Before Brexit, of course, there was Grexit: the possibility, one year ago, that Greeks defying the will of E.U. bureaucrats bankers would fall right out of Europe. Yanis Varoufakis was the finance minister of Greece’s radical left government ...
Before Brexit, of course, there was Grexit: the possibility, one year ago, that Greeks defying the will of E.U. bureaucrats bankers would fall right out of Europe.
Yanis Varoufakis was the finance minister of Greece’s radical left government during that heady summer of 2015. He got famous first for his flair: open shirt, shaved head, and motorcycle jacket — but then really famous for playing chicken with his nations’ creditors in Brussels and Berlin.
His line was that Greece could not and should not be forced to take on huge new loans to pay off bad old ones as a price of staying in the European Union. “Fiscal waterboarding” he called it: periods of intense austerity that crippled the Greek economy in exchange for bailout money that went to big banks.
See Varoufakis and Tsipras in Paul Mason‘s film about the Greek crisis:
Greek voters loved him, but his prime minister, Alexis Tsipras,rolled over in the crunch. Varoufakis lost his battle and gave up his ministry, but the third phase of his fame had just begun — as the exceptional political figure who could articulate in principled defeat the brutal logic of finance for finance’s sake. He is more visible than ever in politics this summer as the leading figure of the pan-European democracy movement known as “DiEM 25.”
He’s at it in the US in book form, his title drawn from the inhuman code of Athens’ ancient warfare with Sparta: “the strong do what they want,” meaning today the banks and the rich; “and the weak suffer what they must.” On the cover of his book, he adds a question mark. In the book, Varoufakis argues that the fight for the glorious European project — England’s Brexit vote against union is part of it, he says — between the spirit of democracy and the power of wealth.
This year’s American electoral shakeup sends us looking for deeper economic tremors. Unemployment is down to 4.9%, even as discouraged workers are reentering the market and the average hourly wage rose 7 cents. “More good ...
This year’s American electoral shakeup sends us looking for deeper economic tremors. Unemployment is down to 4.9%, even as discouraged workers are reentering the market and the average hourly wage rose 7 cents. “More good news,” says The Atlantic.
But retail spending and consumer confidence remain low — as if the recovery were less solid than it appears.
Our guest, the journalist and reader Paul Mason, has a thought. He looks at the present Western economy — defined by global trade, bygone unions, knowledge work, and high finance, of Davos, TED Talks, and creative disruption — and finds a glitch, a transitional crisis long in arriving.
Can our global system keep going without a reworking for the Internet age? Or is Mason’s “post-capitalism” an idea whose time has come?
The Tom Frank take
In preparation for this week’s show, we spoke with Thomas Frank, author of Listen, Liberal: Or What Happened to the Party of thePeople.He points to the Clinton era as neoliberalism’s crystallizing moment:
On Sunday, 62% of Greek votes, encouraged by their radical-left prime minister, Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party, registered a desperation “no” vote to a swap of further fiscal tightening at home for debt relief from its ...
On Sunday, 62% of Greek votes, encouraged by their radical-left prime minister, Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party, registered a desperation “no” vote to a swap of further fiscal tightening at home for debt relief from its European creditors. The night of the vote ended in celebrations in Athens’ central Syntagma Square.
But just before showtime on Thursday night, the story shifted with a jolt: after much posturing, Tsipras and the Greek delegation capitulated to many of their creditors’ demands in hopes of staying in the Euro. Syriza’s turn from defiance to compliance may leave the millions of “no” voters — part of what our guest Richard Parker calls a global “neglectorate” — feeling more discouraged than ever before. But it remains to be seen how the Greece situation will shake out.
