That day has come for Spain and Italy, where benchmark bonds are yielding 6.82 percent and 6.23 percent, respectively -- and rising.
By comparison, the benchmark 10-year U.S. bond is at 1.61 percent and, generally, falling. German bonds are at 1.47 percent, holding steady. Greece, whoops, 29.05 percent. Portugal, 10.76 percent.
Of course, the spreads between the countries with cheaper borrowing costs and those with unsustainable rates is growing, because investors don't stop buying bonds, they just stop buying junk. So, every time an investor sells a Greek bond -- if a buyer can be found, that is -- that investor turns around and buys a German bund or a U.S. bond to make up the difference.
Of course, that's not absolute. Some buy gold, some buy stocks and others stuff the cash in a mattress.
But with fewer options, investors are likely to turn to bonds they consider solid. That said, the United States can just sit still, in a manner of speaking, and U.S. borrowing costs will decrease, because a demand for bonds drives yields lower.
If sitting still sounds like too much work, the United States can, apparently, drop the ball and still turn out OK. This occurred when Republicans and Democrats locked horns over the routine matter of raising the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011, which pushed rating agency Standard & Poor's to downgrade the U.S. credit rating.
Perhaps even S&P did not predict what happened next, which is that the rating insult became a money maker or a money saver for the United States. Upon learning the pristine triple-A U.S. rating had earned a downgrade, investors began gobbling up U.S. bonds, which were considered safe. So it goes. The downgrade saved the country a considerable sum. Let's have another downgrade soon.
Europe, for all its diligence, is steadfastly ignoring the theory that the eurozone put Germany and France at an advantage, creating peripheral customers, such as Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain, which is different from being a sidekick or a lesser partner. Due to a variety of unequal labor law, the Mediterranean countries never had a chance, the theory goes.
By tradition, the peripheral economies should be earning money on raw materials, which are shipped to Germany, so their industrial machine can stamp out cars and cameras. Win-win. But Greece has olives and oranges, rather than petroleum.
Perhaps it's too much to ask that in the middle of a crisis leaders sit down and fix the actual problem, treating the patient instead of just the cough. In Europe, it's not just the foundering countries that require new economic strategies, but the eurozone as a whole. But that 17-nation currency zone needs to be saved first.
In international markets Thursday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan slipped 0.22 percent, while the Shanghai composite index in China dropped 0.99 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong gave up 1.15 percent, while the Sensex in India lost 1.2 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia shed 0.53 percent.
In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain fell 0.59 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany retreated 0.55 percent. The CAC 40 in France lost 0.34 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 600 lost 0.58 percent.
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