Amasia, the future supercontinent

Eight hundred million years ago Earth’s landmass concentrated into one area forming a supercontinent called Rodinia. Parts broke away and shifted in a dance orchestrated by the hot core of our planet, and 400 million years later the parts reassembled into another vast landmass called Pangaea.

A possible future world

If this is a periodic cycle then, as the continents move towards and away from each other, the planetary jigsaw must reassemble in the next 200 million years yet again.That future condition has been given a name, it is (will be?) called Amasia. Will there be humans in that distant future who will remember the name “Amasia”? Or any of the other names given today by science to its predicted oceans, its rifted terranes; like Avalonia, Carolinia?

Most species have a lifetime of around ten million years. If homo sapiens sapiens was an average species then we would probably survive for another 9.8 million years. Unfortunately, the Sun is a relatively old star that is running out of hydrogen. It will begin to turn into a red dwarf in a couple of million years, its diameter will increase and it will swallow up Mercury, Venus and Earth.

It seems that Amasia will never be. Not in the sense of some intelligent creature identifying it as such. Perhaps it will never happen in geological terms either: surely the expansion of the heliosphere will effectuate thermal equilibrium on Earth which, in effect, will bring the movement of tectonic plates to a halt.

Perhaps humans will not be extinct in two hundred million years from now. Maybe we manage to survive, somehow. Not on the burned, dead Earth but as colonists of the Earth-like planets that we begin to discover today. Maybe our descendents evolve into another post-human species, genetically engineered to survive long interstellar travels or the different environment of other planets. Maybe then, say in a million years from now, no one will remember Earth, or its continents, Gondwana or Pangaea, or Europe, or Asia. Memories of the origin will be lost, buried under the heavy tomes of history-to-be; the epics of galactic explorers and colonists, the wars, the poems and the arts of the very distant future.

Our Sun, having turned from yellow to red, will be a faint and forgotten glimmer in the sky of mutant humanity’s other homes.

How to fix a “communist” country (Greece)

The latest bailout for Greece is one more product of the prevailing philosophy among EU governments: austerity measures in return for bail-out money. Strongly influenced by the IMF’s prime tenant, bailouts such as these protect primarily the interests of bond investors by transferring costs to societies and citizens. This makes sense because it creates trust in bond markets by minimizing risk for invetors in case of default. Governments can therefore borrow to cover their deficits. Nevertheless, whenever a real crisis hits profits are privitized and risks are socialized, creating strong resenment to citizens and taxpayers.

More austerity for a county in crisis means less ability for that country to pay its way out of debt. This is exactly what has happened with Greece during the past two years, with its economy tail spinning into deeper recession. “When in a hole do not dig”, goes the saying that seems to fall in deaf Brussels ears. But of course Greece does not only have a problem of debt but of deficit too. Which nullifies the effectiveness of a typical Keynsian prescription of increasing public spending in order to spur the economy. It would be like throwing good money after bad. Greece is truly caught in an economic cul-de-sac, and no amount of bail-out seems to have any effect.

Boys having fun: will it work this time?

It is therefore important to examine why standard economic theory and tools fail in the case of Greece. Everyone in the world seems to understand that Greece is a “special case”. But what does that mean exactly? What is so “special” about Greece?

The real problem with Greece is its model of government. As long as this model persists, the country will keep producing annual deficits that will in turn increase its debt. Its economy will never become competitive. Why? because Greece is the last “communist” country in Europe. Not in name of course but to all intent and purpose when it comes to designing economic policies for change. Like a communist country Greece consumes all its resources in funding the state apparatus which identifies in fact, as well as in the minds of most of its citizens, with the economy itself.

Until today the troika (EU, ECB, IMF) have wrongly assumed that Greece is a western capitalist country with a bloated and inefficient public sector. This is not the correct diagnosis because it crudely underestimates the symptoms and totally ignores the cause.

The Greek economy is run, directly or indirectly, by the State. The only difference from a classic communist country is that the “State” is not run centrally – by say cadre commissars or the “Party” – but by a winning coalition of special-interest groups. These special interest groups are many and include the public sector trade unions, lawyers, engineers, doctors, pharmacists, farmers, and basically just about everyone with some leverage on the weak political system of Greece.

As long as this winning coalition retains its hold of power on the State,Greece will never be able to climb out of the hole. The members of the winning coalition do not have incentives for change. They refuse to be productive. In the name of  “social justice” they protect their privileges and entitlements at all costs, including the possible cost of their own country come to ruin.

Until today, nothing has challenged this winning coalition. The troika applied pressure on the Greek political system and demanded reforms. But Greek politicians are not powerful enough to face down the winning coalitions of Greece, and never will be. Unless helped by external forces Greece will remain forever the perennial beggar of Europe.

Nevertheless, recent history has provided us with many examples where winning coalitions broke down because the economy imploded. These states were the ex-communist countries of Eastern Europe. The European Union managed well in integrating these countries into the Union, and transforming their economies. Germany, in particular, has accumulated much experience in transforming, and absorbing East Germany into the Federal Republic. It is this kind of experience that must be brought to bear unto Greece now. I believe that ultimately it will. Greece cannot be left behind, because if it does it will continue to cause instability in the European Union. Greece must become competitive. Which means that the current model of government will have to change.

A new Greece is born

Lector caveat: this is a fantasy tale. After one hundred and eighty years of pointlessly trying to emulate a western-type state, Greeks decide to face up to their true cultural facts. They are not children of the European Enlightenment, or the Renaissance. Nevertheless, they are democratic and communal. So in a historical referendum they vote to abolish the central State. Henceforth, Greece will be made up of cantons where citizens will practice a mix of representational and direct democracy. A national government with only three ministries will continue to exist: a ministry for national defense, for managing natural disasters and security and a foreign ministry. All other ministries and public organizations are abolished, or absorbed in the local canton governments.

Cantons are at liberty to pursue their own political choices. They are independent. They do not get finance from any central government. They have their own budgets and tax systems. Some cantons, where the influence of the Left is strong, decide to follow socialist models of governance. There is at least one canton where the Communist Party has formed a government. Other cantons liberalize and go for free markets.

As cantons are free to choose their way of economic and social development Greeks begin to experiment, for the first time since the Hellenistic era. Innovation flourishes and attracts bright minds from around the world, who come to work or set up their businesses in Greece.