By Dan Kervick, who does research in decision theory and analytic metaphysics. Cross posted from New Economic Perspectives
(Brussels) Nonplussed by this week’s unemployment report showing the Eurozone jobless rate rising to an unprecedented 12%, members of the European Parliament and Europe’s national governments pressed ahead on Wednesday with passage of a stringent new package of austerity measures. Dubbed “hyperaustérité” or “Übersparpolitik” by its backers, the new program of ruthless cuts and social demolition promises to deliver even higher levels of joblessness, misery and hopelessness than has been achieved so far by earlier rounds of austerity.
Along with the new economic measures, the European Union (EU) also announced its intention to change its name to the “European Sadomasochistic Cult.” The new ESC will take the leading role in the implementation of European hyperausterity.
“Nothing is really changing,” stated Dutch finance minister and Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem. “We’re just acknowledging the next phase in the natural evolution of the European system. Europeans need an effective transnational vehicle for the political expression of spite, self-mutilation and cruelty.”
Commentators outside Europe have expressed surprise at the willingness of Europeans to accept month upon month of seemingly meaningless and self-inflicted pain. However, longtime observers of European history and internal politics have been less surprised, and have suggested current events are fully consistent with enduring European traditions of tormenting themselves for no good reason.
ESC officials will also supervise the creation of a number of new programs aimed at promoting ritual penitence and mortification across the continent. This new Flagellation 2013 initiative has already begun to yield fruit in several European countries.
Ordinary European citizens seem to be embracing the new initiatives with attitudes ranging from taciturn acceptance to zealous enthusiasm.
“We’ve all been very, very bad,” said Seville hairdresser Christina Dolorosa. “We must suffer for it.”
According to Danish engineer, Jesper Pilgaard, “This is the only way to teach all those short, brownish Mediterranean people a lesson. They disgust me.”
“The European Union – now the ESC – is more than a political arrangement”, said to Dublin retiree Padraig O’Murphy. “It’s a faith; a sacred bond. Punishing ourselves with economic hardship and unemployment is the way we show our commitment to the cause of European unity. I call on Brussels to hurt me more.”
“Things have been going downhill around here since the death of Charlemagne,” said Frankfurt bartender Lothar Metzer. We really need to impose some discipline on the situation. It’s time to show a firm hand to economic libertines and heretics.”
Although the Flagellation 2013 initiatives address 21st century problems and sensibilities, they often suggest some nostalgic old European themes. Some of the more popular programs that have already been developed include:
• Bancofixion – Debtors and the unemployed in Lisbon are taken to the city’s financial center where they are stripped naked and strapped to the wall of a multinational bank, with an index card labeled “IOUs” taped to their heads.
• The Billetine – French citizens line up to give stacks of Euro banknotes to the Bourreau de Monnaie, who then cuts the stacks in half with a sharp blade before burning the notes. With each cut, the crowd yells, “Vive La Culte Sadomasochiste d’Europe!”
“It makes me feel cleaner – more pure” said Billetine participant Manon Blancheur.
• The Running of the Students – Madrid debt collectors chase frantic groups of indebted and unemployed former university students through the streets of the capital, prodding and beating them with sticks and herding them into the newly constructed Plaza de Estudiantes. The crowd in attendance then showers the naked students with pink slips, while shouting “Pobre!” (Tourists at this exciting spectacle are being advised to watch the proceedings from windows and safe side-alleys to avoid being trampled by the terrified students.)
“The young are like rats, spreading the plague of youthful hope and aspiration through the streets of Europe,” argued Madrid investment banker Luis Torquemadera. “Expectations of that kind must be exterminated.”
• Spendthriftery Persecutions – People across Europe are being encouraged to turn in neighbors suspected of diabolical economic optimism and covert expenditures of money.
“My elderly neighbor asked me if I wanted to go to the pub and have a pint with her,” reported Andrew Miller of Lancashire. “I tried to chase her off by yelling ‘Spender begone!’ She then went away muttering something into her cell phone. I regard that as highly suspicious behavior, and reported the old crone to the solvency magistrates. My crocuses aren’t coming in this spring, and I think it might be a side effect of her profligacy.”
