Monday, July 6, 2015

Pride goes before a pratfall too

Christian de Chalonge television version of Le Malade Imaginaire, 2008, via Le Figaro.
In a campaign speech before last January's parliamentary elections candidate Alexis Tsipras made a pretty audacious Greek literary reference, as The Guardian noted in a mysteriously Aristotle-bashing editorial:
The preceding five years had been ones of tragedy, he said. And after hubris, he warned, invoking Aristotle’s famous but flawed analysis of ancient drama, come nemesis and catharsis. The election, he added, was a battle between two approaches – on the one hand, the execution of austerity measures to the letter, whether or not those measures were working; on the other, a pragmatic notion – advanced by Mario Draghi, the head of the of European Central Bank – of “whatever it takes” to save the euro.
The latter view would prevail, said Mr Tsipras, and for an extra reason too: “Because Greece is the country of Sophocles, who taught us with his Antigone that there are moments in which the supreme law is justice.” Mr Tsipras was echoing the language of Antigone’s refusal to abide by her uncle the king’s edict that her dead brother be left unburied. In the drama she contrasts manmade laws, nomoi, with an ineffable, divine justice, Dike. Moral authority trumps mortal authority.
I'm not sure if he remembered that Antigone's view prevails in the end only after she herself is dead. King Creon's life is ruined too, with the suicides of his son and his wife, but that doesn't make it OK. It's a tragedy.

I'm temperamentally inclined to ignoble, pleasure-loving comedy myself, and if I could have my way the story would end up with Creon taking a humiliating pratfall, and ending up on his ass with his crown on backwards, and his power to make people suffer compromised, gritting his teeth as Antigone and Haemon get married. Finance minister Schäuble and his comrades ought to be laughed at; as Krugman notes, they're like the villains of Molière's Médecin Malgré Lui or Le Malade Imaginaire:
The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding. A “yes” vote in Greece would have condemned the country to years more of suffering under policies that haven’t worked and in fact, given the arithmetic, can’t work: austerity probably shrinks the economy faster than it reduces debt, so that all the suffering serves no purpose. 
Those who want to fix on that "probably" and remind us that the Greek economy seemed to be starting to grow a few months ago need to be reminded, in turn, that the financiers immediately started demanding more "reforms", as if determined to nip that growth in the bud. It's as if they don't want Greece to pay the debt: they want Greece to suffer and die, acknowledging how inferior it is to the proper, decent, budget-respecting Germans. They want proof that they're better than everybody else.
Then again, saw this at German Huffpost: "National bankruptcies in Europe, total by country since 1800."

And I can't help wondering, in my character as somebody blessedly ignorant of actual technical economics, whether there isn't something of a scam in this endless whatever-it-takes battle to keep inflation permanently under a sustainable level, generally ascribed to the German national trauma of 1922 (as if it wasn't deflation in 1930 that led to the Third Reich): could they be really simply working for the debt economy that profits from zero inflation, against the productive economy that profits from growth? Banksters being banksters, bamboozling the German public (and the Finnish and Dutch and other "conservative" publics along with them) with the moral hazard shtik. As Molière's doctors are mainly interested in blinding the patients with fraudulent science and collecting their fees.

Yesterday's landslide "no" vote is appropriate for the tragedy interpretation, an inexorable development in the sense that, to slightly revise the old platitude, it's better to die standing up than die on one's knees, the option of living on your knees not having been offered. But it might work for the comedy version as well. It's true that the resignation of finance minister Yannis Varoufakis decreases the chance of hurting the feelings of those pompous representatives of bourgeois rectitude, as well as some very snappy dialogue:
"I shall wear the creditors' loathing with pride," wrote Yanis Varoufakis, known as much for his leather jackets as his flamboyant language - "austerity is like trying to extract milk from a sick cow by whipping it", being just one of his gems.
But if it advances the lieto fine, the happy ending, that's what really counts.

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