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Not a Lot about Greece, quite a lot of opinions
on 28 April 2011
Despite the cover and the title, there's really not a lot about Greece here. Mr Lynn appears entirely happy to settle for the "fable" view of the crisis being just desserts for an idle, sponging country - a borderline-racist portrait of Greek untermensch unable to compete with their German superiors. You'll look in vain here for any analysis of why Greek society took such a sclerotic turn, or even why the country enjoyed so much less benefit from EU membership than Ireland or Spain. I'm reasonably sure that Mr Lynn didn't visit Greece as part of his research - I couldn't find any original material or analysis, just tired - if telling - anecdotes like the "untaxed swimming pools" that has been repeated to death since it first appeared in the New York Times three years ago.
The tone of the book warms up a little more than half-way through, when it turns into an impassioned screed against the euro and the folly of locking such diverse economies into a single currency. I agree with Mr Lynn on this stuff, but even I found the recital tiring. Mr Lynn is uncritical of German policy, and appears not to have noticed the damage done by German capital surpluses far beyond the european periphery. Tellingly, bottomless pits like Depfa or IKB (Goldman Sachs' favourite subprime stooges) go unmentioned even as Greeks, Irish and Spaniards are castigated.
This book is an editorial against the euro, topped off with thin and half-hearted factual passages about Greece and the rest of the periphery. The arguments against the euro are exactly those that could (and were) mounted pre-crisis, but the role that bad lending (as opposed to bad borrowing) played is glossed over. Instead, the EFSF - the greatest emergency fiscal transfer in history - is presented as originating in the European Commission's "embarassment" at the prospect of the Greeks turning to the IMF. Nothing about rescuing the French and German banks, no this was about avoiding awkward silences at diplomatic cocktail parties. Mr Lynn also sprinkles his text with questionable non-sequiturs (EU member Bulgaria, with lower debt ratios than most of the EU will never be invited to join EMU).
In short, this book has little of the in-depth coverage of Greece you might expect from the cover, and not a huge amount of factual reporting, far less original factual reporting. Instead, it's mostly an impassioned editorial, but one undermined by its blindness to complexity and as such of little use even to those who agree with its critique of the economics of the euro. The decline of the European periphery does indeed match the pessimistic forecasts made before the euro formed, but Lynn is blind to the substantial differences, for example stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that - miserable though its growth record is - Italy has remained firmly outside the danger zone.
Manolopoulos' "Greece's 'Odious' Debt" actually looks at Greece and actually a lot more research (ie some) put into it.A much better look.