Over the past few years I don”t know how many hours I”ve wasted reading articles in newspapers about the Greek debt crisis. It isn”t as if I could have affected it in one way or the other. Moreover, newspapers these days, which cannot compete with the immediacy of the electronic media, devote more and more of their space to the future than to the past: what might happen, what might not happen, what must happen, what mustn”t happen, what can happen, what can”t happen. What actually did happen is by comparison now of small account.
I know that the crisis affects the real lives of millions of Greeks, who used to make a decent living by recycling the money obtained from loans (as millions of the British still do), but I cannot help thinking that the best way of conceptualizing the Greek debt crisis is as a soap opera. It has been going on for ages, it has its ups and downs, it has its heroes and villains, every episode ends on a high point of tension until the next, which always starts anticlimactically, and there is no end in sight. There is melodrama, tragedy, farce. Make “em laugh, make “em cry, make “em wait: That was the recipe of the 19th-century British writer Charles Reade for the successful concoction of serial novels, and the Greek government, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission have certainly followed that recipe closely.
I suddenly realized how foolishly I had frittered away so much of my time, relatively little of which remains to me, when I read the following in a newspaper today: “”Having had a couple of days to absorb the details of the new Greece debt deal, equity markets have continued to remain upbeat, despite the fact that the [Greek] proposal is economically illiterate and probably doomed to fail,” Michael Hewson of CMC Markets said.”
Economically illiterate and only probably doomed to fail? In other words, the link between economic literacy on the one hand and success or failure on the other is uncertain at best. Economically illiterate but possibly will succeed? Economically literate but possibly will fail? Mr. Hewson of CMC Markets clearly doesn”t want to put all his eggs in one predictive basket. Therefore I say, throw economics to the dogs; I”ll have none of it.
The real star of the soap opera, of course, is Alexis Tsipras, and the most important question raised by the series is when will he wear a tie? The economic precedents set by leaders who wouldn”t wear ties are not altogether happy: Mao, Nyerere, Mobutu, to say nothing of the Iranian revolutionaries. If I may be allowed another metaphor, Mr. Tsipras” neckwear is the canary in the mine. No tie, noxious gas in the mineshaft.
But I am beginning to take the whole thing seriously again. Here are a few of the titles of the episodes of the soap opera of only the past two months, taken from the newspaper:
Alexis Tsipras and Angela Merkel hold press conference.
Alexis Tsipras flies to Moscow.
Alexis Tsipras seeks interim deal.
Alexis Tsipras sees “happy ending” for Greece.
Alexis Tsipras claims Greece is close to securing deal.
Greek exit would trigger eurozone collapse, says Alexis Tsipras.
Alexis Tsipras to meet Putin.
Alexis Tsipras summoned to Brussels.
This, of course, is just a small sample.