Somewhat later than promised, I was motivated to write my follow-up post to the Greece choose-your-own adventure one. If you recall, the decisions in that post were motivated by advice from “Maynard”, your advisor working for “The One World Government”. In actual fact, there isn’t a One World Government, and the people who have jobs similar to Maynard’s all work for a variety of international organizations which are tasked with doing a job similar to what a global government would do, but without any power to make anyone do anything. Alan Beattie of the FT (full disclosure – a mate, we were at the Bank of England together) has spent the last fifteen or so years covering these international institutions and has now written a book called “Who’s In Charge Here?” (Americans), which in a typically punchy and exasperated style, sets out the complete mess which is the state of global financial institutions today. I will now review that book in the “London Review of Books style” – ie, by writing an essay on a tangential subject of interest to myself, and then tacking on a paragraph or so about the book at the end.
I had thought it might be useful to do a bit of analysis of the different places that people ended up in the decision tree, but in the end there was nothing to analyse – nearly everyone ended up in #52 – the “full Argentina”. I think this was partly because of the way I set it up – once you have chosen the branch that says “there is no more money available”, then there are very few further branches (because there’s no money available, and therefore no decisions to make about negotiating the terms on which Greece gets it). So, although something in me keeps wanting to say that people are attracted to #52 out of a sort of Keynesian “relentless urge to action rather than inaction”, I think it’s more likely that they got there because people in general were underestimating the amount of international money that was available.
By my reckoning, the actual solution arrived at was close to #26, the “Classic Eurofudge”. A bit more short term current account finance, a bit more austerity, a more or less certainty of another crisis a year down the track and the big question being whether the Greek political system can handle the strain. My own choice was #5 (as a few people noticed), which (as Alan pointed out to me on Twitter) is basically a classic 1990s-vintage IMF program.
The reason I wrote the post was to try and get people to understand the sort of constraints that the international policy structure are working under. The CYOA format really is an excellent teaching tool for this sort of exercise. Firstly, it makes it impossible for people to do what they tend to do in these kinds of debates and use a preselected ideology as a substitute for thinking about the questions. And secondly, because of the “first person shooter” aspect – by framing the discussion from the viewpoint of Maynard and his boss, you really do encourage the reader to empathise with the decision makers and the problems they face, rather than treating them as manifestations of a great big impersonal and probably evil entity. As a propaganda tool, the CYOA structure is a great way to manipulate people.
However, because it’s such a great way to manipulate people, you have to be a bit careful the way you use it. Anyone who reached #17 in the original post can see that I’ve been very careful to frame the possibilities so that the only choices in the adventure are choices which would actually be open to a European civil servant who didn’t want to think outside the box or rock the boat too hard. As a result, (as I mentioned early on in comments to the original post), it certainly is open to the criticism that it’s just erasing political viewpoints, including some that really shouldn’t be erased. One of the motivations for the post was a discussion I had with @PabloK on twitter about the Greek negotiations, in which he said, rather succinctly, that the purpose of protest was to change the space of what was politically possible. I think this is a crucial point; although it is important to make a good faith attempt to understand the constraints that people work under (which is why I wrote the post), it is equally important not to regard those constraints as necessarily being imposed by Ultimate Reality.
What will rewrite the script for Greece? I don’t know. Typically, based on the history of the EU, it will be some sort of crisis. If the bailout compromise leads to political collapse in Greece, then new things will become possible. It may turn out that the Lisbon Treaty does need to be renegotiated – as I said in #17, it wasn’t Maynard’s job to do that, but it might be someone’s job some day. So in many ways, the real adventure starts at the end of the choose-your-own-adventure; this is when you have to start thinking about the ways in which the set of possibilities could credibly be extended.
These constraints are further explored in “Who’s In Charge?”, and one of the fundamental questions is – do the problems facing the world right now require a major overhaul of the international institutional structure and if so, how the hell might that be achieved? I don’t think I agree with Alan in his conclusion, which seems to me to basically be that a lot of the work of coherent international institutions could be done by having more sensible domestic politics, although I do agree with him that the existing international institutions basically serve as an excuse factory for domestic politicians who want to avoid tough decisions (or alternatively, who want to make decisions which are “tough” on other people and avoid the political consequences of having done so for themselves). I think it’s well worth buying the book and reading it, as a preparatory step for thinking about what kind of a new world system you really want to see.
 And surprisingly easy to write! All you have to do is a little flowchart of the structure on a piece of paper – unlike a proper adventure book, there is very little recombination of the branches, so it just looks like a decision tree which is about four plies deep. Then the best thing to do is to give each node of the tree a binary code indicating which decisions were taken, and write out each of the paths in turn. Then you can do a find-and-replace changing the codes for numbers, and copy them into a Word document in order. The great thing about the task is that it’s amazingly “chunkable” – I wrote the paragraphs on the bus to and from work.
 It’s worth noting that “Who’s In Charge” costs £1.99 and has 60 pages, all of which are written by Alan Beattie. A typical copy of the FT costs a penny more and can have as few as 56 pages (not counting the adverts and the unit trust prices), with the vast majority of these pages not written by Alan Beattie at all, despite the fact that he is clearly one of the best journalists there. The book is clearly better value.