After Melos

by John Quiggin on July 15, 2015

I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s been thinking about the words Thucydides assigns to the Athenians in the Melian dialogue

The strong do as they will and the weak suffer what they must

And I knew the immediate context. Militarily powerful Athenians demanded that the inhabitants of neutral Melos surrender their city and pay tribute. When the Melians refused, Athens invaded, slaughtered the men and enslaved the women and children.

I didn’t however, have any broader context in which to place this episode, even though the information is readily available on Wikipedia for example, which is my source here (apologies in advance to any actual experts for inaccuracies). The story begins with the formation of the Delian League, an expression of Greek unity in the war against Persia. The Athenians used the League to supplant Sparta as the hegemon of Greece, and then to oppress the other members, leading to a series of attempted defections. In Thucydides words

Of all the causes of defection, that connected with arrears of tribute and vessels, and with failure of service, was the chief; for the Athenians were very severe and exacting, and made themselves offensive by applying the screw of necessity

Eventually, this policy led to the outbreak of war with the Spartan-led Pelopennesian League (this war was Thucydides’ subject). The attack on Melos took place during a brief period of peace about half way through the war. The war ended with Athens being utterly defeated. Only the mercy of the Spartans prevented the Athenians sharing the fate they had meted out to the Melians a decade earlier, as Sparta’s allies demanded.

Rather than extract analogies to current events, I’d like to observe that the historical setting suggests a very different reading of the dialogue to that commonly seen today. In most of the contemporary discussions I’ve read, the Athenian side of the dialogue is presented as embodying the remorseless logic of power politics. But in the light of the outcome (well known to his intended readers), it seems to me Thucydides is better read as showing the Athenians as subject to the kind of hubris that demands, and inevitably receives, punishment. By contrast, while the Melians made a bad bet in resisting, their arguments are entirely sound, and should have been convincing to a rational hegemon.

Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

{ 137 comments }

1

Neville Morley 07.15.15 at 7:32 am

Speaking as one of those professional pedants you mention in passing… that’s a pretty good summary, and I’d entirely concur with your emphasis on the fact that Thucydides is *not* signing up to what he presents as the Athenian world-view. The root of the problem is that the Melian Dialogue gets co-opted from the 1950s onwards by the Realist school in International Relations, who extract it from its wider context and read it as an expression of Thucydides’ own views as the first Realist. Plenty of IR theorists, even neo-Realists, offer a much more sophisticated reading, but this is the version that gets taught to students, and has then been disseminated more widely.

If anyone’s interested, my commentary (progressively more irritated) on references to Thucydides in relation to the Greek economic crisis can be found here. Plus a revised edition of Greek Economic Crisis Classical Reference Bingo!

2

notsneaky 07.15.15 at 8:11 am

“Only the mercy of the Spartans prevented …” – that’s the … “classical” reading of HoPW and of the outcome of the war. I always thought it suspect. It’s really hard to think of that many major conflicts, at least before the modern era (and even there, only WW2 comes to mind) where “mercy” by the victors really played any kind of part in what actually happened. More likely, the war left both sides so exhausted and devastated (since we’re quoting Wikipedia, here it is on the war itself: “The economic costs of the war were felt all across Greece; poverty became widespread in the Peloponnese”) that the Spartans really couldn’t have done Athens in without creating much more trouble for themselves than it was worth.

The “war left both sides so exhausted and devastated” part actually might make for a better analogy to current events that we will not extract here. If we want to get Cassandarish here (I know, I know, different Greeks, different war)

3

kidneystones 07.15.15 at 9:01 am

@1 Great links and great commentary at your site. Well worth the visit.

4

david 07.15.15 at 9:06 am

After the Peloponnesian War was the Corinthian War (featuring Athens leading everyone against Sparta) and then the Theban Wars (featuring Thebes displacing both Athens and Sparta), with Persians meddling all the way through.

And then Macedonians came down from the hills and rendered all of them irrelevant.

If there’s a hubris-related moral to be drawn here, it’s to invest in sarissae; the city-state dramas of Athenian democrats and oligarchs was all ultimately irrelevant under a Macedonian and eventually Roman sandal.

5

sanbikinoraion 07.15.15 at 9:48 am

It seems a bit daft to suggest that war (x) was irrelevant because the victors subsequently lost wars (y) and (z). Was Napoleon irrelevant?

6

Ebenezer Scrooge 07.15.15 at 10:12 am

I’m thinking more of Wilhelmine Germany than Thucydides. Same-same, I suppose.

7

Lee A. Arnold 07.15.15 at 12:04 pm

The psychological mechanics of hubris and its eventual self-immolation might be eternal, but I think that what predominates now are 1. the interregional and international politics and 2. the received logic of the economic system. The bitterness in the politics can be healed by the fact that we all (not just the EU) have made a psychological commitment to get rid of war and to unite in peace. We haven’t healed the pain and suffering yet, but they’re next on the agenda. The remaining problem is that our economics can never work entirely, it only works about 50% of the way; and the winners in the system wrongly think, “Well, it worked for me, why can’t they do it, too?” On this, economists prove to be useless and psychologically self-revealing. Indeed the need to find villains on one side or the other — which characterises most of the ideological opinions of Left and Right — is an added (and self-limiting) bit of, “Can’t see the forest for the trees” (which may also be in Thucydides, somewhere).

8

rea 07.15.15 at 12:04 pm

The problem with treating the Melian dialogue as foreshadowing the end of the war is that it is far from clear that Thucydides lived to see the end of the war. His book stops abruptly in 411 BC and the war dragged on until 404.

9

ZM 07.15.15 at 12:10 pm

In Apologies To Thucydides Marshall Sahlins notes Thucydides was revived in Western Europe in he 17th C by Hobbes and similar others, with Robert Kaplan more recently writing in Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands A Pagan Ethos (2002):

“While Thucydides’ persistent focus on self-interest may be offensive to some, his notion that self-interest gives birth to effort, effort to opinions, makes his 2,400 year old history of the Peloponnesian War a corrective to the extreme fatalism basic to Marxism and medieval Christianity”

Apologies To Thucydides in part looks at a war in Fiji similar to the Peloponnesian War, a Polynesian War between the kingdoms of Bau and Rewa, with Bau being likened to Athens:

“Punish them as they deserve,” Cleon urges the Athenians, in response to a rebellion at Mytilene, “and teach your other allies that the penalty of rebellion is death.” Confronted with a similar defiance of his authority, the great warlord of Bau, Ratu Cakobau, told a passing European visitor that if he did not kill and eat the rebellious chief, all of Fiji would laugh at him. In these empires, the demonstration of superiority became an obsession, something of an end in itself — that also brought them to their end.”

Sahlins sees Athens and Sparta, and Bau and Rewa as what Gregory Bateson calls “complementary schismogenis” — where there has been “differentiation by competition, of the kind recently recognised as “cultural identity politics,” with the result that the major institutions and values in each society appear as inverted forms of each other”.

It seems Hobbes was influenced by Thucydides due to Thucydides deliberately writing to ignore cultural differences so writing in terms of the human nature shared by the sides, rather than in terms of the customs/culture particular to each. “For Thucydides, the Corcyraean atrocities were famously anti-structural. The represented the emergence of a natural human disposition of ruthless self-interest, against which all convention and morality were powerless. Historians have remarked that Thucydides’ depiction of the stasis at Corcyra — and also the plague at Athens — served as a primary source for Thomas Hobbe’s idea of the state of nature.”

David Hume shared this sort of feeling: “The first page of Thucydides is, in my opinion, the commencement of real history, all preceding narratives are so intermingled with fable, that philosophers ought to abandon them, in a great measure, to the embellishment of poets and orators”.

10

rea 07.15.15 at 12:25 pm

Only the mercy of the Spartans prevented …” – that’s the … “classical” reading of HoPW and of the outcome of the war.

The end of the war isn’t in Thucydides–he stopped in 411. Xenophon is our source for the end of the war, and Xenophon was notoriously pro-Spartan–he was living in exile from Athens under Spartan protection at the time he wrote. It was not necessarily mercy that motivated the Spartans to try to control Athens rather than destroy it.

11

Peter T 07.15.15 at 12:39 pm

faustus poses an interesting question in contrasts:

https://faustusnotes.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/a-tale-of-two-deals/

12

Ronan(rf) 07.15.15 at 12:46 pm

The US and Europe negotiated the nuclear deal by cutting iran off from international and financial markets and threatening to destroy its economy.

13

Ronan(rf) 07.15.15 at 12:48 pm

With the always more than implied threat of military action lurking in the background

14

P.M.Lawrence 07.15.15 at 12:58 pm

Before the Delian League, Sparta was probably only hegemonic over the Peloponnese, and perhaps not all of that (though it had considerable influence wherever there were Doric Greeks, as the premier Doric state). The test I am applying here is that Sparta prevented fortified cities being built/maintained wherever it could (even for Sparta itself), to tilt the odds in favour of its soldiery by thrusting rural idiocy on all within reach. Thus Arcadia was defenceless and Argos barely independent but Corinth could hole up as long as the Spartans weren’t stopped from marching past. This prostration did not obtain elsewhere in Greece.

Malos was the first Greek name of that island, as revealed by coin finds etc.; Melos was the new spelling given by its new colonists in their different dialect of Greek.

Sparta probably spared Athens after taking it because it could more conveniently install a collaborationist puppet government (with just the Long Walls to the harbour being distressed) than eradicate Athens entirely and create a power vacuum to be filled with brigands and such (which is pretty much why Rome did eventually rebuild Carthage and Corinth with new settlers, a generation or so after similar eradications there).

I think you put too much emphasis on the Athenian demand for tribute, as it was at least notionally possible for Malos to provide military or naval service directly rather than compound for it with tribute (as that excerpt from Thucydides does seem to acknowledge). Of course, Malos would then have been pushed towards a complete tribute basis, but I suspect that Athens would for that very reason have settled for the thin end of the wedge.

It may be worth mentioning that the Greeks did not succeed in wiping out the last of the aboriginals holding out in the islands until after the Persian invasions. Their fate and its obscurity to history may be even more significant than the fate of Malos.

15

Peter T 07.15.15 at 1:03 pm

That’s not the question faustus is posing. Yes, the US and EU put heavy economic pressure on Iran. It hurt. It did not hurt enough to stop the Iranian civil nuclear program, or stop Iran supporting its allies, or developing infrastructure ties with neighbours (rail connections to Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Iraq, power connections to Armenia, Pakistan, Turkey), and it was slowly failing (Chinese purchases of oil, Russian arms sales, Indian gas deals…). So the US acknowledged reality and bargained with what it had for a reasonable deal. Can it reasonably be said the EU is willing to do this with Greece?

