The Tragedy of the Great American Book Store

While vacationing in Southern California this week, I happened upon a visible and tragic symbol of all that is wrong about the United States today, a Barnes & Noble bookstore. This tragedy is epitomized by one book, Ann Coulter’s latest rant against all things liberal: Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America.

Like Barnes & Noble, there is enough truth in Coulter’s diatribe to pique her readers’ interest. But, like Barnes & Noble, the overall effect is, well, demonic.

Like the Straussians from whom she failed to learn, Coulter traces all that is noxious about the “liberal mob” to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose rejection of reason and satisfaction with bodily satisfaction inspired revolutionary Jacobins to stir up the uneducated mob for short term political gains. Yet, as I wander through the local B&N, past shelves of Rick Perry’s Fed Up!, Mitt Romney’s No Apology, Ron Paul’s Liberty Defined, Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln, and piles and stacks of other demagogic tirades, I am taken back to Plato’s Gorgias, which lays bare Pericles’ archetypal rise to power on the shoulders of Athens’ poorly educated and poorly compensated masses. Here, as Leo Strauss himself pointed out, is the archetypal “liberal” mob.

But then Coulter reproduces the same error of which Strauss was guilty. In the face of the “liberal” mob, she retreats to Plato and to his Republic. Remember, it was Pericles’ courts, stocked with poorly educated and undercompensated stooges hand-picked by Pericles himself, that tried and condemned the good man Socrates. And, of all Plato’s dialogues, Gorgias best captures Plato’s initial reaction to this injustice.

Gorgias is a rhetorician, a speech writer, a PR man, who boasts to Socrates that he can teach anyone how to convince anyone else that he or she is right.

SOCRATES: You said just now that even on matters of health the orator will be more convincing than the doctor.
GORGIAS: Before a mass audience – yes, I did.
SOCRATES: A mass audience means an ignorant audience, doesn’t it? He won’t be more convincing than the doctor before experts, I presume.
SOCRATES: Now, if he is more convincing than the doctor then does he turn out to be more convincing than the expert?
GORGIAS: Naturally.
SOCRATES: Not being a doctor, of course?
GORGIAS: Of course.
SOCRATES: And the non-doctor, presumably, is ignorant of what the doctor knows?
GORGIAS: Obviously.
SOCRATES: So when the orator is more convincing than the doctor, what happens is that an ignorant person is more convincing than the expert before an equally ignorant audience. Is this what happens?

Years later, a more mature and circumspect Plato addresses this problem in his Republic. Knowing that it is impossible to solve the problem of the ignorance of the crowd, Plato instead develops his system of guardians, good men who are also sufficiently wise to recognize the futility of “casting pearls before swine.” And so they are compelled, for the sake of the higher good, to lie to and secretly deceive the ignorant masses.

This is the solution settled upon by Strauss and embraced by every want-to-be self-styled guardian, such as Coulter, ever since. And, so the stacks and piles of misdiagnoses and bogus snake-oil therapies that litter the shelves of the local B&N. None of these snake handlers are doctors. None of their therapies actually cure.

Do they turn out to be more convincing than real doctors? Sure they do, at least before a mass audience. “So when the orator is more convincing than the doctor, what happens is that an ignorant person is more convincing than the expert before an equally ignorant audience.” Indeed.

There was, however, another answer that Plato overlooked: to avail all Athenians of an education and to provide them with material means sufficient to distinguish between Gorgias’ fine art and true knowledge. Plato despaired of this alternative because he knew that he could not convince Athens’ elites to part with either their wealth or their power in sufficient quantities to actually elevate Athenians to the level of truly informed citizens.

And this is the irony—entirely missed, of course, by Ann, Mitt, Ron, Bill, and all the rest of these want-to-be self-styled guardians. Coulter and the others direct their venom precisely against those who understand and are trying to realize this alternative: high quality public education and sufficient wealth and leisure to become responsible, engaged citizens. Instead, she and her colleagues are exemplars of Gorgias’ fine art, mere rhetoricians, or, as Plato called them, panderers, appealing, like Pericles, to the ignorant masses in order to advance their own private ends and the ends of their wealthy, powerful, and satisfied friends.

