Its the Friday lay day blog. Lay day means rest, sometimes. The Greek government paid €450 million back to the IMF bloodsuckers yesterday which apparently calmed markets (Source). How can a so-called bankrupt country afford to pay that sort of cash? Well it can by causing more unemployment and poverty. The Government is trying to appease the Troika (IMF, ECB and the European Union) so that they will given them more cash in the coming weeks. Appeasement is an appropriate word here. Just as in the historical context, it means going along with something evil that will ultimately backfire and cause more grief. But then according to the US economist James Galbraith, in his latest apology (April 7, 2015), Syriza is – The Real Thing: An Anti-austerity European Government. Funny about that. Unless it is flying below all perception, Syriza seems trapped by an anti-democratic force that is intent on squeezing any notion of abandoning austerity from its agenda. And, try to square Galbraith’s claims against the insights provided by Alain Badiou and Stathis Kouvelakis in this interchange (April 3, 2015) – Dangerous Days Ahead.
Galbraith’s claim is that he has a “close vantage point” to observe what is really “unfolding in Europe”. That is his ‘authority’.
He says that what is “at stake” in the current political machinations in Europe is:
… the future of Europe and beyond that, to the meaning of the word democracy in our time … [and Syriza and the Greek people] … have dismantled – I think definitively – and banished an entire previous political class.
The so-called progressive left in Europe is enchanted with this ideal of ‘Europe’ as an expression of sophistication and unity.
It is a pipe dream. The European Union has some purpose. It is a good forum for matters that affect all nations on that continent – things like rule of law, climate change, immigration and refugees. These concerns are best dealt with in a multilateral manner.
But there will never be a functional and effective European economy with one fiscal authority and one sympathetic monetary authority. The cultural, language and structural differences are too great for ‘Europe’ to be an effective monetary union.
To tie the economic ambitions into the other worthy European concerns is to endanger both. The European Project is being derailed by the attempts to force it to be an economic project.
My interpretation of Syriza’s burning ambition to remain in the Euro is that it is caught up in the left idealism about Europe. Galbraith’s words seem to echo this starry-eyed idealism.
He recognises that the Greeks are caught up in a “an elaborate, well-laid political and economic trap. It’s more than a trap actually. It’s more like a minefield or an obstacle course that is entirely of human construction. It’s purely artificial.”
It is purely artificial because it rests on the big threat – go along with us or leave the Eurozone. The people of Greece have been duped into believing remaining in the Eurozone is good for them. And so Syriza goes along with that, independent of whether they as a party believe that (although I think they do believe it!). Yet the Germans and others do not want Greece out because then Italy and Spain would see Greece prospering and the austerity myth would explode within the European borders.
Syriza keeps reinforcing the fact that it has no bargaining power in this respect. In Moscow, its Prime Minister reiterated that (Source):
The goal of the government is for Greece to remain in the euro.
If the Greeks said they were out if the debts weren’t cancelled then things would be quite different. Calling what is happening a victory for democracy is rather far fetched. Yes, the EU has not invaded Greek in protest against the election of a ‘left-wing’ government that would be repugnant to the elites of Europe.
But, Syriza was going to reject the debt, ban the Troika agents from visiting, stop privatisations, and restore growth through spending initiatives. None of which has transpired.
Galbraith defends the Troika as having “a legitimate role”. How is the Troika a legitimate role in a democracy?
The IMF is unelected by the Greek people. The ECB is unelected by the Greek people. The EU is a distant bureaucrasy. None are accountable to the Greek people.
How are the debts incurred by the previous governments (Galbraith’s “rotten and corrupt previous, two-party duopoly”) legitimate when the servicing of them is largely to the advantage of foreign banks and other financial interests and only a modicum of the bailout funds actually went to help the Greek people in their day to day matters like eating, having acceptable health care, working for reasonable wages etc?
Galbraith thinks it is acceptable for the “international teams” to conduct surveillance (he calls it “finding out the facts”) in Greece. He notes that now the Troika now have been forced to put “their request for documents from the Greek government in writing” as if that is a big step forward for democracy and is “putting the relationship between the two sides on a proper footing of good order and regular exchange of documents”.
The whole relationship is predicated on the austerity principles that govern European politics. It is a flawed agenda and one that progressives should reject.
The Greek government should refuse to give the Troika documents that are reporting economic concepts that are loaded. For example, concepts such as ‘structural’ fiscal balances, which are inputs in the Excessive Deficit machinery the European Commission runs and is supported by its Troika partners are not legitimate in the way they are constructed by the Troika.
The way these ‘balances’ are constructed biases the result towards a finding of excessive structural deficits.
So why would a progressive left government provide this misleading information – just because they now get the requests in writing?
French philosopher Alain Badiou and Greek Syriza politician Stathis Kouvelakis engaged in a very interesting debate recently about the Greek situation.
If you understand French, there was a related interchange on the TV program ‘Contre-courant’ between the two in March – Syriza, l’heure des périls.
