Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Tag: Greek Crisis

The problem with the Europe is the euro, but can it be saved?

The problem with the Europe is the euro, or more precisely, the creation of the single currency without establishing a set of institutions that would enable Europe’s diversity to function effectively with a single currency. Yet, the euro is still worth salvaging, says Joseph Stiglitz in his book The Euro: And its Threat to the Future of Europe.

The eurozone was flawed at birth, argues Stiglitz.  While the euro was a political project, the “political cohesion” – especially the implementation of policies and the progressive transfer of   national sovereignty to EU – was not strong enough to give euro a chance to succeed.  Joseph Stiglitz was one of the many US economists that have been sceptical of the single currency project from the outset and rightly points out that the conditions and the rules laid down during the drafting of the euro by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and later during its actual creation in 1999, have been inadequate. The lack of factors that could frame European monetary union, such as cross-border fiscal transfers, growth strategy, and employment, have contributed to the severity of the 2008 crisis.

Greece, a country which was hit particularly hard by the financial crisis of 2008, was furthermore affected by the Troika’s ideological views and presumptions, says Stiglitz. The troika policies are counterproductive, while the emphasis in austerity and the repayment of debts owned, rather than the restoration of growth and an increase of living standards of the people in the country have devastated effects in Greece’s economy. Taking into account Stiglitz’s experience with Greece’s social, political and economic system, he was consulting ex-prime minister George Papandreouit was rather odd to read at the book that ‘it was mostly private sector misconduct, not public sector profligacy that brought [the country] into crisis’. Without ignoring the mistakes of Troika, (IMF has released a critical report on how it handled the crisis in Greece and has identified where things went wrong), it was mainly Greece’s political system’s inability to handle a difficult situation.  What is irritating, coming from an experienced economist like Joseph Stiglitz, is Stiglitz’s view that it was ECB’s mistake – and not the Greek’s government’s –  the closure of banks in the summer of 2015. He totally overlooks  the  fanciful expectations of the newly elected Prime-minister Alexis Tsipras and the disastrous role of his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis during that traumatic period.

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‘Κάτι θα γίνει, θα δεις’ από το Χρήστο Οικονόμου

‘Η αλήθεια της ιστορίας δεν κρίνεται από τη συνάφειά της με την πραγματικότητα αλλά από το ήθος της.’

Δεκάξι ιστορίες από τα Καμίνια, τη Νίκαια, τη Δραπετσώνα και το Πέραμα. Ιστορίες που μοιάζουν να έρχονται από άλλες εποχές, με θέμα τη φτώχια, υλική αλλά κυρίως ψυχική. 

Η φτώχια στις μικρές ιστορίες του Χρήστου Οικονόμου δεν  είναι ίδια με την φτώχια της Ελλάδας  στις δεκαετίες του 1950 και 1960. Η φτώχια του 21ου αιώνα είναι πρόστυχη, κυνική, ταπεινωτική, περιορίζει ασφυκτικά τα όρια της ζωής. Κάποιοι παλεύουν να ξεφύγουν από τη μιζέρια που τους περικλείει, άλλοι συνθλίβονται από το βάρος της τραγικής πραγματικότητας και από δουλειές που δεν έχουν κανένα νόημα, για κάποιους  ο φόβος της πραγματικότητας μετατρέπεται σε μίσος και αυτοκαταστροφή, άλλοι βρίσκουν καταφύγιο στο παρελθόν, η νοσταλγία γίνεται η αιτία της δυστυχίας τους.

Ανθρώπινες σχέσεις, οικογενειακοί δεσμοί, ανθεκτικοί, και συγχρόνως καταπιεστικοί, δεσμοί που μπορούν να σώσουν αλλά και να συνθλίψουν, οι οικογένειες είναι “σαν ένα νύχι που μεγάλωσε ανάποδα και μπήχτηκε βαθιά στο κρέας και μαυρίζει. … Αλλά οι οικογένειες δεν έχουν πόδια. Δεν είναι σκυλιά οι οικογένειες. Δεν ξέρω τι είναι. Φίδια ίσως.”  Σε τυλίγουν και σε σφίγγουν.

