It has not been, any more than Europe, a group responsive to or intelligent about the core points of Keynsian economics underlined above. Yet in this case, even the IMF has warned – rightly – that Europe’s conditions are too severe and will lead to a debt twice the (declining) national output! One really has to go far – and the European Union did – to produce so bizarre an “ally” for ordinary Greeks…
Internationally, there is an ideology among rich people that the poor must be forced to work harder (in case anyone thought Scrooge was outdated in 21st century capitalism…). And of course, Rand Paul, inheriting the racism of Ron Paul, and many of his followers offer the same idiom.
The Laziness Dogma
July 15, 2015
Americans work longer hours than their counterparts in just about every other wealthy country; we are known, among those who study such things, as the “no-vacation nation.” According to a 2009 study, full-time U.S. workers put in almost 30 percent more hours over the course of a year than their German counterparts, largely because they had only half as many weeks of paid leave. Not surprisingly, work-life balance is a big problem for many people.
Given how attractive the right finds the image of laziness run wild, you wouldn’t expect contrary evidence to make much, if any, dent in the dogma. Federal spending on “income security” — food stamps, unemployment benefits, and pretty much everything else you might call “welfare” except Medicaid — has shown no upward trend as a share of GDP; it surged during the Great Recession and its aftermath, but quickly dropped back to historical levels. Paul’s numbers are all wrong, and more broadly disability claims have risen no more than you would expect, given the aging of the population. But no matter, an epidemic of laziness is their story and they’re sticking with it.
Some of us look at these changes and see them as consequences of an economy that no longer offers good jobs to ordinary workers. This happened to African-Americans first, as blue-collar jobs disappeared from inner cities, but has now become a much wider phenomenon thanks to soaring income inequality. Murray, however, sees the changes as the consequence of a mysterious decline in traditional values [an epochal blaming the victim explanation in the service of the predators who fund him…], enabled by government programs which mean that men no longer “need to work to survive.” And Bush presumably shares that view.
The point is that Bush’s clumsy call for longer work hours wasn’t a mere verbal stumble. It was, instead, an indication that he stands firmly on the right side of the great divide over what working American families need.
There’s now an effective consensus among Democrats that workers need more help, in the form of guaranteed health insurance, higher minimum wages, enhanced bargaining power, and more [Democrats need to be pushed from below to enact any of these things…]. Republicans, however, believe that American workers just aren’t trying hard enough to improve their situation, and that the way to change that is to strip away the safety net while cutting taxes on wealthy “job creators.” And while Jeb Bush may sometimes sound like a moderate, he’s very much in line with the party consensus. If he makes it to the White House, the laziness dogma will rule public policy.
▪ the streamlining of the VAT system [i.e. making it more regressive, through rate rises that encourage more VAT evasion]and the broadening of the tax base to increase revenue [i.e. dealing a major blow at the only Greek growth industry – tourism].
▪ the adoption of the Code of Civil Procedure, which is a major overhaul of procedures and arrangements for the civil justice system and can significantly accelerate the judicial process and reduce costs [i.e. foreclosures, evictions and liquidation of thousands of homes and businesses who are not in a position to keep up with their mortgages/loans.]
By the time I attended my first Brussels meetings in early February, a powerful majority within the Eurogroup had already formed. Revolving around the earnest figure of Germany’s Minister of Finance, its mission was to block any deal building on the common ground between our freshly elected government and the rest of the Eurozone.
Thus five months of intense negotiations never had a chance. Condemned to lead to impasse, their purpose was to pave the ground for what Dr Schäuble had decided was ‘optimal’ well before our government was even elected: That Greece should be eased out of the Eurozone in order to discipline member-states resisting his very specific plan for re-structuring the Eurozone. This is no theory of mine. How do I know Grexit is an important part of Dr Schäuble’s plan for Europe? Because he told me so!
I am writing this not as a Greek politician critical of the German press’ denigration of our sensible proposals, of Berlin’s refusal seriously to consider our moderate debt re-profiling plan, of the European Central Bank’s highly political decision to asphyxiate our government, of the Eurogroup’s decision to give the ECB the green light to shut down our banks. I am writing this as a European observing the unfolding of a particular Plan for Europe – Dr Schäuble’s Plan. And I am asking a simple question of Die Zeit’s informed readers:
Is this a Plan that you approve of? Is this Plan good for Europe?
Dr Schäuble’s Plan for the Eurozone
The avalanche of toxic bailouts that followed the Eurozone’s first financial crisis offers ample proof that the non-credible ‘no bailout clause’ was a terrible substitute for political union. Wolfgang Schäuble knows this and has made clear his plan to forge a closer union. “Ideally, Europe would be a political union”, he wrote in a joint article with Karl Lamers, the CDU’s former foreign affairs chief (Financial Times, 1st September 2014).
