Being Greek and an Economist While Greece Burns: An intimate account
In November 2013, economist Yanis Varoufakis delivered the keynote address at a conference in Indiana of U.S.-based academics, the Modern Greek Studies Association (MGSA, see transcript and audio at the link). He condemned austerity for impoverishing the Greek people. He attributed the Greek situation to global capitalism and bad European policy. Above all, he attacked his own disciplne, economics, as the pseudo-science of a crazed priesthood who are destroying the world. You may say: So? Sounds like any meeting of OWS Alt-Banking. Except that Varoufakis is now the Finance Minister of the Hellenic Republic.
Just before the election, Jacobin writer Sebastian Budgen held a long, in-depth interview with Stathis Kouvelakis on the politics and history of Syriza and the Greek left. This is an excellent introduction to a complicated subject, and should make it clear why Syriza, though it may yet go wrong, is a genuinely leftist and anti-capitalist coalition rooted in the popular movements of the country, and not just another neoliberal Trojan horse promising “hope and change.”
Three Days That (sort of) Shook The World
The new government’s first three days in power have been busy enough to inspire some premature declarations of victory from the journalists. “Greece’s new young radicals sweep away age of austerity,” The Guardian writes, while Channel 4’s Paul Mason feels dizzy thanks to a “reverse shock doctrine.” Of course, long before it came into existence, the new government was already being depicted as the end of the world by the Greek corporate media, establishment and right-wing. In an unprecedented signal, the outgoing prime minister refused to meet with Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras for the traditional symbolic hand-over of power.
To secure a majority and establish an unmistakeable negotiating position, Syriza teamed up with a right-wing anti-austerity party that demands Germany should pay Greece long-overdue reparations for World War II. This has a lot of leftists worried, of course. They declared a “national salvation” government,” restored the minimum wage back to 751 euros a month (the austerity regime had cut it to 540) and halted the ongoing large-scale privatizations, including of the national electric company and “the sale of Piraeus port” to Chinese buyers. They re-hired 12,000 laid-off workers, including the government ministry cleaning ladies whose protests have been a global cause. A program to create 300,000 public sector jobs will be run by Bard College professor and personal friend Rania Antonopoulos.
The government is announcing the reversal of cuts to wages and pensions and many other provisions of the “memoranda” forced on Greece by the EU, ECB, IMF and a thousand tons of tear gas. The Troika is no longer being recognized as a negotiating partner over matters relating to Greek sovereignty. (Most of the above covered in The Guardian article.) Greece is also breaking with the EU sanctions regime against Russia. On the other hand, there is not a single female minister in the new cabinet. (Of the 41 executive offices, six sub-ministers are women.)
The big question, of course, is whether Europe can be moved to negotiate a massive cut in Greek debt, as Syriza demands. The first signs have been that the ECB side does not intend to compromise in the least. The ratings agencies have of course brought out the brass knuckles, and as for the markets, predictably, “Greek bond yields spike as Syriza scraps austerity.” The government is relying on the hope that they can inspire a shift in European politics on the ground. Massive demonstrations against Brussels’ politics have been called for Athens and Thessaloniki on February 17th, with the expectation of solidarity manifestations globally….
So if you can, please read some of the above before the meeting, and come prepared with questions. Everyone other than my mother loves me as an analyst and speaker, of course, but I prefer that most of the talk be Q&A rather than me blabbing at you.
PS – A fancier, deeper event with much more expert people than I will follow at NYU on Friday, February 6th:
After the Greek Elections: The Future of Austerity in Greece, Europe & Beyond https://www.facebook.com/events/1451010908480925/