THE BLOG
09/28/2012 03:15 pm ET Updated Nov 28, 2012

Europe

The European crisis has been going on for a long time, and it promises to continue a lot longer. The reasons are not simply politicians kicking the can down the road and avoiding difficult decisions. Nor is it simply a matter of the Germans not realizing that it would be in their best interests to be much more generous toward their struggling neighbors, just as it was in America's interest to help devastated allies and defeated opponents alike through the Marshall Plan at the end of World War II. Nor is it even one tiny bit because of the alleged failure of the troubled countries to control their spending and collect more taxes. The Euro is a tangible symbol of achievements in Europe since the war. And for that reason it is the powerful glue that keeps the Germans and the Greeks, as well as everyone in between, from leaving the Eurozone even though Germany or Greece would likely be better off out of the Euro and the rest of the currency union would also be better off without them.

In the two-thirds of a century since Germany surrendered there have been no armed conflicts between any European states; although there have been revolutionary movements and independence movements that led to violence immediately after the war and since the collapse of the Soviet empire. After half a millennium, some might argue two and a half millennia of nearly continuous warfare with neighbors or invaders, this has been a welcome accomplishment. In many ways Europe has turned itself into a post-warfare, post-industrial, post-imperialist society.

Health care is available to everyone in every country, resulting in better outcomes than in the United States at less cost. Infants and their parents, the infirm and the old have all been supported at fairly generous levels, at least until quite recently. Although the unemployed are also generously supported compared to the United States, high unemployment has been a visible blemish in the form of frustrated and sometimes angry young people with no sense of their purpose in life, and this blemish has now turned into a deep wound in many countries.

Still, on the whole much of Europe, rich and poor, benefits from better regulated business and markets, vastly better public facilities and services from parks and transport to schools and the arts; much more equitable sharing of economic output, a post-accumulation society in which enjoying the sufficiency of things and cultivating an appreciation of life takes more precedence over outdoing one's peers, one's parents and one's "competition" in other countries. In sum there is a lot of positive, life-sustaining energy correctly associated with the emergence of post-war Europe; with the absence of war in the continent the salient feature with the strongest appeal.

So in the end it seems that Angela Merkel will indeed do whatever she must to keep the Eurozone intact; but, because of the very strong feelings within her party and among voters that Germany should not have to "bail out" Greece, Spain or Portugal, she permits only the minimum necessary for fear of being voted out of office. Similarly Greece and Spain protest the manifest injustice of their treatment and experience the rise of radical and extremist movements; but in the end they vote for more moderate left or right parties that are committed to staying in the Euro even though that means prolonging their country's economic and social misery.

The European Central Bank is the one entity that is theoretically free to make an "independent" decision about what it is to do, as it is not directly controlled by other governments or the European Union administration and parliament. Its governing body consists of one individual from each of the 17 member countries. The German member has been consistently in favor of more austerity for the peripheral countries and less credit from the ECB. One has already resigned in protest over previous actions and his successor was the lone dissenter against the recent decision to purchase troubled country short term debt for the purpose of lowering their borrowing costs closer to the other member countries. The bank president, Mario Draghi made a careful, rather legalistic argument as to why this move was within the bank's mandate and why it would not be inflationary as the Germans feared.

Both arguments were certainly correct; but this was more a proof of the inadequacy of the measures taken than a satisfactory sop to the German critics. While monetary policy can indefinitely keep banks from failing or financial crises from exploding, it is nearly powerless to increase economic activity or inflation without help from increased government spending. But the new ECB program specifically requires countries to agree to the kind of austerity measures already imposed on Greece, Portugal and Ireland, before the ECB will buy their bonds, thus guaranteeing the program's inability to provide any lasting solution to the self-imposed recession that is now entrenched throughout all of Europe.