Roger Cohen's New York Times column today, "Why Greece is Not Weimar," includes an interesting counterfactual observation.
After ominously asserting that Greece's "national humiliation, economic disaster, high immigration, political division and international tutelage" bear striking similarities to the conditions of Weimar Germany -- especially in light of the rise of the neo-Nazi political party, Golden Dawn, which is now the third largest in the country -- he proceeds to offer a counterfactual claim of consolation, writing:
"I have little doubt that if Greece were not part of the European Union, with the protection and example afforded by this much maligned democratic club, it would have tumbled into catastrophe by now, much as a humiliated Germany did after 1918. Europe has been Greece’s protector even as the single euro currency has been its tormentor....Through Europe, Greece has been saved from the fate of Weimar....It is critical to recall that the Union is Europe’s surest safeguard against the Continent’s darkest hours."
Cohen is correct that the EU's bailouts of Greece (totaling 240 billion Euros thus far) have kept the country from descending further into chaos. But he overlooks the fact that the EU (and especially Germany) has hardly been blameless for Greece's troubles. Whether Germany's violation of the EU agreed-upon limit of yearly borrowing of no more than 3% of GDP (which set the stage for Greece's own later violation of the limit) or its refusal to repay loans made under duress by the Greeks to Germany during World War II (which is hypocritical given the forgiveness of Germany's own massive debts after the war), not to mention to massive lending of French and German banks to Greek borrowers, Europe has also been partly responsible for Greece's current crisis.
Counterfactuals can make us grateful that things aren't worse. But we should not forget that they can also help us recognize that things could also be better.