PIGS or PIIGS we all pigged out on debt

PIGS. Have you seen this acronym? It's only in the business pages and if you have seen it used it's because the PIGS are putting pressure on the euro, causing a sharp decline in the value of the European currency in recent days.

So what is or are PIGS? The PIGS are four European nations with severe fiscal problems: Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain. Or maybe not. Some say it stands for Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain.

And now there's some bad feeling over what that "I" stands for.

Michael Casey, former Chief Economist of the Irish Central Bank, says that PIGS includes Italy and that PIGS is simply a new way of referring to the EU members along the Mediterranean, or those that used to be known as the 'Club Med' members, which was another way of saying 'not really sound economically.'

Forbes magazine and others agree with Casey and put Italy and not Ireland in the PIGS group.

The Italians don't see it that way. The Italians say that their economic problems are not as bad as Ireland's and that Ireland, not Italy, is the "I" in PIGS. Citibank agrees with them, possibly because Citibank is more afraid of offending their clients in Italy than those in Ireland.

Casey says Ireland doesn't belong in the PIGS group because despite the seriousness of our current situation we have a better record than Italy, we have fewer long-term structural problems and, with a bit of luck, our economy could rebound quickly.

The earliest mention of this term I can find is from the Wall Street Journal of December of last year. The Journal doesn't claim to have coined the expression, but rather attributes it to traders worried about the "weaker members of the eurozone." However, the Journal said the term was PIIGS, including both Ireland and Italy.

Now it's all a bit rich coming from those "traders" because (a) it was their fellow financial wizards who put us in this mess in the first place and (b) they are most likely based in America or in Britain, two countries hardly in great economic shape themselves. In fact, one analyst says that there are seven big states that may be worse off than the PIGS group. Those states are not small and peripheral but California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and New Jersey.

So, let's face it whether Ireland or Italy is the "I" in PIGS or whether it's PIIGS the truth is that we all, including Britain and America, were piggin out at the debt-filled trough and now we're paying the price for that.

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