16

Ronan(rf) 07.15.15 at 1:12 pm

But America’s policy towards post Shah Iran has evolved over four plus decades, and has included partly funding a major regional war, waging another, various attempts at economic isolation, fighting proxy wars, threatening military action. And The sanctions were meaningful and hitting hard…..I’m glad that both sides have seemingly settled on a deal about the nuclear program, although the sanctions aren’t intended to be fully lifted and its not a rapprochement.
I really don’t see where the comparison gets us.(and the idea in the link that Putin is “more sane” than the EU, considering the manner in which the Russians control countries in their periphery, is bizzare)

17

Neville Morley 07.15.15 at 1:13 pm

@rea #8: true, Thucydides doesn’t get to the end of the war, but majority view of classicists – based partly on internal textual evidence and partly on the ancient biographical tradition – is that he did live past 404 (and probably returned to Athens from exile) but didn’t finish the book, or finish revising Book 8.

@ZM #9: I would be cautious of Kaplan’s reading; it seems to be taking the same perspective as the Realist interpretation of the Melian Dialogue that JQ discusses, namely that the views of Thucydides’ characters can be assumed to be those of Thucydides himself. It is *not* clear that he thinks that self-interest is the only valid motive, but rather he reports some Greeks as talking to this effect.

18

faustusnotes 07.15.15 at 1:21 pm

Even if those dealing with Iran had subjected it to the same economic and political blackmail (plus military!) that Greece was subject to, my question remains: how come the EU came to a reasonable deal with Iran but not with Greece? If they had the same levers of power at their disposal, how come one got done so much more viciously than the other. To put it in Quiggin’s Thucydidididan terms, how is it that “the strong” did “as they will do” to Greece but not to Iran – why must only one of the “weak” suffer?

19

faustusnotes 07.15.15 at 1:22 pm

And ronan, the “Putin is more sane” comment is intended as a joke (that’s what my ellipses usually mean) or an insult.

20

Ronan(rf) 07.15.15 at 1:26 pm

Because the situation in Greece is more difficult. There are greater political , distributional and institutional constraints on policy, and the underlying questions (where do we go from here ? How do we resolve the eurocrisis? What kind of Europe do we want?) are more intractable than the question in Iran (how do we get them not to develop their nuclear program?)
Europe are muddling through looking for a long term policy on the Euro. In Iran this isn’t a long term solution to regional politics, it’s resolving a very specific issue.

21

Ronan(rf) 07.15.15 at 1:28 pm

Faustusnotes 19 – sorry for the misreading ! Am in a bit of a tetchy mood today

22

Peter T 07.15.15 at 1:28 pm

Perhaps I should let faustus take this up. But I think, at its simplest, the issue is that we pay our leaders, and a vast advisory apparatus, to know and judge when to double, when to hold and when to fold. To not pursue lost causes, or press for unattainable ends, or so focus on one thing that others are lost. In the case of Iran, (after many blunders), both sides seem to have been able to do this. What’s the obstacle with Greece?

23

faustusnotes 07.15.15 at 1:35 pm

It’s not more difficult Ronan, it’s clearly simple. The ECB could simply give Greece the money it needs, or the bilateral lenders could simply waive their debts. They refuse, and are refusing at great cost to one of their allies (a member of their own polity!) In contrast, the Iran deal is extremely complex, and involves an enormous amount of trust, along with sovereignty-preserving interventions to guarantee that trust. They could craft a delicate and masterful, mutually acceptable deal for Iran, without crushing its sovereignty, but they can’t do it for Greece, supposedly a member of their polity. They’re either deeply stupid, or deeply mendacious. Take your pick.

24

ZM 07.15.15 at 1:41 pm

Neville Morley,

To tell you the truth, I have not read Thucydides, just this Apologies To Thucydides book, as I am not fond of reading about wars, so Herodotus is more enjoyable and you can dip in and out and read bits and pieces of that instead of reading the whole book.

Apologies To Thucydides is sort of about the interactions between history and culture/anthropology, which I am interested in, which was why I read it some years ago.

There is also a very good part in the book looking at culture and agency and baseball.

Sahlins is quite interesting in this area since as a Marxist he is sort of bound to be a universalist — except with the idea of changing age old patters by reaching communism I guess — but then as an anthropologist he is strong on recognising cultural differences.

Sahlins’ reading of Thucydides seems to rest on Thucydides taking an authorial decision to depict the conflict in terms of the “nature” of mankind, rather than looking at the conflict in terms of the two opposing cultures (which Sahlins say develop as inversions of one another at the time).

I will quote some more, but having read Thucydides do you think Sahlins’ might not be right about this?

“If Thucydides was the true father of history, then history began by the taking of true anthropology out of it. Or to follow Thucydides’ own phrasing, it began by elimination of the marvellous, in the interests of making his history relevant to all times, so long as people are what they naturally are:

“And it may well be that my history will seem less easy to read because of the absence of a romantic element. It will be enough for me, however, if these words of mine are judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future. My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last forever.” — Thucydides

….Yet to make the Greeks humanly responsible for their own history is not the same thing as making their own history a model for humanity. On the contrary one would have to subtract what was distinctively Greek from it, whatever specifically conditioned it, and ground its intelligibility instead on a generic human nature. Eliminating the marvellous thus became a prescription for devaluing the cultural in favour of the natural for the sake of the universal.

Human nature: this animalisation of the rhetoric of history is the counterpart, argues David Grene (1965), of its humanisation in fifth-century Athenian consciousness. Taken from the control of the Gods and delivered to human decision, politics was thus delivered to bodily desire: “Because the greatness of Athens’ empire was in the eyes of its inhabitants man-made and based on its exploitation of material resources, almost exclusively, because there is no attempt to believe in a divinely imposed task or a more than human duty or the perfectibility of man, political rhetoric in fifth-century Athens develops a theory of human nature based essentially on nothing but animal desires and their satisfaction” “

25

Adam Roberts 07.15.15 at 1:46 pm

Realpolitik can find it hard to ‘place’ religious belief as something not only sincerely held but something that determines military and political choice. Sparta could not eradicate Sparta without angering Athena: destroying her temples and so on. They didn’t want that. So they looted the city, disarmed it, pulled down its walls and installed a Sparta-friendly regime. Melos’ problem (‘weakness’, you might say) was its lack of powerful divinity.

26

Sebastian h 07.15.15 at 2:27 pm

Faustusnotes, Greece is weaker then Iran. It may well be that simple.

27

faustusnotes 07.15.15 at 2:41 pm

True Sebastian, but Greece is also part of the union that is turning the screws on it – something you would think would mitigate its treatment, in comparison to a country like Iran that is not on good terms. And even if you accept the weakness allows cruelty, it doesn’t explain the stupidity of the settlement, and its fundamental inability to fix the problems it is targeted at.

(I don’t buy that Greece is weaker; they hold 300bn euros of European money that they can refuse to repay, and they are able to dump a flood of migrants north; plus the negotiators with Iran included the US).

28

LFC 07.15.15 at 2:47 pm

ZM@24
[Marshall] Sahlins is quite interesting in this area since as a Marxist he is sort of bound to be a universalist … but then as an anthropologist he is strong on recognising cultural differences.

I’ve read some of Marshall Sahlins’ work. His politics are leftist (of some variety), but I don’t think of him as a Marxist nor is it my impression that he identifies as one. If someone can produce (good) evidence to the contrary I will readily admit error on this point.

29

LFC 07.15.15 at 2:52 pm

Neville Morley @17
I would be cautious of Kaplan’s reading

I would be cautious of a *lot* of what Robert Kaplan writes.

30

Marshall 07.15.15 at 3:11 pm

Hubris has to do with a felt but nonexistent hegemony. The attitude of the Germans and many on the right seems to be the opposite: although they hold all the important weapons, they feel themselves victimized.

31

steven johnson 07.15.15 at 3:15 pm

Adam Roberts@25 Perhaps the big thing wasn’t Athens being disarmed, but the Melians’ divinity being dis-armed? (Thank you for the straight line, and, you have only yourself to blame.)

faustusnotes@18 “how come the EU came to a reasonable deal with Iran but not with Greece?” Is it really so reasonable? And how much does the formal provisions of the treaty mean given the US proclivity for breaking treaties and misrepresenting them when it wishes? My first glance leads me to think that the US will interpret any resistance to opening up all military sites to “inspection” as occasion for claiming Iran has broken the treaty, precisely because it is not a reasonable agreement. And the agreement does not end sanctions but promises to end them, with all power to decide if the proper conditions are met effectively reserved to the US.

As to the OP, the folly or hubris of the Germans etc. implies that they have some sort of wise or prudent course to follow. That, in effect, there is some sort of “normal” world capitalism without war, crisis and exploitation that good policy can re-establish. May I suggest that this is about as counter-factual a proposition as the libertarian notion of a free market?

32

MPAVictoria 07.15.15 at 3:17 pm

33

Harold 07.15.15 at 3:36 pm

According to Mary Beard, “many of our favorite ‘quotations’ from Thucydides, those slogans that are taken to reveal his distinctive approach to history, bear a tenuous relationship to his original text. As a general rule, the catchier the slogans sound, the more likely they are to be largely the product of the translator rather than of Thucydides himself. He simply did not write many of the bons mots attributed to him.” http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/sep/30/which-thucydides-can-you-trust/

According to her, Victorian translators introduced (or underscored and emphasized) an element of compulsion (perhaps, I surmise, on account of the iron determinism then fashionable) into the famous Melian phrase through their introduction of the words “must” and “suffer”): “”The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must”, whereas Thucydides had originally written merely: “the strong extort, the weak comply”
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/sep/30/which-thucydides-can-you-trust/

Perhaps this is merely nit-picking. However that may be, I am merely “auditing” our current family reading of Homer (book one) and don’t know enough Greek to have too much of an opinion, much less to feel that I have really “read” Thucydides, despite having gone through it in English more than once. I do understand the some of the difficulties of translation, though.

34

Layman 07.15.15 at 4:03 pm

“My first glance leads me to think that the US will interpret any resistance to opening up all military sites to “inspection” as occasion for claiming Iran has broken the treaty, precisely because it is not a reasonable agreement. And the agreement does not end sanctions but promises to end them, with all power to decide if the proper conditions are met effectively reserved to the US.”

I think this is wrong. The deal has been made in order to halt the drumbeat for war, and in recognition of the fact that the sanctions regime is crumbling anyway. If the U.S. administration wanted war, they could have it now, without the need for the negotiations charade; so they must not want it. If they don’t want it, they won’t use the deal as a pretext for getting it. Similarly, the Iranians clearly want a deal, and are making commitments to get one. Why bother if what they want instead is an unfettered nuclear program?

The deal includes some tit for tat, relaxing sanctions in return for Iranian progress on curtailing their program; which is a reasonable, even normal approach. And the U.S. is not the sole arbiter of compliance – if anything, given the positions of China and Russia, it is far more likely the sanctions will be relaxed despite Iranian lack of progress than the reverse.

