Forgiving Germany's Debt:
ON THE QUESTION OF GREECE, the New Zealand population divides itself neatly into three groups.
By far the largest of the three, is the group that knows three-fifths of bugger-all about what’s going on in Greece and cares even less. The less said about them the better.
Then there’s the group that regards the unfolding Greek crisis as a simple morality tale. According to this view, the Greeks awarded themselves a lifestyle they had not earned and paid for it with other people’s money. When the music stopped and their creditors came a-calling, the Greeks were required to discover just how unpleasant life can become when excessive debt falls due. As far as this group is concerned, the Greeks are in the process of being taught some very valuable lessons. On no account, therefore, should the EU be encouraged to remove its boot from Greece’s throat.
The third group’s response to Greece is born out of natural human empathy. They see a whole people suffering tremendous hardship and their first response is to do everything humanly possible to end it. The notion that this mass suffering must be continued – even intensified – to satisfy the demands of international finance strikes them as obscene. Responding to the second group’s pitiless moralising, they undertake some basic research into the Greeks’ predicament. What they discover makes them even more appalled. Greece isn’t a morality tale, it’s a horror story. The only ethical course of action is to stand in solidarity with the Greek people and offer full support to their courageous left-wing government.
It is a measure of how strong the grip of the free-market philosophy has become in this country that the third group finds itself being pilloried for its “soft” approach to Greece. The second group prides itself on being “hard-nosed” about such matters. What the Greeks need is the sort of “tough love” that parents are encouraged to dispense to wayward offspring. Unlike the “bleeding hearts” of the third group, the second group knows that sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.
Those who recall the response of these hard-nosed New Zealanders to Campbell Live’s extraordinary broadcasts on child poverty in New Zealand will not have been in the least bit surprised by their reaction to the Greek Crisis. In almost every respect their reaction has been the same. We’ve heard how such deprivation that does exist is simply the result of poor personal choices. Like the spendthrift Greeks, irresponsible parents have contributed hugely to their own – and their children’s – poverty. To intervene with undeserved assistance would merely prolong an already interminable saga of material dependency and moral failure.
It’s been the same in this country for a very long time. On the one hand stand the people who judge the world according to a brittle set of inherited moral precepts – almost all of them thinly disguised justifications for selfishness and greed. While, on the other, stand the people who respond to the world as it presents itself to them. Where they see suffering they try to end it. Where they see injustice they try to fight it. Their moral code stipulates, simply, that they should do unto others as they would have others do unto them.
It’s the same simple principle which the Greeks applied in 1953 when they voted, with many others, to forgive 50 percent of Germany’s international debt. That the Germans have so signally failed to reciprocate says much more about their morals than it does about the Greeks’.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 8 July 2015.