Nearly every discussion of the Greek fiasco is based on a morality play. Call it Naughty Greece versus Noble Europe. Those troublesome Greeks never belonged in the euro, runs this story. Once inside, they got themselves into a big fat mess – and now it’s up to Europe to sort it all out.
Those are the basics all Wise Folk agree on. Then those on the right go on to say feckless Greece must either accept Europe’s deal or get out of the single currency. Or if more liberal, they hem and haw, cough and splutter, before calling for Europe to show a little more charity to its southern basketcase. Whatever their solution, the Wise Folk agree on the problem: it’s not Brussels that’s at fault, it’s Athens. Oh, those turbulent Greeks! That’s the attitude you smell when the IMF’s Christine Lagarde decries the Syriza government for not being “adult” enough. That’s what licenses the German press to portray Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, as needing “psychiatric help”.
There’s just one problem with this story: like most morality tales, it shatters upon contact with hard reality. Athens is merely the worst outbreak of a much bigger disease within the euro project. Because the single currency isn’t working for ordinary Europeans, from the Ruhr valley to Rome.
On saying this, I don’t close my eyes to the endemic corruption and tax-dodging in Greece (nor indeed, does the outsiders’ movement Syriza, which came to power campaigning against just these vices). Nor am I about to don Farage-ist chalkstripes. My charge is much simpler: the euro project is not only failing to deliver on the promises of its originators, it’s doing the exact opposite – by eroding the living standards of ordinary Europeans. And as we’ll see, that’s true even for those living in the continent’s number one economy, Germany……