Thursday, December 8, 2011

Simon Schama on the European Debt Crisis and European Unity

"On this {North American} side of the Atlantic (and perhaps in parts of the Pacific, too), there is a certain amount of unseemly schadenfreude mixed into the apprehensiveness of the markets at the prospect of the unraveling euro zone taking the whole larger common European enterprise down with it. Credit-rating agencies—those ravening hyenas of fiscal trouble—move on from one economy, mutilated by sovereign-debt downgrade, to another, traveling north from the basket cases of the Mediterranean, crossing the Alps in search of freshly fallen game. You might think that the agencies that were the enablers of the subprime calamity and were capable of making a trillion-dollar error in calculating American debt reduction over the next decade would have the decency to go into hiding for just a while before presuming to decree the viability of hard-pressed states to meet their bond obligations. But a kind of reverse Marshall Plan ethos of meanness is at work these days, combining maximum sanctimoniousness about unsustainable deficits with an insistence on precisely the kind of measures least likely to reduce them: draconian public-sector austerity that leaches demand out of the economy, precluding a return to growth, and opportunistically punitive interest rates for sovereign debt bonds that only add to their burden, stoking the fires of political rage.

"None of this is to discount the true magnitude of the disaster, but there is a distinct whiff of Mr. (rather than Harry) Potter in the air: the prudent layaways forced to the rescue of the prodigal layabouts. And as resentment mounts, there is a real possibility of a recoil from the assumption of mutual dependence on which postwar European—and indeed Atlantic—prosperity was founded. Many on the right who profess doubts about Darwinian evolution certainly seem eager to see it practiced, with the weaker species left to hang. Message to Athens, the cradle of Western culture: drop dead, and do it soon."

No matter what you think of the idea of a greater European unity, I would gather most people would like to see a European stability of nations which have opportunities to grow their economies and escape the trap of endless austerity and monkey business fromWall Street based credit agencies (the same agencies like  Standard and Poors that helped create the mortgage and derivitives meltdown that started the United States and other Euroopean nations down the rabbit hole of endless recession four years ago.

Simon Schama is a art and history professor at Columbia University, who also has written comprehensive books on British history, a documentary on great works of art in Europe, and his series  about American life "The  American Future: A History" is now being shown on BBC America.


Profesor Schama wrote a very  concise book on the history of the French Revolution, "Citizens" (1990) , which I found highly useful in getting an overall view of how France fell into a whirlpool of political chaos from royalism to reform to radicalism to revolutonary oligarchy to war-driven empire all in a span from only 1789 to 1804.  I hope there will not be too many parallels in extremism, internecine violence and external wars to be found  when historians of the future come to write about our collective econommic  history in the next 15 years!      

His analysis of the current situation regarding how Europe and America are linked seems well thought out and has a historical perspective most other editorials and essays I've come across recently.  See the link below:


  1. "The results will be ugly—a collapse of trade akin to the disaster of the 1930s and its natural concomitant: the rise of snarling, authoritarian nationalisms, in reaction to the failed collaborative project, riding a wave of anti-immigrant and student neo-nationalist belligerence"

    I couldn't agree with him more Doug it seems that history warns us of these economical troubles and what can come out of economical hardships. We can see
    shades of it in this country by looking at the midterm elections of 2010 people seem
    to lose their better judgement when faced these situations.

  2. I look forward to seeing this when it's broadcast Doug.

  3. Four words, Doug: Don't bet on it.

    In garnering two degrees in history (along with a double-major as a lowly undergrad in cultural anthropology), I learned one immutable truth: History does not repeat itself.

    However, by all that's holy and true, human nature does.

    For the same reasons Kondratiev's long-wave theory is correct, America is in the process of melting itself down, once again. This is coming at the same time a 'triple witching' of sorts is occurring - we're running out of the stuff which made the Industrial Revolution (and modern America) possible; we're marching toward a world-war with its origins in the Middle East (something which is making the Fundies drool and slobber in near-orgasmic ecstasy) - and we've succeeded in ignoring the equally-immutable lesson of 1873, 1893, and 1933: That unregulated capitalism is at fundamental odds with democracy.

    Tie all these together with a nice, fat bow and you have the makings for something which could well destroy civilization as we know it.

  4. You're right Mike. The elections last year were a perfect example of how bad economics drive otherwise practical people to let their anxieties rule and seek quick and simple fixes to complex problems.

  5. I hope you'll have that program on in the UK soon, Jim.

  6. Yes, I'm afraid you're right there Will. The era of cheap energy is over when people start talking up shale and tar sands for energy; the problems with Iran and Israel seem to be short one viable solution just now, and, against all that I thought possible given that we elect people who are supposed to be able to process historical information about their own country, the high-rollers in the Republican ranks became the party of Herbert Hoover and Andrew Mellon all over again. And even some Clinton Democrats went along with this deregulation stuff.

    Sometimes all one can say, to quote Dorothy Parker, is "What fresh hell is this?"

  7. You're right to the point as always, Fred. :-)