Jürgen Habermas On The Shift of Global Policies Away From Basic Human Rights

“Policies predominant in recent decades in the US, the UK, continental Europe, and indeed throughout the world, pretend to be able to secure an autonomous life for citizens primarily through guarantees of economic liberties.  In fact they tend to destroy the balance between the different categories of basic rights.  Human dignity, one and the same for everyone and everywhere, grounds the indivisibility of all categories of human rights.”

Modified extract from the book The Crisis Of The European Union: A Response

Syriza’s real, under-the-radar accomplishment

The radical party that won the recent elections on January 25 2015 and shamed the forces that governed Greece for the past 4 decades, has managed to align a significant portion of the electorate and took off on an impressive, decisive journey towards the same agenda it had adopted at the pre-election period.

Consistency, transparency and determination, are values never before upheld by any Greek government.   Plus a very well done homework and an equally confident plan in immediate motion.

Thrust in the international political scene is equally impressive: Obama’s forthright support, French Fin Min and J.C Junker’s statements, solidarity–work in progress– with the European periphery that suffers from the consequences of the same cruel, irrational model of punitive austerity.  A hypocritical and ironic amalgam of values embedded in Enlightenment and ironclad remainders of the Inquisition and the Dark Ages.  It is not a matter of economics or financial viability, it has nothing from the positive outlook of repairing damages, healing wounds, righting wrongs or restoring balances.  It is purely a cultural war of hatred and revenge as if World War II in Europe never ended, 75 years later.

The value of Syriza’s rise and impressive appeal on a national and international scale lies elsewhere.  Within 7 days they have managed to show the world that there are other ways to rebuild devastated economies, that the alternative vision is entirely existing and cautiously attainable.  In fact it has showcased that non- violent ways are the only ways out of a crisis.  As an inspired friend put it, “you don’t austeritize yourself out of a crisis, you grow yourself out of it.”  And this is not just one option.  It is the only realistic option with win-win consequences for all actors involved.

Secondly, they have managed to turn the sign of the conversation from negative to positive.  An economy in deep recession and depression was in desperate need of climate change.  And by extension, other economies and societies suffocating under irrational fiscal restructuring simply because some brains behind thick walls decided that Milton Friedman’s model of shock therapy would be implemented on a global scale. Just because markets rejoice and some billions end up in a handful of private accounts as bonuses.  People’s rights, international treaties and democratic principles are simply annoying roadblocks.     The “invisible hand” sadly belongs to very real persons who couldn’t care less about balance or justice while they dance their way to banks.

Finally, the way Greece is viewed by its creditors after Syriza’s victory has been exposed as outright unfair, very much revealing of their inadequacy and blunt betrayal of the values, principles and grand vision conceived by the founders of the EEC in the 1950s.  Never has the concept “Union” been violated so blatantly than now that it has forced an entire nation into a vicious circle of recession from restructuring measures based on very wrong assumptions.  Critics of neoliberal principles can no longer be silenced because econometric empiricism no longer stands on their side.

© Maria Jay Em

The New Sick Man of Europe: the European Union

French Dispirited; Attitudes Diverge Sharply from Germans

Overview

The European Union is the new sick man of Europe. The effort over the past half century to create a more united Europe is now the principal casualty of the euro crisis. The European project now stands in disrepute across much of Europe.

2013-EU-01Support for European economic integration – the 1957 raison d’etre for creating the European Economic Community, the European Union’s predecessor – is down over last year in five of the eight European Union countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2013. Positive views of the European Union are at or near their low point in most EU nations, even among the young, the hope for the EU’s future. The favorability of the EU has fallen from a median of 60% in 2012 to 45% in 2013. And only in Germany does at least half the public back giving more power to Brussels to deal with the current economic crisis.

The sick man label – attributed originally to Russian Czar Nicholas I in his description of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-19th century – has more recently been applied at different times over the past decade and a half to Germany, Italy, Portugal, Greece and France. But this fascination with the crisis country of the moment has masked a broader phenomenon: the erosion of Europeans’ faith in the animating principles that have driven so much of what they have accomplished internally.

The prolonged economic crisis has created centrifugal forces that are pulling European public opinion apart, separating the French from the Germans and the Germans from everyone else. The southern nations of Spain, Italy and Greece are becoming ever more estranged as evidenced by their frustration with Brussels, Berlin and the perceived unfairness of the economic system.

These negative sentiments are driven, in part, by the public’s generally glum mood about economic conditions and could well turn around if the European economy picks up. But Europe’s economic fortunes have worsened in the past year, and prospects for a rapid turnaround remain elusive. The International Monetary Fund expects the European Union economy to not grow at all in 2013 and to still be performing below its pre-crisis average in 2018. Nevertheless, despite the vocal political debate about austerity, a clear majority in five of eight countries surveyed still think the best way to solve their country’s economic problems is to cut government spending, not spend more money.

