On Sunday, Greece became only the second country in history—Argentina was the first—to make the transition from membership in the developed world to membership in the developing one. Now the question is: Who’s next?
The question is worth asking since so many very serious people— Thomas Piketty, Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz among them—think Greeks did the right thing by voting down their creditors’ demands that they attempt to live within their means as a condition of further largess. Mr. Stiglitz, who doubles as a cheerleader for Argentina’s Kirchner government, says a “no” vote gives Greece the chance to “grasp its destiny in its own hands” even if it means a future “not as prosperous as the past.”
Destiny can seem so romantic—particularly to intellectuals wealthy enough to disparage the value of other people’s economic aspirations.
Greece wanted to be prosperous without being competitive. It wanted to run a five-star welfare state with a two-star economy. It wanted modernity without efficiency or transparency, and wealth without work. It wanted control over its own destiny—while someone else picked up the check.
Destiny also has its uses for politically ambitious ideologues throughout Europe determined not to let the Greek crisis go to waste. France’s far-right National Front, Spain’s far-left Podemos Party, and Italy’s far-out Five-Star Movement all cheered Greece’s “no,” and they will emerge politically stronger should Athens now succeed in extorting better terms from its creditors. If nobody has the will to enforce the rules, nobody will have the desire to follow them.
But maybe rules isn’t quite the right word. The larger issue is reality—and Greece’s flight from it. Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio is 177%, which sounds like an abstraction but means that this year Greece will produce barely half as much as it owes. This is what the Greek government and its fellow travelers call austerity.
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Bret Stephens is the deputy editorial page editor responsible for the international opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal. He also writes "Global View," the paper's weekly foreign-affairs column, and is a member of the Journal's editorial board. He is a regular panelist on "The Journal Editorial Report," a weekly political talk show broadcast on Fox News Channel.