Monday, August 17, 2015

Political trends imaginary and real

E.J. Dionne provides a classic piece of High Broderism in his column of yesterday, When Yeats comes knocking Washington Post 08/16/2015. He wrings his hands about the supposed decline of the center-left and the center-right. Because the American Republican Party is attracted to a blowhard like Trump and has become a party of multi-billionaire kingmakers, religious loons and white supremacist gun fetishists, the faith of High Broderism dictates that this must be balanced equally by faults on the other side. And trying to generalize this to the whole Western world, oy vey!

The closest he comes to mentioning an actual policy issue is this Mugwump observation: "widespread immigration can weaken social solidarity by complicating national identity and setting off new debates over what the word 'us' means." I guess this is a Pod Pundit version of "Trump has touched a nerve with some of the things he's been saying ..."

Dionne's generalization is true in some countries in Europe. In Greece, it took a government headed by the "Party of the Radical Left" (Syriza) to insist - unsuccessfully - on anti-depression economic policies that would have looked tame to Richard Nixon. (Tricky Dicky actually imposed wage and price controls!) In Germany, the "center-left" Christian Democrats and the "center-right" SPD have embraced hardline Herbert Hoover economics. But it actually hasn't created a crisis yet, except that the SPD is slowly dwindling away, to the point that they are floating the idea of not even running a Chancellor candidate against Angela Merkel in 2017. (!?!?) When both "center-left" and "center-right" parties argue for deregulation, privatization, lower wages and weaker unions, massive tax transfers to the One Percent, fewer public services, cutting pensions and health insurance - then the biggest problem is not a public desire for "authenticity." Which Dionne uses like it wasn't the Beltway Village media that turned it into a magical conjuring word so they could imagine John McCain as a "straight-talker" and Shrub Bush as "the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with."

Jamie Galbraith gives a more realistic view of the state of politics in the eurozone in The Future of Europe The American Prospect 08/14/2015. He focuses on what EU critics (not to be confused with rightwing-nationalist "EU skeptics") have called the democratic deficit in the EU. He recaps the way the creditor nations forced the elected Greek government into surrender:

The European creditors and the IMF met the Greek proposals with hostility, obstruction and refusal. The governments of Finland, the Baltic states and Slovakia rejected them on ideological grounds. Those of Spain, Portugal, and Ireland rejected them from fear of the effect on their own politics. Italy, France, and the Commission expressed sympathy but did little. [German Finance] Minister [Wolfgang] Schäuble spelled out the choice: Greece could either adhere to the previous program, in full, or else leave the euro and perhaps also the European Union.

From the beginning, this position was backed by threats. In late January, Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem, visiting in Athens, threatened Greece with the destruction of its banking system. On February 4th, the ECB revoked a waiver permitting Greek banks to discount government debt, and so provoked a slow run that culminated in late June, meanwhile Greece made 3.5 billion euros in payments as a sign of good faith. When the Greek government, frustrated and broke, turned to a referendum, the creditors retaliated by closing the banks and imposing capital controls. When the Greek people stood up and said “No,” the retaliation deepened and in July the government was forced to its knees.
And Galbraith points out the high risk that a badly flawed euro currency zone poses to the entire European project, i.e., the EU:

The hope for negotiated change within the euro has been tested [by Greece], with brutal results. The fact of technocratic dictatorship within the euro is plain to everybody. Voters in the next country to rebel against the stranglehold of Eurozone policies will take note. That Greece was forced to explore the means of exit will also bear on future experience, as with improved knowledge and contingency planning—planning that will now become habitual and more-or-less open for every opposition movement faced with the possibility of power—the cost of making that transition, seemingly prohibitive to the Greeks this past spring, will decline. ...

These political consequences will keep the euro under strain, deepened by the ongoing failure of the neoliberal [austerity] economic regime. It therefore seems likely that the Euro will, at some point, in some country, crack. The decision to initiate a breakup could come from the left or the right. In any case such a decision will destroy, as events in Greece have destroyed, the previous political structures. A breakup, if it goes badly, could make things worse. What will happen to the European Union after that, is anyone's guess.