Sunday, February 19, 2012

Greece a Goner But What Is the Lesson for Us?

In all likelihood the 21st century will be marked by a succession of dramatic upheavals.   The rise of radical conservatism and the true warfare state followed by a decade of democratic suppression and futile conflicts was the opener.  The same gang hatched the era of casino capitalism that, despite the crash of 2008, churns along today albeit in slightly different guises.  The Arab Spring and an era of revolution are just getting started.  The rise and fall of phoney economic miracles from Iceland to Ireland, Italy to Spain and, of course, Greece are rocking the bastion of Western Europe.  And we haven't even gotten to the environmental calamities yet.

But, in the spotlight at the moment is Greece.   For months Greece has been struggling to cope with its own national insolvency while its partners in the Eurozone have pondered rescue or bailout schemes.   After all we're talking about a Western European country here, the cradle of democracy.

The nature of the Greek crisis and the attempts to resolve it are much too complex for this discussion.   It appears that the Euro states have finally accepted that, bailout or no, Greece is a goner.  The Greek people are simply unwilling to endure the severe austerity measures a workable bailout will demand.   Powerful support is said to be already building for radical right and radical left-wing movements in Greece, a formula for a European brand of social upheaval that sometimes turns very deadly.

The important question is whether it was actually debt at the root of the Greek collapse or was that debt merely a symptom of a much greater and widespread malady that imperils much of the developed world?

The Greek problem didn't pop up out of nowhere.   It was the accumulated result of a succession of "kick it down the road" governments.   The Greek government actually claimed there were barely 5,000 citizens earning 100,000 euros or more annually and collected taxes as though that was true.   The trigger may have been pulled by Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street vultures but they merely took advantage of an opportunity presented by governmental malpractice.

There, I said it - governmental malpractice.   The critical failure of governments to do their job.   A run of Greek governments were woefully negligent in their duties to the rank and file, ordinary Greek citizen.  They allowed the rich and powerful to shirk their tax obligations and hide their money, making good that default only by reckless borrowings.   Then they set out to hold ordinary Greeks liable to bear the brunt of the pain of their own negligence only it hasn't worked.

These governments don't set out to destroy their countries.  Most of them have very sensible, short-term programmes and operate as if that was all that should be expected of them.   They don't look back and they don't look ahead, at least not much past the next electoral cycle.  It's this failure to treat themselves as part of a continuum that can create nation-destroying crises.  This is the result of excluding posterity as an essential element of government planning.   If a predecessor hasn't provided for you and you, in turn, don't provide for your successor, these long-wave length problems can behave much like a tsunami.   They're really nothing to worry about as they cross thousands of miles of ocean.  It's only when they reach that last half-mile approach to the beach that all hell breaks loose.

Governmental malpractice isn't limited to fiscal policy either.   Governmental malpractice is occurring on a massive scale today on the problem of global warming.   Climate change is another long-wave problem.  It builds gradually which can make it appear deceptively benign especially to those who prefer to neglect or scoff at the whole thing.  Yet, if the models are right, global warming has its own tsunami-like characteristic, one or more "tipping points" at which climate change goes from being a more or less manageable problem and switches into runaway global warming as our planet's own feedback mechanisms are triggered.   And we've been warned, repeatedly, that we'll probably go right through those tipping points before we actually realize what we've done.  (Isn't it curious how the subject of "tipping points" has been all but completely scrubbed from the climate change debate?)

Greece should serve as an invaluable object lesson to us all.  It should show us that the faith we put in western democracy should be less the measure of the institution than of the weakness or strength of our leadership.  If they fail the institution itself becomes an historical collection of lofty ideals discarded to convenience.

We need to change our political discourse, to expand it beyond next year or where we will be five years hence.   We need to demand political leadership that talks plainly and convincingly about where our country will be thirty, forty, even fifty years ahead and what they're doing to shape that reality.   Imagine if the Greeks had forced their leadership into that same conversation thirty or even fifteen years ago.


Sorry this is so disjointed.  It's what often happens here when a train-of-thought moment occurs.

1 comment:

kootcoot said...

When some arch-Duke gets shot riding down some street in maybe some Balkan hellhole, duck and take cover! Oh wait, that was almost a century ago, history doesn't repeat itself, it just rhymes.