Talking to Greeks and Talking to Germans

Germans and Greeks, despite the glaring differences between their national administrations, do not hate each other. Perhaps the relationship is more akin to that of an older to a younger brother. The elder is mature, self-assured, and judicious in action. He looks at his younger brother, playing with toys, weeping when he stubs his toe, begging for cookies, and other youthful activities with some measure of aloof disdain, but with greater measure of pity. Or, perhaps the relationship is like a tired, Stoic householder with his shrill harpy of a wife. He brings home the bacon, and she spends it all and demands more. Or a number of other interesting metaphors which I have failed to conceive. I suppose my lack of vision here has something to do with the simple fact that I have never gotten the two of them, the German and the Greek, in the same room together. Instead, I have only talked to one, and then to another, at different times and in different places. What they have to say to each other while apart is, in some ways, what quarreling brothers have to say to each other: you are immature, well you are mean!, but, you deserve it, but I don’t! and so forth. It’s also like the tired husband and his old lady: please be more fiscally sound, no, give me more!, but I already gave you-, NO, more! and so on. Who really knows how the exchange might play out, or if these media stereotypes at all hold true, if they came together to talk?

In Patras, on the first night of the last weekend of Carnival, I was milling about the central square waiting for the floats to come by. In one hand I held a souvlaki, the most delicious street food made by man after burritos, and in the other, a bottle of sweet local wine. “A house specialty” the server told me, “very good with souvlaki.” Greeks are a raucous people, and in these times even their holidays are not as enjoyable as they once were. So, naturally, they were holding a protest in preparation for the large crowds that were to come. I spoke with Maria, a local schoolteacher.

  • Self: “I can’t read Modern Greek very well. Can you tell me what those slogans say?”
  • Maria: “Yes, well, I don’t know how to say it in English. But, we owe a lot of money, and we don’t want to pay.”
  • S: “Okay, but why shouldn’t you pay?”
  • M: “Our governments took out the loans for us, we didn’t know about them, and now we’re here. Why should we have to pay for something we didn’t agree with?”
  • S: “Valid points, valid points. But, you all benefitted from that money, right? Your government hired a lot of civil servants on that money. And, you could have voted for a more austere party that wouldn’t have taken bad loans, but you enabled PASOK and the others to accept disastrous loans that Greece could not sustain.”
  • M: “Yes, those things are true. But we don’t want to pay, and we can’t pay. Very few people have jobs, so they can’t take more money from us. All the bailout goes to is the debt. There is nowhere for the money to come from. We need jobs, not more pain.”
  • S: “Certainly, and I wish you luck in that quest.”

At another time, at a taverna in Meteora, I had a caveman-like conversation with a gaggle of old Greek men, having dinner with their wives.

  • Old Greek man one: “Me, I am fat communist. I have very important work tomorrow. I drink coffee, I drink tea, I read newspaper. Very important!”
  • Old Greek man two: “Bah. You always so lazy, Kostas.”
  • Old Greek man three: “We like Tsipras. He [points to OGM2], he capitalist. He no like Tsipras. Tsipras make Greece strong! [laughter]”
  • Me: “But what about the debt?
  • OGM1: “Debt no important, Tsipras will do good.”
  • OGM3: [Says nothing, shakes head, spins worry beads]

