Greece Gives Europe What It Wants, Europe Says No Anyway


European leaders were in final, last-ditch, eleventh-hour, crisis talks with their Greek counterparts today, which by my count is at least the third time we’ve held final, last-ditch, eleventh-hour, crisis talks in the past two weeks. This leaves me a little unsure of when the real “world will explode” deadline is anymore. But soon, I’m sure.

In any case, as Paul Krugman notes, the Europeans are no longer merely demanding concessions of a certain size from the Greeks, they now want final say over the exact makeup of the concessions:

The creditors keep rejecting Greek proposals on the grounds that they rely too much on taxes and not enough on spending cuts. So we’re still in the business of dictating domestic policy.

The supposed reason for the rejection of a tax-based response is that it will hurt growth. The obvious response is, are you kidding us? The people who utterly failed to see the damage austerity would do — see the chart, which compares the projections in the 2010 standby agreement with reality — are now lecturing others on growth? Furthermore, the growth concerns are all supply-side, in an economy surely operating at least 20 percent below capacity.

Basically, the Europeans just can’t seem to say yes even when they get what they want. Besides, although tax increases probably will hurt Greek growth, so will spending cuts. There’s just no way around it. The Greek economy is completely moribund, and any kind of austerity is going to make it worse. But the Europeans want austerity anyway, and they have the whip hand, so now they’ve decided they also want to dictate the exact nature of the concrete life preservers they’re throwing to Greece.

The Greeks have little choice left, unless they’re willing to leave the euro, which would cause massive short-term pain at home. Maybe they will, but it would take a backbone of steel to do it. Voters would probably cheer raucously the first night, but be in a mood to vote the entire team out of office after about the second day, when their savings and pensions were converted into New Drachmas and suddenly slashed in half. There is no happy ending to this.