"For the poor town dreams of surrender"
Decreation, by Anne Carson
Canadian poet Anne Carson, who admits to earning a living teaching ancient Greek, chose Decreation as the title of her zeitgeist book. And such is the current state of affairs, a process of decreation which Simone Weil described as “an undoing of the creature in us”, and observing that —in times of pandemic— the word “creature” includes all sorts of organisms that are perplexed witnesses of the downfall of a world and must build a new one with no right to quit.
The pandemic has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives across the world and has also transformed personal and economic relationships, imposing the need to adapt to the pervasive virus. While still blinded by the events, we should be able to see the long-term significance of the decisions we take today in every area.
Amid a decreation, we see how the US have lost their usual, pragmatic capacity for reaction when ignorance has got the upper hand in the running of public affairs, something that has taken centre stage these days. A society traditionally driven by private initiative has harshly awakened to the importance of looking after common affairs and it lives in fear of the ravages caused by the lack of a social safety net now that unemployment, evictions and poverty figures pose a serious threat to America’s social structure. Rather incredibly, Trump has been unable to put together an alternative to his choice of ignoring the virus, and the pandemic lingers on while GOP senators threaten to cut unemployment benefit. The Fed and the Treasury have taken action in Wall St. and are buying great swathes of bonds from private companies like AT&T, Apple and Coca-Cola. Yet the federal government can’t cope with the public health crisis and the real economy (the Main Street) is in serious jeopardy.
Paul Krugman wrote in the NYT that “after three and a half years of MAGA, we have become a pathetic figure on the world stage, a cautionary tale about pride going before a fall”. Pathetic or not, Trump’s administration will leave scars and a deeply divisive culture war.
Yes to Europe
Crises put everyone on the ropes and, while the US have taken a step backwards, Europe has managed a step forward. Despite the hurdles that implementing this week’s agreement will likely encounter in the future, the agreement to jointly issue bonds is a massive leap forward for the EU.
The €750 billion worth of shared loans has been underwritten proportionally by each member state and it is to be spent on loans and transfers according to their needs as part of a relief package equivalent to 5 per cent of the Union’s GDP. For weeks some analysts have been debating whether this is reminiscent of the Marshall plan, which helped to rebuild a devastated Europe after WW2, or it is a hamiltonian moment, comparable to the 1790 Compromise which served to pay the states’ debts after the American Revolution. Let us hope it will be a bit of both, provided we Europeans fulfil our obligations towards the club.
Mediterranean countries should invest in transforming their economy to provide a solid base for the future generations and the so-called frugal countries should also consider whether their fiscal policies are honest with their partners, particularly in the case of The Netherlands and Ireland. It will be a leap in the right direction, so long as Yanis Varoufakis’ predictions in his latest article for The Guardian are proven wrong. The former Greek minister warns that the relief package is a distraction from the main problem, namely “massive austerity”, as countries like Italy, Greece and Spain will have to cut back public spending once their GDP drops by 9-11 per cent and they find themselves needing to balance their books. The issue here is whether the EU has learnt the lesson from 2008 and will be able to provide each partner with the pace it needs without choking it.
This week’s agreement is a success, but a drawback for the democratic battle within the EU. Hungary and Poland have seen that any disciplinary measures —adopted by a qualified majority— will be easily avoided and they will be able to keep debasing the democratic quality of the club. In fact, the European Parliament has issued a warning about the fragility of democracy and the erosion of its efforts to uphold the Union’s values. It is no coincidence that the actions taken against Poland and Hungary for violations of basic rights have been on the Council’s back burner for over one year. This is a fundamental battle that remains outstanding today.