Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, gave an interview to the Guardian last Friday. In it, she offered some advice to the people of Greece. A succinct summation: “Stop whining.”
She says that when she thinks of the Greeks, she has sympathy for their plight, but: “Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all these people who are trying to escape tax all the time.” And there is greater sympathy for the absolutely poor: “I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time.”
Lagarde does not in the least resemble my mother, except in one thing: When, as a child, I would whine “I don’t like it” about food she had prepared, she had a stock reply: “There’s some wee boy in Africa that would be glad of that!” (I would have been glad if he had had it – my mother was fond of tripe and couldn’t grasp my hatred of it.)
Lagarde is on the same track as my mother: Remember, in your refusal, that there are many who are infinitely worse off than you. Lagarde’s target was ostensibly Greece, but her real aim was at the countries of the West, including her own, that in the last two decades have luxuriated twice. First, in being the victors in the Cold War, as they watched their systems of a free market and democratic politics be judged superior by erstwhile enemies. Later, in enjoying a boom which, with blips, saw all boats rise, even as the super-yachts rose (and rise still) further and faster than the smaller craft.
Put simply – and in the welter of competing complexities with which we, especially those of us in Europe, are confronted, something should be simply put – the West, and particularly most of Europe, has made its beds too soft; and now no one can lie on them. We must exchange fluffy for harder, thinner mattresses, and we must hope it will be good for us.