Wilderness firefighters have an interesting survival technique
to gain safety from an approaching blaze. If a firefighter is surrounded
by burning grass and trees in every direction, with no safe place to run, they
can start a small fire to the brush directly in front of them. This small
blaze will consume all of the flammable material near them, creating a small
oasis - an escape fire- while the bigger, uncontrolled wildfire ultimately
passes them by. The idea of using controlled burns to establish fire lines
and safe zones – where the contagion of wildfire will not spread – is a key
technique for controlling and containing fire in forests and grasslands all
over the world.
I started thinking about this technique quite frequently as
I watched Greece’s financial failure accelerate this weekend with bank closures,
capital controls, limited currency, and skyrocketing interest rates.
Apparently, Greek Prime Minister Tsipras declined to inform his creditors that
he was going to ignore their previously negotiated positions and instead offer
their proposals as a voting referendum to the Greek public in a week, all the
while passionately encouraging the Greek people to vote “No” on the Troika’s
(the IMF, ECB, and EC) proposal. Framing the debate for greater austerity
as a vote to the people is an intellectually dishonest fallback position for
the embattled Prime Minister. He’s been so sure of his mandate from the
Greeks that he really doesn’t need to reestablish it so soon, a mere six months
into office. The ECB is trying to communicate that a “no” vote means an
exit for the Euro; the fact that the ECB must make this observation explicit is
proof that a significant number of Greek public doesn’t understand the
ramifications of the referendum.
Moreover, the timing of the resolution was placed in such a
way as to virtually guarantee a default. I’m sure his hope was for the
Troika to give Greece another loan extension, but he miscalculated. The
creditors are no longer threatened by a wildfire in Greece spreading to other
at-risk countries. The European Union may not last forever, but Greece
will not start the fire that ends the Euro. The fire lines are up, and
Greece has struck a blaze that will only burn itself.