There seems to a be a certain cavalier attitude amongst the Greek people, whether young or old. The old are happy and fat, living on their pensions from the government, which despite recent cutbacks still seem sizable enough to allow for daily trips to the local taverna. They look on the struggles of the youth with kindly pity, but without the necessary foresight to see that their present happiness is built on the suffering of their descendants. It seems that a man can never escape his times and his view of the world. This view is dominant amongst the older citizens of Hellas unless, like OGM3, they have to do serious work for a living. He was an olive and tomato farmer, and was struggling to make a profit in the face of an onerous tax burden and the shrinking market for his products, most of which he was now forced to ship abroad. Throughout the dinner his face oscillated between one of benevolent, bemused distraction, and one of painful contemplation. The young, by contrast, are bitter and cynical. They have no jobs, no prospect for practical work, and no use for their university degrees. They spend their time, like many children of the West, in idle amusements like smoking, drinking, and fornicating at college parties. As Russell observed in his History of Western Philosophy, in times of decay there are always two countervailing tendencies in man. One leads to a resigned morality, convinced that the world is terrible and all we can do is respond to the terror. This is the ethic of the Stoic, which cut its teeth as the Hellenic world decayed and made way for Rome. Another leads to an unrestrained libidinous and orgiastic hedonism, which has no aim and no long term satisfaction. The worship of Dionysus, or of strange mystery cults, social fads, and passing fancies. You can guess which road the youth have taken. They are correct in saying that they really shouldn’t have to pay, because the burden foisted on them was made before their time. But they are correct for a world that is ideal, where Germany does not assume that a debt contracted is a debt that must be paid, regardless if the beneficiaries do the paying or not. They are, as Homer says, between a rock and a hard place: pay the penalty to Charon and eventually cross the river, or spit in his face and feel the pain all at once. Germans are more annoyed than anything at the behavior of their southern neighbor. One beautiful morning in Freiburg, in southern Germany, I was drinking tea with my host, Matthias, and asked him what he was reading in the paper.

  • Matthias: “This nonsense” [tosses the paper my way]
  • Self: “So Greece wants World War Two reparations? Didn’t Germany already pay?”
  • M: “Yes, but the Greeks are saying that we only paid individual reparations, and not structural reparations. Hitler forced the Greek national bank to give him a loan roughly equaling 11 billion Euros in Reichsmarks. But I don’t think it will go anywhere.”

The next day, while I was on a bus to Hamburg, I met a German named Vincent. We talked amiably in Hochdeutsch until he realized I wasn’t a local, which only happened when I said those four magic words: “Ich kann nicht verstehen…” His attitude towards the Greeks was less of bemusement, more of annoyance.

  • Vincent: “These people are ridiculous. They want reparations now? And then I heard they want to give European papers to thousands of illegal immigrants and send them by bus to Germany. This would be funny if it weren’t so sad.”
  • Self: “Yes, but I understand them. The young didn’t make the debt, and they can do nothing about it now. There are no jobs, no opportunities for them at home. What should they do?”
  • V: “Beyond me. But their government is out of place. We have given them so much, and they have nothing to show for it. In the past couple weeks two foreign firms have tried to invest in Greece, but the Greeks wont let them. ‘No no, this is a public part of the economy’ or ‘no no, we won’t privatize this!’ It’s ridiculous. They can’t even help themselves.”

It’s a position I also sympathize with because, like many dilemmas such as these, both sides are in the right. Greece destroyed its own position with years of financial mismanagement, though the real crooks are still free while the burdens they created are borne not by them, but by the young. Germany gave bailout money to Greece, but on harsh terms which have done little to ameliorate the problems. Both have alienated each other with rhetoric and with stupid actions, which is reflected in the sentiments of their people. Like an older brother, Germany has indulged Greece in its flights of fancy for some time now. But I think they will soon pull out the rug from under their younger ward, and let them rot.

19 thoughts on “Talking to Greeks and Talking to Germans

  1. Fascinating post. We should bear in mind that Germany didn’t literally loan money to Greece. German politicians loaned money to Greek politicians. I agree with Maria that even if Greek individuals benefited from the loan, they aren’t obligated to repay it. The same would be true if my neighbor were a thief who used some of his loot to remodel his house and pull up my property value.

    • I agree, but I am curious what next steps that path entails:
      1. Some form of debt repudiation. A Greek exit?
      2. Debt restructuring so Greece remains in the EU?
      3. Redistribution of moneys from beneficiaries of the loans back to the German government?

      I am not an economist, so there are probably countless measures I have missed. It will be interesting to see if the youth get any of their demands met.

  2. I agree with Dr Gibson: This is a fascinating post.

    However, I think both you, Matthew, and Warren are being way too lenient on the Greeks. That’s right gentlemen, I – the supporter of federal rights protection for le gays, open borders, reparations for slavery, and a robust multilateralist foreign policy – have a conservative streak, and you guys just roused it from its slumber.

    When it comes to organizations or people not paying back their debt, I’m a codger. I realize that Maria has a point, and Warren breaks down the logic of her point quite well, but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that a few stupid people borrowed from a few smart people and that there is a contract enforcing their exchange.