As you well know, Ann, this is the real mob. They are the mob because you and your friends want them to be a mob. And, rather than push for universal, high quality, public education, or a more equitable tax policy, you and your fellow Gorgiases instead want to make sure that this mob will ever remain a mob.

And, I see that B&N is only too ready to help you. Shame.

Basic Instruction in Citizenship, Anyone? –

I was embarrassed to read this morning how poor is the grasp of no less a person than the general counsel and associate general secretary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops of the most basic legal principles. Anthony R. Picarello Jr., former Vice President and General Counsel, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. (Incidentally, Picarello also studied under David Tracy, SJ, who also sat on my doctoral committee at Chicago.)

When asked about federal contracts with religious institutions, here is what Picarello had to say: “It’s true that the church doesn’t have a First Amendment right to have a government contract, but it does have a First Amendment right not to be excluded from a contract based on its religious beliefs.”

It is the second clause that is troubling. Catholic Charities is opposed, on religious grounds, to contraception. They are also opposed, again on religious grounds, to the right of marriage to members of the GLBTQ community.

(The Roman Catholic Church holds to the ancient pagan belief that the soul of a zygote is contained in the male fluid and therefore that contraception prevents a soul achieving its telos, a concept that the Church takes from Aristotle, another pagan philosopher. Aristotle is also the source of Roman Catholic opposition to GLBTQ marriage since it is contrary to the telos of men and women—although Aristotle did not go this far. Oddly, conservative protestants now champion this pagan understanding of reproduction and marriage as biblical. Go figure.)

But this is not at all what DHHS has ruled, which suggests that Picarello is either stupid or mean. What DHHS has ruled and what the DOJ has upheld in all cases, religious or otherwise, is that institutions that receive taxpayer money must adhere to the standards of the class, which, in this case, are the Citizens of the United States of America. When Catholic Charities discriminates against members of the GLBTQ community they are discriminating against a member of this class, whose members enjoy the same rights and liberties as all other members of this class. Similarly, when Catholic Charities fails to inform the victims of prostitution about safe-sex practices, such as using condoms, they are failing to comply with a condition of federal funding.

DHHS is not imposing a rule upon Catholic Charities that it is not imposing on any other recipient of federal funding. Picarello is a smart man. The University of Virginia School of Law and the University of Chicago are good institutions. So, what must we conclude?

That Picarello is mean? Perhaps. However, it may be that he is simply immoral, bending his legal arguments to fit a cultural and historical moment when he can assume that those before whom he argues will be far more ignorant than he is and will therefore be susceptible to arguments that he knows lack legal foundation.

No one is discriminating against Catholics or Evangelicals or anyone else. Rather, the Roman Catholic Church is joining cause with conservative Protestants to chip away at the nation’s legal foundations.

A public instructed in the basic principles of citizenship would quickly see through this ruse and file it accordingly. Unfortunately, our institutions of learning, public and private, primary and secondary, long ago gave up on this basic instructional goal, choosing instead to be simply a sounding board for whatever resonates with the members of the local school board.

For Bishops, a Battle Over Whose Rights Prevail –

Extending Christ’s Dominion to all areas of Life, including Public Schools –

Thirty-five years ago, following my freshman year in college, I flew to Switzerland to live and study at L’Abri, a Christian community in Huemoz sur Ollon, then run by its founder, the Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer. Although I have never regretted the time I spent at L’Abri, I have come to question the Christianity embraced by Schaeffer and L’Abri’s tutors.

My objections to this variety of Christianity were once again brought to light in a piece written by Erik Eckholm published in this morning’s NYT (Wed., December 28, 2011). At issue in this piece, “Battling Anew Over the Place of Religion in Public Schools,” is not, as the ACLU and FFRF mistake the issue, when students, faculty, or administrators cross the line separating church from state. Rather, the issue is how far Christ’s dominion will extend around the world. Should Christ’s dominion stop when it reaches the property line of our public schools? Should it stop at 8 a.m. with the opening bell? Should Christ’s dominion stop at the public school auditorium? The public school football stadium? The classroom?