These are among the key findings of a new study by the Pew Research Center conducted in eight European Union nations among 7,646 respondents from March 2 to March 27, 2013.

A Dyspeptic France

No European country is becoming more dispirited and disillusioned faster than France. In just the past year, the public mood has soured dramatically across the board. The French are negative about the economy, with 91% saying it is doing badly, up 10 percentage points since 2012. They are negative about their leadership: 67% think President Francois Hollande is doing a lousy job handling the challenges posed by the economic crisis, a criticism of the president that is 24 points worse than that of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. The French are also beginning to doubt their commitment to the European project, with 77% believing European economic integration has made things worse for France, an increase of 14 points since last year. And 58% now have a bad impression of the European Union as an institution, up 18 points from 2012.

2013-EU-02

Even more dramatically, French attitudes have sharply diverged from German public opinion on a range of issues since the beginning of the euro crisis. Differences in opinion across the Rhine have long existed. But the French public mood is now looking less like that in Germany and more like that in the southern peripheral nations of Spain, Italy and Greece.

Positive assessment of the economy in France have fallen by more than half since before the crisis and is now comparable to that in the south. The French share similar worries about inflation and unemployment with the Spanish, the Italians and the Greeks at levels of concern not held by the Germans. Only the Greeks and Italians have less belief in the benefits of economic union than do the French. The French now have less faith in the European Union as an institution than do the Italians or the Spanish. And the French, like their southern European compatriots, have lost confidence in their elected leader.

Disillusionment with Elected Leaders

2013-EU-03Compounding their doubts about the Brussels-based European Union, Europeans are losing faith in the capacity of their own national leaders to cope with the economy’s woes. In most countries surveyed, fewer people today than a year ago think their national executive is doing a good job dealing with the euro crisis. This includes just 25% of the public in Italy, where the sitting Prime Minister Mario Monti was voted out while this survey was being conducted. Even the Germans, who overwhelmingly back their Chancellor Angela Merkel, are slightly more judgmental of her handling of Europe’s economic challenges than they were last year. And Merkel faces the voters in an election in September 2013.

Nevertheless, Merkel remains the most popular leader in Europe, by a wide margin. She enjoys majority approval for her handling of the European economic crisis in five of the eight nations surveyed. But in Greece (88%) and Spain (57%), majorities now say she has done a bad job, as do half (50%) of those surveyed in Italy.

Economic Gloom

2013-EU-04Most Europeans are profoundly concerned about the state of their economies. Just 1% of the Greeks, 3% of the Italians, 4% of the Spanish and 9% of the French think economic conditions are good. Only the Germans (75%) are pleased with their economy.

And the economic mood has worsened appreciably since before the euro crisis began. Positive sentiment is down 61 percentage points in Spain, 54 points in Britain, 22 points in Italy and 21 points in both the Czech Republic and France.

But despair about the economy may have bottomed out in some nations since 2012. Sentiment seems to have stabilized in the Czech Republic and Poland. And the mood can’t get much worse in Spain, Italy and Greece.

Most Europeans are almost as gloomy about the future. Just 11% of the French, 14% of the Greeks and Poles, and 15% of the Czechs think that their national economic situation will improve over the next 12 months.

2013-EU-05A median of 78% in the eight countries surveyed say a lack of jobs is a very big problem in their country. And a median of 71% cite the public debt. Except in Germany, overwhelming majorities in many countries say unemployment, the public debt, rising prices and the gap between the rich and the poor arevery important problems. Unemployment is the number one worry in seven of the eight countries. Inequality is the principle concern in Germany.

2013-EU-06Apprehension about economic mobility and inequality is also widespread. Across the eight nations polled, a median of 66%, including 90% of the French, think children today will be worse off financially than their parents when they grow up. A median of 77% believe that the economic system generally favors the wealthy. This includes 95% of the Greeks, 89% of the Spanish and 86% of the Italians. A median of 60% think the gap between the rich and the poor is a very big problem; that sentiment is felt by 84% of the Greeks and 75% of both the Italians and the Spanish. And a median of 85% say such inequality has increased in the past five years, a concern particularly prevalent among the Spanish (90%).

Absolute economic deprivation has long been less of an issue in Europe than in some other countries, thanks to the relatively robust European social safety net. But in the wake of economic hard times, deprivation in France is on the rise, where roughly one-in-five say they could not afford food, health care or clothing at some point in the past year.