    By treating the Greeks like children, or like morons, you guys are contributing to the notion that the Greeks are the victims of this largely mutual exchange. Greece has a problem. Germany does not have a problem. Athens is too bloated and too corrupt. Berlin is efficient and transparent. The Greek people have lived beyond their means for the good part of a decade now, thanks to the lending practices of the Germans (is this true, or was it the ECB that loaned out the money, or a combination of the two?). Therefore, I don’t think the terms the Germans (or is it Brussels?) have asked for are “harsh.” At all.

    The Greeks are just being dishonest – with themselves and with everybody else involved – and even though this is largely a problem that can be pinned on government, it is still a problem and letting the Greeks get away with bad governance is not going to solve the said problem. Alberto Mingardi, a political theorist from Italy, has a short post on this that’s worth reading.

    This whole problem goes back to the creation of the European Central Bank (ECB). While I am not a fan of national banks, the Eurozone essentially turned the national banks of EU members into competing regional banks – a sort of second best option to free banking. If the ECB had not been created none of this would have happened: The Greeks could have lowered their exchange rates when the 2008 crisis hit and dealt with a weaker currency rather than a sovereign debt crisis (while still being in the Eurozone and thus beholden to competitive pressures from other national banks).

    Bah!

    I’d prefer scenario 2 to play out at this point, Matthew, but who knows what’s going to happen.

    • I can’t speak for Warren, but I would not absolve those who are actually responsible for this calamity from the consequences that come with it. But you and I seem to disagree as to who is actually responsible. You say: “Maria has a point… but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that a few stupid people borrowed from a few smart people and that there is a contract enforcing their exchange.” Yes, I completely agree, so make those few stupid people pay. Make the politicians, and the people who benefitted from their policies, pay. It might be more nebulous than forcing austerity on all of the Greeks, but it is certainly a fairer policy.

      “The Greeks” are not responsible, as many Greeks are now coming of age to deal with the aftermath of their parents, or their parents’ government’s decisions. It is unfair to demand these people to pay for a debt which they did not make, especially when they cannot get jobs to begin these payments. Here is the relevant quote from the Mignardi piece:

      “People were paralyzed by the guilt induced by the dominant narrative on the recession. North Europe and the Right painted us as lazy, corrupt Southerners, inferior to virtuous Germans. Greeks felt burdened by the moral responsibility for the national bankruptcy, until Syriza told us of the role played by bankers, of the deception of loans that enslaven us, of rapacious neo-liberalism. And we rose again.”

      Obviously these are two poles of thought, and they both partake of the truth. On one hand, the Greeks took loans that they could not possibly repay, and when the Great Recession hit they went bust. This has a lot to do with the way the government manages the economy – lots of civil service jobs with lavish pensions, heavy taxes on middle income earners, and no taxes at all on the big shipping tycoons – and so there is no private capital creation that can make up for the pain of austerity. On the other, the German government/ECB made loans to a notoriously corrupt government, and then imposed a stupid and unproductive economic policy which has seen Greece’s debt to GDP ratio increase since 2008, along with the number of unemployed. Should the Greeks have to pay? Unequivocally yes! Should they have to do it on these harsh terms? Unequivocally no!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Matthew. Most of the conversation on Greece, like the Israel/Palestine debacle, gets too bogged down in semantics.

      For example, you write that the Germans are “forcing austerity” onto the Greeks. This strikes me as odd. What is “austerity”? A cut in spending? Cuts in future spending? If cuts are indeed what you mean by “austerity,” are they not exactly what corrupt and inefficient Greece needs? What do you mean by “forcing”? It looks to me like the Northerners are simply asking the Greeks to uphold their end of a mutually-agreed upon bargain. The Greeks can always default and leave the EU, so I don’t see how the Northerners are “forcing” the Greeks to anything, let alone “austerity.”

      You likewise refer to the “harsh terms” being imposed upon the Greeks by the Germans. Where’s the proof that terms are “harsh”? Unemployment and cronyism have always been prominent in postwar Greece. Did the Northerners change the nature of their contract with the Southerners after the fact? Are the Northerners expecting too much of the Greeks, treating them too little like children?

