Saturday, July 04, 2015

Grexit vindication

So I wrote a post about my belief that Greece needs to leave the Eurozone and go back to the drachma. I wrote it as a non-economist with some cultural and historical intuitions as to why Greece—and Europe as a whole—is in this mess. One of the main things I noted was that the very concept of the Eurozone is a delusional papering-over of the fact that European countries, despite their admirable will to transcend their bloody history and integrate, are by no means ready to integrate monetarily because those countries still are what they are, i.e., products of their separate histories, cultures, and languages.

I now see that I'm not alone in this intuition:

The partial de-nationalization of the state and the partial limits on state sovereignty in the name of peace still lie at the foundation of the original European project, but they have since given way, especially since the end of the Cold War, to a European bureaucratic fantasy of what should constitute the “Union.” The idea of a common market has been knocked out from its central place by the vision of a pan-European quasi-state entity, whose workings few in Europe understand, and which, most importantly, has consistently failed to generate a new Europe-wide identity in place of national allegiances. This is not just a Greek problem; bureaucratic empire building has its limits, and we call those limits “citizens.” The stirrings across Europe, from the United Kingdom through Spain to Poland, show that the issues at hand are not purely economic, and that traditional national identity, citizen participation and sovereignty remain just as relevant to democracy today as they were in years past. [emphasis added]

So I don't think I was wrong to note that, beyond economics, there are cultural forces at work that make the Eurozone impracticable. I had also noted, in my own post, that the EU and the Eurozone are essentially attempts at top-down transnationalism, but that Europe hasn't grown beyond its parochial, national loyalties. I had further noted (and this is far from an original thought) that the notions of EU and Eurozone were meant, pragmatically, to create a counterbalance to US economic might. All of the italicized sentiments, in the block quote above, reflect and confirm what I had written in my earlier post. And Glenn Reynolds, in reacting to the above quote, adds this:

The Common Market was about free trade. The EU was about creating an economic – and, especially, political — counterweight to America. It was a venture that put politics ahead of economics, which explains its current problems.

So in one way, Reynolds and I see eye-to-eye: we're on the same page as regards the "counterbalance/counterweight" notion. But Reynolds strongly implies that, for a truer unity, economics needs to come first. I disagree. My point, in fact, was that trying to establish friendships through money would never result in true friendships. So, fortunately or unfortunately, this a deep philosophical disagreement that I have with Professor Reynolds. Although he and I are both free-market partisans, he seems to see international trust and amity as being based on market principles. I think the foundation for trust and amity needs to run deeper than the merely transactional.

Stepping back to a more abstract level: a similar point has been made by conservative anti-multiculturalists who follow the HBD (human biodiversity) line of thinking: you can't simply mash a bunch of different races and cultures together and just wish them to function smoothly. Cultures and races are prickly, spiky things; they don't always mix well, especially when forced to do so. According to this way of thinking, the EU/Eurozone can be viewed as one massive experiment in forced multiculturalism, and economically at least, but also culturally, we can see that it's failing.

I take to heart the HBD criticisms of forced integration, but I'm not entirely on board with the HBD project, which seems to be, ironically, pro-balkanization. This puts HBD in bed with leftist forces that view the world starkly, in terms of identity politics. My own take is very assimilationist: America, as a country, is at its best when its people are united by a central set of core ideas. If American citizens were to agree on what those ideas are, and how important they are, and if they realized that those ideas come first, taking precedence over parochial cultural loyalties and proclivities, there would be no "hyphenated Americans"—there would be only Americans.

This is the deeper realization that I referred to earlier when I talked about Europe: it's not mere money that will truly bind European countries to each other; the truest union can spring only from the realization that all Europeans share a certain distinct set of core values. Can this even happen in Europe, though? America, while diverse, is at least bound together—mostly—by a common language. This allows Americans to think in each other's terms more easily than Europeans can. We are also bound by a mostly common history; European countries are not, as their bloody history over the centuries will attest. Still, I wouldn't put it past the Europeans: I don't think true integration is merely a pipe dream. It can happen, just... not yet.

Happy Fourth of July, fellow Yanks.

ADDENDUM: the somewhat humorous and unwieldy portmanteau "Grexit" refers to the Greek exit from the Eurozone—an increasingly likely possibility that may become a reality as early as next week. I hope the Greek banks haven't thrown away their stockpiles of drachmas: they're gonna need 'em. Meanwhile, I wish Greece good luck as it tries to find its feet.


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