Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Zeitgeist summary, featuring Greece, Italy and the US Democratic Party

I don't really think there is such a things as a Zeitgeist. A Weltgeist, maybe.

But if there were a Zeitgeist, Duncan "Atrios" Black sums up the American version of it remarkably succinctly here: "We're sort of reaching the breaking point of the decades long battle between the party that promises to kick those other people, and the party that promises not to kick them quite so hard." Nice Things Eschaton 12/23/2016

He elaborates:

ACA, for all its benefits, just couldn't be implemented without making it fucking hard for people. That the subsidies aren't generous enough makes it too expensive for people, and that's a problem, but it's one thing to be forced to buy a car you can't really afford, another to buy a car that you can't afford that you have to take in for repairs every other week. The government can't just provide the nice things it once provided because reasons. Hell, once upon a time they built community pools and golf courses. Now your HOA might have a pool.

We're the richest damn country in the history of the world (close enough, anyway). Life shouldn't be so hard. Not against The Data, but the data doesn't really capture what's going on for "the middle class." It isn't that wages are stagnant or shrinking - though that's an issue too! - It's that doing the right thing and having a tiny bit of luck is no longer enough to achieve economic security anymore. Life's a crap shoot from 18-67 (soon to be longer, if Republicans get their way). We're all one medium sized economic hit (including medical) away from the downward spiral. And thanks to that glorious bankruptcy bill, once you get into a hole you're probably trapped there. Bipartisany goodness to make David Broder swoon. 74-25 in the Senate, 302-126 in the House. But the Dems are the good guys! Yah, well, not enough of them and not consistently enough. Vote for Dems and the share of them voting for horrible things will shrink slightly!
He also makes a pitch for recognizing the dominance of the current neoliberal economic ideology in Europe and the US.

That dominance has been characterized more severely in Europe than even in the US by the capitulation of the center-left parties to Herbert Hooover/Heinrich Brüning policies.

The result in Europe is chronic crisis in the eurozone, now flaring up again in more urgent fashion in Italy (Philippe Legrain, Italy on the Brink Project Syndicate 12/08/2016) and Greece (Frances Coppola, Greece: The Game Is On Again Forbes 12/28/2016). But note that Legrain takes the neoliberal posture, lamenting that outgoing Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi "was the pro-EU establishment’s best – and perhaps last – hope for delivering the growth-enhancing reforms needed to secure Italy’s long-term future in the eurozone." Growth-enhancing reforms in the neoliberal vocabulary means deregulation, reduction of the public sector, weakening of labor unions and labor law, reduction of income for the majority.

I would read the failure of the Greek negotiating strategy against Angela Merkel in 2015 differently that Coppola does. But she's clear-headed about the stakes involved:

Now it is the IMF’s turn to misread the psychological framing. This is not a four-handed poker game, it is a duel to the death. And it is not really about Greece. The surface conflict is between Greece and its creditors, but the underlying power struggle is between the German-led creditor bloc and the European Commission. The eventual outcome will determine the shape of the Eurozone, and indeed the whole EU, in the future.

Neither the Greek government nor the European Commission want the IMF involved. The only reason the IMF is still involved is that the creditors want it to be. And the reason the creditors want the IMF involved is that they do not trust the Commission to deliver the harsh penance they have prescribed for Greece. The IMF has been cast in the role of creditors’ second.

Unfortunately, this is not how the IMF sees itself. It is still trying to act as a neutral broker, crafting a deal acceptable to both sides. It has repeatedly called for substantial debt relief, but has also demanded deep reforms to the Greek economy. But because it is no longer perceived as neutral, its call for debt relief is ignored while its reform initiative is inevitably seen as a disguised demand for more austerity.
And despite noises recently from the IMF that it may realize the disastrous effects of austerity policies, Coppola recounts how the European Commission (aka, Merkel) is actually defending a marginal departure from extreme austerity by the Greek government against the criticism of the IMF.


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