      Regarding responsibility: Greek politicians borrowed from the North. Many otherwise astute observers seem to think that this gives the Greeks a pass on paying their debts. Who voted for the borrowing politicians in the first place? The Greek people, and they knew exactly what their representatives were doing. They just underestimated the resolve of their northern creditors (and, like the rest of us, failed to see the 2008 crisis coming). The Mingardi piece highlights the moral depravity of the Greeks (helped along by mass democracy) well: the severity of the 2008 crisis was showing the Greeks that they were living beyond their means. They were coming around to this fact. And then: mass democracy. That quote comes from a Syriza henchman but, unlike Mingardi, the henchman sees mass democracy as a good thing, as an escape from the burdens of good governance.

      When the US collectively realized that Bush II and the GOP was incompetent, the public changed course. When Greece collectively realized that Athens was incompetent, the populace doubled down and elected dogmatic radicals. If anything, the negotiations with their better-governed northern brethren will finally wrest Greek society away from its postwar lethargy. The best thing that could happen to Greece’s youth is coming of age in an era where debts are repaid and governance is taken seriously. My what a codger I can be!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Matthew. Most of the conversation on Greece, like the Israel/Palestine debacle, gets too bogged down in semantics.
      For example, you write that the Germans are “forcing austerity” onto the Greeks. This strikes me as odd. What is “austerity”? A cut in spending? Cuts in future spending? If cuts are indeed what you mean by “austerity,” are they not exactly what corrupt and inefficient Greece needs? What do you mean by “forcing”? It looks to me like the Northerners are simply asking the Greeks to uphold their end of a mutually-agreed upon bargain. The Greeks can always default and leave the EU, so I don’t see how the Northerners are “forcing” the Greeks to anything, let alone “austerity.”

      I agree, the Greeks need to reform their government. I have always said as much. If corrupt and inefficient Greece needs government cuts, that is one thing – another is cuts inefficiently applied, causing a severe decrease in GDP, from 340 billion USD in 2008 to 240 billion in 2014. Please tell me how a shrinking economy will benefit the Greeks, as it seems to me that the austerity measures have only worsened Greece’s recession.

      The Greeks can always leave, sure, but you make it sound as if leaving the EU is like taking a walk in the park. Analysts are wildly speculative as to what will happen for Greece leaving the Eurozone and reclaiming a devaluated drachma. One option I have read is a year or so of economic pain and then sustained GDP growth. Another is that the Greek exit will lead to a collapse of the EU broadly, and then to continental depression, and perhaps global depression. This is not limited to Greece, so saying the Greeks can “always default and leave the EU” ignores the very persuasive reasons against doing so – for the Greeks, and the Germans. I say “forced” because:
      1. The Germans want the Greeks to accept their terms in order to receive more money
      2. If they don’t accept the terms, they get no money
      3. Getting no money will force them to leave the Eurozone
      4. Leaving the Eurozone will be disastrous for Greece, the EU, or both

      There is certainly an element of coercion here, because every option is unsavory.

      “You likewise refer to the “harsh terms” being imposed upon the Greeks by the Germans. Where’s the proof that terms are “harsh”? Unemployment and cronyism have always been prominent in postwar Greece. Did the Northerners change the nature of their contract with the Southerners after the fact? Are the Northerners expecting too much of the Greeks, treating them too little like children?”

      Unemployment rose from ~8% in 2008 to around 28% now. Do you need more proof that the austerity measures are harsh? And why would the Northerners change their terms, when the terms are favorable to them? The Greeks want them changed because they are unfavorable and, to them, harsh.

      “Regarding responsibility: Greek politicians borrowed from the North. Many otherwise astute observers seem to think that this gives the Greeks a pass on paying their debts. Who voted for the borrowing politicians in the first place? The Greek people, and they knew exactly what their representatives were doing. They just underestimated the resolve of their northern creditors (and, like the rest of us, failed to see the 2008 crisis coming).The Mingardi piece highlights the moral depravity of the Greeks (helped along by mass democracy) well: the severity of the 2008 crisis was showing the Greeks that they were living beyond their means. They were coming around to this fact. And then: mass democracy. That quote comes from a Syriza henchman but, unlike Mingardi, the henchman sees mass democracy as a good thing, as an escape from the burdens of good governance.
      When the US collectively realized that Bush II and the GOP was incompetent, the public changed course. When Greece collectively realized that Athens was incompetent, the populace doubled down and elected dogmatic radicals. If anything, the negotiations with their better-governed northern brethren will finally wrest Greek society away from its postwar lethargy. The best thing that could happen to Greece’s youth is coming of age in an era where debts are repaid and governance is taken seriously. My what a codger I can be!”

