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Jumping off a cliff can hurt

This article originally published in The Northern Daily Leader on 1 October 2011.

A short distance from Victoria Falls, sandwiched between the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe, is a deep gorge, part of the extensive canyon system created by the Zambezi River as it winds towards the Indian Ocean. Perched high on the edge of the gorge, a couple of Englishmen run an inventive and possibly illegal business. Many years ago they had the bright idea to string some cable wire across the gorge, and for US$90 they let thrill-seekers jump off the edge of the cliff, their only lifeline being a climbing harness linked by a few ropes to the middle of the cable. The highlight for anyone who is willing (or crazy enough) to pay the fee is an amusing activity called the ‘death drop’. This involves being lowered backwards into the gorge until past the point of horizontal, at which stage you plummet head first into the gorge at 180 kilometres per hour until the rope straightens and swings you across the gorge at high speed. Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

I was reminded of the gorge swing and the ‘death drop’ during a discussion about the state of the global economy last week. One way to view the current upheaval on global markets is to imagine that Greece has paid US$90 for the opportunity to do a ‘death drop’ and is at this very moment plummeting head-first down the cliff-face. Standing at the top of gorge, having just watched Greece go over the edge, are Germany and France. Although Greece is wearing the climbing harness, instead of being attached to the cable cross the gorge, the climbing ropes are tied to the legs of both Germany and France. As the rope gets shorter and shorter as Greece approaches the bottom of the gorge, Germany and France are engaged in an animated discussion about what to do next – do nothing and let Greece pull them both over the edge or work together to slow Greece’s fall and then haul it back to safety to the top of the cliff?

The wild gyrations we’ve been seeing on global stock markets are largely because there is no certainty that Germany and France will make the right decision, or even if saving Greece is the right decision. With any luck the outcome is more positive than when I paid my US$90 to experience the ‘death drop’ a little over a decade ago. On that occasion I blacked out on the way down and nearly threw my back out – here’s hoping Greece avoids the same fate.