The outlook for the sale today of three- and nine-year bonds by the government of Portugal is still cloudy, but late-breaking news that Japan has committed to buy bonds from the European bailout fund and that the Portuguese deficit has actually declined in the face of self-imposed austerity measures may betoken a turnaround for Europe’s southwesternmost country.

EUIn a November 16, 2010 speech, European Union President Herman Van Rompuy warned that the eurozone economic crisis threatened the very existence of the EU. “We’re in a survival crisis,” Van Rompuy said. “We all have to work together in order to survive with the euro zone, because if we don’t survive with the euro zone we will not survive with the European Union.”

German sociologist and political economist Max Weber once defined a state as an institution that “successfully upholds a claim on the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence in the enforcement of its order.” States, of course, prefer not to be thought of in such terms, so they generally couch their employment of force in less threatening phrases, such as “helping the poor” rather than “robbing the rich,” creating “collateral damage” rather than “murdering innocents,” or even (as Bill Clinton would have it) “accepting contributions” rather than “collecting taxes.” Let someone get in the state’s way, however, and the velvet glove comes off, revealing the iron fist underneath.

New year, new crisis. For the beleaguered, once-independent nations of Europe now entangled in the eurozone, the economic drama unfolding in Portugal this week looks woefully familiar. According to the latest speculations in the financial press, the Portuguese government is now under pressure from other European governments to accept a bailout from the EU, much like what happened with Ireland last fall. As with Ireland, Portugal is now denying the need for any bailout, insisting that she can solve her own problems with spending cuts, tax hikes, and other budgetary modifications.

Everybody curses the taxman, but there is a new category of taxpayers in Romania that just might know how to really do it.

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