Failure or War

by w3woody

Why Europe Can’t Fix Greece

Look under the hood of the Greek government, and it’s easy to see why. For decades — actually, centuries — government power in Greece (and in the Ottoman and Byzantine states that ruled what is now Greece in the past) has been feudal rather than modern. It is about loyalties, obligations, patron-client relationships.

This nexus reflects the way society works. Political parties work this way; business has to work this system to survive. Almost everyone in Greece benefits in some way from “connections” with the power machine, and without those connections, not much can get done.

Look underneath the hood of any modern government or any modern economy is the culture of a group of people. Of course any government will have a natural tension between it’s leaders who wish to lead the country in a particular direction, and the people of that country who have certain cultural expectations, stories, ways that their grandparents did things. Sure, you may be able to superimpose on top of a culture certain new stories, new expectations, new processes–but we cling to the defining stories and cultural values that make us a people.

Thus, even after a hundred and fifty years of a modern educational system imposing a certain set of stories and values on American citizens, are no different than the Yankees and the Rebels who went to war a hundred and fifty years ago. We are cleaner and most of us are better educated, and we tend to live in suburban environments rather than on a family farm or in small urban apartments. Our stories are still about the west, we still share the American dream, our allegiances are still to our families and our co-religionists first, our neighbors and our society second, we still think “women and children first!”, we still believe that the meritorious should succeed rather than the well connected.

Greece is the same way, but their stories are different, their culture is different, and how people expect to do things are different.

And if after a hundred and fifty years of modern education our children still play “cowboys and indians”, a bureaucracy in Brussels is not going to make the far more radical and substantial transformation of Greek culture to allow it to embrace the cultural imperatives that would allow it’s economy to work well within the Eurozone. As Dr. Mead so well puts it:

It is hard to say whether one culture is more moral or ‘better’ than another in an absolute sense, but nothing is more clear than that some cultures are more effective than others when it comes to capitalism. Greek culture is an ancient and venerable edifice that has seen the Greek people through difficult times; it is, however, not very good at developing the kinds of institutional and market arrangements required for success in an era of competitive liberal capitalism.

And so, failure or war: because Greece won’t change (oh, sure, they’ll promise to change–but it takes a cultural revolution, not just a legal transformation, to change Greece into a country that can survive in the Eurozone without being on endless life support), and because Germany cannot afford, either politically or financially, to leave Greece on permanent life support–there must be a “coming to Jesus.”

Because the money cannot flow forever from Germany to support Greece–because at some point the money will run out, and in fact is very close to running out–the only question is will Germany continue to follow Greece down the rabbit hole of economic failure until it’s own credit worthiness has been destroyed?

And when the day comes when Germany has had enough, will they force reform? (War?) Or will it all just fall apart? (Failure?)