The economic crisis in Greece has been so much at the forefront of the news that I’m not even going to try to provide thorough links to examples. A couple interesting points come up in the conversation about Greece. On BBC’s World Have Your Say, host Ros Atkins asked whether people in the US found the conversation to be relevant to them. Professors Backhouse and Bateman wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times on the absence of the grand narrative analyses of economic systems.

For my own part, I have attempted to maintain an understanding of the grand economic theories as they are applied by governments and institutions. In that sense, my interest is primarily in the implementation and outcomes of these economic systems. To be sure, I do envision global economic relationships in a way that is heavily influenced by world systems theory and dependency theory, among other conceptualizations – the representation of power in economics is necessary to understand the nature of regional geopolitics. Hegemony also is a key concept for me. At the same time, current research in history repeatedly reminds us of the ways that people (and governments) work outside the bounds of the system (dominated by others) to achieve their own ends.

We are talking a lot about Greece, and it is clear that the fate Greece and of the Euro is intimately connected to the US. We saw that when the housing bubble collapsed, which seems to have kicked of the current economic instability in Europe – just saying. But overwhelmingly our focus is on the core / developed / industrialized nations. It is, I think, significant that the most core /developed / industrialized nations have all followed the same course in which finance has been understood as a leading high tech industry. Significantly, there is no tangible product that finance produces, so of course the most funktastic mathematics have prevailed – we have been measuring abstract success, not a tangible outcome. So it’s no surprise that some people cheated  employed creative arithmetic to achieve the appearance of success. Even for those with the most advantage, the development models don’t seem to be working.

This is the other side of the grand narrative coin – if someone develops a narrative that tries to explain the processes that brought us to a certain point, someone else will inevitably apply that explanation as a teleological template for bringing about the same result. This is certainly true of economic development theories, at least. Dialectics became a template for the evolution of capitalism, and at some point that notion conjoined with a methodological nationalism. Keynes laid the groundwork for theories of development that the US would promote throughout Latin America, in the wake of WWII and the Cold War, that were equally intertwined with ideas of western government and ideology. When these proved devastating – if not economically then certainly in light of the social catastrophes of the 1970s and 80s in Latin America – we moved on to a new set of economic ideas hinging on neoliberalism and free trade. Perhaps the biggest difference between these current economic constructs and those of the 20th century is that free trade has arguably hurt the US economy as much as anyone else’s. Free trade certainly perpetuates into the 21st century the resource extraction that has been the basis of the regional economic relationships since the 19th century, but it also incorporated the maquiladoras and mechanized industry into the bargain. Even as the global financial institutions seem to recognize the failings of early versions of their neoliberal mandates, they don’t seem to have identified an alternate trajectory. Perhaps this is the absence of an economic doctrine to which the two professors refer. After all, the IMF is apparently going to be the arbiter of Italy’s recovery – significant if only in that the IMF is not usually heavily involved in the developed economies. Yet it seems unlikely that the development of a new doctrine will profoundly change the way nations and institutions enjoin global economic relationships.

Any real grand narrative would then necessarily be an analysis of how different methods of development and economy merge at a global level, and how those relationships are formed and maintained. The US has many representatives in the global market, from individuals who participate in global institutions, to government representatives who forge trade agreements, to corporations and individuals who compete in the global market. Even as those actors shape the market, they are also shaped by it in a reciprocal relationship. Depending on unique situations within a nation or a locality, the effects of the same events in the global market can vary widely, with different economic and political outcomes. Certainly, political and economic outcomes are linked. In the 20th century, civil wars contested economic ideology and political representation. Today, criminal networks bloom where government is weak – and government is weak where local economies cannot support government infrastructure. In the rising economies, that blend of poor infrastructure and weak government combine with crime and corruption, and those problems – and their solutions – are distinct from those the more developed economies face, like credit and debt bubbles. While grand economic narratives can describe the relationship(s) between nations, it must also convey the way in which unique problems and barriers shape those relationships in a reciprocal relationship between individuals, communities, local governments, through national governments and institutions to the global market and its related institutions, as well as the relationship between the variations in economic and political forms.