      And the Greeks should pay, as I have said. I disagree on which segments of the population ought to pay, and on what terms. It is in the interest of the Eurozone and the world economy that the Greeks repay their debts while managing to grow their economy and provide jobs for their vast hordes of unemployed. The Troika’s policies seem to have had the opposite effect. Furthermore, I don’t see the moral depravity you seem to find. It is a completely understandable reaction to unemployment and hopelessness to elect a demagogue to power, who promises to right all wrongs and bring us all to the sun. The Germans, Italians, Greeks, and other victims of such foolishness know this well. Stupid? Yeah. Morally depraved? Fuck no.

    • Thanks again for your thoughtful response. Just two things:

      1) You still have yet to define what you mean by “austerity.” I suspect that many people only use the term because it sounds serious. 1a) I don’t see any connection whatsoever between Greece’s bad post-2008 economy and “austerity” (this goes back to needing a definition from you on what you mean by “austerity”). 1b) This is confusing: “cuts [were] inefficiently applied, causing a severe decrease in GDP.” I was under the impression that PIGS fared poorly relative to Ireland and the Baltic states because PIGS initially raised taxes rather than cut spending, which delayed the necessary reforms (“less spending, more deregulating”) needed to address their sovereign debt crises. Two Polish economists, Leszek Balcerowicz and Andrzej Rzońca, have a fairly up-to-date popular article on Greek reforms, if you’re interested. (tldr; life is good for the Greeks, if they can keep Syriza from screwing things up.)

      2) Being forced to do something is not the same thing as being confronted with unsavory options. The fact that Greeks are working so hard to remain in the EU suggests that nobody is “forcing” them to do anything. The Greeks aren’t children! 2a) Unemployment did increase sharply in the aftermath of the crash, but I fail to see how that ties in to “austerity.” 2b) If somebody borrows a significant amount of funds from you promising to pay you back, and then refuses to actually pay you back, would you consider that person morally depraved? If not, I know of a really cool bridge you should think about buying.

  3. 1. Wikipedia has a decent enough definition: “In economics, austerity is the policy of reducing government budget deficits during times of economic recession. Austerity policies may include spending cuts, tax increases, or a mixture of both.[1][2][3] Austerity may be undertaken to demonstrate the government’s fiscal discipline to their creditors and credit rating agencies by bringing revenues closer to expenditures. Austerity may also be politically or ideologically driven, or imposed by external agencies.”
    1a. Given the definition supplied, do you have a different causal relationship you can offer?
    1b. I don’t know what PIGS stands for, unless you mean police officers.

    2. Yet there is still coercion in the arrangement. The creditors hold the cards, and can change the arrangement, if they so choose. They prefer to let Greece rot.
    2a. See 1a. above.
    2b. It depends on the situation. Considerations in ideal circumstances do not hold in all circumstances. A debtor who refuses to pay when he has the ability I would consider in the wrong. A debtor who refuses to pay because he cannot? I would not consider it acceptable, but justifiable, sure.

    • Ah, thank you for the definition of “austerity,” Matthew. This caught my eye:

      Austerity policies may include spending cuts, tax increases, or a mixture of both […] Austerity may also be politically or ideologically driven, or imposed by external agencies.

      Is there anything that “austerity” is not? If a word’s definition is all-encompassing, as it is here, it’s safe to assume that the word is largely useless, correct? PIGS = Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain.

      2) Greece wants to borrow money from Germany. Germany says ‘no’. Therefore Germany is coercing Greece? The Greeks aren’t children! The IMF just received a payment from Athens today, so the Greeks can definitely afford it, especially now that they’ve begun to get their house in order (“less spending, more deregulating”).

