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Thursday, May 24, 2012

musical chairs in the EU

Marcel Mauss tells a story, in his essay about the techniques of the body, about an incident he observed in WWI.  “In a gesture of collaboration, a British regiment, the Worcester, received permission to incorporate some French drummers and buglers in order to match the French military march. The result, according to Mauss, was a disaster: During almost six months, in the streets of Bailleul, long after the battle of l'Aisne [where the regiment had achieved some success], I often saw the ,following  spectacle: the regiment had conserved its English march and rhythmed it to the French. It even had at its head a small group of French infantrymen who knew how to work the clarions and who sounded the marches better than their men. The unhappy regiment of tall Englishmen could not form. All was discordant in their marching. When they tried to march in time, the music didn’t properly mark their marching. To the point where the Worcester regiment was obliged to suppress the French marching music.”

This moment of unscoring, so to speak, is the collapse of a background experience that, as Heidegger once pointed out, has some epistemological use: for the moment of collapse reveals the intricacy of the background. Heidegger, here, is merely catching up with one of the great kids’ games, musical chairs, in which collapse is an opportunity for a happy scramble, and the consecutive exclusion of the unwary players, until only one player is left.

The European economy is not – yet – World War I, but the law of scoring still applies. There is no one tune to which the nations should all march. That doesn’t mean that one can’t share instruments, but it does mean that sharing instruments does not mean dictating the music. Unfortunately, Germany, which suffered a pretty ragged 90s and an astonishing lack of growth in the last decade up to around 2006, doesn’t understand what any child should know. The German establishment did not grow because it imposed austerity; it grew because it imposed one of the commonest devises of the class war, known as squeezing the “cost” of labor – or excluding labor from the gains of productivity, however you want to put it. What this means is that the German economy is out of step with the rest of Europe. Labor costs there are going up – the working class has had it with the program of mini-jobs and a lack of any raise in wages for ten years. This means, inevitably, that there will be wage driven inflation in Germany, and that Germany will respond by the usual central bank monkeyshines: squeezing credit.
However, this policy is absolute poison for those more healthy EU nations that did not sacrifice their working classes in the 2000s. Luckily for them, in normal circumstances, the German wage  inflation should lead to higher prices in Germany, more competitive prices in Italy, and thus exports into Germany. At the same time, of course, the wage catchup should insure that German goods are not crowded out domestically.

But this isn’t happening. Keynes, supposedly, once asked one of the British bureaucrats who helped build the successful blockade of Germany in WWI why the blockade continued after the German army had laid down its arms. He was told that the bureaucrats and the Navy were so proud of having succeeded in creating the blockade that they just couldn’t bear to see it disappear simply because peace broke out. Change the characters a bit and you have the story of any bureaucracy formed to coerce a social group into agreeing to a certain arrangement.


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