The Greek public broadcaster showdown, and when do people finally snap?

There is now a chance that the Greek coalition government will collapse, and in some manner re-form, due to the controversy over the possible shutdown of Greece’s public broadcasting outlet (now suspended by the Greek High Court).  Here are comments from Matt, and also from Open Europe.  Here is a long update on the story.

There is a broader point about the possibility of countries on the periphery leaving the eurozone or otherwise choosing a radical change, such as outright default or capital controls or an illiberal government or a blatant renegotiation of the current deal.  Many observers seem to have in mind a path where things get really bad, economically speaking that is, and then a country leaves the eurozone (or makes some other radical choice) because they can’t stand it any more when things are at the absolute bottom.  Once things are looking up, it is assumed that countries are on board for the foreseeable future.

Without wishing to rely too heavily on Tocqueville’s analysis of the French Revolution (pdf), that’s not how things usually work.  Very often there is an ongoing history of major problems and depredations.  Then things seem to get better or perhaps they really do get better.  Expectations start to rise.  Then some small events come along and those events are blown out of proportion, leading to the crisis in public opinion that didn’t quite happen in the first place.

The current Turkish crisis was set off by a dispute over a public park, and the recent demonstrations in Brazil seem to have been prompted by a 7% hike in bus fare prices, which is about ten U.S. cents.  Yet in neither case is the small trigger the ultimate cause of the discontent.

Many deconversions from religion, or from fandom, or even from marriage, work the same way.  Big lies are told and those lies inflict some damage.  The institution in question soldiers on.  A bit later, an apparently smaller slight or problem brings the whole thing crashing to the ground, precisely when things appeared to be getting better.

I’m not saying it always runs that way, only that it is a very common path.  Furthermore the steepest period of decline is very often when people are too preoccupied with coping to make the major adjustment.

The bottom line is that one should not dismiss the importance of small events, especially these days.

Addendum: Edward Hugh argues that Grexit is not off the table.  Here is a short piece on the Tocqueville thesis and China.


1. Public TV should be shutdown everywhere. It has zero value to the taxpayer.
2. After Ben's Q&A yesterday the situation in eurozone is getting dire again. Maybe this year some countries may get to their senses and leave eurozone. The place (EU) is run like a modern fascist hellhole.

I don't know how you calculate value to taxpayer, but personally I thought PBS as pretty high quality. And the low density of ads was refreshing. BBC is pretty good too.

Then you should be the one paying for them rather than me, or others who don't watch them.

Also, when you subtract out the kids daytime programming, PBS viewers tend to lean heavily toward college educated elites. That's a group that can obviously afford to pay for it's own entertainment. As a society we don't really need TV welfare.

I started to craft a theory about Public Television and NPR as to why competition for airtime to meet thin market demand would necessitate they gravitate towards national and thus liberal content and then I figured "aw who gives a shit."

I agree with every comment in this tree, each one more than the last.

I feel the same way about F-22s. Democracy sure is a drag sometimes.

Indeed. Everything I want is necessary, everything you want is an "entitlement". Or, to quote George Carlin, my sh!t is stuff, and your stuff is sh!t.

I happen to think F-22s are cool but so expensive that they aren't worth it, but at least defense spending is (theoretically) a public good that we all benefit from. PBS in the 21st century is pretty useless and wasteful. When there are 1000 other defense departments I can switch to easily, I'll better understand your argument.

Pardon my french, but try your "defense spending = public good" nonsense argument elsewhere. That shit don't fly, Holmes.

But that is not inconsistent. There are so many channels. If there is good programming, it will get picked up by one of them. And someone other than the taxpayer will pay for it. Plenty of ways to skip ads too.

I beg to differ. In my country the public TV (and radio) is the only TV that broadcasts stuff worth watching. It gives voice to people who would never get it on a private TV (people other than celebrities and clowns).

So it does have value to the taxpayer. Maybe not to everyone but hey, what's the value of a police and a justice system to a person who doesn't have much to lose or couldn't afford to defend himself properly compared to a 1%er who owns tons of stuff that the public pays to protect it from .... the public.

The Greek people deserve to "get it good and hard", as my old buddy Henry used to say.

What a deep and insightful comment. You obviously have a great understanding of the world and know tons about Greece. You should write essays.

I have visited Greece about five times in the last 12 years, averaging 3 weeks per visit. I have in-laws there and speak some rudimentary Greek.

"Deserve" is harsh, but the source of the Greek tragedy is within Greece, and all the conspiracy theories in the world* will not change that.

*That being roughly the number of conspiracy theories Greeks subscribe to.

Hugh's analysis is really excellent. Wish we saw more like it.

By the way, what the hell's going on in China?

Well said about the impact of the small and large. Recently a California governor was recalled over an immaterial license plate tax. History is stranger than fiction.

It wasn't really about the license plate tax. Gray Davis spent the state from a large surplus into deficit. Even though Enron had something to do with it, he not unjustifiably got the blame. More importantly, he cheated his way into office by using a large part of his campaign budget to get the weaker Republican candidate nominated, whom he then defeated in the general election. His recall was the deserved consequence of his incompetence and skulduggery.

