Hedgehogs

by John Holbo on July 14, 2015

Everyone who’s anyone knows Isaiah Berlin’s essay, “The Fox and the Hedgehog”, written around the postulate that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” It’s a good essay, although too famous for its own good. I would not presume to dispute the divine wisdom of Archilochus. But I’ve always thought that, applied to academic philosophy, the following would be more apt: the fox knows a variety of medium-sized things, the hedgehog knows an extremely large number of small things. Generalists, specialists. And having Big Ideas is yet a third thing. Having One Big Idea isn’t like slipping through the dappled forest, lightly, alertly. But it also isn’t waddle, hunker, clench. Waddle, hunker, clench. Write a tight little article, in which you anticipate 14 objections to your point and answer them, one by one. Defending yourself by preemptively making it too much bother for a potential predator to attack you from any conceivable angle is a classic academic tactic, but not a Big Idea thing. [click to continue…]

Bluffed

by John Quiggin on July 14, 2015

Obviously, my analysis of the Greek debt crisis was wrong. My crucial error was the assumption that, having held the referendum and being faced with an unacceptable offer, Tsipras would choose exit from the euro rather than capitulation. Judging by this interview with Varoufakis (H/T Chris), that’s what Tsipras thought too, until, too late, Varoufakis told him it couldn’t be done. Certainly Tsipras’ actions were consistent with that interpretation.

Syriza has clearly been beaten. But I doubt that the outcome will work well for the other side in the long run. (Nearly) everyone understands that the debt can’t ultimately be repaid. But the German voting public hasn’t been told that. A deal that had some kind of quasi-automatic mechanism for writing down the outstanding balance (for example, by multiplying up the proceeds from asset sales) might have got around this problem. As it is, an explicit writedown will be needed at some point, presumably after Syriza has been forced out of office. That will be incredibly unpopular in Germany, while making clear to everyone else the locus of sovereignty in the post-crisis EU.

Update Commenters generally disagree with my take on the Varoufakis interview. I’m not wedded to it. The crucial point is that exit from the euro is extremely difficult, and that this fact will be used to punish any eurozone country that tries to resist the controlling powers.