"Never did a ship founder with a captain and a crew more ignorant of the reasons for its misfortune or more impotent to do anything about it." This was Eric Hobsbawm's damning judgment of the policy elite's response to the Great Depression. As these leaders reached for the old truisms of balancing budgets, lowering tariffs, and restoring the gold standard, they merely worsened the crisis. The same judgment may soon be passed on Germany for its role in the ongoing European sovereign debt saga.
After watching the economies of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal founder, the world has now turned its attention to Italy, home to the world's eighth-largest national economy and third-largest sovereign bond market. The diagnosis is sadly redolent: Europe should deflate its way to growth by sticking with a gold standard of sorts: the hard-money German-dominated euro. Meanwhile, under enormous international pressure, the Greeks replaced socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou with Lucas Papademos, a former official of the European Central Bank, and the Italians placed economist and former European Commissioner Mario Monti, hailed "super Mario," in the stead of Silvio Berlusconi. Yet despite the EU's coup d'état, the yield on ten year Italian debt went back above seven percent within twenty-four hours of Monti showing up for work.
It is more than ironic that those two foundational Western civilizations -- the Greeks and the Romans -- who were among the very first to experiment with democracy, now have to let unelected Eurocrats run their economic affairs. There is even a whiff of the 1930s here, too, as weak democrats are pushed aside in favor of strong leaders at the behest of international creditors. As Hobsbawm noted, this did not end well last time.
What, we must ask, has driven Europe to this point? Since the beginning of the current economic crisis, analysts have offered multiple explanations. American economists call it a "crisis of design," arguing that Europe had it coming. Fiscal hawks the world over prefer the budgetary