Friday, June 1, 2012

Europe: A Crisis of Legitimacy

David Brooks writes in the NYT:

If you look at the World Values Survey, you see that people in most Western nations are becoming more distrustful of their neighbors, not less. There are huge variations across nations, but levels of social and political trust have been declining almost everywhere except the Nordic countries. If there’s convergence, in other words, it’s in our increasing agreement that we don’t trust each other.

Today’s European economic crisis grows directly out of this segmentation. The euro crisis is not a crisis of debt. Total European debt levels are not that high. It’s a crisis of legitimacy. Debt burdens are divergent across nations, and Europeans with one set of habits and values do not want to bail out Europeans with other habits and values.


We were talking about political legitimacy in general here, and the problem that abstract liberal principles tend to inspire only thin loyalty and commitment at best.

That may work fine when the pie is growing, but can suddenly turn into a huge problem if there is any call for sacrifice. Clearly, if there is no obvious common good, then people will not sacrifice for the common good. Indeed, the whole rhetoric of "rights" counts against this.

Brooks is right about legitimacy. There are technocratic solutions to the euro crisis, including mutualizing debt in Eurobonds and common deposit insurance. But there is unlikely to be any sustained electoral commitment. The Brussels-focused European elites have lost popular confidence. It is dangerous.


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