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October 5, 2011

Pain……real pain……for who? Not bondholders

Funny when “pain” is reported in news articles. 

The Wall Street Journal has another article today about the European debt crisis and Greece.  The headline is “Europe Considers Wider Greek Write-Down,” but the sub-heading caught my attention:  “More Pain for Bondholders Seen as Part of Solution to Athens’s Budget Gap.” 

There has been more words written about the pain and suffering of bondholders in connection with the debt crisis on almost any given day than there has been over several months about the cost of the crisis, yes, the pain of the crisis, inflicted on tens of millions of people throughout the globe who lost their homes, jobs, savings, retirement, and, yes, many of their dreams. 

Many workers have had to come home, look their spouse and children in the eye and say, “I’ve been let go.  I don’t have a job.  I don’t know what we are going to do.”  Parents have had to tell their children that college is no longer affordable.  Many have had to pack up their belongings and move out of the house they have been living in, which they knew as their home not as some bet on the housing market.  Many others are stuck paying a mortgage that far exceeds the value of their houses.  Many people who had retired have gone back to work or gone back to looking for work, joining the tens of millions of other under- and unemployed also looking for work, often in vain as the economy continues to suffer from the financial crisis.

It would be difficult to count the tears that have been shed by those tens of millions of people who have seen their livelihoods destroyed and who have had their hopes and dreams for themselves and their families shattered.  The suffering is unimaginable as proud people look fruitlessly week after week, month after month, some year after year for a job, any job, to provide for their families.  Then comes the packing, the moving out of the house or apartment.  All while feelings of shame and worthlessness eat at their soul and spirit, as they look around and ask why, how? 

That is real pain, but not the pain that is newsworthy most of the time.  The newsworthy pain is what happens to bondholders who might not get 100% return of principal and/or all the interest on their debt holdings.

Yes, I’ve heard all the arguments that, if the bondholders aren’t paid in full, they won’t lend to countries or businesses and that means yet more pain for Main Street and all those people already suffering.

Funny how whenever the discussion is about the need to make big financial players whole it’s always for the benefit of those who were the victims of those very same institutions.  It’s never because they, their directors and officers are enriching themselves again just as they did in the run up to the 2008 meltdown.  Funny how that’s never mentioned.

Let’s accept, for the moment, the claims about making Wall Street lenders, big banks and financial institutions and creditors of all types whole will, at least in part, benefit Main Street.  That doesn’t mean those creditors suffer pain or that their alleged pain is equal to or more deserving of attention than the real pain inflicted on real people who are suffering today at the hands of those same creditors.

That is at least as newsworthy and deserves equal billing when pain is being reported on.  More importantly, that pain, that real pain, should be kept uppermost in the minds of policy makers and regulators as they decide how to deal with creditors and others who inflicted suffering more than they will ever suffer. 



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