@Mark Thorson - that's the point. The recall wasn't really about the license plate tax, that was just the precipitating factor. Same with the Brazil protests: they're not really about a small hike in bus fares, that's just the small event that triggers a boilover of anger. Straw that broke the camel's back.

The striking thing about the recall is that the "No" vote on the recall was one percentage point lower than Davis' re-election percentage (I think it was 46% and 47%). And the state wound up with a liberal Republican governor, which is exactly what they would have gotten if David hadn't interfered in the Republican primary (incidentally Watergate essentially was about Nixon manipulating the Democratic primaries in favor of the weakest candidate). It took a media circus to get this result, so people miss the point.

Foreign media reporting on this are missing the most important part of the story.
The problem is not that ERT closed down, the problem is THE WAY it closed down. The government made a quick, secret decision using (illegally) a loophole to avoid a discussion in the parliament, where they knew they'd lose. This loophole is supposed to be used in emergencies, for example when the parliament can't meet, for some reason. The way the government took this decision was borderline totalitarian. It doesn't matter so much what the decision was - even if it wasn't for ERT and it was something else, people would still be outraged that the government takes decisions secretly and quickly like this.

Republican Senators, Wall Street fatcats and apparently Democratic POTUSes do this loophole/super secret crap all the time here on domestic soil and it's ho-hum Dancing with the Fat Housewives Who Have Talent Wars is on.

I'd like for there to be some blowback here. Nothing major, but something to make "them" think twice when conspiring behind closed doors.

But worse than the ho-hum is the outright ridicule of those trying to make some noise (see: OWS). Poor execution but right reaction.

Not being the general (or is that faculty?) director of the Mercatus Center, highlighting this seems a bit more relevant, with the added benefit that all the information is current, essentially in the same language (much less the same alphabet) -

'Barclays, Co-operative Bank, Nationwide and the two bailed out banks Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group have been ordered to plug a £27.1bn capital shortfall identified by the new banking regulator.

The Prudential Regulation Authority, part of the Bank of England, has also instructed Barclays and Nationwide to reduce the risks they take by borrowing too much and told them to produce plans to reduce their so-called "leverage ratio".

All the firms said they had plans in place to fill the gap and that some £13.7bn of capital had already been found by the end of last year. Nationwide's £400m shortfall is already filled. The banks are not expected to tap shareholders for extra cash.

But even as chancellor George Osborne fired the starting gun on a sell-off the taxpayers' 39% stake in Lloyds, the PRA said the bailed out bank needed to find £8.6bn of additional capital to meet regulatory requirements.'

But then, that certainly doesn't fit the narrative of eurogeddon, and is actually current news, as compared to thoroughly reported events in the EU - the crisis in terms of the broadcaster is essentially over, if the journalists, editors, and staff popping corks after a seven day occupation of the facilities are considered to be a reliable indicator of the end of an essentially illegal government action, as reported on German public radio yesterday.

Did they REALLY manage to make public broadcasting unaffordable? That would be impressive.

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"Many deconversions from religion, or from fandom, or even from marriage, work the same way. Big lies are told and those lies inflict some damage. The institution in question soldiers on. A bit later, an apparently smaller slight or problem brings the whole thing crashing to the ground"

At what point on this curve is support for Obama?

Looks like it's in the "Big lies are told" phase.

Considering that he will be out of office in 2016?


Unless your faith in various three letter agencies is considerably less than mine, of course.

What Schelling's model of aggregation, often referred to as "tipping points"? I like Schelling's approach because it implies that not all small events are important, but some might be when certain other conditions are met

Camels and straw come to mind.

Damn, I only just now noticed the nom de plume of the very first commenter.

Et tu, Tyler? So all these events have the potential for the assassination of an archduke but most of these events are going to be their Occuppy Wall Street or, at most, the 1919 strikes/Palmer Raids. The realities of the of the BRICs (with Turkey) is the high growth of wages will probably stall from the realities of the Lewis Point and stagant wage for the developed world. So the population gets pissed off. (People forgot how the inflation WW1 hurt US real wages for workers.)

Second question about the deconversions from religion and married (and so on...), aren't most wars caused by the (Geogre Carlin joke) "Wars are started because somebody had the wrong answer to the God question?" "Do you believe in God" or "Do you believe in my God?" Frankly Europe has been amazingly quiet for going through a Depression.

I question whether or not wages are really relevant.

> Then things seem to get better or perhaps they really do get better. Expectations start to rise. Then some small events come along and those events are blown out of proportion, leading to the crisis in public opinion that didn’t quite happen in the first place.

Reminds me of Crane Brinton's _Anatomy of a Revolution_.

There are a lot of other models. If you look at the 20th century, both the Russian Revolution and the Communist takeover of China were greatly influenced by the weakening of the incumbent government by wars. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Nazi and Fascist takeovers of Germany and Italy were based on the weaknesses of the incumbent governments. Those governments also failed to successfully implement their theoretical models.

