Is this the final act in a Greek Tragedy?

Two years ago, I started this blog as an outlet for my support for the Greeks who wished to change the course that successive governments had led them down on the path to economic ruin and destruction. At the time, my knowledge of the real political and economic situation in Greece was sparse, probably much like the rest of the average citizens of Europe.

Not being a total fool, it had slowly been dawning on me that all did not seem to be so well in many countries in the European Union. The glib pronouncements of European politicians that the worst of the financial crisis, that had affected the economies of most EU countries, was over did not seem to gel with reality. And the more I burrowed into the multitude of information available on the Internet on the subject, the more troubled I became.

At the time, I had already been following the writings of a “relatively” unknown Greek academic, Yanis Varoufakis, for a few years but it seemed that no one took much notice about what Mr. Varoufakis had to say, either about Greece or about the Euro. As time went by and despite all predictions and promises, things in the Eurozone still did not seem to improve.

Then suddenly, one day early in 2015, a “radical”, leftist government took over power in Greece and Yanis Varoufakis became the Greek Minister of Finance. It was as if a political hurricane had swept through Europe. The conventional political status-quo was thrown into turmoil. Suddenly the word Greece was on everyone’s lips and most of us in Europe sat up and started to pay close attention – the new Greek government was going to solve Greece’s problems!

And if this was going to cause a shake up in the EU, maybe things in the Eurozone could be turned around as well.

Pundits and experts crawled out of the internet woodwork everyday. Reams and reams of articles, suggestions, plans and analyses were published. Every possible scenario was laid out and endless discussions ensued as to which would be the most successful to tackle the problems.

But, in the end, it all fizzled out and Greece was placed in a liferaft and pushed back into the ocean.

I can still recall many of the articles written by experts (many of them can still be found on this blog) of how the third bailout was going to return Greece (and the Eurozone) back onto the path of economic prosperity.

Ha! Ha! Ha! – it really would be funny to throw all of that nonsense back in the experts faces, if it wasn’t so tragic.

And tragedy is what we have now. Greece is an economic mess and it is difficult to see how a repeat of the previous, same medicine is going change anything.

I have always advocated that Greece should leave the Euro and probably the EU as well and go their own way to try to pick up the pieces of their lovely country. It is only sad to note that another 2 years have been wasted and nothing has been achieved, yet again.

So where does all of this lead us to now?

Dr. Ioannis Glivanos is an academic and he has had articles on law and economics published in leading publications. And he has a blog that I have followed from its inception. Ioannis and I have usually had differing opinions on the solutions for Greece, but I have always respected and tried to understand his point of view. I can give him credit that our on-line debates have always encouraged me to learn more about economics and politics.

Therefore, in conclusion, I can do no better than to repeat here what Ioannis wrote in a recent article for the Huffington Post.

by Dr. Ioannis Glivanos (6 March 2017)

The beginning of March saw Athens grudgingly welcome back the “Troika” inspectors. After months of haggling over Greece’s progress towards the goals of its bailout programme and following non-stop negotiations since January 2015, we are back where we started, the creditor inspectors are allowed in to investigate. However, something is different this time. Greece’s cash-for-reforms deal is coming apart while at the same time relationships between its creditors are breaking down. We now face a situation where Greece, the IMF and the Eurozone are operating at cross purposes. It is legitimate to ask therefore whether 2017 will be the year when this all stops. Is Greece still worth saving?

The Greece I grew up in was a very different place form the one you see today. I will not bore you with statistics that you can easily see elsewhere, but I can tell you this: It did not feel like Northern Europe. Things were basic, but progressing steadily during the 1980s, and despite the occasional hiccup, people got progressively richer and life was gradually becoming easier. Still, the best thing you could wish for your kids was a state job. Why? Because in a sluggish economy the steady salary and permanent employment offered by the state was the best insurance against poverty. Were Greeks opting for state jobs because they were lazy? No, they did so because permanence made up for boring bureaucracy and modest salaries. This is a common pattern explained by historical factors in states with weak institutions making the transition from agrarian to city economies.

The political system both exploited and bred the desire for state jobs. Nepotism and clientist politics were the norm. There is nothing surprising about this, as a wide literature on emerging economies suggests. Local politicians based careers on finding jobs for their supporters and the state mechanism was closely connected with party political machines. While things were not exactly ‘soviet’, there was no such thing as an independent civil service. The 1990s brought with it some maturing of the political system, but also a deepening of corrupt relationships and backslapping cosy deals. PM Kostas Simitis embarked on a project of modernisation and Europeanisation of the country aiming to make Greece part of the ‘core’ European states, with the ultimate aim to join the Eurozone. Modernisation in this context (in the mid-1990s) meant a particular type of oligarchic neoliberalism that imported some semblance of modernity, yet entrenched elites and a deeply corrupt political establishment.

This brings us to Germany and her role in all of this. The South of Europe by joining the Euro could borrow at much cheaper rates than was previously possible. Who lent to them and what did they do with the money? Northern European Banks (many of them German) were happy to lend money to the new markets in the South. What did the Greeks do with the money? They spent it on goods produced in the North. Indebtedness in the European Periphery is the mirror image of industrial success and growth in the North. This is what people mean when they say that Germany benefited from the distortions of the Euro area, both when its banks raked in profits, and when its industrial production found willing buyers close-by.

The Greek state for its part, masked the lack of real economic growth, modernisation and progress by borrowing cheaply and allowing tax evasion to mask stagnant real wages. Who would complain about their salary not being enough to buy that Volkswagen, when they could subsidise their earnings with the undeclared income of a few rent-a-rooms by the sea? Would this go wrong? Of course it would and we knew at the time of the 2004 Athens Olympics that something was up. Sudden wealth spread across the country, large infrastructure projects were being built everywhere, there was a consumer boom and a lot of conspicuous consumption. How could all these young men sit around drinking coffees in the middle of the day? And it did go wrong, it went badly wrong. It took a worldwide financial collapse to expose the rotten core of the Greek economy, but the party came finally to an end.

The question is what to do now? The Greeks are not lazy scroungers any more than the Germans are cold-hearted capitalists. Germany benefited in the same way as Greece during the boom years and now there is trouble for both, albeit Greece is ahead on this one with a depression more pronounced than the Great Depression. It is worth thanking Germany for her support and the German taxpayers for funding that support. Many have come to realise though that rotten policies like the deflationary, recessionary austerity that the Troika is insisting on are not pointing to a path of prosperity and peace for Europe. However, the Greeks share a large part of the blame. The Greek government since 2015 has lied to its people and its creditors. It has no intention of working towards programme targets, regardless of whether they are right or wrong. Something has to give. Is it sensible to continue to subsidise state jobs for the friends of Mr Tsipras for another two years? The answer for many is no.”

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About Peter Smith

A "foot-soldier" in the wider Post Capitalism Movement. First task - keep spreading the words of change, hope & inspiration.
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