Everyone is charging into print on the smoking ruin that the Europeans will be leaving Greece after the latest barely believable debacle in which the newly elected government Syriza, after receiving the overwhelming support of its electorate to reject the punitive terms of the payday lending it was being offered went back to Brussels and asked where to sign.
Jeff Sachs makes a good case that the root cause of the problem is insufficiently inclusive institutions. He offers the excellent analogy with the American Articles of Confederation:
The EU today operates something like the US under the Articles of Confederation, which defined the US’s ineffectual governing structure after independence from Britain in 1781 but prior to the adoption of the Constitution in 1787. Like the newly independent US, the EU today lacks an empowered and effective executive branch capable of confronting the current economic crisis. Instead of robust executive leadership tempered by a strong democratic parliament, committees of national politicians run the show in Europe, in practice sidelining (often brazenly) the European Commission. It is precisely because national politicians attend to national politics, rather than Europe’s broader interests, that the truth about Greece’s debt went unspoken for so long.
It’s an excellent article which I recommend to you for your delectation. (Yanis Varoufakis makes similar points perhaps even more trenchantly in his latest contribution as well.)
However it put me in mind of something else which could offer some of the benefits of more encompassing institutions even without them. The case for a more sensible, balanced approach to Greece’s situation is one that takes a little reflection. One might argue that more deliberation – of the kind that occurs in a jury for instance – might lead people to arrive at views which are more sympathetic to Greece given the level of suffering now going on there. I think that’s likely and there’s some evidence that deliberative processes like juries elicit such effects. But one needn’t even go that far. For the case in favour of more moderation towards Greece can be made without any appeal to compassion. Pretty obviously driving its economy into the ground is a lousy way for the creditors to get repaid – a point Varoufakis has made consistently and a point which is constantly reinforced as the Greeks save their way to ever higher relative levels of indebtedness as their economy shrinks.
And one important reason these considerations are not on the table is because Europe’s national politicians are driven to a substantial extent by their own national vox pop democracies in which meaning is conveyed in the familiar media stereotypes in which Greeks are lazy and corrupt and Northern Europeans are the converse. That ,more or less guarantees that negotiations will be scripted from competing nationalistic morality tales, rather than as an exercise in the pragmatic solving of problems and sharing of burdens and benefits.
Here’s a bit of activism that might be attempted if one could find someone to toss a few million Euros in the direction of a good cause. Get 99 people – 44 people chosen at random from the Greek population and 45 people chosen at random from the German population. Put them in the same room for a few weeks with all the resources and access to experts they seek and ask them to come up with a settlement. I think it would have to be better than the settlement we have. But I think it would be a lot better.