A Greek farce explained

I haven’t written about the saga of the new Greek bailout, which occurred while I was on vacation. Steve discussed it here.

It was a strange saga. The leftist government rejected a bailout package, choosing instead to put the deal to a vote by the Greek people. Greece, its prime minister Alexis Tsipras, proclaimed, is the birthplace of democracy, so Greeks should decide democratically whether to accept the deal the EU proposed.

Tsipras recommended that the Greeks vote “no” on the EU’s package. They did so overwhelmingly.

But then, Tsipras agreed to a harsher deal than the one he and his people had rejected. There was no plebiscite this time in the cradle of democracy. Instead, Tsipras pushed the deal through the Greek parliament.

Tsipras apparently believed that if the Greeks voted against the EU’s deal, Europe would give it a better deal. But, as should have been obvious to him, the terms the EU was willing to offer were driven by harsh economic realities. The Greek vote couldn’t affect these realities. It was irrelevant.

Moreover, Tsipras’ behavior left a bad taste in the mouth of Europe’s power brokers. If anything, they were now more inclined to stick it to the prime minister and his Syriza Party government than to offer concessions.

Tsipras hoped that the resignation of his obnoxious finance minister would appease Angela Merkel and company. It did not, nor could it have been expected to.

How could Tsipras and his colleagues have been so naive? The answer, it seemed to me, is that they are infantile leftists blinded by their ideology.

This diagnosis is confirmed in a Washington Post story by Griff Witte, Michael Birnbaum, and Anthony Faiola. If anything, Greece’s leaders — “scruffy Marxists,” the Post calls them — were more infantile than I had supposed:

In frigid February, when negotiators sat down across from each other for the first time, the members of the Syriza squad, some of whom were still in their 20s, were abuzz with ideas about putting struggling workers ahead of corporate interests.

Their counterparts from European finance ministries and the International Monetary Fund wanted bloodless numbers. What were Syriza’s concrete proposals? And how would they affect Greece’s bottom line?

Sometimes they were scarcely speaking the same language, as worldviews clashed and tensions started to mount. Syriza’s top negotiators were fresh out of posts as Marxist-oriented economics professors. Their aides were PhD students, steeped in the heady discussions of the academy. The European side, meanwhile, was unaccustomed to hearing rhetoric that had died out of the political mainstream with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Greek negotiators didn’t know much about economics and apparently cared less:

Even words like “competition” — hardly controversial among the market-driven economic elite that Syriza sought to reshape — irked some of the Greek negotiators. . . .Syriza bosses saw the relentless focus on promoting growth as prizing profits over people.

They didn’t know much about history, either:

Greece’s strategy had been premised on the idea that it could peel away allies to advocate on its behalf against an austerity-minded European establishment dominated by Germany. But instead, some of the continent’s smallest nations became its fiercest critics.

Officials from Eastern European countries that suffered for decades under communism warned of the dangers of giving in to the left.

Syriza’s sense of entitlement astonished EU members:

[C]ountries wrestling with their own economic troubles marveled that a nation receiving so much support could be so seemingly oblivious to the impact of the bailouts beyond its own borders.

“People need to understand that a country like mine has contributions to Greece that are nearly 10 percent of our annual budget and 2.5 percent of our GDP,” said Stubb, the Finnish finance minister. “We’re not talking about small potatoes.”

Today’s scruffy Marxists are a spoiled lot.

Even in the aftermath of its negotiating debacle, the Greek left continues to miss the point. It sees the EU’s tough negotiating positions not in economic terms, as old-fashioned Marxists might tend to, but rather as an attempt to send a message to other European countries not to elect leftist governments.

There probably is something to this view, but in the main it wasn’t personal; it was just business. And if any message was being sent, it was probably a message to the Greek people to elect a government that isn’t “irked” by the concept of economic competition.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, we learned that virtually no one in authority believed the official hard left ideology of the state. The leadership was not delusional, which is probably why it managed to hold power for so long.

By contrast, today’s European left believes its own bullshit. As Greece found out the hard way, that’s a recipe for disaster.

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