Ideology also had a lot to do with the American, French, Russian, and Communist Chinese revolutions

"J." made a very important point.

Greek governments still cant shoot straight, and do a winding down lawfully.

They have failed a dozen times to reduce the number of government employees, and probably just want to show tht it is "impossible", trying to get more lucrative terms from Europe (errrrm, 1.8% 20 year credits)

After the Cyprus showdown, they got shocked into making actual plans. But that lasted only for 6 weeks, and they argued for the next delay. And that means that every baby step Greece takes, happens only under the immediate real danger of state bankruptcy (Grexit). And that will stay that way for some years. Get used to it.

And the normal people will not snap, because they are tired, after 23 general strikes.

"They have failed a dozen times to reduce the number of government employees, and probably just want to show tht it is “impossible”, trying to get more lucrative terms from Europe (errrrm, 1.8% 20 year credits)"

Yes, I agree with this, I see the move to shut down the PSB and the orchestra mainly as a move to try to show the world that they are doing something but that it will hurt too much and that they have their hands tied. Much like schools threatening to cut teachers and not diversity advisors when there is a tiny reduction in their budget.

[In all of this I do agree 100% that PSBs should be shut down everywhere, the (official) rational for starting state backed TV broadcasters / channels was about market failure, i.e. that private actors would not have been able to or want to invest enough given demand uncertainties. That rationale has gone away as demand is now much more developed and certain and technology has evolved (digital broadcast, satellite broadcast, OTT TV, Youtube, Internet in general, etc) bringing down the broadcast costs. The outrage from the left about this is appalling]

Reading this immediately brought to mind my vague amateur understanding of some psychological research on suicide and addiction, where the conventional wisdom is sounds very similar. Generally a person is thought to be at the greatest risk of suicide or relapse when they are recovering from major life crises and things appear to be getting better, but then there is a sudden setback. I guess this is because that's what causes despair to set in, the feeling that things are never going to get better. I'm sure someone more knowledgeable will come along to tell me that I'm completely ass-backwards wrong and an idiot, so let me just pre-emptively disclaim any actual knowledge or understanding of anything right now.

I would agree, in actual crisis people either kill themselves immediately (which almost never happens) or attempt to deal with the crisis (the "unsuccessful" suicide attempt can often be part of this) it is after the crisis has passed people make a successful effort. one could say they now have the luxury of despair, denied to them during the crisis.

My mother, a psychiatrist, always says the cure for depression is to get cancer.

"The bottom line is that one should not dismiss the importance of small events"

Since white swan events can be assumed to occur, the events themselves don't matter, rather they provide an opportunity to react for people finally prepared to react. The event merely serves to coordinate the emotions, the arguments and the actions at a moment in history. The question is if one can spot this psychological setting which is prepared to explode when the next white swan event occurs.

Or is there a randomness to all this? Each small event is like another pull at the slot machine and if three hearts happen to align, we take to the streets.

Specifically in the case of Brazil, a place where time normally goes in circles, the singular event of the World Cup seems to have changed the psychology of the have-nots a bit. How can Brazil remain Brazil when the future is finally within reach? A protest over fear of missing the bus due to poverty seems an apt metaphor.

Once reality is again aligned with policy things will quite down.

But as long as countries like Greece and countries like the Netherlands are souvereign democracies sharing the same currency that alignement can't happen.

The question is: Will the Euro-zone be deconstructed in a planned and organized manner or will we see some kind of civil war first? Third option: Totalitarian regime in Brussels.

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Tyler's comment is just another version of the straw that broke the camel's back. Institutions have a legitmacy, and that legitimacy can be slowly eroded as real concerns of people are not adequately addressed. Because of love, patriotism, or other kinds of loyalty, the institution can survive for a long time even as its legitimacy as something that deserves such loyalty declines. The comment about marriage is spot on. Usually one can tell that marriage (or other long term relationship) is under heavy strain as one partner is consistently dissatisfied for a very long time. At some point, the person simply emotionally exits but is still in the physical relationship. At that point, it is only a matter of looking for an appropriate pretext to publicly end the relationship. This often takes the other person by surprise because he or she thought the trouble was over, and that whatever incident caused the break was so much less than previous ones which were ignored.

In other historical examples, the same thing played out when Hitler invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war. He didn't believe either country would go to war over Poland when they didn't for Czechoslovakia when it would have been far better for them. He simply didn't understand that his violation of the Munich Agreement by occupying the rest of Czechoslovakia had transformed the mindest of the Allies from "Hitler has reasonable demands, and we should appease him" to "Hitler is a menace and can only be stopped by force." As others have mentioned, various revolutions have played out the same way.

There is a period of danger between when someone makes the emotional decision to opt out of a relationship (whether romantic, familial, political) and when they publicly announce it. It is possible for the other person to win back that loyalty and allegiance during this time, but only if they are aware that it has happened and work assiduously to EARN that loyalty back. Most individuals, however, remain clueless, and politicians are even worse because the distance between them and the people is even more.

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