The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

with 2 comments

A long (long!) article on the Greek financial crisis, by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair:
Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds.

It tells the story of Greece’s tragic descent into utter financial ruin. The entire country seems to have conveniently chosen a bunch of monks to blame for it all, while the faults lie elsewhere.


The story is well worth reading in the full, but to switch topic, these excerpts from the beginning and the end:

But beyond a $1.2 trillion debt (roughly a quarter-million dollars for each working adult), there is a more frightening deficit. After systematically looting their own treasury, in a breathtaking binge of tax evasion, bribery, and creative accounting spurred on by Goldman Sachs, Greeks are sure of one thing: they can’t trust their fellow Greeks.

[…]

But there’s a second, more interesting question: Even if it is technically possible for these people to repay their debts, live within their means, and return to good standing inside the European Union, do they have the inner resources to do it? Or have they so lost their ability to feel connected to anything outside their small worlds that they would rather just shed themselves of the obligations? On the face of it, defaulting on their debts and walking away would seem a mad act: all Greek banks would instantly go bankrupt, the country would have no ability to pay for the many necessities it imports (oil, for instance), and the country would be punished for many years in the form of much higher interest rates, if and when it was allowed to borrow again. But the place does not behave as a collective; it lacks the monks’ instincts. It behaves as a collection of atomized particles, each of which has grown accustomed to pursuing its own interest at the expense of the common good. There’s no question that the government is resolved to at least try to re-create Greek civic life. The only question is: Can such a thing, once lost, ever be re-created?

If there is such a thing as civilizational spirit, Greece seems to have lost it (going by the article). A lot of Greeks are very bright, though, so let’s see.

In this regard, Greece seems a scary version of what India may have been, and may still become. Both are wounded civilizations (though Greece is probably closer to dead), and one can see, in India as in Greece, the spectacle of empty pride in an old great civilization by people who cannot legitimately claim much connection or even awareness — while simultaneously the country attempts to discard all that and absorb American culture, and is impatient the process isn’t happening faster.

Well, if an insight from a five-day glimpse is to be trusted. :-)

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Written by S

Mon, 2010-09-20 at 07:55:22 +05:30

2 Responses

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  1. The India angle struck me, too. We are _very_ close: till very recently, the government was the only ‘good’ employer; even today, we barely trust a fellow Indian to do anything right, starting from building roads.

    KVM

    Sun, 2010-10-03 at 08:54:37 +05:30

    • Yeah, the lack of trust and community spirit seems as prevalent in India as the article claims on Greece. Sometimes it seems that after so many centuries of theorising about morality, the respective peoples have lost the ability to be moral. BTW, the analogy I had started making seems to have been completed by Naipaul in one or more of his articles in 1976, I forget which… it’s presumably also in his book of that period.

      S

      Sun, 2010-10-03 at 12:40:50 +05:30


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