    • My apologies for being so brusque, Matthew, but you’ve stoked a long dormant fire in me. I detest excuses for failing to uphold one’s end of a bargain. I loathe it. I think such broken promises cultivate the inner cultural logic that tacitly governs morally depraved societies. I don’t think it leads to ‘decline’ as it is conceived of in conservative rhetoric, mind you, but instead to widespread poverty and cultural stagnation. The Greeks are lying. The Greeks have lied. And the Greeks will continue to lie unless the Northerners remain firm in their “demand” that the Greeks play fair (some demand!). The Greeks are lying to their fellow Europeans but, more importantly, also to themselves.

      Part of the Greek deal with the Troika is initiating reforms that the Troika wants in place for further loans. That’s not coercion. That’s a deal between two parties. Again, the Greeks can always leave the EU but, as you point out, it wouldn’t be easy. That’s not coercion! The Germans have something the Greeks want, and the Greeks have something the Germans want. This is very different from, say, Germany invading Greece in order to steal their women and rape their horses.

      Sometimes oversimplification is a good thing, especially if semantics are brought back into the dialogue (allowing Greece to “rot,” for example; even if it were true that Germans were actively trying to screw over the Greeks, it does not follow that Greece would “rot,” correct?). Here is where I see the argument stand right now:

      • “austerity” is a meaningless word that is well-liked because it sounds serious
      • Ireland and the Baltic states cut government spending and copied reform measures taken by rich states; today these guys are in great shape (see Ausland, who is more generous than I when it comes to semantics, for more)
      • PIGS increased government spending and put off reforms; when cuts in government spending and reforms became necessary, Italy, Greece, and Spain voted further to the Left, suggesting to me that none of these states are deserving of our pity (see Hausmann, who is also more generous than I when it comes to semantics, for more)
      • trying to understand all sides of a conflict is a necessity for getting at the truth of some matter, but it does us no good to look for victims or take up a cause; facts and logic should always win out at NOL!
    • “My apologies for being so brusque, Matthew, but you’ve stoked a long dormant fire in me. I detest excuses for failing to uphold one’s end of a bargain. I loathe it. I think such broken promises cultivate the inner cultural logic that tacitly governs morally depraved societies. I don’t think it leads to ‘decline’ as it is conceived of in conservative rhetoric, mind you, but instead to widespread poverty and cultural stagnation. The Greeks are lying. The Greeks have lied. And the Greeks will continue to lie unless the Northerners remain firm in their “demand” that the Greeks play fair (some demand!).”

      Your loathing is commensurate with my indifference. I can’t get riled over abstruse concerns about contractual violations between parties completely removed from myself. Anyway, it’s a necessary demand. The form it takes is not necessary, and can change. If the result is ultimately the same, do the means really matter, in this case? I still do not see how
      1. Holding the signatories to and beneficiaries of these loans accountable
      Follows into
      2. Holding all Greeks accountable.

      Punish the malefactors. Why conflate the whole with the part?

      “Part of the Greek deal with the Troika is initiating reforms that the Troika wants in place for further loans. That’s not coercion. That’s a deal between two parties. Again, the Greeks can always leave the EU but, as you point out, it wouldn’t be easy. That’s not coercion! The Germans have something the Greeks want, and the Greeks have something the Germans want. This is very different from, say, Germany invading Greece in order to steal their women and rape their horses.”

      I concede. The Germans are not required to offer favorable terms – favorable terms would make things more palatable, perhaps, but they are not obligated.

      “Sometimes oversimplification is a good thing, especially if semantics are brought back into the dialogue (allowing Greece to “rot,” for example; even if it were true that Germans were actively trying to screw over the Greeks, it does not follow that Greece would “rot,” correct?).”

      Greece and the Greeks will not turn into a putrescence inhabited by maggots, true. But the phrase “let something rot” has a colloquial meaning which is well understood, and in that sense I stand by it.

      “austerity” is a meaningless word that is well-liked because it sounds serious
      Ireland and the Baltic states cut government spending and copied reform measures taken by rich states; today these guys are in great shape (see Ausland, who is more generous than I when it comes to semantics, for more)
      PIGS increased government spending and put off reforms; when cuts in government spending and reforms became necessary, Italy, Greece, and Spain voted further to the Left, suggesting to me that none of these states are deserving of our pity (see Hausmann, who is also more generous than I when it comes to semantics, for more)”

      Pity maybe, understanding certainly. If people go through hardship, they tend to vote for stupid extremist parties that promise them more than they can deliver. People are generally stupid, so I understand this move, and I consider it justified, on account of their shortsighted views. That does not entail we pity them, or that they are right to act in this way.