35

geo 07.15.15 at 4:41 pm

A brilliant post! I doff my hat to you, JQ.

36

Neville Morley 07.15.15 at 4:55 pm

@Harold#33: absolutely right. Thucydides’ Greek is notoriously difficult, and requires a lot of interpretation to render into English – and that leaves a lot of scope for imaginative translation. Crawley has lots of striking phrases, many of which are a long way from the original; it’s unfortunate that his version remains so popular, in part because it was used as the basis for the Landmark Thucydides ‘cos it’s out of copyright.

@ZM #24: I really like the Sahlins book, though it’s interesting (from my perspective, focusing on how Thucydides gets read in the modern world) that he sets up Thuc as the symbol of everything bad about positivist, reductivist history (reducing everything to a single “human nature” rather than glorying in cultural variety) – but then tries to co-opt Thuc for his own team, whereas for most of the book I was expecting him to switch to Herodotus as a model.

Personally, I think Thucydides is much more complex than Sahlins allows; the phrase often translated as “human nature” is actually much fuzzier, “the human thing”, which could almost be translated as “people being what they are”. Sahlins is really attaching ‘Thucydides’, so to speak, the image of Thucydides developed by C19 historians on the basis of a partial reading in their own terms. But it’s definitely a more interesting take than the conventional IR version.

Yes, as it happens I think almost all of that Kaplan book is tendentious nonsense…

37

LFC 07.15.15 at 5:17 pm

Layman @34
Basically agree w this. My understanding though (based on less-than-crystal-clear discussion I heard yesterday) is that the agreement does incl. a provision allowing UN sanctions to be reimposed, after certain findings of Iranian noncompliance, even over a Russian or Chinese veto. I doubt that’s likely to happen, however.

38

Barry 07.15.15 at 5:19 pm

LFC 07.15.15 at 2:52 pm

“I would be cautious of a *lot* of what Robert Kaplan writes.”

He’s on my list of people who are so bad that everything which they say is worthless until verified, and who’s had nothing come to my attention which is worth making that attempt.

39

Barry 07.15.15 at 5:28 pm

…otherwise known as ‘all neocons’.

40

Meredith 07.15.15 at 5:45 pm

Let me recommend (W) Robert Connor’s Thucydides (Princeton U Pr, 1980’s). Most of his introduction can be read via the “Look inside” feature at Amazon and is very pertinent to the OP and comments here. The whole book deserves proper reading.

Thucydides’ work is a tragedy, if you ask me. (The kind of tragedy he saw produced annually in Athens.)

41

Trader Joe 07.15.15 at 5:49 pm

@34
“If the U.S. administration wanted war, they could have it now, without the need for the negotiations charade; so they must not want it. If they don’t want it, they won’t use the deal as a pretext for getting it.”

I agree with this point, and would add that among the more likely next occupants of the White House, none of them Hillary included, has shown the slightest interest in wanting to seriously negotiate with Iran on this topic. The time for the deal is now, when it can be had…if not now, it would be many years before another opportunity.

If Iran honors the spirit of the bargain, the world is a better place. If they don’t, there are now specific criteria on which to hang them and President X, whomever that might be, will have pretext to take whatever actions from sanctions to war that they would probably have invoked anyway, so we’d be no worse off.

42

Neville Morley 07.15.15 at 5:50 pm

Damn. “Sahlins is really ATTACKING an image of Thucydides…”

Yes, Connor book is great. I’d also recommend Geoffrey Hawthorn’s much more recent political reading, though it assumes more prior knowledge of the text and background.

43

Daniel O'Neil 07.15.15 at 5:52 pm

It is interesting to look at the very interesting parallels between the Peloponnesian league and the EU. That’s a connection I had never considered.

Nonetheless, talking about inevitible punishment though hubris this feels dangerously close to a wish for karmic balance couched in an intellectual chimera. Almost every time, the leaders of powerful places die of old age in their beds, no matter what they did to the weak around them. Almost every time.

The experience of Athens – and the culture in which it existed – made hubris a relevant theme. But most powerful nation-states don’t decline because they were at some point cruel or arrogant. They collapse because entropy and historical trends ultimately make it so. There is little causality except that those they once oppressed will happily dance in the ashes.

44

Diodotos 07.15.15 at 6:02 pm

The claim in the OP that the Melians’ “arguments are entirely sound” surely goes to far; their arguments about what would be just treatment, and where the Athenians’ real interest lies, might be entirely sound, but the narrative aftermath refutes their arguments that they will receive aid from the Spartans and from the Gods. Both they and the Athenians are led into error in the dynamics of the encounter, they in thinking they have a good chance to resist, and the Athenians in thinking that it will be a simple matter to persuade the Melians to give in and save the cost of a siege. The EU/Greek story likewise is one of blunder and delusion on both sides, with the weaker party taking the bigger risk.

On @3 and @17, Thucydides reveals in his evaluation of Pericles that he lived to see the final Athenian defeat:
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Thuc.+2.65&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0200

45

Rich Puchalsky 07.15.15 at 6:42 pm

I’ve thought about this a bit, and I don’t agree with this use of the Melian dialogue. Germany / Europe is not really “strong” and Greece “weak” in the sense that the Greeks are going to be rolled up by a military force if they disagree. In fact, Greeks always did have options available to them that did not depend on hopelessly trying to convince Europe to spare them. In year 1 or year 2 of austerity, the Greeks should have made preparations to stop using the Euro and then left. Defiance was catastrophic for the Melians, but I don’t see why it would have been worse than current events are for the Greeks now.

The main reason why the Greeks didn’t do this appears to have been a failure on the part of their general public, which remains attached to the idea of staying “within Europe” even when this is bad for them. So they have no options not because they truly don’t have any, but because they don’t believe that they have any. In that they are like pretty much everyone else at this historical moment.

46

steven johnson 07.15.15 at 7:53 pm

Layman@34 “If the U.S. administration wanted war, they could have it now, without the need for the negotiations charade; so they must not want it. If they don’t want it, they won’t use the deal as a pretext for getting it.” Yes. But the real question is pretexts for continuing sanctions.

“Similarly, the Iranians clearly want a deal, and are making commitments to get one. Why bother if what they want instead is an unfettered nuclear program?” I believe that the Iranian weapons program is every bit as real a threat as Iraqi WMD. The sanctions are about Iranian independence.

Trader Joe@41 “If Iran honors the spirit of the bargain, the world is a better place. If they don’t, there are now specific criteria on which to hang them and President X, whomever that might be, will have pretext to take whatever actions from sanctions to war that they would probably have invoked anyway, so we’d be no worse off.” The desire to hang the Iranians is quite common. I believe the “specific criteria” are designed to serve as pretexts.

LFC@”My understanding…is that the agreement does incl. a provision allowing UN sanctions to be reimposed, after certain findings of Iranian noncompliance, even over a Russian or Chinese veto. I doubt that’s likely to happen, however.” It’s true that plans don’t always succeed. But I think that is option is meant to be used by the US, even if it is currently reserved.

The inspection of military sites, given US involvement in acts of war like commando raids, assassinations, sponsorship of rebels and terrorists, plus of course it’s unremitting propaganda assault and political support for regime change in Iran I think gives the US negotiations an unrelievedly sinister cast. What they Iranians want, I think, is to no longer be a target for regime change. And I don’t think this treaty gives them that, nor is it even a useful step. The US might temporarily relent if Iran actively assists in dismantling Syria and in the Lebanese Army crushing Hezbollah and the Shia generally. And supports US policy in Iraq. And supports US oil policy. I’m still not sure they would get their bank assets back though.

47

Omega Centauri 07.15.15 at 7:56 pm

As I heard it, the sanctions review committe has eight members, and it requires a majority of members to make a finding. China, Russia, and Iran are unlikely to find against. The US is only one vote of eight.

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Bruce Wilder 07.15.15 at 9:02 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 45: The main reason why the Greeks didn’t do this appears to have been a failure on the part of their general public, which remains attached to the idea of staying “within Europe” even when this is bad for them. So they have no options not because they truly don’t have any, but because they don’t believe that they have any. In that they are like pretty much everyone else at this historical moment.

I have some personal acquaintances in Greece, and have puzzled over their attachment to the Euro. I would press (back in 2009 – 2010), gently as one does in person, my economics assessment that the debt would be too much to be borne and that Greece, given its political conflicts and peculiar cultural trust issues, would be better off with its own currency and the safety valves that affords.

I don’t look for people to understand the economics in the abstract in the way I am inclined to do; I’m interested in how they come to reconcile themselves to reality thru politics. And, Greeks really do not see relying on Greeks to organize anything as a viable option. And, not without reason — actually many reasons.

It is interesting that the conflict between Germany and Greece has become a conflict of nations, because I think it has been powered by the decline of national identity and the betrayal by elites of their populations. The institutional deficit of democracy is just one reflection of how power has shifted in societies. People talk as if Germany, as a country has benefitted from these arrangements, but look up the Harz reforms of German labor markets and you see class warfare at home. Certainly, up until recent events, the divisions within Greece were more pronounced. The forging of Greek solidarity in the crucible of economic crisis is remarkable; it might break down in recrimination, of course, but the Germans do seem determined to remain the villains of the piece.

That SYRIZA has seemed inept may be attributed in part to the absence from its ranks of very many people with deep administrative experience or capacity — another indication of how much politics has become exclusively a matter of class division.

49

F. Foundling 07.15.15 at 10:02 pm

@OP

Your suggestion that the EU or the Eurozone will fall because of Greece or the whole austerity thing seems very optimistic to me. Personally, I can’t exclude the possibility that things will just go on like this forever and ever until climate catastrophe or nuclear annihilation, with ever more of the same neoliberal and anti-democratic tendency, once the revolt has been crushed and the peasants, no matter how much they suffer or die, have been convinced that TINA. Plenty of precedent. Obviously, I *hope* that this is not what the future looks like, but I can’t take it for granted.

@david 07.15.15 at 9:06 am

>If there’s a hubris-related moral to be drawn here, it’s to invest in sarissae; the city-state dramas of Athenian democrats and oligarchs was all ultimately irrelevant under a Macedonian and eventually Roman sandal.

I don’t see how Macedonian tyranny is principally worse than oligarchic or Spartan tyranny, except if one wants to argue that the latter may be easier to overthrow when better conditions arise. That is, if one cares about democracy at all.

@Adam Roberts 07.15.15 at 1:46 pm
>Realpolitik can find it hard to ‘place’ religious belief as something not only sincerely held but something that determines military and political choice. Sparta could not eradicate Sparta without angering Athena: destroying her temples and so on. They didn’t want that.

I think thay pretty much all the classical city-states had patron deities. Carthage had Tanit and Baal-Hammon, who were identified with Juno and Saturn, and yet was destroyed by the Romans. Thebes was destroyed by Alexander, although I find various gods mentioned as its patrons. Tyre was destroyed by Alexander, although its patron deity Melkart was identified with Heracles. As usual, religion is mostly a justification, not a real determinant of policy.

