Seldom has good, practical, sense –the mere statement of the self-evident–, been so promptly and universally chastised under the rules of political correctness, and so swiftly vindicated by events. A few days ago the German European Commissioner, Mr. Oettinger, expressed his belief –this is a synoptic version of what he actually said–, that the reaction of markets will educate Italians to vote more intelligently. It had by then become obvious that Mr. Salvini of the Northern League and Mr. Di Maio of the “5 Stars Movement”, encouraged by polls, were determined to defy President Mattarella’s objections to the appointment of Professor Savona as Minister of Finance and inflict on Italy a new election.
Mr. Oettinger’s comment was followed by a flood of political correctness; by a broadside of condemnations from representatives of both, European institutions and national governments, piously preaching that peoples only, not markets, determine the will of nations, etc.
Yet, the German Commissioner was wrong on only one point: that one did not even have to wait for the edifying influence of markets to have its effect on the judgement of the electorate. So immediate and so intimidating was the reaction of markets, worldwide, at Mr. Salvini’s and Mr. Di Maio’s intransigent persistence on a show of force, that both populist leaders had to reconsider and, suddenly becoming more conciliatory, acquiesce to a less disquieting list of cabinet ministers.
Are markets then a shield against populist movements of all descriptions threatening to undo the EU? Yes, they are, but only in a very relative sense. They can only prevent the worse coming to the worse –but the worse which is already in place may be bad enough. Their pre-emptive capabilities are limited. They do not prevent misconduct. They mainly register it and punish it. The good thing about them is that they do not negotiate. They respond mechanically and inflict their punishments swiftly.
This must be kept well in mind; especially as some are preparing to celebrate the day of Greece’s “clean exit from the memoranda” –a linguistic barbarism, but then language is the least of issues involved in this phrase– or in heroic, colourful language, “of the breaking of the shackles forged by the usurers of the EU” –“usurers”, in this context, meaning EU partners who lend money to Greece at interest rates much lower than those they themselves can borrow at.
The “usurers of the EU” had names and addresses; they could be reached and talked to. The markets cannot; they are faceless.
Thus, one should think twice if the day, on which the “shackles will be dropped”, should be a day of celebration or rather one of meditation and prayer. Had the Greek Orthodox Church had it in its books of prayer, “The Lord is my Shepherd” would have been the most suitable one.