The future is Greek

For those who haven’t followed this saga, let me reassure you that the story is quite straightforward: Greece is bankrupt. And although Greece’s bankruptcy is headline news this week—Greece’s weak finances threaten the stability of the euro, the common European currency—the truth is that Greece has been bankrupt for years. Its budget deficit in 2009 was 12.7 percent of GDP. Overall debt was 113.4 percent of GDP. Those are not figures that can be achieved overnight…

Greece shares its financial weaknesses with several other European countries (nowadays referred to—really!—as the PIGS: Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain). But in a different sense, Greece’s weaknesses are also shared by the United States. Though we do not have precisely the same problems, we do have a similar level of political paralysis and a similar level of partisanship. It is not possible to reform U.S. Social Security: President Bush tried halfheartedly and gave up before he started. It may not be possible to reform health care, either: Hillary Clinton failed, and President Obama, despite throwing in expensive sweeteners, may well fail. The influence of lobbyists cannot be reduced. The power of interest groups to influence legislation cannot be tamed. We might not have farmers squatting on state land, but we do have farmers dependent on huge, distorting agricultural subsidies that apparently cannot be reduced.