@Ronan(rf) 07.15.15 at 1:12 pm
>and the idea in the link that Putin is “more sane” than the EU, considering the manner in which the Russians control countries in their periphery, is bizzare

Both are sane, but immoral, of course. However, the Russians are mostly interested in the geostrategic orientation of other countries, so they don’t try to impose neoliberal ‘reforms’ on them; I suppose that they are too weak to afford such luxuries.

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F. Foundling 07.15.15 at 10:05 pm

Oops, that should have been Melqart. Or MLKQRT, or something.

51

John Quiggin 07.15.15 at 11:01 pm

@43 and @49 I didn’t claim an exact analogy, and I don’t predict the end of the EU. But I think the Athenians in this story have already incurred some pretty big costs: for the ECB, the euro discredited as an idea and finished as a Europe-wide currency, for the EC, a greatly increased likelihood of British exit, Germany once again “the German problem”, the IMF with yet another massive failure on its hands. There’s no obvious way back from any of these.

From my ex-Euroenthusiastic perspective, as I think from Thucydides’, the failure of the Athenians is an even bigger disaster than the fate of the Melians.

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F. Foundling 07.15.15 at 11:40 pm

@John Quiggin 07.15.15 at 11:01 pm
>for the ECB, the euro discredited as an idea and finished as a Europe-wide currency, for the EC, a greatly increased likelihood of British exit, Germany once again “the German problem”, the IMF with yet another massive failure on its hands.

Well, it’s very possible that I’m missing something, but:
1. As for the discrediting, I think that one can easily put a different spin on it and claim that the Euro is a great idea precisely because it helped to discipline profligate lazy Southerners and force structural reforms on them.
2. As for the Europe-wide currency, in view of the anti-Greek propaganda, the populations of non-euro EU countries may never understand that it, and not Greek laziness, was somehow the cause of the problem (the elites hardly care or may even welcome opportunities for neoliberal policy), so they may very well join the euro in spite of all this.
3. A British exit just because of the Murdoch papers’ and Farrage’s crocodile tears about the poor little Greeks seems unlikely, too. The voters just won’t expect that the same thing could happen to the UK.
4. Germany being once again ‘the German problem’ is just a matter of rhetoric – again, if the ‘lazy pilfering Greek’ narrative wins as it has been winning so far, everything is fixed.
5. ‘the IMF with yet another massive failure on its hands’ – yet another one, yes. I’m sure they’ll get over it somehow. They always do, after all. Just like the poor naive US keeps ‘failing’ in its foreign policy, despite its good intentions.

53

Antoni Jaume 07.16.15 at 12:35 am

F. Foundling, what you write seems the typical neocon/neoliberal shit that please those that prefer Nazism to socialdemocracy.
Probably everything is false from the name to the last dot.

As for point 4, Murdoch and Farage are irrelevant here, simply the common Briton will see that the people that rule the EU have interests that harm them.

54

Sandwichman 07.16.15 at 1:10 am

Posted in the “Bluffed” thread but I’ll repeat it here. too:

Has it occurred to anyone else (I am assuming not) that compared to dealing with climate change, the Greek crisis was a relatively extremely simply problem to solve.

Feel better now?

55

bob mcmanus 07.16.15 at 1:41 am

54: No. This is a Quiggin thread, so I guess I won’t link to Guy McPherson, Peter Kingsnorth, Dark Mountain, and Nature Bats Last.

56

LFC 07.16.15 at 2:43 am

@Antoni Jaume
I think you’re misreading Foundling @52, which seems intended as description/prediction rather than a statement of his own preferences.

57

ZM 07.16.15 at 4:10 am

LFC,

“I’ve read some of Marshall Sahlins’ work. His politics are leftist (of some variety), but I don’t think of him as a Marxist nor is it my impression that he identifies as one. If someone can produce (good) evidence to the contrary I will readily admit error on this point.”

My impression had been that he was Marxist, but now that you have asked about it I really can’t recall exactly how I came to think that, and as far as I can tell now I have looked for a source it seems you are right.

I found this in an interview:

“I passed through several theoretical stages: White, Marx, Karl Polanyi and other big thinkers-though as Paul Bohannan once remarked, after I fell at each one’s feet, I soon enough picked myself up and dusted myself off. The basic problem I had with materialism – with the anthropology of ‘mid-western civilization’ in the 60s and 70s – was the fact, again, that material life was culturally constituted and not, therefore, some form of external-material determinant of the rest of the cultural order. That’s what appealed to me about Lévi-Strauss’ structuralism. Even though Lévi-Strauss said structuralism was a science of the superstructures, the symbolic orders he discerned also organized the relations and forces of production including notably the people’s constructions of nature. The symbolic structures were also infrastructural. Economic activity was a particular functional disposition of the cultural ontologies and cosmologies.”

And in Jameson’s The Political Unconscious this:

“In a splendidly argued confrontation with Marxism, the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins has attempted to demonstrate that it is by its very philosophical structure locked into an approach to culture which must thus remain functional or instrumental in the broadest sense. Given the Marxian orientation toward the reading or demystification of superstructures in terms of their base, or relations of production, even the most sophisticated Marxian analyses of cultural texts, must, according to Sahlins, necessarily always presuppose a certain structural functionality about culture: the latter will always “ultimately” (if not far more immediately) be grasped as the instrument , witting or unwitting, of class domination, legitimation, and social mystification (Sahlins 1976).”

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Bruce Wilder 07.16.15 at 4:49 am

Sandwichman

Of course, the thought has occurred: the same elite detachment.

59

ZM 07.16.15 at 4:55 am

Neville Morley,

“Personally, I think Thucydides is much more complex than Sahlins allows; the phrase often translated as “human nature” is actually much fuzzier, “the human thing”, which could almost be translated as “people being what they are”. Sahlins is really attaching ‘Thucydides’, so to speak, the image of Thucydides developed by C19 historians on the basis of a partial reading in their own terms.”

That does not entirely surprise me as I think Sahlins does enjoy an argument, maybe that somewhat skewed approach is why the book is called Apologies To Thucydides.

On the topic of economics, there is an interesting passage on page 6 taken from a 19th C account about a young Tongan chief, Finau, who heard a description of money and “thought it a foolish thing that people should place a value on money, when they either could not or would not apply it to any useful (physical) purpose”

” “If,” said he, “it [money] were made of iron, and could be converted into knives, axes, and chisels, there would be some sense in placing a value on it; but as it is, I see none. If a man,” he added, “has more yams than he wants, let him exchange some of them away for pork or gnat [bark cloth]. Certainly money is much handier, and more convenient, but then, as it will not spoil by being kept, people will store it up, instead of sharing it out, as a chief ought to do, and thus become selfish; whereas, if provisions were the principal property of a man, and it ought to be, as being the most useful and most necessary, he could not store it up, for it would spoil, and so he would be obliged either to exchange it away for something else useful, or share it to his neighbours, and inferior chiefs and dependents, for nothing.” He concluded by saying, “I understand now very well what makes the Papalangis [Europeans] so selfish — it is this money.” — Martin, 1827

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Sandwichman 07.16.15 at 5:13 am

ZM —

Great quote from Finau. Makes me wonder if he read Locke. Sounds like a direct — and very eloquent — refutation of “Of Property.” Wikipedia gives the source as William Mariner.

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Sandwichman 07.16.15 at 5:16 am

“When Tonga introduced decimal currency, it decided not to call the main unit the dollar because the native word, tola, translated into a pig’s snout…”

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Harold 07.16.15 at 6:12 am

I think the ancient Greeks must have had rather similar idea about money (then a rather recent invention, comparatively speaking). They considered banking as a job fit only for slaves, since handling money was degrading and unworthy of a free man. Of course some of the slaves became very wealthy and married freemen’s daughters. I think, if memory serves, that Aristotle’s father-in-law may have been a slave. Perhaps Neville Morely or Meredith will help me out.

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Harold 07.16.15 at 6:22 am

Morley (sorry)

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Lynn Gazis-Sax 07.16.15 at 6:40 am

@40: Yes, Thucydides’ work is a tragedy, unlike Xenophon’s. Though Xenophon carries his work through to Athens’ final defeat, his own loyalty and focus had shifted enough toward Sparta that the defeat doesn’t have the same tragic feel. Thucydides’ work, on the other hand, shows both his love of Athens and his clear-eyed view of Athens’ faults, and so plays as Athens being tragically undone by those flaws.

@48: “That SYRIZA has seemed inept may be attributed in part to the absence from its ranks of very many people with deep administrative experience or capacity — another indication of how much politics has become exclusively a matter of class division.”

That’s my sense, too. To people on the opposite side of the political spectrum (to whom views as far left as SYRIZA’s are obviously foolish), I think that what they see as ideological blinders and what they see as ineptness merge. But lots of people, all across the political spectrum, have ideological blinders, and some of them have excellent administrative ability. It’s simply a matter of what experience you’ve been able to develop, like any other professional skill.

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Sandwichman 07.16.15 at 7:04 am

William MARINER? Ha!

as in The Rime of the Ancient… oe Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, mariner…

As told to John Martin, M. D.

“compiled and arranged from the extensive communications of Mr. William Mariner, several years resident in those islands”

Fiction?

66

LFC 07.16.15 at 2:53 pm

ZM @57
Thanks for the excerpts (that interview puts his position pretty clearly).

After I wrote the earlier comment, I realized I was thinking specifically of the last chapter of Sahlins’s Islands of History (1985), orig. a 1983 lecture “Structure and History,” where he criticizes various dichotomies — ‘system’ v. ‘event’, materialism v. idealism, etc. The main conceptual points there are not esp. startling and perhaps boil down to saying that there is a reciprocal or interdependent connection/relation between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’. He also makes the correct (and unoriginal) point that there is no such thing as a completely changeless social or cultural order, that continuity and change are not exclusive, completely opposed categories.

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bartkid 07.16.15 at 3:11 pm

Admittedly, I’m no professional historian, but what I recall of the two translations of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War I read years ago, I gathered the same thought – that might led to hubris and that led to downfall.

>Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.
After seeing this quote so many other times, this morning I see it in a new light:
Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make angry.
Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they irritate, vex, make resentful, chafe.
Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they antagonize (like Jack Palance in Shane, jibing then shooting the meek sheep farmer).
The gods first raise the ire of those they wish to destroy.

Previously, I had always read “make mad” as pushing into insanity rather than provoking displeasure.

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Scott P. 07.16.15 at 4:17 pm

“Previously, I had always read “make mad” as pushing into insanity rather than provoking displeasure.”

Well, English has that ambiguity but the Latin from which it is derived: “”Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat” does not.

