Full disclosure…I won’t pretend to have an answer to this protracted Greek fiasco. I’m not an economist, and I try not to comment on matters outside of my professional acumen. But, I’ve also rarely witnessed such a colossal train-wreck unfolding, as if in slow motion, before our very eyes. Simultaneously, Greece’s European identity and the future profile of the European Union hang in the balance of this looming tragedy, worthy of Euripides.
Before surrendering the drachma — the world’s oldest currency — in favor of the stabilizing partnership of an identical Euro-note, Greece existed at the edge of the European silhouette. Much like Britain, Spain or Turkey, something separated Greece from the continental experience. Cue the past eighteen months, and a ubiquitous protest movement that has contorted domestic identity. Meanwhile, in Paris and Berlin, it’s been difficult to ignore the latest “sick, old man of Europe.”
This is a country that lives on the edge of perpetual default…a former governorate of the Ottomans and an occupied province of National Socialism during the Second World War. Its best year are literally confined to ancient history, when Alexander cried tears on the edge of civilization with no more worlds to conquer, and Aristotle and Plato cut the trail of our intellectual horizons. Of course, the Greek city state of Athens, led by Cleisthenes – “the father of democracy” – established what is generally considered the first democracy in 507 BCE.
So, perhaps there was some poetic justice to President Papandreou’s decision to turn over the solvency of the euro zone to a broad-based, social plebiscite. Of course, a choice to accept a reduction of the country’s debt by more than €100 billion while offering another €130 billion in life support loans doesn’t seem like much of a choice at all. That’s the best deal they’re going to get…but it’s not one the Greek people will have to make for themselves. For better or worse, the Greek leader has decided to scrap the risky bailout referendum.
That doesn’t mean Papandreou’s party will survive intact. Again, I repeat: I’m not an expert on the Greek experience. I’m considerably more comfortably discussing Thucydides than PASOK’s race to the bottom of social welfare and adamant opposition to austerity. However, I am a comparativist by trade and I can recognize a triangular threat when I see one. His nation is facing economic collapse, continental Europe is beyond livid and his party — not to mention his parliamentary coalition — is about to combust. Something tells me this is one premiere who won’t survive snap elections when the ruling bloc rents apart at the seams.
Even as I type this post, an emergency cabinet session is underway, amid speculation that Panandreou’s fellow Socialists will call on him to resign. Meanwhile, President Barak Obama joined world leaders in the south of France for the G-20 summit — no doubt they’re finding the weather a little gloomy…undoubtedly overshadowed by this Greek crisis.
Regardless of whether Greece is spoon-fed this bailout, the euro zones troubled sovereign borrowers remain an issue, the banks remain fragile and the governance of their currency is still tenuous. Drastic times, call for drastic measures.
You know what — I’ve got very little skin in this game. I say let it ride. Let Greece default. Eject them from the Eurozone. Write off the debt. Monetize the losses. Move on.
Let the Greeks reclaim the drachma — olive oil will get cheap, baklava even cheaper. Next year around this time, we’ll all be vacationing off Crete because your American dollars will be trading at a very favorable ratio to statues from the Parthenon.
It could be worse, right? I think we’d all benefit from this case study in parsimony. And I’ll see you in the Aegean.