Where should Christ not enjoy dominion? These questions illuminate the conviction articulated by Principal Stinson, cited in Mr. Eckholm’s article:

Mr. Chapman quotes the school principal, Larry Stinson, as saying, “I want these kids to know that eternal life is real, and I don’t care what happens to me, they’re going to hear it today.”

Principal Stinson believes that Christ’s dominion should extend to all areas of life, including the public school. Clearly there is nothing that the authorities could do to him or threaten him with that would change this belief. “I don’t care what happens to me.”

A book on my shelf by the Reformed theologian Norman de Jong bears the title “Christianity and Democracy.” The title on the cover page actually reads “Christianity versus Democracy.” In his book, de Jong shows how democracy as a political philosophy conflicts with Christianity, which demands that all believers submit only to Christ. Moreover, differing both from Lutheranism and from the free church traditions (e.g., Congregationalism, Evangelical Free, etc.), de Jong shows how the Reformed tradition demands that we bring the full counsel of God to bear in all of our daily affairs, including especially our public and political affairs.

From this it follows that the so-called separation of “church and state” is anti-Christian. God wishes to extend Christ’s dominion to all spheres of life, including obviously the state and public schools.

Here Norman de Jong is more honest than most. De Jong is quite explicit. The U.S. Constitution and its framers were not true Christians. Their philosophies, though still influenced by historical and biblical Christianity, were not Christian, but Enlightenment. And the institutions and values that the framers wrote into the Constitution and (more to the point) the Bill of Rights were likewise anti-Christian.

Which is why 1789 can be viewed as the opening volley in a battle that runs straight through the War between the States (i.e., the Civil War), Reconstruction and Jim Crow, the battles of Civil Rights in the 1950s and 1960s, right up to the Christian dominionist coup d’etat over the Republican Party in the 1980s.

Dominionists are not looking for a little more of Christ’s dominion over the world or over the classroom: prayer before and after school, Bible verses on pencils, equal time for Creationism and Evolutionism, the right to free speech, etc., as though Christ could be a little bit more Kingly, a little bit more of a Savior, a little bit more the Ruler of the Universe. Dominionists are in this battle for the long haul, until Christ dominates every corner of this world, this nation, this Congress, this White House. Now!

The ACLU and FFRF view this battle in Constitutional terms. And they are right to do so. But a constitution only enjoys validity so long as the public continues to place faith in its principles. Should then the freedom to practice religion extend to the freedom to challenge the very constitutional principles that guarantee that freedom?

Our freedom of speech suggests that it should and our courts have guaranteed that it does. But, what happens when public officials entrusted with the publication and enforcement of a Constitution have become some of its most vocal critics, actively working to undermine its legitimacy and ignore its enforcement? (Mind you, this is substantively different from the case where a fierce defender of Enlightenment principles and values fails to grasp how official prayer in public school might be at odds with these principles and values.) Or, what happens when a preponderance of political representatives and office holders no longer embrace the principles and values embodied in their Constitution?

What happens is that that document, at that very moment, ceases to hold general validity. “I want these kids to know that eternal life is real, and I don’t care what happens to me, they’re going to hear it today.”

We have been here before, more often than we care to remember: 1776, 1860, 1932, 1945, 1962, 1970, 1980, 2001. And each time it has weakened us in some fundamental way, rendered us more cynical, less certain about the institutions and values we hold in common, more ready to abandon those values and institutions and give up the struggle.

So, what might maintaining this struggle look like in the face of such despair?

To begin with, maintaining the struggle would entail our being at least as forthright as good Norman de Jong. There is a kind of religion that is inimical to the U.S. Constitution, to American institutions and American values. De Jong was honest enough to say directly: his variety of Christianity is fundamentally at odds with the institutions and values of the United States of America. All of the bluster and militarism aside, dominionist Christianity is anti-American. It is openly seditious and self-admittedly treasonous.

Principal Stinson did not say that he would defend the Constitution to the death or the values of the framers. Principal Stinson is a soldier in a battle on behalf of Christ to assume full dominion over America. And in this battle, Principal Stinson does not care what happens to him. Fair enough.