    • The question of responsibility goes back to Greek elections. The Greeks voted for the center-left coalition that borrowed from the North. The Greeks then voted for an extreme Left coalition after the North ran out of easy money. Is this an understandable position? Maybe, but it’s definitely a sure sign of a morally depraved society. They could have used the opportunity to do some deep, inward reflecting. Instead, the Greeks collectively pointed their fingers North and cried “Nazis!” That’s pathetic, no matter how you look at it.

      Again, Greek unemployment has always been relatively high, especially for youth. The Greeks were not complaining while sucking mother’s milk out of Brussels’ once-bountiful tits, either.

      Back to semantics. Nobody is being “punished” here. This is a case of factions trying to work out a deal. I don’t know why commentators insist on using words like “punish” or “harsh.” When the Irish and the Baltic states instituted the recommended policies to alleviate sovereign debt, nobody there – except for some on the far margins of the Left and Right – used words like “punish” or “harsh” to describe their fortunes. Those guys looked inward. They did not lash outward. Now they’re in better shape – economically, politically, culturally, and morally – than they were in 2008.

      When I went to college I refused to take out any of the easy loans offered to me. Most people bit on that hook, though. I slept in the bleachers, in my car, and in the corners of a library. Those who bit on that hook partied, paid exorbitant rents, and took lavish vacations to other parts of the world. Now that they have to pay the piper, they cry out for forgiveness. Should they be forgiven?

    • I am about to board a plane, so I apologize for the brevity.

      I tend to reserve the word “depraved” for entities like ISIS, or for rapists, or murderers, or child-molesters. People who default on their loans are in a different tier entirely from the morally depraved, for their failings are of greed and sloth – a weaker word is necessary. Morally loose, morally lax, better, morally unsound. But not depraved. On a similar note, I confess to looseness with the word punish. “Hold accountable” would have been better.

    • Also, no, and I never maintained their debt should be forgiven either, so I don’t know where you got that idea. My point is simple: make them pay what they owe, don’t do it in such a way that will increase suffering more than is necessary. I confess to a greater degree of ignorance than I am comfortable with on whether it is the Troika’s deal with the Greeks, or the mismanagement of that deal by the Greeks, which is responsible for the present situation. If the former, the Greeks are justified in asking for a better deal. If the latter, they should be “looking inward” (they should do this anyway).

    • I am glad you brought up the issue of moral depravity. I am even gladder that you wrote this post. Fly safely!

      Greece is a deeply racist society. It is xenophobic. It is culturally, politically, and economically stagnant. The attempt to renege on their collective agreement with the Northerners is thus not really a surface issue; it can only be understood in tandem with other cultural factors that constitute Greek daily life.

      ISIS, for example, seeks a society filled solely with Sunni Muslims (even “bad” Sunni Muslims are theoretically welcome in IS). If you are not Sunni, you are not welcome. Does the Islamic State sound like an organization that would readily pay its debts to foreigners?

      Similarly, Greece is for Greeks. If you are not Greek (even the “bad” kind, such as a classical liberal) and if you are not a tourist, you are not welcome. Does Greece sound like an organization that would readily pay its debts to foreigners? (Delacroix has a good piece on Greek culture that is missing from our dialogue.)

      Sloth and greed are just as deadly as wrath and gluttony. (It’s not a coincidence that both Greece and the Levant were once a part of the Ottoman Empire that collapsed after World War I.) The difference between Greece and ISIS is that the former has been given the opportunity to adopt institutions that will eventually, non-coercively stamp out the nastiness of (modern) Greek morality.

      Really quickly: Is the Troika to blame or are the Greeks to blame? The Troika gave the same advice to Greece as it gave to Ireland and the 3 Baltic states. 4 out of these 5 states are doing just fine now. Who is to blame? (Greece was getting better before the elections that ushered in Syriza, too.)

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