Greece and Syriza lost the public relations battle

One of the most striking aspects of the Greek situation is just how much the Greek government has lost the public relations battle.  They have lost it among the social democracies, and they have lost it most of all with the other small countries in Europe.  They retain some sympathy in the American government, but we are not willing to put any money on the table and basically we want the European Union to clean up the problems for us.

If you look at the progressive economists, Stiglitz, Krugman, Piketty and Sachs all recommend a “no” vote on the referendum.  Though they would not frame it this way, they are advocating a kind of extra austerity for the purposes of a greater long-run good; Greece’s primary surplus vanished some time ago, so signaling a break with Europe will only make matters tougher.  You could call this “properly mood affiliated austerity,” cloaked by strange presumptions about bargaining, namely the view that a “no” vote will induce a more favorable offer.  It seems, with their on the ground understanding, most Greek economists are strongly in the “yes” camp.

The progressives do have some good points and I absolutely favor significant debt relief for Greece.  That said, the Greek government has handled the last few months so badly it really is incumbent on them to show they will do better.  I don’t see many signs in that direction, quite the contrary, and any reasonable democratic government will ask for Greek institutional progress before putting up much more in the way of money.  The entire handling of Greferendum should alert the progressives that they have been egging on the wrong horse; the heroic Hugo Dixon nails it.

I take the progressive “clustering out on a limb” here as a sign that, for better or worse, progressivism as an ideology has reached and indeed gone beyond its high water mark.  The progressives are siding with a corrupt, clientist state, which won’t cut its defense spending down to Nato norms, against some admittedly imperfect social democracies, thereby sustaining the meme of powerful aggressor vs. victim, Arnold Kling telephone.

Interfluidity has an interesting but quite wrong post on how to think about Greece.  International relations simply could not be run on the principles he advocates, most of all in conjunction with democratic nation states.  His weakest point becomes evident when he writes:

Among creditors, a big catchphrase now is “moral hazard”. We cannot be too kind to Greece, we cannot forgive their debt with few string attached, because what kind of precedent would that set? If bad borrowers, other sovereigns, got the idea that they can overborrow without consequence, if Spanish and Portuguese populists perceive perhaps a better deal is on offer, they might demand that. They might continue to borrow and expect forgiveness, and where would it end except for the bankruptcy of the good Europeans who actually produce and save?

The nerve. The fucking nerve. Lenders, having been made nearly whole on their ill-conceived, profit-motivated punts, now fear that if anybody is nice to somebody who doesn’t deserve it, where will it end? I’d resort to that cliché about chutspa, the kid who murders his parents then seeks leniency ‘cuz he’s an orphan. But it’s really too cute for the occasion.

That’s a non-answer, with anger filling in for the required substance as to why Germany and others should allow this.  “Your government is making things much worse.  If you want to borrow so much more from us, you have to play by the rules and also stop spitting in our face and calling us Nazis and terrorists while negotiating” is more relevant — and yes relevant is the right word here — than any point he makes.

A political program has to be something that voters could at least potentially believe, and international negotiations therefore cannot stray too far from common-sense morality, including when it comes to creditor-debtor relations.  That is the point which today’s progressive economists are running away from as fast as is humanly possible.  And for all the Buchanan-esque and public choice points about “rules of the game” this one about common sense morality unfortunately has ended up as the most important.

Look at this way: if you lost a public relations battle to Germany, you are probably doing something very badly wrong.


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