The Southern Challenge

The euro crisis has created a southern challenge for the European Union. Spain, Italy and Greece have suffered greatly during the economic downturn. And the public mood in these countries is extremely bleak in both absolute and relative terms.

More than seven-in-ten Spanish (79%) and Greeks (72%) say economic conditions arevery bad. A majority of Italians (58%) say the same. This compares with a median of 28% for the rest of Europe. More than nine-in-ten in Greece (99%), Italy (97%) and Spain (94%) think the lack of employment opportunities is a very big problem (official unemployment in January 2013 was 27.2% in Greece and in March 2013 was 26.7% in Spain and 11.5% in Italy). Fully 94% of Greeks, 84% of Italians and 69% of Spanish complain that inflation also poses a very big challenge. This compares with a median of 58% elsewhere. And roughly seven-in-ten or more in all three countries fault their leader’s handing of the economic crisis.

2013-EU-07

Such economic gloom has fed disgruntlement with the European Union. In Greece, 78% now believe that economic integration has weakened the Greek economy, a sentiment about their economy shared by 75% of the Italians and 60% of the Spanish. As a result, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Greeks and about half (52%) of the Spanish have an unfavorable view of the EU. This compares with medians of 59% who question integration and 48% who take a critical view of the EU in the other five countries surveyed.

Concern about inequality is widespread throughout Europe, particularly in the south. A view that the economic system generally favors the wealthy is shared by 95% of the Greeks, 89% of the Spanish and 86% of the Italians. Such frustration exceeds the median of 72% in the other five nations surveyed. Similarly, 84% of the Greeks and 75% of the Italians and Spanish say the gap between the rich and the poor is a very big problem. That compares with a median of just 54% of the Europeans surveyed outside the region who hold such critical views.

So What to Do about the Euro Crisis?

When asked which of the economic challenges facing their countries their government should address first, people in seven of the eight nations choose the lack of employment opportunities. A median of 57% first want their elected leaders to create more jobs. And employment is a particular priority in Spain (72%), Italy (64%) and the Czech Republic (64%).

2013-EU-08Europeans are of two minds about public debt, which has been at the center of the debate over the euro crisis since it began. A majority in six of the eight countries surveyed consider debt avery big problem. When pressed to choose between reducing public expenditures and more spending, most publics choose the former, even in Spain (67%) and Italy (59%), despite the fact that people there have already experienced cutbacks in government spending, economic contraction and record high unemployment. Across Europe a median of 59% believe that reducing public debt is the best way to solve their country’s economic problems. But a median of only 17% think debt reduction should be their government’s number one economic priority.
2013-EU-09

Some Good News

Despite rising disillusionment with the European project, the euro, the common currency for 17 of the 27 European Union members, remains in public favor. More than six-in-ten people want to keep the euro as their currency in Greece (69%), Spain (67%), Germany (66%), Italy (64%) and France (63%). And support for the euro has actually increased in Italy and Spain since last year.

2013-EU-10Moreover, notwithstanding the fact that only 26% of the British public think being a member of the European Union has been good for their economy and just 43% hold positive views of the European Union, the British, who will hold a referendum on continued EU membership in 2017, remain evenly divided on leaving the EU: 46% say stay and 46% say go.

Differences Abound

Overall, the 2013 survey highlights more starkly than ever the differences between the views of Germans and other Europeans on a range of issues. And it underscores that, in some cases, those differences are growing. Germans feel better than others about the economy (by 66 points over the EU median), about their personal finances (by 26 points), about the future (by 12 points), about the European Union (by 17 points), about European economic integration (by 28 points) and about their own elected leadership (by 48 points).

2013-EU-100And the survey contradicts oft-repeated narratives about the Germans: that they are paranoid about inflation, disinclined to bail out their fellow Europeans and debt-obsessed. To the contrary, Germans are among the least likely of those surveyed to see inflation as avery big problem and the most likely among the richer European nations to be willing to provide financial assistance to other European Union countries that have major financial problems. And while Germans are worried about public debt, they are more concerned about inequality and equally concerned about unemployment.

The prominent role Germans have played in Europe’s response to the euro crisis has evoked decidedly mixed emotions from their fellow Europeans. In every country except Greece, people consider Germans the most trustworthy. At the same time, in six of the eight nations surveyed, people see the Germans as the least compassionate. And in five of the eight, they are considered the most arrogant. In the wake of the strict austerity measures imposed in Greece, Greek enmity toward the Germans knows little bound. Greeks consider the Germans to be the least trustworthy, the most arrogant and the least compassionate. But the Greeks themselves do not fare that well. They are considered the least trustworthy by the French, the Germans and the Czechs.