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F. Foundling 07.16.15 at 4:34 pm

@Antoni Jaume 07.16.15 at 12:35 am

>F. Foundling, what you write seems the typical neocon/neoliberal shit that please those that prefer Nazism to socialdemocracy.

Umm… OK?

>Probably everything is false from the name to the last dot.

Feel free to call me Deulofeu, although, strictly speaking, I don’t agree with the statement.

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F. Foundling 07.16.15 at 4:49 pm

@Antoni Jaume 07.16.15 at 12:35 am

>As for point 4, Murdoch and Farage are irrelevant here, simply the common Briton will see that the people that rule the EU have interests that harm them.

Just like he saw it in the case of the Tories and Cameron? Whatever. I can only hope that you will turn out to be right somehow.

71

Cranky Observer 07.16.15 at 5:36 pm

I think it was about 6 months ago in a CT thread I opined that a situation was consistent with there being a significant faction in the polity (US in that case) for whom the infliction of punishment was the primary motivating force. Deserved or undeserved, just or unjust, no matter: selection of a victim and brutalization gives fundamental meaning to their lives. I was told I was not only wrong but probably needed psychological counseling.

Wonder if anyone’s viewpoint has changed on that in the wake of the Greece situation?

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bartkid 07.16.15 at 6:27 pm

@Scott P. 07.16.15 at 4:17 pm
Ah, thank you.

And, now that I see the original Latin, when I try to find a less ambiguous translation, I fail.

“Deprive of reason” should prompt me to accept the correct meaning of push into insanity, but the voice at the back of my skull now whispers, hey, it could mean take away purpose. Hmm. Whom the gods would destroy, first they make purposeless.

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David Blake 07.16.15 at 7:33 pm

@Ebeneezer Scrooge. Germany yes. but a lot more recent than the Wilhelmine era.

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NM 07.16.15 at 8:54 pm

Some might suggest that the debates about the Sicilian expedition offer are at least as relevant, if not more relevant, to current Greek events as Melos.

Moreover, note to everyone going on about the evil Germans: note that the *majority* of Eurozone states has little sympathy for Syriza and more generally the Greek demands. The *majority* of states rather likes the idea of the Eurozone being run on ordoliberal lines.

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NM 07.16.15 at 8:59 pm

Regarding JQ’s comments at 51 about the Euro having “failed” or being “discredited”: if it is indeed discredited, why does the Euro have *more* members today than it did in 2008? Might it be that many northern and eastern European states *like* the idea of an economic zone run on ordoliberal lines, and if anything regard not a possible Greek exit as a failure, but a serious weakening of collective rules?

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Bruce Wilder 07.16.15 at 9:51 pm

NM @ 74,75

I have a certain admiration for the original ordoliberals, just I have for, say, Henry Simon’s and Frank Knight’s version of the Chicago School. They saw the usefulness of rules for economic cooperation, but they did not think the rules sacred and human welfare a by-the-by.

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F. Foundling 07.16.15 at 11:45 pm

NM @ 74,75
Replace ‘ordo-‘ with ‘neo-‘ and ‘states’ with ‘local political and economic elites’ and you’ll get closer to reality. The peripheral populations are mostly brainwashed and clueless about what’s going on (for the most part, clinging to a vague notion of a future European Utopia, where they’ll all have Western living standards somehow). And I highly doubt that the legacy of Adenauer and Erhard has even a marginal causal connection with the current austerian/neoliberal idiocy.

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john c. halasz 07.17.15 at 12:07 am

F. Foundling @77:

Walter Eicken was a founding member of the Mont Pelerin Society, the source of neo-liberalism as a word and doctrine, and Ordo-liberalismus, together with the Austrian and Chicago schools, was one of the three strands forming that group.

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Bruce Wilder 07.17.15 at 12:33 am

Walter Eucken?

80

john c. halasz 07.17.15 at 12:47 am

As usual, Wikipedia rides to the rescue:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Eucken

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john c. halasz 07.17.15 at 1:05 am

BTW Frank Knight was also a founding member. (As was Henry Hazlitt).

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john c. halasz 07.17.15 at 2:27 am

Oops! Sorry B.W. I missed you were just correcting a typo.

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F. Foundling 07.17.15 at 4:19 am

john c. halasz @ 07.17.15 at 12:07 am:

>Walter Eicken was a founding member of the Mont Pelerin Society, the source of neo-liberalism as a word and doctrine, and Ordo-liberalismus, together with the Austrian and Chicago schools, was one of the three strands forming that group.

I think that the contradiction between my post and yours is due to the complicated history of the term and notion of ‘neoliberalism’. It’s certainly true that the original sense of ‘neoliberalism’ very much included Ordoliberalism, but that’s because it was a vague term referring primarily to a revised, moderated, essentially left-leaning liberalism with significant room for both state regulation and intervention and social welfare – indeed even a ‘social market economy’ as found in Adenauer’s Germany. However, this original sense is completely different from the present-day use of the term to refer to the militant, much more laissez-faire, Chicago and Austrian-style varieties, and to Thatcherite and Reaganite policies. The Mont Pelerin society did include both currents (at a time of maximal influence of socialist ideas, it was natural that even such a wide range of pro-free-market thinkers should collaborate against the common enemy), but there has been a lot of tension between them over the years.

Now, Ordoliberalism as a model practiced in Germany, in spite of some variation in the exact degree of ‘social’ commitment of its key figures, very early on came to be closely associated with a ‘social market economy’, a kind of ‘capitalism with a human face’ (and relatively little emphasis on privatisation, given that e.g. the state telecommunications service was privatised as late as 1995), and to be viewed as a form of ‘social liberalism’. In contrast, the policies of the troika in Greece are decidedly anti-social (and with a great emphasis on privatisation); thus, in fact, they are arguably *antithetical* to Ordoliberalism, and much more appropriately described as ‘neoliberal’ in the *modern* sense of the term.

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F. Foundling 07.17.15 at 5:05 am

@83
OK, ‘antithetical’ was probably too strong, since the original core of Ordoliberalism as a theory was the state regulation of the free market to ensure competition, whereas the mitigation by means of a safety net was more peripheral to it, even if it was added in practice and emphasised by theorists such as Müller-Armack. Still, definitely contrary to the practice of ‘actually existing ordoliberalism’, basically to ‘the German model’ that NM probably meant.

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john c. halasz 07.17.15 at 5:12 am

F. Foundling @ 83:

No. I think if you dig more deeply into the matter the signs of continuity can be discerned.

Adenauer himself did not exactly have clean hands. He had been the mayor of Koeln for the RC Center Party and was bruited to become Kanzler, but instead Bruening got the job to famous effect. After the war, his project was to deliberately reintegrate former Nazi functionaries into a conservative party. (He alleged that Nazism was a Protestant movement, which was multiply absurd, not least because Protestant Prussia had voted pinko and the abolition of the Prussian government was a key move in the Nazi establishment of power). In the meantime, the post-war German welfare state had been planned under the Nazi regime, very much as the Beveridge Report, and was applied, suitably scrubbed. Given the conditions of the time and the relatively generous stance of the victors, more for pragmatic and strategic reasons than idealistic ones, of course, a “social market” economy was established, with robust rights for the (integration) of the industrial working class. But the dominance of German capital was always the main goal, and under changing circumstances, was robustly achieved.

So I would say that Merkel and Schaeuble are Adenauer’s grandchildren and achieving rather archaic, deeply embedded German conservative objectives, (however ignorant and dismissive of the prior history they might be), in a Wilhelmine/Bismarckian vein, however our south German sourpuss “hix” might choose to disagree.

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dax 07.17.15 at 7:48 am

“I have some personal acquaintances in Greece, and have puzzled over their attachment to the Euro.”

This pretty much sums it up. Anglo-Saxons (*) don’t understand why Greeks are attached to the euro. But even if that point would seem primordial, it doesn’t stop them from giving advice to the Greeks.

“the euro discredited as an idea”

Anglo-Saxons have tried to discredit the euro from day 1. I mean really. And every couple of years, as the euro continues on, they find another reason why *this time* the euro will be discredited. As an idea. Please.

“for the EC, a greatly increased likelihood of British exit”

That’s not a cost, that’s a plus. Brits are hardly central to the EU and are in fact an obstacle to further EU integration. The UK needs to go (or at least England – the Scots should stay). It’s pretty funny to think how Australians still have their world-view formed by mother England. It’s also funny to hear the Brits criticizing Germany for being hard-hearted but then demanding that they be shielded from risk when an EU fund is used to help Greece, another EU member.

(*) Anglo-Saxons = a short-hand for Brits + Americans + Australians + a bit of Kiwis

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Neville Morley 07.17.15 at 9:33 am

@Harold #62: sorry for delayed reply – wifi in flat really doesn’t like CT… I know nothing at all about Aristotle’s private life, but yes, Greek (elite) attitudes to money were complex and ambiguous. Lots of quotes in tragedy about fact that money makes ugly man appear handsome, stupid man appear clever etc.; lots of suspicion of corrosive effect on society and politics. At least in Aristotle, it’s not money per se so much as love of money – as a means of exchange, selling your harvest for money to buy other things you need, no problem, but buying things to sell to buy more things to sell etc. is bad. Key people on banking are less slaves than metics, resident foreigners, who can’t own land and only very rately have hope of gaining citizenship however many services they do for the state – and perhaps relevant that Aristotle was in this position.

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F. Foundling 07.17.15 at 2:38 pm

john c. halasz @ 07.17.15 at 5:12 am:

Well, one can discern some continuity and connections between all sorts of things. Certainly Adenauer and the CDU weren’t nice people, they were right-wing politicians adapting to the circumstances of their time, much like Merkel is a right-wing politician adapted to the current circumstances. Of course, the whole ‘social market’ thing was just a manoeuvre to pacify the working class – but then again, so were, to a great extent, the New Deal and Keynesianism. Regardless, describing the current actions of Merkel-Schäuble as ordoliberal is just inappropriately flattering to them, giving them an aura of respectability that they don’t deserve, since, whatever the motives behind ordoliberalism, it was incomparably more beneficial to the population than Merkel-Schäuble policies. Also, this is ultimately a matter of international tendencies and an emphasis on national continuity just obscures this and leads to retrenchment along national lines.

dax @ 07.17.15 at 7:48 am

Nice one. The ad hominem per se is cheap, but the other bit is crafty: arguments of the type ‘you are not in my shoes, so don’t you dare question anything I do’ really have gained an incredible degree of traction in Anglo-Saxon discourse, mostly in conjunction with identity politics, I think – even though they are obviously incompatible with rational discussion in general. Making this an issue of Anglos vs non-Anglos, in spite of the fact that many non-Anglos have made the same observations, is also neat. By the way, I’m not Anglo-Saxon (despite the signature), and I dare say that I understand very well, even on the visceral personal level that such arguments raise to sacrosanct status, why Greeks and other ‘peripherals’ are so attached to the Euro and the European project in general. If anything, this makes my attitude towards said attachment even less positive.

