Historically, birth and death can look like the same thing.
In fact they often are the same thing. If you were a royalist, the French Revolution was death. If you were a democrat it looked like birth. In fact it was the death of the 18th century and, in many ways, the birth of the modern world.
Every big event in history is the start of something new. The fall of the Berlin Wall wasn't the “end of history.” It was the start of a new chapter. In many ways, a better chapter. A chapter that took 20 years to open because Americans were so wrapped up in their Cold War mentality that their first reaction was to start another war, ironically against religious extremism little different from what our own system was harboring.
Europe has done much the same thing. They created economic integration piecemeal, half-assed. Their struggle now is to finish the job.
The Euro had a scam at its center. The scam was that the profligate could go on being that way, and that in exchange they'd become captive markets for the frugal. Both sides were in on the scam.
That scam is over. The profligate can't go on being profligate any more. But the frugal can't just walk away. The frugal need to step in and take responsibility.
And that's the birth pain. A new, even more economically integrated Europe, is being born from the ashes of the old phony order. And you can argue that it was all deliberate on the part of European elites, who have wanted a more united Europe for two generations now, one in which nations become states and central control is exercised through finance.
Now, I don't think that's a great model. I think it's an interim step toward modernity, just as China's system is, in fact, an interim step toward modernity. Mandarins make mistakes. Bureaucracies aren't flexible enough to respond to change. Setting a huge, modern complex state out into the world is going to require more flexibility than bureaucrats or Mandarins can deliver. At the end of the day, it's going to take popular buy-in, a system of government in which people can dump their leaders regularly, and in which the power of every leader is circumscribed, limited, not absolute.
That doesn't mean America wins. Our Constitution was created in order to further the interests of slavery, and was only slightly amended when slavery collapsed. No other democracy works this way, for just that reason. The American political system is not as flexible as it could be, but that's another story for another time.
For now the question is Europe. And the goal is to create financial institutions that will integrate the Euro zone's economies so that increased, continent-wide democracy becomes the logical next step. Markets are the most flexible form of democracy, albeit crude, tending toward monopoly, requiring periodic adjustments from the people they are meant to serve.
All this gets real complicated real fast. Which is why what is happening in Greece and Italy right now looks so messy. But all the countries in Europe are spinning together now, in one vortex. Pulling that apart is more unthinkable than any possible solution financiers and politicians might create.
And the ultra-nationalists now raving about are part of the push for a solution, too. They're minorities, seeking to grab for themselves (and their countries) what can't be grabbed back, namely full sovereignty. The economic ties bind too strongly for the ultras to win, but their pressure is yet-another push toward finding a solution.
That solution will be for the frugal to take responsibility for the profligate, for Germans and others of like mind to essentially take over these profligate economies, and put them through the kinds of restructuring that will let them grow again.
It's what I predict will happen. But it's going to look very messy. Because birth and death look so much alike.