2013-EU-12

The European Union: A Failed Experiment

20130605_4

by Bill Lee  |  9:00 AM June 4, 2013

How long can this go on? According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the 17-nation euro zone remains the “weakest link” in our global economy after years of economic stagnation, mired in high unemployment, plagued with stalled or contracting economies, and paralyzed by political dysfunction. Similarly, The Economist also lambasts eerily complacent EU leaders for “sleepwalking through an economic wasteland.”

The resulting human suffering is sobering — tens of millions of Europeans who want work can’t find it, and many of them are facing truly desperate situations. Here are just a few observations, which I address not to EU officials — whose performance, to my mind, justifies their removal (see below) — but rather, as a friend speaking to ordinary Europeans who are suffering under their policies and who, unfortunately, have not been accorded the power to do anything about it.

In a phrase, it’s time to throw out the EU project itself. The whole thing, root and branch. Here are just a few reasons why.

The EU has failed the most important test.

For more than three years now, EU officials have addressed the economic downturn with remarkable single-mindedness. They’ve imposed severe austerity (reducing government debts through drastic cuts in spending along with tax increases) — particularly in those countries with the largest debts, the so-called “periphery.” How well is it working? Let’s use Ronald Reagan’s test for Jimmy Carter: are people better off now than they were four years ago?

The region has just completed its six straight quarter of recession. Overall unemployment has risen steadily for two years, now topping 12 percent. In several countries, unemployment rates are at Great Depression levels — 17 percent in Portugal, 27 percent in Spain — and youth unemployment is typically around twice that of the country averages. It’s clear that people in Spain, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Greece and millions of unemployed elsewhere in the region are worse off today than they were four years ago.

A growing number of officials around the world are getting this. In his recent New York Review of Books article, Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman points to an October report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that basically apologizes for its austerity recommendations in the last few years — backed up with evidence. The report shows that those countries forced into austerity measures by the EU experienced steep downturns in their economies, contrary to predictions. Further, the more drastic the austerity (measured by calculating spending cuts and tax increases as a percentage of GDP), the greater the economic downturn.

Yet EU officials — apparently convinced of the infallibility of their theory on how economies work — seem unmoved by such evidence and the human suffering that goes along with it. As Mr. Krugman put it, in the EU “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Which brings me to the next point.

The EU system is undemocratic.

Consider Portugal. With unemployment rates at dangerous levels, and its economy predicted to contract by 2.3% this year — its third straight year of contraction under austerity policies — the nation’s Constitutional Court struck down several austerity measures enacted by the government in compliance with European Commission requirements. That prompted Commission officials to pressure the country’s government to simply ignore the ruling, under threat of losing badly needed funding — prompting a constitutional crisis.

In such ways, EU officials are inserting themselves into the governance of member nations. Yet the ordinary people whose lives are seriously affected by such measures have no recourse — they can’t vote to “throw the bums out” as we might say here in the States. This lack of democratic accountability poses a serious problem for member states and the system as whole.

It’s time to revisit the EU’s founding purposes.

The lofty purposes the EU originally set for itself included: to give Europeans the convenience of one currency, to enhance mutual prosperity, and to reduce political tensions after centuries of animosity and war.

We’ve seen how mutual prosperity is coming along. As for political tensions, a system whose officials are responsible for the region’s faltering economies but who are not accountable to the tens of millions of unemployed people in them, is obviously exacerbating those tensions rather than alleviating them.

Moreover, by giving up their national currencies, member countries who experience wage inflation can no longer temporarily deflate their currencies to make their exports more attractive. Those that fall into an economic slowdown or recession can’t “print money” to finance their safety nets for people who are unemployed or who face extreme poverty. Having your own currency may not be such a bad idea after all. Fears that the use of such tools will lead to runaway inflation and interest rates have proven completely unfounded. In the US, despite the relatively sizable stimulus enacted by the Obama Administration, interest rates here remain near all-time lows, and our deficit is now half what it was at the depth of the recession in 2009..

Meanwhile the costs and risks of the EU system are enormous. To take just one example, fiscal debt or banking problems in tiny countries like Greece and Cyprus have touched off major crises for the EU. A comparable situation in the US — where a state such as Rhode Island or Louisiana, or even huge California, were to go bankrupt — would amount to nothing more than a blip on the radar here.

However, the US system requires a substantial transfer of power to the center. This brings me to my final point.

The prospects for effective EU integration are slim to none.

For the EU project to work, it would require, at a minimum, substantial political power at the center to tax, control fiscal policy, and create a region-wide safety net capable of protecting people in a downturn. Furthermore, that centralized power would need to be accountable — voted in, not appointed.

