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Depression and Autocracy From Merkel to Michigan | The Nation

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Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

Depression and Autocracy From Merkel to Michigan

“Depression and Democracy”—Paul Krugman’s Monday column took on a key topic. Amazingly, having seized the critical question, he let it squirm away. Insurgent neo-Nazi extremists may pose a threat, but right now mainstream governments are doing the real damage to democracy. They are suspending accountability on both sides of the Atlantic, and they’re doing it before our eyes, even to applause, in the name of emergency financial management.

Starting in Europe, Krugman focuses on Hungary’s governing far-right Fidesz party, whose plans, he writes, “amount to the re-establishment of authoritarian rule under a paper-thin veneer of democracy.” The Fidesz sound like a nasty lot, but how authoritarian is last week’s Eurozone deal? Led by Germany, the agreement requires individual nations to shrink pensions, scale back health insurance, cut services, privatize public enterprises and de-unionize public jobs—no matter what their voters say. It’s all so as not to default to the large banks and financial institutions.

Over at Counterpunch, economist Michael Hudson is calling it the “deadly transition from social democracy to oligarchy.” Ulrich Beck, writing in the Guardian, describes it as a power shift that imposes on an entire continent a take-it-or-leave-it “German culture of stability.”

“The basic rules of European democracy are being suspended or even inverted, bypassing parliaments, governments and EU institutions,” wrote Beck shortly before the Deutschmark deal was done. “Multilateralism is turning into unilateralism, equality into hegemony, sovereignty into the deprivation of sovereignty, and recognition into disrespect for the democratic dignity of other nations. Even France, which long dominated European unification, must submit to Berlin’s strictures now that it must fear for its international credit rating.”

European heads of state have already toppled, from Ireland to Portugal, Italy and Greece. No doubt there’s more to come. As far as international credit raters are concerned, it’s end-of-history time: there’s no going back on austerity plans, and there are no alternatives—no matter how poorly they perform.

In a country review, the IMF said Tuesday that the Greek economy is forecast to contract by up to 6 percent in 2011: “The economy is trending notably lower than what was expected. Investor sentiments have not improved as hoped.”

But there’s only one solution as far as the IMF’s concerned: more of the same. Greece has reached its taxation limit and needs to refocus on austerity, said IMF mission chief in Greece, Poul M. Thomsen. The structural changes Greece has made thus far, he said, have fallen “well short” of expectations.

So screw you, Greek economists, or for that matter, Greek, or Italian, or Irish voters who conclude from the numbers that a shrunken economy plus bloated unemployment plus impossible debt payments and a rigidly European-controlled currency don’t add up—or add up to a disaster for everyone but the banksters.  

In the United States, “German stability culture” looks mild to some living in Michigan. In the name of fiscal responsibility, Governor Rick Snyder has taken the power to appoint unelected “financial managers” to take over cities that are struggling with deficits and debts. Four Michigan cities are already controlled by Snyder’s overseers. The have the power to fire city councils, nullify union contracts, end collective bargaining and privatize whatever’s left to be privatized. 

Governor Snyder has already announced his intention to review the city of Detroit for possible “emergency management.”  That would put 49.7 percent of the state’s African-American residents under leaders cirtics are comparing to plantation overlords. And just today, Michigan’s state Senate passed a bill that would help the process along. For a summary of the bill, visit the invaluable Chris Savage at Eclectabog.

Suffice to say, it doesn’t take a Hungarian neo-Nazi to establish authoritarian rule under a paper-thin veneer of democracy. It doesn’t even require a veneer.

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