Reading Jonathan Freedland at The Guardian today is both amusing and painful. You can tell Freedland is not a conservative/libertarian type, but he keeps skirting with their conclusions before fleeing them once their impact dawns upon him. His problem, like so many on the Left, is that he takes democracy to be the best form of government by the people, rather than a republic governed by laws and respecting certain rights regardless of what a majority may say. As Freedland says, democracy is like a car; if the people vote right or left, the country should respond accordingly.
I'm going to ignore Egypt because it was never a democratic government to begin with. They had a popular uprising, but no plan of action for establishing control afterwards. Freedland's comments on Greece are illuminating, however.
The point is, the answer is not in the Greeks' own hands. They are subject to the decisions of others, over whom they have no democratic control. Fair enough, you might say, since the Greeks are demanding the help of others – in the form of cash to bail out their ailing economy. But the effect is the same. For the Greeks, the ancient, animating promise of democracy – that it allows a people to be the master of their own fate – no longer holds.
But, Mr. Freedland, the Greeks were masters of their fate. This is their fate. The is the fate of the welfare state.
Crudely, it means that governments whose prime task used to be giving things to people now have to take things away from them.
Government cannot give without first taking away, Mr. Freedland. Up until now, the welfare state has subsisted on taxing the rich and borrowing the remainder. Now Europe can't borrow. Europe has promised so many things to people and couched them in terms of "rights" but now cannot deliver. They have run out of other people's money.
Do not be surprised. Conservatives and libertarians have been predicting this for decades. So long as politicians can use the money of some people to bribe others, they will, even if it means promising more than there actually is. A supranational solution does not exist for the same reason: mathematics will rule against you every time. You cannot give more than there actually is, and how much there is depends on how much people are willing to produce, and how much they will produce depends on how much those people will get to keep.
Politicians suddenly look small. The big forces that shape our lives – whether the euro or the bond markets – are increasingly beyond the reach of any national government.
For some of us, the abilities of government always looked small; they created a temporary boom with a gigantic bust. Welcome to the club.