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F. Foundling 07.17.15 at 2:52 pm

Or, to be more blunt, I’ve seen both this kind of thinking and its results up close during much of my life, and I’m as fed up with it as it gets.

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dax 07.17.15 at 3:30 pm

That’s not the argument. And you don’t get out enough if you think I’m the one who invented the Anglo vs Europe idea.

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Sebastian H 07.17.15 at 4:14 pm

The unknown is scary, and the possibility of Germany going out of its way to make an example of Greece if they leave is a live one. I don’t blame Greeks for being reluctant to leave the euro any more than I blame slaves for being scared of leaving plantations. That doesn’t mean I can’t properly judge unreasonable debt holders or slave owners.

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steven johnson 07.17.15 at 5:08 pm

A couple of remarks from an outsider perspective:

First, neoliberal austerianism is not idiocy. Successful pursuit of self-interest is never idiocy. There are very many who do quite well from austerity, including some in Greece, at the expense of those who don’t, including many in Germany. Stagnation or regression due to austerity is not a crisis, self-induced or otherwise. In a capitalist system, there is no crisis until the capitalists are losing money. The argument that some sort of Keynesian policy in the EU will in the long run pay off for all parties is by no means justified by historical experience. Further, since the world economy doesn’t have a central bank or central government, there cannot even in principle be a Keynesian policy for humanity. Marx still seems to be a better description of the real world. The assumption that the normal trajectory of ever progressing capitalism can be restored by piecemeal reforms and local national policies strikes me as ideological.

Second, everyone here agrees on the fundamental principle that impelled SYRIZA to capitulate. Namely, socializing the economy is the wrong way to go. No matter what, no one here will ever accept going down the KKE path or anything like it. Absent that, there was never much reason to fart around like Tsipras. His acceptance of the inevitable consequences is the expression of his, and SYRIZA’s (and for that matter, the CT commentariat’s,) repudiation of nationalization of banks etc. and all the other mileposts on the wrong road. Further, Grexit, leaving the Eurozone, implies practical measures jeopardizing relationships with the EU, the US and even NATO. Greece as part of the EU is in a different place vis a vis Turkey. It’s part of Christendom-Lite.

(It seems unfair to abuse the populations as deceived dolts when they merely share the same kind of widespread agreement on national values upheld by people here. They are the ones who would have to suffer the consequences if nationalization of banks and such led to some sort of revolutionary regime, which the abusers agree is absolutely the worst thing. If the “West” is allowed to sweat the nuclear threat from Iran, the Greek people can sweat the threat from Turkey.)

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Bruce Wilder 07.17.15 at 5:09 pm

dax @ 86

No Canada, eh?

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hix 07.17.15 at 5:25 pm

I mainly disagree to being called a sourpuss without looking it up, im sure its no nice word. Regarding the question how left or right ordoliberalism is or how Adenauer scores on the evil-o-meter, what the hell. Dont think German society, both in the good and the bad depends so strongly on economic schools. Economics is to important to leave it to just one social science, no ones doing it. Albeit also no fan of replacing it with pol science realism which must be the most unrealistic school of thaught that exists.

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Bruce Wilder 07.17.15 at 5:47 pm

Marx still seems to be a better description of the real world.

Marx still lacks a prescription for a better world. Or, haven’t you noticed?

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john c. halasz 07.17.15 at 8:02 pm

F. Foundling @88:

Fair enough. But despite the neo-liberal globalization project and its pretensions, nations still exist, with their histories and traditions, though variably situated in the global hierarchy in world-system terms, and still have some persisting mentalities, (though not uniformly, as in reified “national characters”. And I’m not suggesting that Germany is especially evil, (the political economy of my own country the U.S.A, being itself thoroughly rancid). The link to German Economy News that I linked to, and that hix derided, I also sent to a fellow activist friend from Germany, warning her that the website was accused of being alarmist. (Her main newspaper is the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the “official opposition” of Bavaria where she’s originally from). She responded that she hadn’t read anything so extreme and thought the article verged on conspiracy theory. Nonetheless, the mentality attributed to Schaeuble did resemble the Wilhelmine one, with a weak parliament ruled by the “iron law” of party oligarchies, ensuring consensus and subjecting it to nontransparent dictates from “higher” authority, and avoiding “politics”. And that anti-political attitude of the Wilhelmine bourgeoisie, refusing republican civic engagement in favor of subordination to the state is a historical commonplace. (My guess is that this sort of rightwing German mentality associates “politics” with the Weimar debacle). Without stereotyping Germans as a whole, this sort of conservative mentality of anti-political politics and enforced consensus still seems operative today. And even on the left, the official think tank of the SPD is named after Friedrich Ebert of all people and even Habermas’ theories rely on consensus rather than conflict, (rather unrealistically IMO). SO there still seems to be some old German insularity behind the German effort to be “good Europeans”. Further Ordo-liberalismus, emphasizing the role of the state in enforcing the dictates of the Market, strikes me as being the closest of the three strands to what we now generally call neo-liberalism.

hix @94:

You’re just confirming what we already know, that what passes for economics in the German mainstream is a cargo cult. Not that there aren’t highly competent German economists. Such as this guy:

http://www.amazon.com/Macrodynamics-Capitalism-Elements-Synthesis-Schumpeter/dp/3540879315/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Or this guy:

http://www.flassbeck-economics.de/

But few seem to be willing to listen to them. Instead, they follow the wisdom of Hans Werner Sinnlos.

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hix 07.18.15 at 10:52 am

Thats the problem in thinking right there.

A) Economists are important key decission makers in every society, or if not that at least just shows that a society is underdeveloped/infirior to Anglo-Saxon one
B) The Anglo-Saxon ones create culture independent universal scienctific truth

Which is just laughable considering how close US economists opinions are aligned (and changeing) along lines that are determined by US construction of how the world is. That gets blantently obvious when German deviations from US economist mainstream opinon are getting explained by culture-caricatures that just reveal a lot about US culture and just about nothing about German one.

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steven johnson 07.18.15 at 2:29 pm

Bruce Wilder@95 Yes, my second paragraph pointed out every one here abhorred the wrong road more than anything else. Yet, I am unrepentant. Your way, more capitalism, has turned into a prescription for a worse world. This has been true since 1848, blatantly true since 1914, shamefully true since 1929, criminally true since 1937. And none of the reformist prescriptions for improving capitalism have ever worked. Local improvements have always been at someone else’s expense, and temporary to boot.

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john c. halasz 07.18.15 at 2:38 pm

@97:

SO it’s back to German Kultur vs. vulgar Anglo-Saxon materialism and utilitarianism?

Do you even know what a current account is?

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Jeremy A 07.18.15 at 6:52 pm

Tardy observation re the OP: when I taught at USAFA, Martin Cook’s The Moral Warrior was a standard text in the mandatory ethics course. Its intro (I think — don’t have my copy handy) also argues that the Melian episode can be read more as a lesson about Athenian hubris than about the triumph of realpolitik.

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John Quiggin 07.18.15 at 8:33 pm

@75 “The eurozone has more members than in 2008” I agree that euro austerity is appealing to governments like those of the Baltic states, though of course a large part of the population has voted with their feet on that matter.

But does anyone want to claim that any of the EU states now outside the euro is likely to join any time soon? If not, hasn’t the euro become a source of division rather than unity in Europe, and therefore discredited in its main political goal?

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John Quiggin 07.18.15 at 8:38 pm

Anglo-Saxons have tried to discredit the euro from day 1. I mean really. And every couple of years, as the euro continues on, they find another reason why *this time* the euro will be discredited. As an idea. Please.

You might want to read this piece in Foreign Affairs, which Henry Farrell and I wrote early in the crisis. Far from denouncing the euro, we urged the rejection of austerity precisely because it would destroy the euro and the EU. The euro is now discredited, and the blame belongs with those who managed the process

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/western-europe/2011-04-18/how-save-euro-and-eu

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john c. halasz 07.19.15 at 2:11 am

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john c. halasz 07.19.15 at 2:42 am

Oops! Wrong language. “Esteems”. But if you put it through Google Translate, surprisingly, the usual hair-balls don’t result. (OT, but I think Google Translate proves John Searles’ “Chinese Room ” argument correct. It not only can’t get the semantics right, it misses, and often reverses, the syntactic structure, which one would think would be more susceptible to an algorithmic approach).

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dsquared 07.19.15 at 4:00 am

Rereading John and Henry’s article, it still strikes me as very perceptive, right up to the last sentence, when it says that something needs to be done “quickly”, in Europe (a modest ask, only requiring changes to three treaties and the constitution of the ECB!). The other thing that strikes me is that the person who arms to have taken Quiggin & Farrell on board the most is Wolfgang Schaeuble! The Q&F ” hard Keynesian ” solution is exactly what he wants, institutionally in the long term. The only difference is that rather than getting there via a short period of inflation and a Euro bond, he wants to achieve it via the removal of any current Euro members who can’t cope with the transition.

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John Quiggin 07.19.15 at 4:31 am

Last time I paid attention, “Anglo-Saxon” was French code for “dogmatic neoliberals who don’t understand the French way of doing things”. Now, it seems to be German code for “soft leftists who don’t understand the German attachment to austerity”. Looking back, I can see that commenters hix and dax are right about this – it’s been part of German discourse since at least 2012

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/13/opinion/germans-the-euro-and-the-painful-truth.html?_r=0

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dsquared 07.19.15 at 4:58 am

Yep, “Anglo-Saxon” is almost always used when a European doesn’t want to admit that an American had got something right.

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hix 07.19.15 at 2:38 pm

The US part of Anglo-Saxon is dominant, however the classification of the Anlglo-Saxons classified as Keynsian economies, its right out of a textbook written long before the crisis. The US part dominates and its a simplification, sure. The point is that the lack of a strong government run social safety net that just works automatically or strong family connections makes extreme deficit spending a more natural response to an economic crisis. Its also I believe the historical standard response of the PPEs or whoever else there is in the technocratic adminstration elite in the UK. In Germany those are traditional A) far less powerfull compared to elected politicians, B) almost all of them are trained Lawyers, not PPEs, not economists. Non-responses or rule oriented responses dont require economist on top of the adminstration. If my memory serves right, thats also a bit of a historical description since Thatcher started to circumvent adminstrative elites (up to the point of almost spitefull anti-Keynsianism). Another aspect is the social role of work, which seems particular strong at least in the US.

Regarding southern Europe and Greece in particular, precisly because i do look at current accounts, im rather unconvinced that what is sometimes described rather fitting as hyperkeynsianism even in the more left and more pro Keynsian papers here in Germany can be a serious solution. Its just a convenient way to kick the can down the road, one that also is hoped to make adjustments in Anglo-Saxon (yes there again, and as far as my memory serves, its to some extend true at least for the US, UK, Canada and Australia) economies which keep producing strange outsiced current account deficits themselfs unecessary. Looking at the Suiss current account in particular, i dont believe it will work.

