Greece


 

I can’t remember the last time I posted an article by someone else (in
its entirety) on Dark Side of the Moon. But here one is, by Zoe Williams of the
Guardian UK that I feel should be read as widely as possible:
The moral
crusade against Greece must be opposed
Zoe Williams, Guardian UK, June 28, 2015
The idea that Greece partly deserves
its fate reflects an order in which wealth trumps democracy. We should fight a
narrative that enfeebles us all 
 ‘This is our political alternative to neoliberalism and to the neoliberal
process of European integration: democracy, more democracy and even deeper
democracy,” said Alexis Tsipras on 18 January 2014 in a debate organised by the
Dutch Socialist party in Amersfoort. Now the moment of deepest democracy looms,
as the Greek people go to the polls on Sunday
to vote for or against the next round of austerity.
Unfortunately, Sunday’s choice will
be between endless austerity and immediate chaos. As comfortable as it is to
argue from the sidelines that maybe Grexit in the medium term won’t hurt as
much as 30 years’ drag on GDP from swingeing repayments, no sane person wants
either. The vision that Syriza swept to power on was that
if you spoke truth to the troika plainly and in broad daylight, they would have
to acknowledge that austerity was suffocating Greece.

They have acknowledged no such
thing. Whatever else one could say about the handling of the crisis, and
whatever becomes of the euro, Sunday will be the moment that unstoppable
democracy meets immovable supra-democracy. The Eurogroup has already won: the
Greek people can vote any way they like – but what they want, they cannot have.
On Saturday the Eurogroup broke with
its tradition of unanimity, issuing a petulant statement
“supported by all members except the Greek member”. Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek
finance minister, sought legal advice on whether the group was allowed to
exclude him, and received the extraordinary reply:
“The Eurogroup is an informal group. Thus it is not bound by treaties or
written regulations. While unanimity is conventionally adhered to, the
Eurogroup president is not bound to explicit rules.” Or, to put it another way:
“We never had any accountability in the first place, sucker.”
More striking still is this line of
the statement: “The Eurogroup has been open until the very last moment to
further support the Greek people through a continued growth-oriented
programme.” The measures enforced by the troika have created an economic
contraction akin to that caused by war. With unemployment at 25% and youth
unemployment at nearly half, 40% of children now live below the poverty line.
The latest offer to Greece promises more of the same. The idea that any of this
is oriented towards growth is demonstrably false. The Eurogroup president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, has started
to assert that black is white.
And that brings us to the crux of
the troika’s programme: what is the point of reducing this country to rubble?
The stated intention at the start of the austerity package was to restore
order: allow Greece to take a short hit to its GDP in the
interests of building a stronger, more balanced economy in the long run. As it
became clear that growth was not restored and that even on its own terms – the
creditor must come first – the plan was failing, the line changed. It became a
moral crusade, a collective punishment of the Greeks.
At the moment, Germany knows best.
How do we know they know best? Because they are the richest.
In 2012 the head of the IMF,
Christine Lagarde, said in an interview with this newspaper, “Do
you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those
people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece
who are trying to escape tax. And I think they should also help themselves
collectively.” How? “By all paying their tax.” At the time, it sounded strange:
how, in a country of cripplingly high unemployment, with whole families living
off the depleted income of one pensioner, was the answer going to come from
tax?
She was offering not a solution but
a narrative: the Greeks were in this situation because they were bad people.
They wanted a beneficent state, but they didn’t want to pool their resources to
create one. The IMF was merely the instrument of a discipline they dearly
needed. This line has broadly held – the debtors are presented as morally
weaker than the creditors. To give them any concessions would be to reward
their laziness and selfishness. The fact that debt is a two-way street – that
the returns on debt exist because of the risk that the money might be lost, and
creditors have their own moral duty to accept losses when they arise – is
erased by this telling of the events.
Also airbrushed out of that story is
what the late economist Wynne Godley called (in 1992!) the
“lacuna in the Maastricht programme”: that while its single-currency proposal
made provision for a central bank, it had nothing to say on the matter of what
would replace the democratic institutions – the national governments whose
power, once they had no control over their own currency, would be limited. Now
we have our answer: the strongest takes control. At the moment, Germany knows
best. How do we know they know best? Because they are the richest. The euro was
founded on the idea that the control of currency was apolitical. It has
destroyed that myth, and taken democracy down with it.
These talks did not fail by
accident. The Greeks have to be humiliated, because the alternative – of
treating them as equal parties or “adults”, as Lagarde wished them to be
– would lead to a debate about the Eurogroup: what its foundations are, what
accountability would look like, and what its democratic levers are – if indeed
it has any. Solidarity with Greece means everyone, in and outside the single
currency, forcing this conversation: the country is being sacrificed to
maintain a set of delusions that enfeebles us all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *