Acropolis Now

5 minute read
Joel Stein

Every few decades it falls upon an American to save Europe: Woodrow Wilson in 1917, FDR in 1941, Reagan in 1987 and now me. I come to the job having saved many things, including a lot of aluminum foil that I made into a pretty large ball in the 1980s. I’ve saved my career in ways so surprising, the journalistic community has referred to it as failing up. I also saved my marriage after I called my wife the C word. I’d like to see Angela Merkel pull that off.

Americans have gotten lame at bossing Europe around, like we had forgotten both the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine and the fact that most of these countries have parliaments with porn stars in them. We need to put Europe in its place. Which I think is northeast of Asia and maybe south-north of Africa. Americans don’t have to know geography. Because other than one regrettable instance, we don’t kill one another over borders. Even then, we don’t get unnecessarily specific. We just lump groups into “North” and “South.”

After decades of study, starting with a boyhood trip to Orlando, I have figured out that a perfect Europe would look exactly like Epcot: a bunch of slightly different restaurants that all accept the same brightly colored currency and have hostesses who say hello in a native language and then talk to you in English. So far, all the European Union has been able to do is the currency part. Also, Epcot has a reasonable five European countries, but actual Europe has 49. In their desperate attempt to become the U.S., they added members faster than cheap 1980s jacket manufacturers. We’ve got to get it down below 10. Not everything really counts as “Europe.” No one brags to her friends, “After college, I’m going to get a Eurail pass and bum around in Yerevan!” There are no great New York City restaurants serving $30 Albanian harapash. No liberal says, after a Democratic sex scandal, “Why can’t the U.S. have a less uptight attitude about sexuality, like in Malta?”

Next, you take the southern countries–Italy, Spain, Portugal–and you make a rule that as soon as men hit 21, they can see their mothers only once a week. You can’t have a productive society in which every adult male still lives at home, having his meals cooked and laundry done for him. Plus, it’s hard to have a growing economy when the average European couple has only 1.5 kids. And it’s hard to even have 1.5 kids when your mom can hear you having sex in the room next door.

Also, no one in southern Europe feels like they have to pay taxes. It’s like an entire region of New Hampshirites. Also, the unemployment rate in Sicily is way too high. You can solve two problems at once by making every tax collector Sicilian. By the end of the year, you’ll not only have no debt crisis but no more annoying street demonstrations about it either.

But most important, the northern countries have to stop whining about bailing out the southern ones and just send regular checks to Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. That’s how every economy works: the rich parts give the poor parts money so they can buy their stuff. Milan sends money to Naples; Beijing sends money to the provinces; PEOPLE magazine sends money to TIME. In America, we’re happy to send the South cash so people there can buy our industrial goods, and in return, we watch them play professional sports. The Germans need to realize that they have a similar trade-off going: the euro allows the Greeks to afford Volkswagens, and in return, every time they go to the beach, they have to look at sunburned, fat Germans in Speedos. You try to eat feta cheese after that.

Fairness, which is what the northern Europeans demand, is the rallying cry of idiots. A world that is fair–where everyone pays the same dollar amount in taxes, Jay Leno is off the air and my book outsells Fifty Shades of Grey–is unfortunately not as efficient. Game theory demands that you take what you can even if it doesn’t seem just. Yelling at the Greeks to work more and retire later isn’t going to do any good. It’s a very normal cycle for countries to achieve something big and then lazily enjoy their accomplishments. Only with the Greeks it’s been going on for nearly 2,200 years. Since the Fourth Macedonian War, their only accomplishment has been making yogurt taste a tiny bit better.

Yes, there are short-term fixes to the European debt crisis–take all of the European Central Bank’s money and short Facebook; lower the price of gas so that people use European roads; build a film industry that makes movies where things actually happen–but Europe needs radical, political, continent-building change. Because when these people squabble about anything–inflation, archduke murders, electrical-outlet shapes–the world suffers. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to learn the names of all those currencies again.

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