Today is the public trading debut of FACEBOOK, and the money networks are all a-twitter (sorry…).
Mark Zuckerberg deserves credit for changing people’s lives. Clearly, from the amount of time my daughter spends on Facebook, it is a big attraction for many people. Whether he can monetize it as effectively as Google has monetized its web engine remains to be seen, but I wish him well.
Some people also give credit to Facebook, Twitter, and the web more generally for changing the world through its impact on popular mobilization, particularly in the Middle East, underpinning the Arab Spring.
Yet we have seen how little good the internet has done for the opposition in Syria, (or in 2009 in Iran), against a determined authoritarian regime that retains command of its armed forces and the loyalty of its elites. It was the Army in Egypt, not the internet, that got rid of Hosni Mubarak, and the Army is still clinging to power. It was NATO, not the internet, that got rid of Moammar Ghaddafi in Libya. In Syria, with its regime strongly reinforced by Iran and most of the elite still sitting on the fence or leaning toward staying with the Assad regime, we will not have an internet revolution or any kind of revolution until the international community demonstrates that it is willing to give material support and cover to Syria’s opposition.
Meanwhile, the real financial story is the slow-motion but accelerating collapse of Greece, Spanish banks, Italian finances, and the Euro. (Italy’s GDP figures came in weaker than expected, and Italy’s GDP is now 7% BELOW its level of Q1 2008. That is not a recovery.)
Neither Spain nor Italy, much less Greece, can repay their debts and get their finances under control without a return to strong economic growth. Yet government austerity policies are simply pushing growth further away, without reducing the ever-growing drag from burdensome debts. Years have now been spent moving in the wrong direction, heading for a cliff, which is now so close that momentum is likely to carry these countries over the edge. The losers will be the ordinary people of southern Europe, who have already lost jobs and businesses, and will soon lose their savings as well.
Bashar al-Assad in Syria, oddly, is perhaps the real winner from the European crisis. The crisis is distracting Europe from other matters of importance, and preventing it from using any muscle to influence international events. So despite entering the Facebook era, Assad can smile, knowing that the bigger economic story — the self-destruction of the Euro and several European economies — will have a greater impact on his survival than new tools for the web.