The way Keynsianism is used as a narrative right now, it just looks so much like a blame everyone else and demand huge transfer payments from everyone else so we can avoid internal adjustments game done by at least the UK and the US (remember the UK wont pay a dime for Greece beyond participation in the general EU budget).

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Raisuli 07.19.15 at 5:44 pm

hix-

What’s strange about a US current account deficit, considering highly undervalued German and Chinese currency and massive German and Chinese current account surplus (along with, importantly, corresponding capital account deficit).

Are the world’s largest economies all to somehow run a simultaneous current account surplus? How would such a thing be possible?

Regarding Greece/Southern Europe, the current accounts say that these countries can no longer absorb the effects of weak German demand. If the goal is to bludgeon such countries to the point that their demand levels are non-existent, and weak German/eurozone demand is thus exported out of the eurozone entirely, then any kind of Keynsian stimulus would of course be a hindrance.

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Norwegian Guy 07.20.15 at 5:57 am

I’m neither an Angle nor a Saxon, but I can assure Dax that opposition to both EU membership and adoption of the Euro is widespread outside of English-speaking countries.

Anyway, according the articles linked to at https://crookedtimber.org/2008/01/08/indoctrination/ and https://crookedtimber.org/2008/01/11/quel-horreur/ (http://bit.ly/1fhv5Ll), it should have been the other way around. Apparently. the Germans and French have been indoctrinated into being suspicious of free-market capitalism, unlike proper, neoclassical Americans. They even sometimes vote for left-wing parties!

That’s the thing that confuses me – when and how did Germany become the bastion of financial capitalism? I wasn’t so a decade ago.

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john c. halasz 07.20.15 at 8:49 pm

The proposal that VAT be jiggered to provide some tariff-like protection for Greece has been derided here by some as clearly a violation of the EU free trade rules. (Though in actual EU practice the claim that rules are rules and must always be obeyed has actually meant that rules are made to be fudged). Well, here is the point made in German:

http://www.flassbeck-economics.de/das-gegenstueck-zu-kapitalverkehrskontrollen-in-einer-waehrungsunion/

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dsquared 07.21.15 at 4:40 am

Well there it is, wrong in German as well. Find a French version and that will be pas vrai aussi.

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john c. halasz 07.21.15 at 5:18 am

Do the EZ creditors actually want to get there money back, in some possible degree, or would they rather maintain rather arbitrary accounting fictions for the sake of political convenience?
Other than that Daniel Davies’ comment is just juvenile.

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Eimear Ní Mhéalóid 07.21.15 at 9:36 am

Look, Dsquared’s exasperation here is understandable. I won’t repeat myself from the other thread but anything like a tariff is just absolutely not possible within the EU. There has been a lot of talk about Eurozone rules, which then turn out to be so unclear no-one understands them, or about whether or not states can exit the Euro or the EU with no clear mechanism. But “no tariffs” is the baked-in motto-in-stick-of-rock of the EU/EC/EEC since the Treaty of Rome. This may be unfortunate now when it might be handy but it’s about as possible as confiscating all private gnus in the US.

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john c. halasz 07.21.15 at 8:22 pm

The link I provided wasn’t by Flassbeck, but it appeared on his site and I’d assume that implies some endorsement by him. And I’d assume that a former German deputy finance minister is well aware of what the rules are.

The problem is clear. In order to pay back even a portion of its incurred external debt, Greece must reflate and grow its economy, but it can’t do so without an increase in domestic demand sucking in imports and threatening to blow out aq current account deficit once again, which can’t be financed. (Before the Eiro, Greece was runninbg CA deficits averaging about 4% of GDP, and once in the EZ they increased to 6% until they hugely blew out at the end, and that in a nutshell is the whole problem).

Further the proposal isn’t to impose actual tariffs, but to jigger the VAT system to mimic their effect, and would help to solve the problem of Greece’s low export penetration, poor export mix, Marshall-Lerner conditions and all that jazz. (Syriza was defending in the “negotiations” a lower VAT on the islands as one of its red-lines, which I assume was intended as a tourism incentive). IIRC Portugal, as part of is bailout program lowered employer taxes to reduce unit labor costs, (thereby, of course, increasing the burden on labor and lowering their benefits, while damping down the internal domestic economy). Why is that tax manipulation considered legit and a much less damaging one to the internal economy not? (And, of course, damping down the internal non-tradable sectors, while switching to tradable exports has contradictory effects, which may just cancel out or even reduce the gains). Further, such a VAT proposal could improve tax collections, (since collecting income taxes from oligarch’s seems to be such a problem), redistribute income via a progressive mostly negative income tax, thus resulting in a “balanced budget multiplier”, and allow for domestic monetary stimulus via alternative currencies, which would be valid abroad, but would conserve Euro earnings for debt service and and necessary imports). In a way, it would amount to a constructive version of Schaeuble’s otherwise nonsensical proposal for a “temporary” 5 year exit from the EZ.

But, of course, so long as Germany maintains a 10% current account surplus, any effort to solve the crisis by increasing GIPSI export penetration will be in vain. (Why the Germans can’t grasp the simple math of current accounts is a mystery to me. When they denounce “Keynesianism”, they seem to be abjuring any sort of macro-economicsw whatsoever, when it is Keynes the international trade theorist, that is perhaps even more relevant here than the cyclical demand management guru). As it stands, the third “bailout” is clearly unworkable and amounts just to continuing the beatings until morale improves. (It was clear in 2010 that the first “bailout” would fail, as based on faulty assumptions, despite Blanchard’s spaghetti bowl of apologetics).

So rather than just sneering at and slandering the Greeks, and re-enforcing the self-incurred delusions and infantile Kantianism of the Germans, perhaps it’s incumbent on any analyst to propose constructive, workable solutions.

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rea 07.21.15 at 9:36 pm

confiscating all private gnus in the US

Laws vary from state to state, of course, but there are not really all that many gnus in private hands in the US. A few in public zoos . . .

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hix 07.21.15 at 10:02 pm

Apparently we live in a world where one can only export within ones own curency zone now.

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Bruce Wilder 07.21.15 at 10:09 pm

john c. halasz @ 115

Turgot was sure that a puritan fiscal virtue combined with laissez faire would save the finances of Louis XVI. It didn’t work out. So, pas vrai aussi.

Of course, if disemploying 60% of those under 30 is a costly and ineffective policy, we can comfort ourselves that it is at least not unpossible under EU rules.

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engels 07.21.15 at 10:23 pm

Gnus don’t kill people, lions kill people

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Collin Street 07.21.15 at 10:33 pm

> But “no tariffs” is the baked-in motto-in-stick-of-rock of the EU/EC/EEC since the Treaty of Rome.

And so’s no inter-national transfers, and so’s “let’s not have a humanitarian catastrophe”, and so’s a fair number of other things.

But you put them together and it doesn’t work. The question isn’t “how can this problem be fixed without breaking one of the bedrock principles from EEC days”, the question is which of the bedrock principles has to go. “No tariffs” isn’t my first preference, but I’m not european and it’s not my call.

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John Quiggin 07.21.15 at 11:40 pm

@hix Give it a break. Intra-eurozone trade is around half of all trade, and in any case the euro is massively overvalued compared to where it should be for a region in deep and chronic depression.

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geo 07.21.15 at 11:42 pm

jch@104: I think Google Translate proves John Searles’ “Chinese Room ” argument correct

As I understand Searle’s argument, it’s that even if Google Translate worked perfectly, if it were impossible to tell whether a person or a computer were doing the translating, then it would still be a mistake to say that the computer “knows” or “speaks” or “understands” English (or whatever language it’s translating to/from).

Along with Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like To Be a Bat?”, the “Chinese Room argument” is one of the great culs de sac of contemporary philosophy. Let it no more be mentioned.

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john c. halasz 07.21.15 at 11:50 pm

BTW sorry for all the typos. It’s more than my usual quota. But you should see all the ones I corrected. Obviously there is a key “not” missing, but for the rest fluent English readers should be able to adjust. (If I didn’t use the actual name I sign my checks with, I would have chosen “dyslexic typist” as my handle.)

Rea @116:

No gnus is good gnus, I suppose.

B.W. @118:

I believe youth unemployment is defined as 18-24 year-olds. And the figure is Greece and Spain is more like 50%. If you’re going to hold factual misrepresentations from the likes of Daniel Davies to account, you should not make similar mistakes. Though for the rest, point taken.

hix @ 117:

If you actually has two brain cells to rub together and knew anything about inter-locking national income accounting, you would realize that:

1) Germany has gained tremendous advantages from the Euro with respect to it industrial export sector not just in the EZ, but globally, because otherwise the DM would have a much higher FX rate, since the union with the GIPSIs lowers the global value of the Euro.

2) The GIPSIs face a higher FX value globally for the same reason, and in some cases are intrinsically geared mostly to EU exports.

3) If a country is running a CA surplus, by definition it is running a capital account .deficit of the exact same size. IOW it is exporting capital. And it is incumbent on that country to see to it that its exported capital is invested well. (IOW the Germans are just as responsible for this debacle as the Greeks, if not more so).

4) The much ballyhooed German “black budget” is an artifact not just of suppressed interest rates, which is a relatively small factor, but much more of its CA surplus.

Further, German productivity growth since joining the EZ has been low, averaging less than 1% annually, so even if German industrial productivity is high, the growth in exports is mostly due to wage suppression since the Hartz reforms and lower inflation in Germany than the rest of the EZ. Which is what is meant by “beggar thy neighbor” mercantilist policy. ANd this will come back to bite against Germany, later if not sooner.

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john c. halasz 07.21.15 at 11:55 pm

geo @122:

The basic point is that computers would never develop semantic capacities, and if they did, we wouldn’t be able to understand them. PI pg. 223.

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geo 07.22.15 at 12:25 am

That’s probably true, John, but it’s not Searle’s point. His point is that if we did understand them (which would of course, per impossibile, require their having developed semantic capacities), they still wouldn’t be speaking the language. According to Searle, the Chinese Room’s interlocutors all understand it perfectly, but it still doesn’t speak Chinese.

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dsquared 07.22.15 at 1:21 am

and in any case the euro is massively overvalued compared to where it should be for a region in deep and chronic depression.

I disagree with this, and also with the people on this thread who see that the Euro is also massively undervalued, and that this undervaluation explains the German current account surplus which is the source of all the problems. As far as I can see, the external value of the euro is about right.

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john c. halasz 07.22.15 at 2:12 am

Voldemort @ 126:

Umm… you missed the counter-factual point. The claim wasn’t that the trade-weighted value of the Euro, -( I searched but couldn’t find a historical chart),- is undervalued for the EZ as a whole. It was that absent the Euro, the DM would be higher and the southern periphery economies would be much lower. So “a region in deep and chronic depression” specifically was referring counter-factually to the southern periphery and their export capacities.

