Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hanging together and hanging separately in Europe

Greece, the euro and Europe

We can bang on all we want about what should have been. The narratives are well known by now. The orthodox rules for euro membership should have been strictly applied from the beginning. The orthodox rules for euro membership should have been accompanied by the stabilizing effects of a fiscal union as in other large currency areas (meaning countries). The orthodoxy itself was a mistake that has brought the euro zone to its knees in a lasting depression since 2008. Or that despite the failure to do one of those things originally, better late than never: Europe can still get it right once the tensions build up and the internal contradictions of the euro start hurting the citizens it was supposed to benefit. The current proponents of one path over the other now reflect the same divisions as 20 years ago, when the Stability and Growth Pact was fought over and adopted.

But those choices are an illusion. Europe cannot retroactively enforce orthodoxy on Greece now without destroying the country, its citizens and democracy. And it cannot force Greece out of the euro without destroying the EU and its reason for existing. Either the other critics of orthodoxy will follow suit and the euro will become a repeat of  Bismarck's kleindeutsche Loesung, or the eurogroup will set about suppressing democracy in other states as it has in Greece to keep the voters in line. The kind of gold standard European order that the eurogroup leadership is now trying to retroactively impose on its members has never been attempted before, and no democracy has ever survived the downward spiral that the imposition of such hardhip entails. The long persistence of the historical gold standard was only possible because regular people could not vote. We can't go back there, and so that path is a road to nowhere, at least for Greece. If the remaining members follow Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Slovakia down that path, it will damage European democracy extensively. The old saying will become reality, that if it were possible to vote to change the system, it would be illegal.

If Europe had any smarts, it would find the courage to introduce a  fiscal union that would help keep the currency union together without the debilitating demise of the euro zone periphery, both economically and politically. It needn't be that big a transfer. But it would soften the internal divisions of a continent sufficiently to keep it together and prevent a far worse future.

As Franklin once said, we all hang together, or we all hang separately.

Europe was once about promoting and protecting democracy on the continent by supporting