What this means, however, is that fighting Principal Stinson’s variety of Christianity is not simply a liberal cause or a conservative cause.  It is an American cause, a fight over the very essence of our nation, its constitution. Principal Stinson knows this.

Do we?

Battling Anew Over the Place of Religion in Public Schools –

Still the Best Congress that Money can buy –

Eric Lichtblau makes the rookie mistake (“Economic Downturn Took a Detour at Capitol Hill”) of assuming that Capitol Hill represents voters? The Supreme Court has already ruled (in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) that Freedom of Speech is a quality enjoyed by Money, not by Citizens. According to Lichtblau,

rarely has the divide [between Capitol Hill and voters] appeared so wide, or the public contrast so stark, between lawmakers and those they represent.

Once we recognize that Congress represents Money and not Citizens then the apparent irony (or misconduct, or crime, or whatever you want to call it) disappears.

Economic Downturn Took a Detour at Capitol Hill –

What sort of person . . . ?

What Sort of Person has distributed the following question on Facebook that deserves our attention:

What sort of person thinks there is nothing wrong with asking the folks tasked with teaching our children to take a 20% cut on a $50,000 annual salary, but thinks it’s a terrible idea to ask millionaires to pay an additional 3% more in taxes?

The title of the question is: “Republicans are Idiots and Arguing with them is a waste of time.”

Perhaps. But it is still worth asking and answering the question raised by Addictinginfo because I suspect the answer is not quite so straightforward as the title suggests. Because if only the 1% voted for Republicans, then the game would be over. As it is, roughly 50% vote for the 1% who guarantee that they will remain among the 99%, if that makes sense. That is to say, somehow 50% of the 99% are eager to stake their future with the 1% who is screwing them.

Now, unless you believe that this is simply a matter of self-loathing or sadomasochism, then something else must be going on when the 50% vote for the 1% who hate them. Tom Frank offers one answer in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” (Frank’s answer—I simplify—is that the 1% appeals to the 50%’s innate conservative moral values—which the 1% feel are foolish—to trick them into supporting the 1%’s economic and social policies.)

But I am interested in what you think. What sort of person . . . ?

Is the Church Preoccupied?

Church That Aided Wall St. Protesters Is Now Their Target –

I agree with Reverend Sojwal. And I disagree with Rev. James H. Cooper.

“Trinity Church had a fantastic opportunity to be a Christlike presence by openings its doors to the protesters,” said the Rev. Milind Sojwal, the rector of All Angels Church, an Episcopal parish on the Upper West Side. “And I believe Trinity blew it.”

But there are many outstanding questions, questions that Christians should be actively and persistently asking, but questions that we are not.

For example, what would it entail to occupy the Church? Occupy wants to stage protests from Trinity. Here I am reminded of the churches in Rome where Romans sought refuge from the hordes invading from the north in 410 C.E. Saint Augustine was among the first to recognize the two-fold miracle illuminated by these refugees.

First miracle: that non-believers viewed the Church as a place to seek refuge. Second miracle: that the (non-Trinitarian Christian) invading hordes respected the sanctity of the church buildings.

But seeking refuge in the Church is different from occupying the Church. So the question Christians must raise—and I as an Episcopalian must acknowledge—is “Is the Church Preoccupied?” and, if so, by whom or by what?

Occupy should not only view the Church (or churches) as a sanctuary or staging ground, but as an inspiration and ally, a leader in the struggle for justice. Here Rev. Cooper may have more than a leg to stand on. Trinity has not only been welcoming Occupy to use its property to stage actions against Wall Street. Trinity has also been inviting parishioners and protesters to reflect critically upon the broader significance of Occupy, both for New York and for the Church.

But, might not Trinity (and all of our churches) be a worthy target of Occupy? Are we not preoccupied—by wealth, by mediocrity, by security, by capital, and by Kulturprotestantismus, as Karl Barth once sneared? And are we not therefore in need of a new occupation—by the poor, by God’s spirit, by the dispossessed, by insecurity, by laborers, and by a Gospel that speaks (and performs) truth to power? What might the occupation of the Church look like?