• Danse en Faillite – Young girls across northern Europe dress up as ghastly bond merchants in oversized suits and dance in a circle, arbitrarily tapping passersby on the shoulder or playfully lassoing them with neckties. The designated victims are summarily exiled to Greece.
• Fiscal Hygiene Campaign – As the centrally imposed misery continues to spread, the economic casualties sometimes mount to dangerous levels. Large numbers of unemployed and economically worthless people pose a new public health hazard that imaginative civic leaders are addressing with some old methods. In Cork, Ireland, the call of “Bring out your excess!” now rings through the desolate early evening streets. Blank-faced and unwanted pensioners, live-in cousins and children are then brought out to waiting vans and carted away the Malthusian Fields burial ground.
• The Iron Merkel – Italian officials who have impertinently requested funds for public investment, hiring programs or modest local improvements are forced to spend eight harrowing hours locked in a tiny, empty bank vault.
Observers in other countries who express surprise over European acceptance of hyperausterity and flagellation measures sometimes fail to grasp the prevailing sentiments on the European street. Contemporary Europeans respond more often with gratitude than resentment to the piling on of austerity measures.
“I fall on my knees each morning and offer a prayer of thanksgiving that that Troika has spared me,” sobbed Polish retiree Sasha Olsciewski. “Then I go to the plaza and watch a bancofixion. It strengthens my faith in Europe and keeps me on the straight path.”
In America, Wall Street has responded to the superstorm of European unemployment and contraction with barely a shrug, and also with surprising bullishness. The S&P 500 surged to a record high last week on talk of optimism about the situation in Europe.
“The big creditors are getting paid – that’s all we care about,” said JP Morgan Chase analyst Marco Parasito. “Anyway, if you go to the heart of London, Paris or Berlin, everything looks fine. It’s only the undesirables who are taking the hit. The markets don’t care about the 99% riff-raff. All we know is that the guys in charge seem to be taking care of business.”
European government officials continue to express unflappable resolve and conviction when asked about the progress of the hyperausterity program.
“The point is not to grow and develop,” stresses British Prime Minister David Cameron. “This is not a misguided strategy gone wrong. The point is to purge and purify ourselves, and restore traditional social discipline. The more painful the results; the more we are succeeding. Everything is progressing according to plan.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by the noted French sociologist, philosopher and talk show host Jean-Claude Dilettante de Bourbon:
The world has been turned upside down for decades: democracy, broad prosperity, equal access to good health care, secure and anxiety-free retirement. C’est une catastrophe! Now it’s time to re-establish the correct order – financial capital at the top; then industrial capital; the Troika next; then the important northern governments; then the less important solvent governments; then the barbarous southern governments; then the masses of the people who are still employed; then the unemployed – and then the dead. Everyone must know his rank and learn obedience to those of higher rank. It’s the Great Chain of Wealth, and it is being re-forged.
Dilettante de Bourbon’s opinions were echoed by Reginald Pursemouth, a prominent European jurist and member of the British House of Lords:
Yes, of course governments could spend, invest and hire by running useful deficits with central bank support. Yes, we might grow and develop as a result and return to prosperity. But where would that lead? What lesson would be taught? People might learn that they actually have it within their power to organize and employ the people and productive resources of their countries by acting through their governments, outside the system of private, corporate-run enterprise. They could then build a prosperous and self-determined future for themselves and their children. They would lose faith in the predestination of capital markets. The whole contemporary social order is based on the fear of mammon, and the assurance that salvation comes not from political decision or democratic action, but by the grace of capital alone.
Pursemouth did, however, express some pessimism about the long-term sustainability of hyperausterity. “Europe has a time-honored and robust tradition of episodic insanity and persecution,” he observed. “Regrettably, these periods of exemplary madness and derangement are usually followed by longer periods of sense and levelheadedness. I fear we may be headed for just such a period before long.”