Dr Schäuble is right to advocate institutional changes that might provide the Eurozone with its missing political mechanisms. Not only because it is impossible otherwise to address the Eurozone’s current crisis but also for the purpose of preparing our monetary union for the next crisis. The question is: Is his specific plan a good one? Is it one that Europeans should want? How do its authors propose that it be implemented?
Forgotten prerequisites for a liberal democratic, multinational political union
One often forgotten fact about liberal democracies is that the legitimacy of its laws and constitution is determined not by its legal content but by politics. To claim, as Dr Schäuble did in 1995, and implied again in 2014, that it makes no difference whether the Eurozone is an alliance of sovereign states or a federal state is purposely to ignore that the latter can create political authority whereas the former cannot.
An ‘alliance of states’ can, of course, come to mutually beneficial arrangements against a common aggressor (e.g. in the context of a defensive military alliance), or in agreeing to common industry standards, or even effect a free trade zone. But, such an alliance of sovereign states can never legitimately create an overlord with the right to strike down a states’ sovereignty, since there is no collective, alliance-wide sovereignty from which to draw the necessary political authority to do so.
To put it slightly differently, small sovereign nations, e.g. Iceland, have choices to make within the broader constraints created for them by nature and by the rest of humanity. However limited these choices, Iceland’s body politic retains absolute authority to hold their elected officials accountable for the decisions they have reached within the nation’s exogenous constraints and to strike down every piece of legislation that it has decided upon in the past. In juxtaposition, the Eurozone’s finance ministers often return from Eurogroup meetings decrying the decisions that they have just signed up to, using the standard excuse that “it was the best we could negotiate within the Eurogroup”.
The euro crisis has expanded this lacuna at the centre of Europe hideously. An informal body, the Eurogroup, that keeps no minutes, abides by no written rules, and is answerable to precisely no one, is running the world’s largest macro-economy, with a Central Bank struggling to stay within vague rules that it creates as it goes along, and no body politic to provide the necessary bedrock of political legitimacy on which fiscal and monetary decisions may rest.
Will Dr Schäuble’s Plan remedy this indefensible system of governance? If anything, it would dress up the Eurogroup’s present ineffective macro-governance and political authoritarianism in a cloak of pseudo-legitimacy. The malignancies of the present ‘Alliance of States’ would be cast in stone and the dream of a democratic European federation would be pushed further into an uncertain future.
Dr Schäuble’s perilous strategy for implementing the Schäuble-Lamers Plan
Back in May, in the sidelines of yet another Eurogroup meeting, I had had the privilege of a fascinating conversation with Dr Schäuble. We talked extensively both about Greece and regarding the future of the Eurozone. Later on that day, the Eurogroup meeting’s agenda included an item on future institutional changes to bolster the Eurozone. In that conversation, it was abundantly clear that Dr Schäuble’s Plan was the axis around which the majority of finance ministers were revolving.
Judging from that Eurogroup conversation, and from my discussions with Germany’s Finance Minister, Grexit features in Dr Schäuble’s Plan as a crucial move that would kickstart the process of its implementation. A controlled escalation of the long suffering Greeks’ pains, intensified by shut banks while ameliorated by some humanitarian aid, was foreshadowed as the harbinger of the New Eurozone. On the one hand, the fate of the prodigal Greeks would act as a morality tale for governments toying with the idea of challenging the existing ‘rules’ (e.g. Italy), or of resisting the transfer of national sovereignty over budgets to the Eurogroup (e.g. France). On the other hand, the prospect of (limited) fiscal transfers (e.g. a closer banking union and a common unemployment benefit pool) would offer the requisite carrot (that smaller nations craved).
Setting aside any moral or philosophical objections to the idea of forging a better union through controlled boosts in the suffering of a constituent member-state, several broader questions pose themselves urgently:
▪ Are the means fit for the ends?
Conclusion: Europe at a crossroads
The Eurozone’s faulty foundations revealed themselves first in Greece, before the crisis spread elsewhere. Five years later, Greece is again in the limelight as Germany’s sole surviving statesman from the era that forged the euro, Dr Wolfgang Schäuble, has a plan to refurbish Europe’s monetary union that involves jettisoning Greece on the excuse that the Greek government has no ‘credible’ reforms on offer.
The reality is that a Eurogroup sold to Dr Schäuble’s Plan, and strategy, never had any serious intention to strike a New Deal with Greece reflecting the common interests of creditors and of a nation whose income had been crushed, and whose society was fragmented, as a result of a terribly designed ‘Program’. Official Europe’s insistence that this failed ‘Program’ be adopted by our new government ‘or else’ was nothing but the trigger for the implementation of Dr Schäuble’s Plan.