Flipping through the New York Times on my Valentine’s eve’s commute, the above the fold choices for sections B and C were both reviews of hotly anticipated dramas: Greece’s trip to Europe to negotiate the terms of its debt and 50 Shades of Grey. For passion and drama the right choice, by a mile, is the Greek Debt.
The Protagonist: Bad boy Yanis Varoufakis – Greek Finance Minister in “snug black pants” (in para 1 no less) at once the charming underdog, and the sharp tongued accuser of “fiscal waterboarding”. The character parts, Mario Draghi of the European Central Bank, Jeroen “whatever is not a duty is a sin” Djisselbloem of the Netherlands. And the Anti-hero: easily matching our hero for bravado, the powerful and austere Wolfgang Schauble of Germany, whose “intellectual substance” our hero respects, even as they head out into the dusty street in front of the saloon/ the high stakes poker table for the final showdown over a bad debt. But just like in the movies, its not really about the money but about the girl- about just what kind of love affair is going on in the European Union.
And lately, in the EU, as with 50 Shades, there has been plenty of bondage.
Up to a point, there is a certain catharsis in deleveraging. A clear pleasure in setting one’s house in order – in being tied down and disciplined to focus on getting just a few things exquisitely right. But when the dominatrix turns ideologue and the shackles are for real, then the ecstasy, the virtue, and the unity of the undertaking is gone.
Landon Thomas and Jack Ewing’s extremely entertaining piece on Friday went on to set up the contours of this dramatic multi-party negotiation, in which Varoufakis – an expert in game-theory – may or may not have the upper hand. On Monday Varoufakis rejected the initial EU proposal, and told his side of the story in a NYT OpEd. This plot may well turn out to be more gripping than some of this year’s Oscar contenders, but it doesn’t fully explain how Greek politicians talking fiscal policy are inspiring a kind of enthusiasm that Jamie Dornan and Christian Grey would be lucky to match.(see “Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is the most interesting man in the world” et al)
It might come easiest to iconoclastic macro-economists like Varoufakis, but the past several years experience with stimulus and austerity has us all beginning to appreciate that the tools of economics, even the those like fiscal policy that seem arms length, have real power in daily life and speak to the character of a nation or nations. We want love affairs where, whatever our individual peculiarities, our initial strengths and weaknesses, we are truly partners who sacrifice and invest and grow together. And at the end of the day we want to live in the kind of society, polity, nation and monetary union that does the same thing. Anything else is bound to fracture. So when a comparatively obscure Greek finance minister stands up for putting the Invisible Hand to work building us up, we’ll be smitten, and forgive him his untucked shirt.