Europe -- the roots of rebellion
She can't put it over the Greeks.....
To understand why Sunday's election in Greece was so significant, it's necessary to understand what has been happening in Europe for the past few years -- how horrifically the south has been savaged by the twin scourges of the euro common currency and the austerity policies imposed by the German-dominated European Union. Unfortunately even many American liberals tend to simply parrot the northern (German, creditor-centric) talking points which dominate the MSM, at least in the Anglosphere -- "Greece just doesn't want to pay its bills" and suchlike.
The reality is that as a condition for the loans that kept the southern countries afloat, the EU has imposed a regime of austerity -- deep spending cuts and a fixation on deficit reduction despite economic contraction (similar to what conservatives advocate for the US) -- which made it impossible for the southern economies to recover. Paul Krugman explains the problem in clear language:
But European austerity also reflected willful misdiagnosis of the situation. In Europe as in America, the excesses that led to crisis overwhelmingly involved private rather than public debt, with Greece very much an outlier. But officials in Berlin and Brussels chose to ignore the evidence in favor of a narrative that placed all the blame on budget deficits, and simultaneously rejected the evidence suggesting — correctly — that trying to slash deficits in a depressed economy would deepen the depression.
The US, by contrast, pursued Keynesian stimulus policies and is now clearly in recovery, though the recovery would have been much faster and more vigorous if the stimulus had been larger and if Democrats had conceded less to Republicans' deficit obsession. As I've said before, worrying about the deficit when you have double-digit unemployment is like obsessing over water conservation when your house is burning down. But that's what happened in Europe.
The euro currency has shut off another route to recovery. If the southern countries still had separate currencies, they would be dropping in value against other currencies, making those countries' exports and tourism sites cheaper and more competitive without cutting wages or other expenses. Locked into a common currency with the north, this cannot happen.
Krugman assesses the Greek election (seriously, it's worth the read), ending with some good advice the Germans won't take:
So now that Mr. Tsipras has won, and won big, European officials would be well advised to skip the lectures calling on him to act responsibly and to go along with their program. The fact is they have no credibility; the program they imposed on Greece never made sense. It had no chance of working.
If anything, the problem with Syriza’s plans may be that they’re not radical enough. Debt relief and an easing of austerity would reduce the economic pain, but it’s doubtful whether they are sufficient to produce a strong recovery. On the other hand, it’s not clear what more any Greek government can do unless it’s prepared to abandon the euro, and the Greek public isn’t ready for that.
This is not going to stop with Greece. Syriza's victory has electrified anti-establishment parties across the south and even in northern countries which have been in similar straits, such as Ireland.
To understand the exuberance, you have to understand the anger in the south, not just at prolonged suffering but at the years of arrogance and condescension and sheer bloody-mindedness displayed by Berlin and Brussels as they flogged the captive nations with economic dogmas which they knew could not produce the results they claimed to want. Krugman has some further observations:
If the troika had been truly realistic, it would have acknowledged that it was demanding the impossible. Two years after the Greek program began, the I.M.F. looked for historical examples where Greek-type programs, attempts to pay down debt through austerity without major debt relief or inflation, had been successful. It didn’t find any.....
Nor was this an innocent mistake. The thing that strikes me about Europe’s archons of austerity, its doyens of deflation, is their self-indulgence. They felt comfortable, emotionally and politically, demanding sacrifice (from other people) at a time when the world needed more spending. They were all too eager to ignore the evidence that they were wrong.
It's very reminiscent of the mentality of our own Republicans who exult in subjecting the least fortunate to endless benefit cuts, mandatory drug tests, forced ultrasounds, and suchlike indignities more intended to degrade and humiliate than to serve any expressed policy goal.
George Orwell's novel 1984 contains the following exchange:
"How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?"
Winston thought. "By making him suffer," he said.
"Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation....."
This, I think, tells you more about the real roots of the German/EU policy prescriptions imposed on southern Europe than a thousand pages of conservative economic crackpottery could do.