Which leads to another question: can Occupy occupy our churches (and our Church)? Here again Rev. Cooper may have a point. Is Occupy sufficiently radical, sufficiently critical, and sufficiently . . . well, sufficiently eschatological and apocalyptic to announce the coming of the reign of God’s Christ on earth?

Here we must be careful how we answer. For, on the one hand, much of what Occupy says falls neatly under the present age and not the age that is coming. It is insufficiently radical.

But, as a Christian and as an Episcopalian Christian, I feel I need genuinely to ask myself whether I am allowing myself to hear the prophetic word that God is articulating and directing to me in Occupy? Am I listening closely enough to allow myself to be occupied? Or might I too not be preoccupied?

And, here, I believe, we need to heed Rev. Sojwal’s call. When we raise a defense of Trinity with appeals to the sanctity of private property and the law, we take our bearings from standards that clearly fall outside of the Gospel and that call into question our own commitment to the radical critique we should be finding on our own lips and not the lips of the invading non-Trinitarian hordes. And, so, as Saint Augustine recognized, many (and almost certainly most) of Rome’s Christians took their stand with pagan Rome against the invading hordes. But not Saint Augustine.

Instead, Saint Augustine allowed this invasion to serve as the occasion for a radical critique not only of Rome and its brutal, imperialist policies and practices throughout the Mediterranean, southwestern Europe, Northern Africa and the near East, but also against a Christianity that had invested heavily in Imperial Rome.

Can we pray and work for the occupation of Trinity? Can we pray and work for the occupation of the Episcopal Church? Can we pray and work for the occupation of the United States, of all our religious communities, and of the world?

I not only believe that we can. I believe that we must.

Has Fundamentalism Won?

According to recent Gallop polls, 9 out of every 10 Americans believe in God and nearly  3 out of every 10 Americans take the Bible literally. Only the world’s Muslim communities can boast similar figures. And, yet, my interest is in the 1 out of every 10 Americans who either do not believe in God or whose spiritual beliefs are so undefined as to defy any meaningful description. My fear is that it is these Americans who have most thoroughly succumbed to fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism arose in the United States toward the close of the last century in response to what conservative religious leaders saw as the spread of liberal religion. Liberal religion, in their view, referred to (largely) mainstream Protestantism’s acceptance of the academic critical literary, historical, and social apparatus. Thus, for example, mainstream Protestants were likely to take the side of historians, paleontologists, anthropologists, and linguists on matters such as the authorship of the books of the Bible, the age of the earth, and human origins. When sociologists explored the complex social arrangements displayed in biblical texts or when psychologists sought to analyze the prophets, apostles, or church fathers, mainstream Protestants were inclined to listen, learn, and update their personal beliefs to conform with this research.

But, of course, it did not end there. As scholars learned more about the social and historical formation of other faiths, mainstream Protestants (along with their liberal Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu counterparts) were inclined to look for and find similarities as well as differences between their own practices and those of other faith communities. Liberal religion, in general, was coming to occupy its own place in the history of religions. Liberal Protestants may or may not believe in the Trinity. They may or may not believe in the divine inspiration of scripture. They may or may not believe in a literal, bodily resurrection of the dead. And so on, and so forth.

So by what stretch of the imagination were these mainstream Protestants Christians at all?

Fundamentalism stepped into this breach claiming that it would defend the fundamentals of the Christian faith against what they saw as mainstream Protestantism’s complete abandonment of fundamentals.

But, as I said, my fear is that Fundamentalism has won over the 10%. How? Well, by embracing the 90%’s definition of what constitutes “true” or “authentic” religion.

Fundamentalists accuse mainstream, liberal Protestants of embracing an ersatz religion, a made up religion. And, I am afraid that the 10% are inclined to agree. After all, once I have subjected the biblical texts to the apparatus of higher textual criticism; once I have reduced the prophets and apostles, and even Yahweh and Jesus himself, to social actors who lived within their own limited socio-historical horizons; and once I have reinterpreted the leading symbols and practices of my faith in light of broad social-psychological or even narrowly psychoanalytic categories—what else is left of my so-called religion?

