“In both camps the eurozone crisis is met with a hint of relish…”

Rafael Behr in the Guardian is worth reading on so many levels

There is blame enough for everyone. Alexis Tsipras’s promise to the Greek people of euro membership without austerity was dishonest. Other European leaders were constrained by their own democratic obligations.

There are citizens from Ireland to Latvia who have already swallowed bitter reforming medicine and paid taxes that fund bailouts. They resent Athens threatening to destabilise their economies with demands for special treatment.

This is not to say those views are fair, or have more weight than Greek suffering, only that a morality tale of wicked, bullying Europe and heroic Athenian resistance doesn’t illuminate what is going on.

It is a thankless task defending EU processes when they have ballsed-up the Greek situation so badly. It would also be reckless to conclude that, since the crisis has revealed the limits of European institutions as a mechanism to express solidarity between nations, those institutions can never again aspire to that ideal.

The EU is meant to aggregate the power of national governments in response to global forces that might otherwise be beyond the capacity of individual states: climate change, energy security, terrorism, and strategic parity with the US, China, India and Russia.

Part of that function is political mediation in the borderless realm of financial globalisation. This is one reason why the Eurosceptic right hates “Brussels”. It is the place where politicians – democratically elected heads of government – can organise with combined authority to moderate international capitalism.

They may not apply the brakes with sufficient force to satisfy the radical left, but that is not a reason to cheer alongside Ukip as the coach veers towards a cliff.

Veering is right. The Greek coach is at one minute veering towards a plebiscite (whose hideously rushed timetable would test the best resourced democracy in the world), then not if only the ECB would give them the money, then again yes.

It’s unnerving to watch. And not particularly because of the economic consequences of a crash, but because of how cheaply all manner of good folk are willing to trash everything they know or understand about how democracy works get in last orders at the crowded populist bar.

And finally…

Having lost the battle against conservative economics at home, the activist left in Britain exports its surplus indignation to Greece. Anticapitalist voters may be in short supply here, but Syriza keeps the flag flying.

The EU is then cast as a high temple of austerity, as if the whole project was cooked up by Angela Merkel and David Cameron in 2010. In this way, a theme that has dominated rightwing discourse on Europe – the faceless, unelected conspiracy against free citizens – is spreading on the left.

In both camps the eurozone crisis is met with a hint of relish: the frisson of anticipation that massive upheaval is nigh, that a new order will rise from the ashes of calamity. It might. The EU could go the way of the League of Nations.

An institution, conceived as the antidote to violent nationalism, where leaders gather to solve problems through negotiation and compromise, can fail. But there is no evidence that if it does the result is more democracy and better capitalism. The opposite seems more likely.

Quite. In the shifting sands of politics, this is becoming the pattern. And there are good reasons people of good reason are losing their reason.

As Chrystia Freehand noted in the New York Times a couple of years back, whilst plutocracy is losing its grip there is nothing (that isn’t brutish and nasty) that can replace the social goods it provides:

Part of the problem is that no one has yet come up with a fully convincing answer to the question of how you harness the power of the technology revolution and globalization without hollowing out middle-class jobs.

Liberal nanny-state paternalism, as it has been brilliantly described and practiced by Cass R. Sunstein and like-minded thinkers, can help, as can shoring up the welfare state. But neither is enough, and voters are smart enough to appreciate that.

Even multiple nudges won’t make 21st-century capitalism work for everyone. Plutocrats, as well as the rest of us, need to rise to this larger challenge, to find solutions that work on the global scale at which business already operates.

The other task is to fully engage in retail, bottom-up politics — not just to sell those carefully thought-through, data-based technocratic solutions but to figure out what they should be in the first place.

Politics in the winner-take-all economy don’t have to be extremist and nasty, but they have to grow out of, and speak for, the 99 percent. The pop-up political movements that come so naturally to the plutocrats won’t be enough.

In the meantime, for the populists other people troubles will always just be ‘about us’.

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  • chrisjones2

    “Its unnerving to watch”

    Not really. Its sad for the Greek people but watching the absurd antics of these amateurs and conmen is hugely entertaining

  • Cosmo

    But, Chris, despite the high jinx, the bigger picture is surely that the ‘fundamentalist’ appetite/ outlook in the West is rising.

  • kensei

    There is truth to the eurozone as the high temple of austerity: it plays well to German Ordoliberalism. The ECB raised rates too early and had to reverse course. If there weren’t intrinsic biases that wouldn’t have happened. I’d barely include the UK in austerity, compared to other places the adjustment has been mild. And again, slowed in response to the economic damage – we were meant to balance budget at the end of the last Parliament, remember. I’d also say it is less that it was cooked up than that it’s easy to sell people ideas they want to buy.

    The U.S. Has followed a much less hardline course, and it’s lot seems better, overall.

    It’s clear that the German want regime change in Greece. But a more pliant government can only last if Greece’s lot improves. Otherwise the road eventually leads to some form of extreme – left, right, it won’t be democratic mans it will be violent.

  • puffen

    Greece is a side show, the other Lehman shoe has yet to drop!