It again looks likely that Greece will default. While it hardly indicates the immediate demise of a whole continent, European politicians and markets fear the consequences for the Eurozone.
John Lanchester is even more fearful. He writes in the London Review of Books that this crisis is just a single chapter in the overall decline of the West. It would “accelerate [the] shift in global wealth and power and would be a grim thing to live through, but ... not be a game-changer: it might just be the non-scenic route to the place we’re going anyway.”
So, the sovereign debt crisis is making the continent poorer, probably less influential, and less able to care for its citizens, but in this context it’s just a chapter, and no great shakes.
Knowing Lanchester’s piece would be anything but upbeat, I avoided it to stay sane, but after finally digging into it, I like his clear-headed analysis of the long-term economic prospects of Europe (almost none) with plenty of space for saying how dumb its politicians are being. "Governments can’t all simultaneously cut spending while also continuing to grow their economies," he says, and it’s so simple, it’s painful.
Just as biting is his observation that the country showing the strongest GDP growth is Belgium, despite making no cuts and having no functioning government. “From the economic point of view, in the current crisis, no government is better than any government,” Lanchester says.
All I have to take solace in is his suggestion that it’s not too late to do something. He suggests stimulus, postponing cuts, and re-regulating banking as if it were a public utility. It’s unlikely, which is why his suggestion that we’ll just have to endure a decade of pain and misery seems so much more likely. Mental preparation: begin now.
His argument loses some of its weight when he suggests, “We are on course for relative decline, compared to China and India and the developing world.” Relative decline isn’t so frightening, since they’ve got a lot of catching up to do, and we expect a certain standard of living from our politicians. After this major fall, maybe a few minor lifts will help us work out how to grow and stay afloat. Maybe the West’s decline will plateau. It’s these straws I’m grasping. They’re all short.