But, isn’t this just sour grapes? Was religion ever a body of revealed truth delivered by transcendent beings from outside the socio-historical horizon? Nothing to my knowledge fits this description. Were not the biblical actors and agents always embedded, just as we are embedded, within a complex web of social, psychological, economic, and political forces? Yes. Would this not suggest then that when I embrace this embedded religion (or any other equally embedded religion) I am embracing what is most authentic and historically grounded about that religion?

But, say the 10%, is this how the biblical actors and agents, the prophets and apostles and church fathers—is this how they understood themselves? Should we not be concerned about accurately reflecting their faith and understanding and practice?

This, however, is exactly the same question that the Fundamentalists raised toward the end of the nineteenth century. So you can see my concern. It is as though the 10% will only be satisfied if religion actually does fit the understanding of religion entertained by end of the nineteenth century fundamentalists. And, since religion cannot fit that description, they would just as soon reject religion entirely.

This rejection strikes me as specially odd, however, because late nineteenth century fundamentalists do not accurately reflect the actual fluidity, the internal dynamism, the syncretism, the polytheism, the multi-layered character of actual existing faith over the centuries. Theirs is a caricature, a flat, clownish, comical simulacrum of religion.

Of course, I can well appreciate why non-believers might prefer this flat, clownish, comical portrayal of religion over the rich, complex, multi-layered religions that we actually find in and through history. Religion is by far among the most complex things that human beings do; on whatever scale we wish to view religion, through whatever lens—sociology, psychology, history, anthropology, archaeology, medicine—religion displays a richness and complexity to which other human phenomena do not come close. Far simpler then to set it aside and focus on simpler, more straightforward, things that we do.

However, either in setting religion aside or in ceding the right to define religion to the fundamentalists, do we not risk closing ourselves off to a large swath of what is happening, both in the past and in the present, in our world?

Have the fundamentalists won? I hope not. But I fear that they have.

Who Loses and Who Wins in the Eurodivide?


What does the Euro measure? Were we living in a classical world, the answer to that question would be simple. The Euro in that case would measure the productivity or value of labor. But, we do not live in a classical world. Rather, we live in a world into which we also factor time and, therefore, the productivity or value of labor between two or more points on a simple investment schedule; and we live in a world where this simple investment schedule operates alongside and shapes (and is in turn shaped by) other investment schedules; and we live in a world where all of these simultaneously, but asynchronously, coordinated investment schedules also must contend with a monetary supply and with interest rates that will change with time and with place. And we live in a world where all of this takes place in markets measured in different currencies with different local laws and tax rates and labor markets, and so on.

What does the Euro measure? Let us say that the Euro measures economic growth. In this case, the Cameron’s decision not to follow Germany and France would appear to signal at the very least that Cameron does not feel that the British Pound will fare better should Great Britain link its budget to other EU budgets than if it does not; or, in the alternative, that the British Pound will fare better relative to the Euro. I say “appear” because, as Cameron himself admitted, he did not feel that he could push such coordination and linkages through Parliament. And this could either mean that Parliament shares Cameron’s lack of confidence in the EU or that Parliament does not feel its members can win the next election based on such a policy. And this in turn means that Parliamentarians believe that their constituents lack confidence in the EU.

So, evidently, the Euro measures public confidence. And whether you share or do not share confidence in the Euro again appears to depend on where you are—in Great Britain or in Germany or in France or elsewhere.

But, confidence in what? Confidence, I suspect, in the EU as a coordinated project, at least in the short run. So are the British saying that they do not believe that this project will succeed? And, if they are saying this, is there any sound basis for their judgment? Or, are they saying that they do not want the EU to succeed? And can we identify political/historical reasons why, regardless of its merits, the EU will lose in its struggle to regain legitimacy and the UK will be vindicated in its decision not to join the party?

Or is Cameron simply making his decision on political expediency; a decision that both he and Great Britain will live to regret? Or is Cameron’s decision a self-fulfilling prophecy? Does the UK’s decision weaken the Euro, and weaken the EU, sufficiently on balance to work to the advantage of the UK?

