It was a bad week for powerful men. Joe Paterno was fired as football coach at Penn State, Papandreou stepped down as Greek Prime Minister, and finally, Silvio Berlusconi resigned as Italian Prime Minister. Knowing, as I do, how little respect Caesar had for those who gave up power voluntarily, I summoned up his ghost once again.
Hail, Caesar! Are you in mourning for the men who lost power last week?
It was a good week for a powerful woman.
No, Angela Merkel. She wielded the monetary weapon and deposed two governments behind the scenes. The Greeks and Italians might as well have thrown themselves at her feet in supplication, crying and begging.
Aren’t you exaggerating her power, Caesar?
Not at all. She had the support of France’s Sarkozy, but Mrs. Merkel is the arbiter of the Eurozone, because she leads Germany and Germany surpasses all the nations of Europe by the excellence of its economy. Only Germany can solve the Euro’s problems.
Is Germany really strong enough to bail out an economy as big as, gulp, Italy’s, which is Europe’s third largest economy?
No, but Germany could ease the situation considerably by agreeing to print more Euros, thereby devaluing the currency. But that would risk inflation, which is most hateful to Germans. Besides, nations have dignity, and dignity forbids sacrificing for others if they won’t sacrifice first. So the Germans demanded austerity moves by Greece and Italy. Neither government could or would do what was needed, so they had to go. Mrs. Merkel won.
Is that a bad thing?
Far from it – it reaps benefits both of praise and utility. Like the Romans conquering Gaul, the Germans are bringing honest and efficient government. In Italy, for example, the crisis is forcing the country into a set of governmental reforms that are twenty years overdue. The lira would have allowed Italy’s politicians to continue their corrupt ways; the Euro demands otherwise.
Should Mrs. Merkel celebrate her victory by encouraging a German to buy Berlusconi’s soccer team, AC Milan?
Hardly. Rather than celebrate she ought to plan for the next battle. Half-measures won’t work. There can be no future for the Euro without a fundamental change in the European Union. To save the Euro, Germany will have to agree to take responsibility for the poorer, weaker, less disciplined states in the Eurozone. German business has reaped the advantage of the Euro but now the bill has come due and it is being presented to the German taxpayer – who doesn’t want it.
Saving the Euro will require not just ability but audacity – such as – as Caesar displayed when he crossed the Rubicon. But Mrs. Merkel has no interest in thinking big.
Surely you don’t think Europe needs a dictator?
Who else but a benevolent dictator could drive out the usual perfidy and dissimulation of the leading citizens and the elders? The crisis of the Eurozone is not unlike the crisis of the Roman Republic. Things are at an impasse. The only solution is creative and massive change but powerful interests oppose that. The times call for a new Caesar.
I was about to cry out in protest for democracy when I noticed that Caesar’s Ghost had left. Was that the shade of Ghadaffi he was heading toward for a different conversation?