Euro crisis: We are all liars
29 April 2010
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Everyone’s talking about the Greek credibility deficit. But enough hypocrisy: the time has come to finally unmask the life-lies underlying our own society, fumes Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
All Cretans are liars, says the Cretan philosopher Epimenides. Epimenides’ paradox, a paragon of irresolvable circular logic, sounds even nastier as rehashed in Saint Paul’s Epistle to Titus: “One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’” The paradox has now taken a political turn: everyone is aghast that the Greeks lied. That they are living above their means, incurring more debts than they’ll ever be able to repay, and counting on the rest of Europe – or more precisely, part of the rest of Europe – to foot the bill. Not unlike all those banks that put Greek bonds in their portfolio, presumably on the assumption that a state can go bankrupt, but not an EU member.
But this whole hullabaloo itself is part of the lie. We’re all Cretans, at least as far as lying is concerned, though not so much in matters of self-incrimination. Athens has to keep on economising, Europe says. But there isn’t a single European state that doesn’t leave its taxpayers in the dark about its fiscal situation. Nor is there a single people that doesn’t sanction cash for clunkers, tax-cutting pipedreams and euphemisms for the government’s running up new national debts. People make a bit of a fuss now and then, but that’s all. And there isn’t a politician who would not stoop to the cheapest tricks in the run-up to elections – like the one now in North Rhine-Westphalia – to lead taxpayers right up the garden path and into the polling booth.
Take lies from a society, you take its order
Athens has got to keep tightening its belt, exhorts the inveterate debtor [Angela Merkel]. The absurd staginess of keeping the Greeks on tenterhooks serves chiefly to show we’ve got our own budget under control. Control? For years the same Brussels that now claims to be keeping the closest tabs ever on Greece was unwilling to ward off the worst. Do the Cretans there know the fiscal situation of the Portuguese, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Italians? Or the Germans for that matter? The answer can only be: yes, of course they know.
But when politics consists in integrating countries and whole continents by sharing the prosperity, one is bound turn a blind eye to the financial unfeasibility of these noble aspirations – aka “cohesion” in Eurospeak. “Take away the life-lie from the average society and you take its political order, too,” to put a political spin on the line from Ibsen. These life-lies include all our rhetorical efforts to whitewash the fictions of rationality underlying our society. We are supposedly living in a society under permanent observation and surveillance, constant evaluation and certification. At any rate the agencies entrusted with those tasks get paid for that. We are supposedly living in a knowledge-based society, too. So why doesn’t anyone laugh at all that bunk? Not even the most flagrant political disasters are openly acknowledged till they can no longer be denied by the laziest glutton.
Blame the Chinese and the Americans
Greece is just a case in point. We issue certificates that we know are worth no more than the paper they’re printed on. We are constantly doling out higher marks to all the European nations. Thousands of politicians are forever flying back and forth to conferences to reach agreements and proclaim that we’re on the right track. When banks lie to and exploit us, we stop believing them for a split second, then go on playing the sucker till next time around. The same goes for politicians, TV presenters and management consultants.
Through complex cogitations we demonstrate that debts are investments in the future, that Europe is a great thing or that jet fuel, increased auto production, standby mode and subsidised cattle ranching can’t be the cause of climate change. It’s the Chinese and the Americans, we sigh – because the government has already sighed at them – who have finally got to get their environmental act together. And Greece has got to become credible. As credible as we are, as credible as the banks, talk show hosts, chancellors and Cretans.