The developed world is all playing the same recessional.
The Eurovision Song Contest doesn’t get a lot of attention in the United States, but on the Continent it’s long been seen as the perfect Euro-metaphor. Years before the euro came along, it was the prototype pan-European institution, and predicated on the same assumptions. Eurovision took the national cultures that produced Mozart, Vivaldi, and Debussy, and in return gave us “Boom-Bang-a-Bang” (winner, 1969), “Ding-Ding-a-Dong” (winner, 1975), and “Diggi-Loo-Diggi-Ley” (winner, 1984). The euro took the mark, the lira, and the franc, and merged them to create the “Boom-Bang-a-Bang” of currencies.
How will it all end? One recalls the 1990 Eurovision finals in Zagreb: “Yugoslavia is very much like an orchestra,” cooed the hostess, Helga Vlahović. “The string section and the wood section all sit together.” Shortly thereafter, the wood section began ethnically cleansing the dressing rooms, while the string section rampaged through the brass section pillaging their instruments and severing their genitals. Indeed, the charming Miss Vlahović herself was forced into a sudden career shift and spent the next few years as Croatian TV’s head of “war information” programming.
Fortunately, no one remembers Yugoslavia. So today Europe itself is very much like an orchestra. The Greek fiddlers and the Italian wind players all sit together, playing cards in the dressing room, waiting for the German guy to show up with their checks. Just before last week’s Eurovision finale in Azerbaijan, the Daily Mail in London reported that the Spanish entrant, Pastora Soler, had been told to throw the competition “because the cash-strapped country can’t afford to host the lavish event next year,” as the winning nation is obliged to do. In a land where the youth unemployment rate is over 50 percent, and two-thirds of the country’s airports are under threat of closure, and whose neighbors (Britain) are drawing up plans for military intervention to evacuate their nationals in the event of total civic collapse, the pressing need to avoid winning the Eurovision Song Contest is still a poignant symbol of how total is Spain’s implosion. Ask not for whom “Ding-Ding-a-Dong” dings, it dings for thee.
One of the bizarre aspects of media coverage since 2008 is the complacent assumption that what’s happening is “cyclical” — a downturn that will eventually correct itself — rather than profoundly structural. Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, found herself skewered like souvlaki on a Thessaloniki grill for suggesting the other day that the Greeks are a race of tax evaders. She’s right. Compared to Germans, your average Athenian has a noticeable aversion to declaring income. But that’s easy for her to say: Mme. Lagarde’s half-million-dollar remuneration from the IMF is tax-free, just a routine perk of the new transnational governing class. And, in the end, whether your broke European state has reasonably efficient tax collectors like the French or incompetent ones like the Greeks is relatively peripheral.
Likewise, on this side of the Atlantic: Quebec university students, who pay the lowest tuition rates in North America, are currently striking over a proposed increase of $1,625. Spread out over seven years. Or about 232 bucks per annum. Or about the cost of one fair-trade macchiato a week. Which has, since the strike, been reduced further, to a couple of sips: If you’re wondering how guys who don’t do any work can withdraw their labor, well, “strike” is a euphemism for riot. The other week, Vanessa L’Écuyer, a sexology student at the Université du Québec à Montréal, was among those arrested for smoke-bombing the subway system and bringing the city’s morning commute to a halt. But, as in Europe, in the end, whether you fund your half-decade bachelor’s in sexology through a six-figure personal debt or whether you do it through the largesse of the state is relatively peripheral.