Why are we so engrossed with Europe’s sovereign debt problems? A lot of other countries have had debt troubles before. Those difficulties made the news, too, but this one seems bigger. This one makes people talk about contagion. This one makes Americans wonder what could happen next.

So let’s ask what could happen next. Could a contagion develop? Over the decades we’ve had a Mexican debt crisis, an Argentinian debt crisis, a Thai debt crisis, even a German debt crisis if we go back to the 1920s. In almost every case, a serious sovereign debt crisis means a collapse of credit, a collapse of the currency, hyperinflation, bank failures, personal ruin and hardship, and years of recovery. We are not talking about small potatoes.

No one thinks that Greece alone can bring this kind of catastrophic crisis on by itself. Greece makes Europe jittery partly because its troubles follow so closely on the 2008 financial panic in the United States. After the world’s largest empire displays its financial weakness, anything might happen. What if Europe is next?

The interesting thing is, we shipped a lot of dollars to Europe in 2008 and 2009. When we gave taxpayers’ dollars to AIG so it could meet its obligations, AIG sent a great deal of that treasure to European banks. That was largely the intent. Wall Street persuaded Washington to save the West’s financial system, the government had to help banks on both sides of the Atlantic. The U. S. Treasury paid out billions, and hoped for the best.

The best turned out a bit worse than the bankers hoped. Less than a year after the bankers raided the U. S. Treasury, trouble loomed again. Ever resourceful, they began to bang on Germany’s door. Washington’s not going to bail out Greece, but Germany will! Keep pestering Germany and they’ll hand it over, just like the Americans did.

So the Germans handed over billions of Euros, and still the Greeks would not meet their obligations. In fact, the Greeks blamed the Germans for their troubles! Did you ever give money to a beggar and have the beggar snarl at you because it wasn’t enough? That’s what the Greeks did to the Germans.

Now the bankers don’t have anywhere else to turn. The Dutch, the French, the English, the Czechs, the Italians, the Turks: they are not going to help the Greeks. They all have good reasons. They all saw what the Greeks did to the Germans. They all have their own troubles.

You can imagine what Timothy Geithner must be thinking now. How can we prevent another banking debacle? Wouldn’t it be great if the Chinese would pony up some credit? We can’t let this European crisis spread, especially after we sent all that liquidity over there. What the hell is going on over there, anyway? We put our house in order – can’t they do the same with theirs?

Now we feel rather helpless. We can’t do any more. Besides, it can’t happen here, can it? We’re pretty well protected from Europe’s financial troubles, aren’t we? Well aren’t we?