 H γραφή του Οικονόμου είναι λυρική, λιτή και ταυτόχρονα γοητευτική. Η αίσθηση στο ξεκίνημα του βιβλίου είναι σοκαριστική, σαν να χτυπάει γροθιά στο στομάχι. Πρός το τέλος η ανάγνωση γίνεται λίγο κουραστική, ίσως επειδή οι καλύτερες ιστορίες βρίσκονται στην αρχή του βιβλίου.

Crucible of Resistance

The Crucible of Resistance, by Christos Laskos, a lecturer of economics and member of SYRIZA and Euclid Tsakalotos, an economist and Greece’s new finance minister, replacing outgoing Yanis Varoufakis in July 2015, provides some interesting clues which help us understand what drove the political behaviour and method of the SYRIZA establishment through an analysis and description of the impact of austerity on Greece since 2008.

The book was written in 2013 and its general argument is that

“for first time in many generations the Left has a convincing interpretation of the present crisis, and this can become a materialistic force breaking old social alliances and forming new ones in favour of a strategy that begins the transcendence of capitalism itself.” (12)

It further makes “four interrelated arguments” ,

  • Non-Exceptionality. – It is a world crisis, Greece is not a special case;
  • It is a Crisis of Neoliberalism and Capitalism. – Rather than locating the causes of the crisis within Greece itself, Laskos and Tsakalotos identify problems in the global economy and the unevenness within the European Union. They highlight a number of “proximate causes of the crisis  – the financial system, social inequalities and macroeconomic imbalances  –  all”, they argue, “integrally connected to the neoliberal settlement”;
  • The Lack of Plasticity in the Post-2008 Political Order. – Austerity has not solved the economic crisis in Greece. Instead, a vicious circle of austerity-recession-more austerity commenced, undermining further Greece’s productive capacities. 

The question is, “why did the crisis of 2008 not present itself as an opportunity for social democracy to reassess its commitment to neoliberalism?” “Cognitive locking was clearly a factor” they claim: “after so many years of neoliberal hegemony they were unable to step out of the groove and see the world from a different perspective.”

The authors’ premise that “Thirty years of neoliberal economics [in Greece] seems to have dimmed peoples’ memories about how large recessions play out”, is questionable, as later in the book they claim “…. that Greece is in fact a small closed, and not open economy ……” (108)

  • No Turning Back. – “… to the period of neoliberalism as experienced in the period before 2008.” That suggests “that the most likely resolution to the crisis will be either in the direction of a far more authoritarian capitalist settlement, or moves to transcendent capitalism, in some important dimensions.” (1-10)

This is a book about ideas and alternatives. The ideas matter and they are “particularly important in moments of uncertainty when established institutions do not seem to be working”, the authors claim. In the Acknowledgements’ page they say that the ideas presented in the book

“have been tested over the five years” [over the consolidation of SYRIZA] in “countless meetings, conferences, student gatherings and other fora where literally thousands of people have expressed a remarkable interest in discussing the causes of current crisis and the nature of left wing alternatives or what Erik Olin Wright has labelled Real Utopias.”

If that means that the idea was to use the crisis and the struggle to shape the pathways of social empowerment, test the limits of possibilities and try to create new institutions that would neutralise some of the most harmful effects of capitalism, is not very clear.

The SYRIZA – ANEL government was elected in January based on its promise to try to bargain a better deal than the “severe neoliberal austerity” imposed through the memoranda signed by previous governments.  In its first five months of governance, the SYRIZA-led coalition has continually tested the limits of the country and the European Union.  After months of ferocious “negotiations” the SYRIZA-led coalition realised that they weren’t really negotiating. Faced with the country’s economic and financial disaster, the government was forced to make very serious concessions, testing the limits of SYRIZA’s own identity. Perhaps things would have been different if other persons have been placed in critical positions.  I guess, we will never know, we can only speculate.

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