The Fitch Ratings agency has downgraded the credit of another five European countries -- Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Slovenia, and Spain -- citing "the financing risks faced by eurozone sovereign governments in the absence of a credible financial firewall against contagion and self-fulfilling liquidity crises."
In other words, these self-styled fiscal medics plunged headfirst into deadly disease without making sure they had all their shots. Is every European country that tries to find a clean end by which to lift up this mess now doomed?
Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum chairman, opened last week's annual gathering of the world's economic and political elite in Davos, Switzerland, by proposing the following wisdom at a time when change purses are circling the drain: "My wish is threefold -- that we build by searching for constructive new solutions and models, that we bond by looking for long-term vision, and that we bind by creating the necessary underpinning framework of shared values."
Of all the possible solutions, that's definitely not it. Presumably, Schwab -- bless his heart -- is 13 years old and hasn't gotten "the talk" yet from mom. I definitely would have swooned at such a romantic line in high school, in the days when I was hitting up my parents daily for lunch money and thought I'd marry Johnny Depp. I've since sobered up, I pay my own bills, and Johnny obviously blew me off -- so this kind of talk does nothing for my cynical realist heart. It's the kind of self-flagellating collectivism that got the world into this mess in the first place. Permit me to propose a new mandate: "Focus on saving yourself first, so you can then help others."
The "me first" concept -- or what I now like to call the "Costa Concordia captain's mantra" -- hasn't entirely escaped German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, thank goodness. Amid all Merkel's rhetoric about greater political integration and economic control to "fix" the eurozone mess, Germany and France have still toyed more sensibly with the idea of the highest-rated EU countries issuing new, separate debt bonds at lower interest rates so they can then funnel money to the hopeless ones that are taking on debt faster than they can pay off the interest that gets jacked up higher with each credit downgrade.
Nice to see there's still some instinct of self-preservation. The unspoken truth is that the eurozone can't be saved as a whole. It's only by individual countries getting their act together and crawling ashore that they can ever hope to throw a life preserver to others. But even self-preservation is becoming less feasible as the situation grows direr and there's increasingly less to preserve.