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Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

The Melian Dialogue in Thucydides has been of interest to game theorists since the earliest development of the field; it was discussed on several occasions by John von Neumann, generally accepted founder of this approach, and it appears in the work of a leading game theorist like Thomas Schelling. It’s entirely understandable: the dialogue presents two sides in a high-stakes, zero-sum conflict, pursuing very different strategies with a limited number of possible outcomes, and – if you want to push the boundaries of game theory a bit further, it also offers interesting examples of how each side seeks to anticipate and influence the decision-making of the other, and raises some fundamental questions of rationality. I fully expect to find lots of other examples when I have time to pursue this theme in depth, but for today I want to focus on one case of a game theoretical discussion of the Dialogue, written by the current Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (1997; revised version 2014: 262-83). It is in itself an interesting reading of the situation, in relation both to Thucydides and to the normal assumptions of game theory, but there are also some striking implications for the current negotiations between Greece and the EU, especially Germany, which I will consider in the final section. (more…)

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Apologies yet again for the lack of posts, not least the lack of a continuation of the User’s Guide to Thucydides (just start at the beginning, folks, and at some point I’ll get round to telling you when you can begin skipping tedious accounts of maritime manoeuvres to get onto one of the famous set-piece episodes), but I remain horribly busy – and am now wary of writing much here because of the number of people who could legitimate send me annoyed emails, demanding to know why I’m doing this instead of getting on with the chapters I was supposed to have submitted months ago. However, the latest twist in the use of classical analogies in characterising the Eurozone crisis seemed too good to miss: Larry Elliott in this morning’s Grauniad, describing the German attitude in current negotiations as offering Greece a Carthaginian peace. That is: surrender absolutely and without conditions, or we’ll wipe you off the face of the earth anyway. (more…)

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One of the hazards of studying references to Thucydides in contemporary public debate is that, after a while, you start to anticipate them, and develop pre-emptive analysis. Clearly there are people who can’t see an international crisis without thinking of a Peloponnesian War analogy; I seem to be turning into someone who can’t see an international crisis without thinking of what Peloponnesian War analogy these people are likely to think of – which occasionally means I end up drawing parallels that no one else bothers to develop. (more…)

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A couple of weeks ago I commented on the fact that Thucydides had been cited as part of a critique of German/EU policy towards Greece and its debt crisis, and made a disparaging comparison with the conviction of long-disregarded political economist and Thucydides worshipper Wilhelm Roscher that he’d learnt as much about economics from Thucydides as from any other author. I really must stop being so condescending; two references in one week to Thucydides on economics suggests that he may indeed be the authority on absolutely everything that many people assume.

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The list of topics on which Thucydides is believed to have something useful to say never gets any shorter; last week, an online columnist on economic matters for the Daily Telegraph, who’s been consistently critical of the German stance towards Greece, posted a large chunk of the Melian Dialogue (what else?) with the words “I have nothing further to add. Draw your own conclusions.” (weblink; many thanks to Dan Tompkins for this).

My initial reaction to the idea that Thucydides might be a useful authority on sovereign debt and the problems of the Eurozone was faint incredulity. For all the protestations of Wilhelm Roscher, the nineteenth-century ‘Thucydides of political economy’, that he had learnt as much about economic matters from him as from any modern theorist, there is simply nothing in the History that remotely resembles economic thought; Roscher is right to claim that ‘in all eight books of his work, as far as I can see there is no error of political economy to be found’ – because nothing at all is said on the subject. It’s like the anecdote. recorded by Reinhart Koselleck, in which the Prussian minister for finance is persuaded to change his policy with this line: ‘Privy Councillor, do you not remember that Thucydides tells of the evils that followed from the circulation of too much paper money in Athens?’ Only the most deluded believer in Thucydides’ absolute authority, whose knowledge of the actual text was shaky in the extreme, would fall for it. (more…)

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