Mark Blyth wasn’t so convinced that what looked like a final surrender of the radical left in Greece was anything more than one more kick of the can down the road of untenable austerity economics in Europe — one headed for a ‘breakdown’:
I think I recall looking at the BBC website yesterday and happening upon a link that said, “June 23: Greeks at final last stop.” And here we are again. So a proposal has been submitted, which seems to be a bit of capitulation, but it hasn’t been accepted yet. And there has to be the other side of that trade: are they going to get anything back? Because if not, we’re simply doing a rerun of where we were before we had the referendum. And if that’s the case, then there’s going to be a breakdown. We’ve had a situation where the European Central Bank has been squeezing the Greek banks to make sure that by Friday, everyone’s sufficiently freaked out to have them sign whatever they want. But that’s exactly the type of tactics that backfired and brought 61% of people out to vote no. So I’m far from convinced that we’re at the end of the road…
It’s very similar to the Scottish independence referendum. Let me tell you why. If you break this down, the really dramatic thing is the way the different age groups voted. So I saw a poll for Greece, 12 hours before they actually took the vote. 71% of people under 35 were going to vote no. So all the older people are gonna vote yes. The exact same thing happened when they took the Scottish referendum — why? If you’re old, and you’ve got a lot of assets, you don’t want uncertainty over those assets. You don’t want your nice Euro-denominated house to suddenly be new drachmas. If, however, you’ve been through hell and back over the past five years — you’re asset-negative, you’re up to your eyes in debt, and you’re unemployed — asset uncertainty is somebody else’s problem. I’m going to vote no. You have this generational split on top of lots of different asset splits, and that’s the way this worked out.
We do know that those young Greeks are the ones want out of an economic dive as long and painful as our Great Depression. Watch the six-year change in unemployment: in America, 1929 to 1934, versus Greece, 2009 – 2015.
In March 1933, four years into the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt signed the first unemployment relief legislation through “useful public work.” No such luck in Greece: in the poorest Athenian neighborhoods, joblessness has topped 60% this year, and last year at least 1 in 10 Greek children was suffering food insecurity. Hundreds of thousands of well-educated Greeks have left the country, and the future seems to hold only more misery.
Our guest Mark Blyth declared in January that we’re watching the all-but-Homeric battle of austerity and democracy on the southern edge of the Eurozone, where deep budget cuts have become the only possible solution to economic shock. Blyth and our guest, the translator and Europe-watcher Arthur Goldhammer, are concerned about the blowback of EU overreach — not on the left but on the right:
For those who fear Syriza and its left-wing counterparts, it is worth looking at the alternatives on the radical right. From Britain to Hungary, political parties—whose ideology spans the spectrum from the explicitly Nazi (the Golden Dawn in Greece) to the nationalist–populist (the United Kingdom Independence Party and the French National Front)—are busy working to channel public anger in a different direction. Harkening back to Europe’s darkest days, they translate negotiable conflicts over economic policy into non-negotiable conflicts over ethnic identity. They attack European integration even more than the left-wing parties, question the democratic rights of existing citizens, and fan the flames of xenophobia toward ethnic minorities and immigrants. If Europe’s ruling elites want to save the European project, and the Euro at the heart of it, they need to start actively engaging with democratic left-wing parties such as Syriza and Podemos rather than shunning them. If they don’t, they will drive some of these parties into volatile left–right alliances, or, if they fail in their mandates, leave the stage open to political forces whose goals will be far more radical than mere debt restructuring and opposition to austerity.
And Richard Parker— a sage of politics at home and abroad, who once advised George Papandreou and his PASOK party — offers a diagnosis of global democracy: big, bruising institutions, public and private, have created an international “neglectorate” that’s mad as hell and in resistance. Parker hears that voice in on the left and the right, in the Greek no! and the Irish yes! to same-sex marriage, and in the rise of political outsiders sounding the alarm here in America — from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
The last piece of tape we have to Ingrid Rowland, an American art historian based in Rome and a prolific contributor to The New York Review of Books. She told us of a striking performance of Aeschylus’ early drama, The Suppliants, in the ancient Greek theater at Syracuse in Sicily. It seemed to speak to every corner of the European questions at issue: migration, debt, welcome and power. Here’s a trailer for that play:
Tell us: what do you make of the Greek decision to vote “no”? Were you surprised at the decision to sign on to the austerity package after all? what’s up ahead for embattled Europe? Do you feel neglected, and what referendum would you have us all vote yes/no on: bank bailouts, fossil fuels, drones, etc.?