May 19, 2010 4:00 A.M.
The Technocrats’ New Clothes
Climategate, the Icelandic volcano, the Greek meltdown — suddenly the bureaucratic Masters of the Universe don’t look so omnipotent.
In the last year, many of the dreams of an emerging international elite have imploded — and this, in a new century that was to usher in a regime of global liberal ecumenism.
The lies and academic fraud of Climategate reminded us that it is almost impossible for even disinterested scientists to fathom the complex history of global climate change. But it also — and more importantly — reminded us how Western universities have turned into rigid medieval centers of intolerant orthodoxy. Our new academic monks, in their isolated sanctuaries — cut off by grants, subsidies, tenure, and cadres of obsequious graduate students from the grubby efforts of others to stay alive — have for years breezily issued all sorts of near-religious exegeses and edicts about the public’s ruination of the planet. We lesser folk were supposed to find salvation through installing windmills and junking our incandescent light bulbs under the tutelage of wiser overseers.
Meanwhile, in the last few weeks, nature did what no human industry had ever quite done — shut down much of European airspace with a huge toxic cloud. But the mess was not a DuPont emission, or soot from Eastern Europe’s network of coal plants, or any such man-caused disaster, but the work of a prosaic volcano. The ensuing economic chaos and toxic air pollution were accepted with a shrug in that they were natural and had nothing to do with Halliburton.
Another dream — the European Union — is also imploding. Beneath the hysteria over Greece is a simple truth: All the capital that Germany piled up over the last 20 years through its export-driven economy was never really there; it must now be forfeited to those who borrowed from Germany in order to buy from Germany. In some sense, if a taxi driver in the Peloponnese drove a Mercedes beyond the reach of most Americans, it was not because of his capital-creating productivity, but rather because of his country’s ability to lure the Germans into lending Greece euros at nearly nonexistent interest.
For decades we were lectured about the EU’s nuanced practice of “soft power,” and we were told how life was at last good when one garnered cradle-to-grave government entitlements, retired early, and expected American arms to protect and German money to subsidize the collective borrowing binge. Apparently because Europeans did not drawl and go to church, we were supposed to believe that they had reinvented finance, and loans could be floated rather than paid back.
In 2009, the vision of the new Obama administration was European: foreign-policy triangulation, government takeovers of private enterprises, higher taxes, more entitlements and public workers, and always more “them/us” class-warfare rhetoric from members of a technocratic guardian class who had played the very system they were now to oversee. Apparently Obama’s high-level appointees — from Timothy Geithner to Van Jones — thought they were our versions of Brussels bureaucrats, who could say and do anything with no need to worry about popular reaction.
Then came the Greek meltdown. The music of this parlor game stopped, and all the poor players standing — German banks, anonymous bondholders, EU technocrats, Greek politicians and public unions — lunged for the far too few seats.