Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Eurozone chain-gang

I was recently trying to explain to a friend (in the U.S.) what's going on in Europe. The best analogy I could come up with is a chain-gang.

Imagine a chain-gang of 17 prisoners who are bound, one to the other, by chains.

At least four of the prisoners (Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal) are mordibly obese midgets.

The chain-gang has escaped into the forest and is running away from their oppressors. But after running a while, the four weakest members (mentioned above) are out of breath, and they stop running.

The fittest members of the chain gang, represented by Germany, say to the laggards: "Come on, now. Let's keep going. We're making great progress. Don't stop now."

But the laggards are out of breath, sweating heavily, and they say: "We need to eat something. We're exhausted. We can't go on without something to eat."

And the fittest members of the chain-gang say: "Nonsense. You're obese. You need to get up and start running."

And the obese ones say: "But we didn't choose to be obese. This is a genetic condition. We inherited the 'obese' gene. Don't penalize us just because we're obese."

And the fittest say: "We're not just going to turn over our food to you, just because you're exhausted and hungry. You're fat. You need to go on a starvation diet. And you need to exercise. So get up. And run."

This seems to me to sum up what's going on, economically, in Europe right now.

The Germans don't want to just give hard-earned wealth to states like Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, who are (on at least some level) plainly undeserving.

But the chain-gang cannot make progress unless the weaklings stand up and move.

Making an obese person go on a starvation diet (and sudddenly start exercising) is neither humane nor realistic. But Angela Merkel has demonstrated that even after 80-odd years, nothing much has changed in Germany. She has revealed the quintessential German nature: neither humane nor realistic.

What's needed now in Europe is a solution, for the less-well-off nations, that is both humane and realistic.

It's like a commentator on my favorite TV network (CNBC) said. Squabbles of the kind we're seeing in Europe right now used to be resolved at the point of a bayonet. They now need to be resolved at the point of a pen. And that requires significantly more time and talent.