What does the Euro measure? Is it economic growth? Is it consumer confidence? Is it investor confidence? Is it market confidence?

Is there smart money in these decisions? Or are they all in the end evidence of dumb money?

Still Fiscalizing –


Still Fiscalizing –

I know that I am supposed to agree with Paul Krugman; and, for the most part, I do. However, I also have a nagging suspicion that more is at stake in German insistence upon austerity than immediately strikes the eye. Here Krugman approvingly cites Martin Wolf:

The German faith is that fiscal malfeasance is the origin of the crisis. It has good reason to believe this. If it accepted the truth, it would have to admit that it played a large part in the unhappy outcome.

While true, this ignores the preponderance of austerity wisdom throughout the global system and not simply among Germans. Which points to a deeper underlying rationale. Krugman has referred to this underlying rationale elsewhere under the heading “bond vigilantes.” But I unpack this phrase somewhat differently than Krugman.

Let us assume that price is sufficient to mediate supply and demand and that any interference in competitive markets—for example by not subjecting retirement, health, education, or housing to competitive markets—distorts price. Now, someone will say, no one in Germany or elsewhere in Europe is recommending such rigid market fundamentalism. No, they are not. They are, however, saying that the southern European members of the Eurozone should not have showered their citizens with such lavish social and economic supports and that it was because they did so that they now face a serious sovereign debt crisis. In the simple terms of market fundamentalism, there was not sufficient market growth to justify the outlays devoted to health, education, and welfare. And, had the price mechanism been allowed to operate freely in these nations, either economic growth would have stepped up to the plate, costs would have fallen, or services would have been denied—“naturally” denied by the market.

Instead, there was a total disconnect between non-market outlays and economic growth; which was fine with world’s lending institutions so long as the long-term economic growth was pegged to expanding financial markets in general and real estate markets in particular, but is not so fine now that we know that this projected growth was based on overvalued paper. Now that we have a more realistic assessment of actual growth (in fact, contraction), we can now see that Portugal, Greece, Italy, Spain, and perhaps France as well did not enjoy and will not enjoy sufficient growth to back their customary health, education, and welfare.

In other words, the PIGS miscalculated the price of their respective nation’s health, education, and welfare; and they miscalculated the price because these services were not pegged to actual market growth or contraction.

Austerity, in other words, is another way of making the most basic social services once again subject to market forces. The alternative—and it is not only the Germans who are saying this—is to (fill in your favorite moral invective) steal from Peter to pay Paul, spend more than you make, live beyond your means, expect a handout, und so weiter. Ja?

OK. So, how do we pay for health, education, and welfare?

Let us suppose that Germany’s relative economic strength was not only built upon the bill of goods that German banks sold to unsuspecting purchasers elsewhere in the Eurozone. Let us suppose that some of its economic strength is in fact a consequence of Europe’s free job market and liberal access to one another’s markets. German firms were able to set up shop anywhere they liked and to employ the labor of anyone they liked throughout the Eurozone. The neoliberal argument is that this freedom of movement of capital and labor worked to everyone’s advantage. And let us finally say that some of the strength of Germany’s national market arose from the technological advantage it enjoys in Europe. Germany was more efficient and more productive.

Where does that leave us? How do we pay for health, education, and welfare?

If we acknowledge that all parties throughout the Eurozone contributed to Germany’s economic strength, then I do not see how we can deny that (not on moral grounds, but purely economic grounds) Germany owes to other members of the Eurozone a return on their investment (of labor, land, resources, human capital and the like).

Yet, even supposing that Germany’s success and strength owes to the relative German’s hard work and industry (contrasted to the PIGS laxness and leisure), Germans need to wonder whether and why they might want sick, undereducated, disaffected and resentful Greeks, Italians, Portuguese, Spanish, or Frenchmen clinching their fists and shouting invectives against Germany.

Which pulls us back to price and to market fundamentalism. Germans will endure these clenched fists and angry shouts because it is only right and proper that social services be kept in line with economic growth; Germany has grown, they have not. And, so, it turns out, the Eurozone does appear to have been little more than a means for Germany to take advantage of the broader European market.

Price rules.