Few Europeans seem to believe such integration is actually possible — many recoil at any suggestion of a “United States of Europe.” Given the widespread ambivalence and lack of clarity on how a reformed EU would look, the prospects for a successful integration look bleak. That’s because even under the best of circumstances, achieving it would be an extremely difficult and long haul.

It took the US the better part of 80 years — and a horrific Civil War — to complete our own integration, transitioning from a loose confederation of colonies, and then states, into a true union. Why should Europeans expect to have an easier time of it, particularly in view of their deep cultural differences and centuries-long history of wars and acrimony?

My guess is that Europe will muddle on trying to “reform” the EU system around the margins. European economists and officials will likely remain steadfast in their belief that their policies have been right all along, that all they need is yet more time, and that the real fault lies with the moral defects of those living in the periphery nations — who must be compelled to do what’s good for them and for the EU as a whole.

This sounds too much like old Europe to me (and not in a good way). It would be better to start now directing our efforts and energy to winding down the whole EU project as quickly as possible; and in parallel to ramp up efforts and policies to help European economies to prosper as separate nations, learning how best to work together.

A more recent WSJ article contained the news that a new book by a Portuguese economist shot instantly to the top of the best seller list in that country — even beating out Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s called, “Why We Should Leave the Euro.”

Perhaps it’s the start of a trend.

Source: HBR Blog Network

The work of J.S. Mill shows the danger in eliminating the differences between European nations

Simon Glendinning writes on the English philosopher John Stuart Mill’s views on Europe. He notes that Mill saw Britain as being very much a part of Europe, but that he also recognised important differences between European nations. Far from seeing these differences as a weakness, however, Mill viewed them as part of Europe’s strength. While some academics have called for greater integration and the creation of a federal European state, Mill’s work suggests that Europe would be stronger as an ‘enduring multiplicity’ of sovereign nations.

Britain is part of Europe

John Stuart Mill’s great essays Bentham, On Liberty and Utilitarianism (the only works by Mill I will be considering here) were published in Britain between 1838 and 1863. Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, Mill’s Britain, was not only the most industrialised economy in the world, it was also, by far, the most international. Other European countries did not trade as much, and they mostly traded with each other. Britain traded everywhere, and the British Empire was the most extensive in human history. Nevertheless, the unit of human collectivity that Mill regards as historically significant for his own thought is the nation. Moreover, and more surprisingly, while Mill maintains a self-consciously home-nation focus, he does not set Britain apart from Europe. On the contrary, he sets Britain centrally within it, as among Europe’s most distinctively European countries.

John Stuart Mill (Public Domain)

John Stuart Mill (Public Domain)

Given its topic – the elucidation of a moral philosophy – one might think that Mill’s essays would deal with rival theories purely theoretically, not historically or nationally. But this is not so. And a contemporary reader could not but be struck by the extent to which Mill’s thinking is marked not simply by contrasts to alternative moral philosophies, but by contrasts to moral thought in Britain. Or rather, as Mill consistently says, in “England”. It is always “England” – except when he is really pushed in describing the provenance of the thinker who would be of greatest significance for our thought (Hume), when it suddenly becomes “England (or rather Scotland)”.

This emphasis on the national is not a mere add on to thoughts that could be conceived just as well in a purely theoretical way. Moral questions are irreducibly practical, and the closer one’s thinking moves towards prescriptive proposals the more significant its suitability (or not) to the “state of spiritual development” of a particular society becomes. Thus, when discussing “a philosophy of laws and institutions”, for example, Mill insists that one that is “not founded on a philosophy of national character, is an absurdity”.

 

So the national character of thinking is itself a theme for thinking in Mill. The idea of attempting some kind of delocalised objectivity would not, in his view, be more scientific, it would be simply absurd. Mill’s contrasts in moral thinking are thus typically made in relation to other nations – the leading powers in this rivalry being Germany, France, and the United States of America. But his socio-cultural framing is not exclusively national, and one of the leanings of his own island nation introduces a demarcation between “English thought” and thought “on the Continent” which would prove fateful for twentieth century English metaphilosophy. (French thought would cut things up differently, holding English and American thought together as “Anglo-Saxon”.)

On the other hand, this reference to the Continent is not a separation of England from Europe but is intended to mark a contrast within “European thought”. A remarkable example of Mill’s philosophical map-making, and not one example among others, is found in his reflections on the concept of sovereignty in the nation. On this topic Mill regards “Continental Europeans” as holding that “the rulers should be identified with the people”. The precise formulation of his claim is worth attending to closely: the idea that rulers should be identified with the people is a “thought” or “feeling” which is, he states, “common among the last generation of European liberalism, in the Continental section of which it still apparently predominates”.

