This is the Life: Joining forces not good for all

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If you don’t happen to believe that globalism, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and Monsanto are the answers to the needs of people and their countries (not countries and their people), you might be wondering at the surprise and angst in the last week when voters in France and Greece tossed out their governments. Chalk it up to a refreshing display of sanity, I say.

Now, let me make it clear that I am not saying that the new leaders will suddenly reverse the fortunes of their respective countries. I’m too cynical about party politics to believe that. But from my point of view it is cause to celebrate that there might be just the slightest glimpse that in those countries people are beginning to reject the endless interference that the European Economic Community has foisted upon them.

This wrapping together of an array of dramatically different economies and cultures was not, repeat not, designed to benefit individuals. It was a top-driven scheme supported by global corporations who wanted freer and easier movement of assets in Europe, to impose values to create a generic entity and to have ways to punish countries that didn’t toe the line. In our travels in Italy, we were told time and time again that the most obvious change brought about by the switch to the Euro was that prices rose dramatically. Not wages, not social benefits, not hope. Prices.

It’s hardly surprising that a country like Greece has had difficulty falling into lockstep with Germany. Angela Merkel and her party have led the way in pushing for austerity, which is all well and fine when the policies affect only the country they govern. But Greeks have every right to resent the imposition of policies driven by a country that 70 years ago invaded their shores.

In pre-euro days, the Greeks might not have had the most vibrant economy, but it was theirs. In their history, Greeks have been enormously influential in the arts, education, philosophy, economy and almost every aspect of organized life one can cite. And then, suddenly, they were being told by their leaders that they were stupid and that they had to kowtow to their influential neighbours to the north. What did Greek leaders do so they could be accepted into the European Community and be allowed to dump their drachmas and embrace the euro? They lied, telling Germany and the other powerhouses that they had adopted the expected economic measures and achieved the required goals. It was nonsense and the other countries knew it. Welcome to the club, Greece was told.

In no time at all, international banks swooped in. Here was a country whose people had traditionally had a cash economy. They saved for purchases and made them when they had sufficient funds. Suddenly, cheap loans — available because Greece was now backed by the more powerful economies in Europe and the belief that there is strength in numbers — were on offer. Why save for months and years when you can borrow at low interest rates and enjoy youy new home or car or consumer goods today? It’s the new way, the people were told, and they didn’t have to look far north to see it was true. So they borrowed.

Then the Greek government fell for the same line. It started to expand services — not a good thing when your culture means looking after your family. Greece doesn’t have oil and gas reserves or a great manufacturing sector or great tracts of land to support industrialized agriculture or multitudes of natural resources, so entering into the borrowing frenzy wasn’t a great idea. After all, the easiest way for a government to ease the burden of debt is grow its way out of it. It’s the same with individuals — debt doesn’t seem like a big deal if your income rises steadily.

The European plan to move to a single currency (ask a Brit if the United Kingdom will eventually move to the Euro and you can almost anticipate the answer: “Not bloody likely”) was as certain to have problems in difficulties as it was to be popular in boom times. Planning for good times is easy, but now Europeans are learning, the hard way, that there isn’t a simple way out of bad times.

Shrinking governments and cutting taxes has become such a mantra from the political right, which has learned if you say the same words over and over that eventually people begin to believe they must be true, that it is easy to fall into line and adopt the austerity approach. The problem is that dramatically cutting spending in slow economies has precious little record of success.

By defeating governments who have been putting more effort into doing what the big bosses want than they have in listening to their citizens, the people of Greece and France have sent a message that should be heard beyond their borders. I wonder what the chances are that it will be heard?

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.