I was struck by what came out of the Troika this week after it finished negotiating the program with the authorities in Cyprus. This is not the first time officials bungle an element of the Cypriot rescue.
The state and the market have long been in a tug of war in East-Central Europe. The Communists were not the first political force to recommend that the state play a much larger role in the economy.
Wherever they look, Cyprus and its European partners are running out of easy options. Rather than seek additional short-term palliatives, they would be well advised to invert their operational logic.
The role of the Troika in bailing out governments and banks is nothing new, but the solutions put forward by EU leaders to improve the Cypriot crisis seem to be founded on little foresight, and without regard for the tragic mistakes of the past few years.
Unless you're a student of history or are planning a Mediterranean vacation, you may never have given the island of Cyprus much thought. Then suddenly, it dominated the headlines. What does a banking crisis in a small and far-off land mean to you?
After marathon and heated discussions, agreement was reached on a new rescue package for Cyprus. Compared to what had emerged a week earlier, this is a better technical outcome -- both in what it contains and in what is left out.
Instead of an impotent superhero in spandex lacking legitimate powers or weapons, Europe might call up the likes of Batman and Robin, Green Lantern or Flash to protect its prized democratic peace. So... keep the Euro, fire the Captain.
The Cypriot banks did what all banks do. They gambled. They borrowed money by taking in deposits as well as selling bonds, promised to repay, and then invested in assets they were sure would pay off. These assets included lots and lots of Greek government bonds.
Didn't someone around the table in Brussels raise their hand and say, "Hey, wait a sec... do we really want to levy this tax on a banking system that's already teetering?"
Europe has more than an immediate economic and financial interest in working with Cyprus to stabilize an increasingly volatile situation. And it should do so driven less by the need avoid an institutional Eurozone exit and more by the importance of fundamentally restoring growth and hope to Cyprus.
As they scramble to sort out the mess in Cyprus, European officials would be well advised to constantly remind themselves of a reality that I suspect extends across the continent: Despite all the happy talk about smaller deficits and lower sovereign credit spreads, citizens are yet to feel any notable improvement in their actual standard of living and in their prospects. Day in and day out, this situation undermines the population's confidence in the timely responsiveness of their elected representatives, the political system and traditional political parties. The longer this persists, the harder it will be to pivot to the type of policy reforms needed to decisively avoid more years of economic difficulties.
Slate's Matthew Yglesias writes columns about economics and finance. Yglesias has been writing about Cyprus, and my critiques of the policies he has been proposing are the subject of this column.
It might be hard to grasp if you live on the Mediterranean shores of Europe, but the Northern countries of the continent consider the southern countries' debts and high levels of spread Catholic sins.
Bankers -- and I kid you not, they do believe this -- are absolutely certain that they are victims of what has occurred, and for that reason are in no way or manner responsible for the ongoing crisis that is still destroying the economic prospects of tens of millions of people.
In the real world, the alternative to this "chaotic" election isn't a business-friendly utopia; it's weeks of rioting shutting down Rome, or even worse, the Arab Spring. So who cares if the Italian people voted for the 'wrong' parties?
The current crisis is an opportunity in disguise. If the European leaders seize the chance, they can improve competitiveness and thereby living standards in the south and east, while increasing the legitimacy of the EU at the same time.