Mill thinks of himself as belonging to the current generation of European liberalism, though one who holds the distinctively “English” view that “there is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence”. He emphasises that the “political history” of each nation is “peculiar” to it, and ours, though unquestionably European, is characterised by a condition in which, while without doubt responsive to the “yoke of opinion”, resists the domination of this yoke in its political life: “the yoke of law is lighter than most other countries of Europe”. NB: not most countries of Europe, but most other countries of Europe.

Britain, or “England”, or “England (Scotland)” is a country of Europe, a European country among others. Some ways of thinking are, according to Mill, “limited to the Continent”, some are limited even more thoroughly nationally as, say, distinctively English, or French or German. But in Mill’s spiritual geography Britain is part of Europe.

English, French and German

I have mentioned only three European nations. And though we can suspect there are others, Mill mentions none. None at all. The contrasts he draws displays a very “peculiar” map of the world: in view, along with a Europe of England (Scotland), France and Germany, is America, and also, though far less frequently, Russia, China, and India. In addition to these are three other essential historical-spiritual references: “the Greeks”, “the Romans”, and “the Mahomedans”. And, beyond history, beyond nationality, beyond regionality of every kind, there is, of course, reference to “Man” and “Mankind” – the ultimate world-wide horizon of all this spiritual geography.

Mill is not at all unusual in thinking about Europe with a special focus on England, France and Germany. When Nietzsche thinks about Europe in Beyond Good and Evil he only seriously discusses these three. When Lenin conjectured on the European origin of Marxist revolutionary thinking, he also homed in on this same list of “three national sources”: political economy (the English theory of capital), (French) socialism, and idealism (philosophical romanticism, which is German).

The “English theory of capital” was, needless to say, from “England (Scotland)”. But “European thought”, whether in its liberal or its Marxist forms, was conceived of as “European” because it was primarily the work of three “great” nations: England, France and Germany. This may seem a barbaric reduction. No doubt it is. But one thing we can say is that what makes them so significant for so many nineteenth and twentieth century thinkers is not that they were all so alike (and hence, one might think, equally European) but that they were all quite so different – and hence, for just that reason, I want to say, exemplarily European.

We Europeans

Mill has a clear criterion for the “greatness” of a nation. Underlying what he calls its capacity to “have a history” at all (“the greater part of the world has, properly speaking, no history”) is its degree of possession of “individuality”. On this issue, Mill’s discussion does not set up an intra-European contrast between England and the Continent, but finds in it instead its determining (spiritual) reference to a European space conceived as a whole, to “the nations of Europe” as such. Thus, in his description of Europe’s nations as sites of individuality – with respect to which we can consider the England-France-Germany triptych as exemplary – he can speak indifferently; in the name of we Europeans: “We have… We thus… But we are… We continually… We are eager… We flatter ourselves… We should think we had done wonders… We have a warning…”

To bring into view Mill’s willingness to speak here, at length, in the third person plural, I have cut his text to ribbons. However, in doing so, two important things are no longer visible. First, what draws Europe together as one, what speaks for gathering this scattering together as “we Europeans”, is that we are not one. We are a unity only of the singular: we can draw “we Europeans” together as one (spiritually) because we are not one (spirit). We are the one that is not one. And this, says Mill, is the source of the “greatness” of its nations.

Or has been. For the second thing that the shredded citation covers over is that the self-congratulation of “we Europeans”, our shared tendency to continue to bask in our old glories and achievements, our back-slapping self-love, itself masks a worrying trend in these European nations, a trend which threatens to close off the possibility of this Europe having a future of “having a history”. They could become, as Mill supposes China to have become, “stationary”.

We Europeans, speaks this great European liberal, are in trouble. Not because of some threat from outside us, but because of what we are now making of ourselves – because, in fact, of what we are now increasingly desiring for ourselves: uniformity. This tendency will produce an odd kind of stationariness for the once great nations of Europe: one that allows change – but just so long as all now change together, as one. “We should think we had done wonders if we had made ourselves all alike… We have a warning in China…”.

European Union

What made us a “we” really worthy of the name – what made it worth speaking about us Europeans all together as one – is… our “individuality”, the “singularity” of the people and peoples within the diverse nations of Europe, and their “unlikeness” one to another. And today, Mill says – Mill in his today which is not so very far from our own today – this is being swept aside by forces which favour the very worst form of a totally assimilating “we”: the “we” in which every other is (or should be) just the same as every other.

