Syriza’s rise is a sign that many of our political attitudes will need to be rethought. They are left over from the 1960s, when political opinions about markets and self-rule aligned in a predictable way. In the West back then the interests of money and of conservatism were thought to be congruent. People who liked free markets tended to like national sovereignty. People who distrusted free markets tended to like “one world government.” Almost no one perceived any conflict at all between, say, opposing communism and wishing for Polish independence.It’s starting to become like that in California, where lots of the tax revenue comes from Silicon Valley IPOs and similar high profile windfalls because the now heavily immigrant small business class isn’t really into paying taxes, as I discovered serving on the jury of the used car dealer whose brother-in-law had vamoosed back to Tehran after not paying $2 million in sales tax.
These alignments are now less reliable. The biggest beneficiaries of today’s market (Gates, Zuckerberg, Buffett) are most interested in a set of international rules that make countries more transparent to investors?—?by making those countries less answerable to voters. Today’s titans of industry favor curtailing national sovereignty in the name of international agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would go so far as to require nations to indemnify corporations against laws that contravene free trade agreements. It used to be that “free-market” policies of the sort that the IMF built its “Washington consensus” around were meant to promote the sort of dynamism we associate with small businesses and entrepreneurship. But in Greece the Troika agenda is to promote gigantism and large structures?—?of the sort we used to associate with corporatism and socialism?—?because small business is linked to tax avoidance.
Greece is a particularly puzzling case. It has debts too large to pay. What usually keeps countries from welshing on their obligations is a concern for their reputation and their national honor. Yet Greece has incurred these debts as a way of staying in a union that aims, whether its promoters admit it or not, to do away with national feeling altogether. Greece, it would seem, is ephemeral. But Greece’s debt payments are meant to echo through the ages.