United States face up to the economic challenges faced by so many states and other municipalities, especially at a time when the Federal Government does not have the resources to singlehandedly address those challenges. The story is yet to be told.