In a critique of Jürgen Habermas’ vision of a new supranational sovereign power in Europe, I cited Mill as among those who would recoil at his enthusiasm for it. What Europe needs is not a fundamental “transfer of competences from the national to the European level” but efforts to foster an enduring multiplicity:

What has hitherto preserved Europe from [becoming another China]? Not any superior excellence in the [European family], which, when it exists, exists as the effect not as the cause; but their remarkable diversity of character and culture. Individuals, classes, nations, have been extremely unlike each other: they have struck out a great variety of paths, each leading to something valuable; and although at every period those who travelled in different paths have been extremely intolerant of one another, and each would have thought it an excellent thing if all the rest could have been compelled to travel his road, their attempts to thwart each other’s development have rarely had any permanent success, and each has in time endured to receive the good which the others have offered. Europe is, in my judgement, wholly indebted to this plurality of paths for its progressive and many-sided development.

While Mill does not explore the idea directly, the creation of a European Union that wants both to preserve and secure the diversity of Europe’s nations and to reduce their “extreme intolerance of one another” is something he would welcome. So his text offers a timely warning for the present generation of European liberals: that its courageous efforts to achieve “ever closer union between the peoples [sic] of Europe” carries inside itself the threat of wanting the plurality invoked here finally to be eliminated – a final overcoming of what Habermas sees as the debilitating effects of “national particularisms” in European politics – as if the ideal telos of European integration would be the creation of a “European people” that really is one because it really is one.

In Mill’s view, by contrast, and I think we still need to heed this, the best and most European of Europeans today are those who come to “see that it is good that there should be differences”. The alternative is a nightmare of a distinctively European form of history-ending “stationariness”: the levelling demand for uniformity that, often enough in the form of a profoundly hollowed-out appeal to “democratic feeling”, betrays Europe because it “proscribes singularity”.

Source

Debt Forgiveness Is Inevitable and Will Save the Euro

Greece is going through its worst economic crisis since World War II. The rate of unemployment has jumped to 26 percent, youth unemployment hovers at 50 percent and six years of deep recession is at -7 percent for this year. It’s an incredibly dire situation for Greece and it appears to be getting worse. No matter how many waves of austerity measures — there have been over five — are taken and how many times wages and pensions are put on the chopping block, more is always needed and yet the crisis is still not over.

Greece continues to fall deeper and deeper into debt. Its debt to GDP ratio for this year is around 175 percent and will increase to 183 percent next year. This is the reality of the situation — nothing close to the projections of Greece’s Troika of lenders (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund). In fact, the Troika’s projections have been consistently way off the mark.

All the while, Greece’s situation is taking its toll on the rest of the Eurozone. This is happening for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of the consistent inability of the European Union over the past three years to handle such a small economy. Greece only accounts for 2.7 percent of the Eurozone’s GDP. This goes to show how overly-bureaucratic and grossly inflexible the European Union is. Another shortcoming is that EU politicians are more concerned about pleasing their local and national constituents, than about understanding how financial markets really work. There’s a real danger when problems are not addressed immediately because markets are impersonal and can be cruelly punishing to the Eurozone as a whole (as they have been).

Most international economists agree that we have to forgive Greece’s debt so that the country can concentrate on its real problem: insolvency (due mainly to the country’s structural inefficiencies). Many European economists would also agree, but would never publicly admit this.

The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) treatment, an international debt relief mechanism (launched at the G7 summit in Lyon, France in 1996 following a proposal from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund), is starting to make more and more sense these days. The objective of this initiative is to reduce the debt burden of highly indebted countries to sustainable levels. Should this be applied to Greece, it would ensure and ought to be conditional to essential restructuring and the development of the country. Greece would be able to recover with due discipline in order to deregulate, simplify and deepen reforms.

Debt forgiveness, however, is a cure that is hard to swallow. The Governments of Europe and the European Central Bank do not want to give up part of their claims. They cower at the mere thought of having to explain all this to their local constituents.

I would also go so far as to suggest a debt restructuring today for some Eurozone countries in trouble. The Eurozone’s debt to GDP ratio is well over 80 percent and not looking sustainable especially because there are slow growth projections and there is enough evidence to suggest it will plunge into a recession next year. This is an explosive picture for the future of the Euro.

By delaying debt forgiveness — most likely until after the German elections next year, Europe could put the Euro currency in danger. There has to be a recapitalization of the banks and this should happen with some Quantitative Easing from the ECB. This is a suggestion that Germany dreads and stops because it panics at the thought of running any inflation since hyperinflation is what they believe gave rise to Nazism. We must, however, allow Europe’s market organizations to operate with market principles and not with fear.

It is important to have a Reality Check and to dismiss the myths and the fear that have been created by linking some controlled single digit inflation (5-6 percent) to an uncontrollable hyperinflation of a million percent. It is not the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic that caused World War II, but a great deal of stubbornness to look at the economic problems created by the austerity measures that were being imposed on Germany after the First World War.