Flassbeck gave a presentation at a Jamie Galbraith sponsored conference on the EZ crisis several years ago, in which he showed that the overall inflation target of 2% was accurately maintained, but that only France actual had that inflation rate, while Germany’s rate was just 1%, and the southern tier had higher rates, which, in terms of real wages, and compounded over a decade, significantly contributed to CA imbalances. This is the “wage-dumping”, mercantilist thesis in a nutshell. (And it was presumably part of why his former boss Oskar Lafontaine walked out of the German government).

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john c. halasz 07.22.15 at 2:42 am

geo @ 122 &1 125:

It was just an OT aside. But would you agree that speaking a language and understanding a language are kinda, er, joined at the hip? At the time, Searles was making an argument against the then claims of strong AI and the Turing test as an adequate criterion. There have been further developments in computer science, neurobiology and linguistics since, but I don’t think the basic contention has been overcome. (It’s basically an “embodied reason” issue and brains, not all of which would have semantic capacities, are nonetheless not at all like digital computational devices, with their dualism between coded program, with a programmer, and physical hardware, but are rather analog pattern matching devices, though such can partly be simulated on digital computers).

Philosophical inquiry, since its inception in Ancient Greece, has always been aporetic. Which means it’s always been about finding a way through cul-de-sacs in thinking and understanding, about not being impaled on either horn of a dilemma. (And if you abjure philosophy as a discipline, nonetheless those aporias will migrate, perhaps unawares, to other disciplines). If you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand how to read philosophy.

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John Quiggin 07.22.15 at 3:05 am

DD @126 There’s no eurozone economy that is operating above capacity, and most of them are way below. In the absence of fiscal policy, how is internal balance to be restored if not through monetary expansion and consequent devaluation?

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dsquared 07.22.15 at 6:39 am

I’m not sure about the absence of fiscal policy here; we’ve got a group of solvent Euro zone countries extending well below-market loans to Greece, Spain and Portugal. It would definitely be better if Germany expanded its fiscal policy even more, and if Italy took advantage of the ECB QE to stimulate local demand, but external Euro devaluation would tend to just pile up inflation in the solvent economies. I see your point, but if devaluation worked, it would work on Italy and France, not Greece.

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John Quiggin 07.22.15 at 7:24 am

“external Euro devaluation would tend to just pile up inflation in the solvent economies”

Do you think a higher rate of inflation in, say, Germany is
(a) likely
(b) undesirable

Wouldn’t that help to resolve the internal imbalances and provide an easy route to an implicit write-off of debt?

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hix 07.22.15 at 9:05 am

Dont know, the German exports just keeps poping up at place one would not expect when one countries demand is weakening e.g. theres a huge trade surplus with Southkorea now and the deficit with China has narrowed a lot (add Honkong to China and its plus minus 0). It is not sustainable either, just like deficits, its just not the most pressing problem right now unless one believes that theres some kind of push that forces deficits onto weak nations which is just not plausible at all. More of an issue is the way the money is invested abroad.
Here: (just trade, no services, add that and theres hardly a surplus left with the south)
https://www.destatis.de/DE/ZahlenFakten/GesamtwirtschaftUmwelt/Aussenhandel/Handelspartner/Tabellen/RangfolgeHandelspartner.pdf?__blob=publicationFile

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Eimear Ní Mhéalóíd 07.22.15 at 9:13 am

And so’s no inter-national transfers, and so’s “let’s not have a humanitarian catastrophe”, and so’s a fair number of other things
In my view, these are not at all at the same strength level as part of EU law. There is a giant body of case law striking down tariffs and measures having equivalent effect. It couldn’t be done without amending the treaties, which isn’t going to happen. I don’t say that it’s a bad idea in its potential effect, just that it’s way less possible than many of the other things which have been described by austerity pushers as impossible.
I can’t remember off the top of my head if Greece would incur fines during the period after such a rule was brought in and before it was struck down by the Court. If not, they might be liable in damages to the importers who had suffered but again I can’t remember if this is the case.

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Ronan(rf) 07.22.15 at 1:19 pm

I don’t really get the current account problems, if someone can help me. If Germany has a 10% surplus, and Greece a 6% deficit, even with inflation in Germany and a devalued Euro how is this meant to correct itself ? What is that going to enable Greece to export to an extent that it can at least balance the CA ? Surely German competitiveness isn’t primarily built on the strength of the currency, but on the ability to keep Labour costs low domestically and institutions that support a high quality export industry ?
I’m sorry if I’m misunderstanding this, but I dont see why it’s a solution ?

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Raisuli 07.22.15 at 6:09 pm

Can dsquared@126 really not grasp that what commenters are expressing is that the euro is overvalued relative to the Greek economy and undervalued relative to the German economy? I would have thought that, in the context of this conversation, a comment like mine “undervalued German currency” would be assumed to mean something like ‘the euro as compared to where a hypothetical DM would currently be’, not that I was saying the euro on the whole was undervalued.

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john c. halasz 07.22.15 at 8:10 pm

Ronan(rf) @134:

I don’t know what you don’t know, so pardon if this is too simple. Divide the national income into 4 sectors: the private household sector, the private business sector, the government sector, and the foreign sector. In any given period, whether a year a quarter or a month, the financial balances between the 4 sectors must sum to zero. If one sector is net spending or dissaving, (either by taking on debt or selling off assets), then one or more of the other sectors must be net saving. If there is a current account deficit then the foreign sector is net saving, so one or more of the domestic sectors must be net spending, (and vice versa for a surplus). Current accounts also sum internationally to zero, so if one country runs a CA deficit, one or more other countries must be running a surplus, (though bilateral imbalances don’t matter, only each country’s multilateral balance). And a CA deficit or surplus is exactly the same as a capital account surplus or deficit with the opposite sign, such that a CA surplus country must be export capital and a deficit country must be importing. These are accounting identities, true by definition, and will always obtain, regardless of the complexities of the mechanisms or channels by which they would occur. But the balance of payments must always be financed somehow, and countries over time will accumulate net external debts or surpluses, (technically called the “net international investment position”). Also, it is not exports that matter, but net exports, exports – import, which is part of the GDP equation, G + C + I + NE. (If NE is negative, it subtracts from GDP and thus domestic demand and employment and vice versa).

Beyond those bare bones, matters can become complex and not easy to explain. A current account deficit isn’t necessarily bad, as e.g. a developing country would be expected to run a small CA deficit, importing capital, which debt can be serviced and repaid by the improved productivity and growth. (Which is why Red Chinas surplus, peaking at 10% of GDP, was such a problem, subtracting from global demand and exporting deflationary tendencies). And a small CA much lower than GDP growth can easily service the increased debt with the greater increase in national income. Changes in FX rates are supposed to allow of adjustments and keep deficits/surpluses within bounds. But obviously, things don’t work out so simply, since FX rates are not simply determined by trade balances, and can be swamped even for long periods by other factors. (Australia, for example, has run a CA deficit for 49 out of 50 years. And Greece has been a chronic deficit country since well before the EZ, which only exacerbated the problem). Further, within a fixed rate system such as the EZ, a higher inflation rate than other countries’ amount to a de facto appreciation of the currency, (which is why Germany’s very low inflation and the southern countries higher inflation is very much at the core of the problem, even if real wages remain constant and don’t increase above the respective inflation rates.

Competitive devaluations internationally, trying to be the shortest rather than tallest midget, is no solution. That’s part of what made the Great Depression great. And before the crisis the EZ was in balance with the rest-of-world, until the falling $ resulted in increasing Chinese import penetration. The problem was internal EZ imbalances, which wouldn’t likely have blown out so badly without the fixed rate system.

With respect to Greece, then problem isn’t any longer its CA deficit, since at least before the current outbreak it was running a small budget and trade surplus. The problem is its inability to to service its accumulated external debt, without squeezing the economy dry and further undermining its debt servicing capacity, just inflicting further suffering on its people with no end in sight. But its snall surplus was achieved entirely through the cut off of imports and not through any expansion of exports, despite the huge fiscal adjustment, some 20% of GDP. Probably one problem there is that the Greek banking system is so severely impaired that credit for potential exporters is difficult, if not impossible to obtain. But other problems are that the export sector is relatively small compared to the internal domestic economy, their export mix isn’t high value-added and some export sectors, such as oil refining, require imports to produce exports. Shipping, on which I’m no expert, is a separate matter. It’s true that the Greek oligarchs own an astonishingly high % of global shipping for such a small country, but international shipping, which is thoroughly entwined with finance, actually operates mostly out of London, which is out of reach for the Greek government, and if which only a small part amounts to Greek domestic economic activity. Tonnage taxes have already been raise in the prior program, but demands for further raises would likely just further reduce the domestic share, (since there are reports that shipowners are already making inquiries about moving their operations abroad, to Cyprus, in particular).

Eimear Ní Mhéalóíd @133:

IANAL The German article I linked to specifically concerned the imposition of capital controls, in which context something like tariffs would be required, (as well as how intrinsic coordination problems make it impossible to predict when a crisis will strike, and prevent any prior regulation of disparate actors). I am not attached to my particular proposal, only that it’s a possible and rational approach in economic terms. Varoufakis together with Stuart Holland put together their “modest proposal”, designed to work within the current treaty constraints, which would also have provided an EZ-wide solution, not just a Greek one. Pretty clearly he was trying to flog that proposal during the “negotiations”, but was met just with cold blank stares and accused of lecturing. Other proposals might be possible. (Formulating an integrate set of economic policy proposals isn’t all that difficult; the problem is having the power to implement them). As it stands, the third “bailout” proposal is thoroughly unworkable and could only worsen the problem and reduce the eventual value of recoveries. Grexit is now inevitable, sooner or later, and with it the slow unraveling and delegitimation of the EZ.

The problem is not the loss of Greek sovereignty, (actually more like politicide), but the lack of sovereignty for the EZ as a whole, by which I’m not referring to fiscal union and transfers and the like. The sovereign is that which decides the exceptions, in Schmitt’s notorious formulation, by which he took aim at the liberal illusion of law as an entirely autonomous self-regulating domain. The counterpart to that point is that any system of law, which must have as sovereign source to promulgate and enforce the law, depends on a political supplement, a political alliance that legitimates the law and its sovereign source. More than just German hard money fetishism, that’s the source of the current dysfunction. Because which rules must be bent or broken in a crisis, and which must be maintained, how to achieve flexibilty for essentially political decision and action, (just as on the economic side the question is how to allocate real and not just fictional losses and costs and to whom), are what is at stake. And right now the political alliances sustaining the non-sovereign union are particularly malignant and toxic.

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Ronan(rf) 07.22.15 at 8:13 pm

John, that wasn’t too simple, but very helpful. Thanks.

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