Debt forgiveness worked for post-WWII Germany — it had its debt fully wiped out and forgiven. Poland in 1990s also remained with a tiny amount of debt after its debt forgiveness.

Thus, we should not let fear and local politics determine our future, especially at a time when we have a soaring rate of unemployment, about 24 percent — close to 50 percent and growing youth unemployment, and millions of Eurozone citizens struggling below the poverty line. These numbers scream out that we should be seriously concerned about growing social unrest rather than inflation and whether it’s a couple of percentage points higher than “normal.”

Debt forgiveness can pave the way for recovery and must be conditional to structural reforms. It can be a chance to remove all the white noise of this impossible-to-reduce debt and get to work on what can spur growth. This will help rebuild trust among the citizens and the State, make Greeks believe there is a way out of the crisis and encourage investors to start putting money back into the country with a lot more confidence. This is needed in order to make up for three years of continuous readjustments for economic predictions and forecasts that were way off the mark.

Predictions overshooting Reality

Prediction #1 Beginning April 2010, Greece implemented a series of deflationary austerity measures for about one year (agreed during the country’s first bailout) and then re-enter the capital markets in 2011.

Reality: This didn’t work out. Even though Greece reduced its deficit level close to six percentage points in one year — an unprecedented feat by any European Union country, clearly this was not sustainable. The country’s deficit has not been able to remain at those low levels due to low levels of productivity and a deepening recession.

Prediction #2 Greece’s debt to GDP ratio will fall to 120 percent by 2020. The IMF had predicted the following short-term ratios: 152 percent in 2011, 158 percent in 2012, 158 percent in 2013, 154 percent in 2014 and 150 percent in 2015.

Reality: The actual ratios are much higher: 175 percent in 2012, 185 percent in 2013 and rising to nearly 200 percent next year and in 2014.

Prediction #3 Greece will begin to climb out of the recession. Prediction of -5 percent in 2012 and growth starting in 2014.

Reality: The recession is nowhere near over yet. Greece will endure a sixth year of recession. In 2012, we count close to -7 percent with GDP collapsing by over 4 percent next year.

Prediction #4 Greece’s economic crisis will be contained so that no other European Union country suffers.

Reality: We are now counting Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus, as well as Spain (seeking aid from the European Financial Stability Mechanism). Italy and France have also taken a hit.

It is clear that the situation has become less and less manageable after the intervention of the so-called Troika of lenders (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund). As Greece continues to struggle with a deepening recession, the pressure to produce a higher level of revenues through various measures like fiscal changes of tax brackets hasn’t worked.

As I have repeatedly stressed, the crisis was misdiagnosed. It was erroneously treated as a liquidity (accounting) crisis and not as a crisis of broken systems as regards the country’s production capacity. The short-term rescue loans have done little in terms of helping Greece restart its engines since the money is mainly being used to service its debt. This is why Greece should be given a break by creditors.

The mistakes: A triple whammy

Whammy #1 A wrong diagnosis of the Greek crisis, which led to overlong meetings, bickering in Brussels and to “solutions” that won’t be able to sustainably solve the problem.

Whammy #2 The IMF is in a dire situation. It has gotten involved in a lending operation with the European Commission and the European Central Bank. Greece’s debt to GDP levels do not seem easily sustainable. It is very plausible that more austerity measure will be needed in case the expected (by December 7) private debt buy back will not be fully effective.

Whammy #3 Local and National politics have been dictating economic solutions. Eurozone governments fear the political costs of their decisions and actions. Their hands are tied and their motives caught up in the prospect of future national or local elections.

Short-term loss, long-term gain

Of course, forgiving Greece’s debt will come at a cost, especially for Germany, which is the largest contributor to the EU bailouts (up to 17 billion Euros). But history has shown that there can be no real recovery unless debt is seriously reduced or completely wiped away, conditional to deep structural reforms that will simplify local bureaucracy and make the economy attractive. Without debt forgiveness, European policymakers will continue to struggle and kick the can down the road.

 

Yes, Greece has to drastically cut its expenses, but more austerity and public sector spending cuts only serve to plunge the country deeper into recession. Austerity has made it difficult for Greece to meet its fiscal targets, as well as its structural reforms. This is why anything short of debt forgiveness — always conditional to structural reforms — and more bailout funds, is only a way for Europe to buy a little bit of time but at a huge price.

What we need is the political courage, leadership and muscle to put an end to the vicious cycle of bailouts — debt — recession — more bailouts — more debt — more recession. It’s to everyone’s benefit to swallow short-term losses in order to benefit from long-term gain.

Elena Panaritis

Founder, Panel Group; Author, ‘Prosperity Unbound’

Source