Stathis Kouvelakis interprets the negotiations in February between Syriza and the Troika in hostile terms:
… the Greek government really had its back up against the wall in its discussions with its so-called European partners. (I could hardly think of a less appropriate term, given that they are in fact its enemies, resolute enemies who are extremely determined to defeat it.)
So much for legitimacy and the high ideal of Europe.
In terms of Syriza’s ambitions to “to break with austerity within the framework of the European institutions, and, more particularly, within the terms of the eurozone”, Stathis Kouvelakis said:
Now we can say that we’ve seen the limits of this strategy. We’ve seen that these European institutions are not receptive to this kind of political or democratic argument, which says “we’re an elected government with a mandate to carry out, and you’re our central bank, and we can expect you to do your work and let us do what we were elected to do.”
So much for the restoration of the ideals of democracy.
Stathis Kouvelakis is clear in his summary of the role of the Troika and there is nothing legitimate about it:
These institutions are there in order to lock in extremely harsh neoliberal policies, to lock in the troika supervision of entire countries. And that’s exactly what they’ve set out to do, forcing the Greek government into making retreats — very serious retreats — in the February 20 agreement. And indeed the troika has made its reappearance, renamed as “the institutions,” and at this very moment the teams of troika experts are in Athens scrutinizing Greece’s accounts.
He concedes that there has been a novelty introduced – a “bras-de-fer” (arm wrestle) even though Syriza is in a forced retreat.
His hope that “the confrontation isn’t over yet” and Syriza has to “put an alternative approach in place in order to avoid a repeat of what was decided in February.”
Alain Badiou noted that the “enemies aren’t playing the game” so how will Syriza “engage” to achieve their goals. He reminded us of the election of François Mitterrand in May 1981 as a sort of popular Socialist left hero celebrated by “tens of thousands of people …[taking] … to the streets”.
The French were sick of the austerity of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Raymond Barre. Mitterand was the first left-wing leader elected under universal suffrage in France.
His – 100 Propositions for France – today read like a Syriza wish list. Nationalisation, raising the minimum wage, a shorter working week, more holiday, a tax on wealth, increased income support payments, enhanced workers’ rights within the workplace, boosts to public housing and health care, and more.
A veritable left utopia.
Then the so-called “tournant de rigueur” (the austerity turn) – the famous U-turn came as Monetarist ideas from the US academy infested policy making and elevated inflation as the principle problem and allowed unemployment to be used as a policy tool to suppress inflation.
From 1983, Mitterand was an austerity-ridden Monetarist government with little semblance of its left-wing beginnings.
Alain Badiou is correct to remind us of that abandonment of progressive principles. He said:
But very quickly we saw the emergence of a type of government action that very quickly abandoned all that, little by little retreating into the traditional workings of the state order, giving in to conjunctural imperatives. And that broke this movement. All that happened within about two years. Now with Syriza we’re not two years in yet, but all the same I’m rather haunted by this image.
While noting differences between the origins of Syriza and Mitterand’s PS (Socialist Party), Stathis Kouvelakis observed that both governments were caught in the ‘European’ dilemma.
For Mitterand it was whether to exit the European Monetary System, which would have given his government the ‘Keynesian’ scope to fulfull its ‘100 Propositions’. The alternative was to remain in the EMS, “within the European framework and make a neoliberal turn”.
In this respect, Syriza is similarly trapped. He said:
Either it takes a path of rupture with the European framework … or else it will have to give in, which would be a very heavy defeat with potentially disastrous consequences. Not only for Greece, but also for the whole political struggle going on in Europe at the present moment.
The inference being that to stay in the Eurozone requires a continuation of ‘neoliberal’ austerity. The very denial of the existence of Syriza.
That is a world of difference in conception to that paraded out by Galbraith.
Stathis Kouvelakis considers that:
If the enemy — and it is an enemy — knows in advance that there is a line that you won’t cross, he’ll naturally focus all his pressure exactly there. And that’s exactly what’s happened, and will continue up to the point of besieging Greece and forcing its capitulation.
For Europe’s political elites and the economic interests they represent, it’s vital not only to force Syriza into a retreat, but to humiliate it politically. Such a political humiliation would also be a shot across the bows of Podemos and all the social and political forces in Europe that challenge austerity policies: “See what happened to the Greeks? That’s what’s in store for you if you try and do the same.”
Which means that the Greek Prime Minister is playing into the hands of the political elites when the avows to remain in the Eurozone.
Without that bargaining chip, Syriza will be crushed. I agree with Stathis Kouvelakis “there is no middle course between rupture and capitulation”.
The fear of the Troika is that with rupture Greece would succeed. Alain Badiou puts it in this way:
That would really be a political earthquake in Europe, if the Greeks could shine a magnificent beacon showing that it is possible to interrupt Europe’s constant neoliberal slide and its being governed according to capital’s financial and economic needs …
That is the point. The elites are scared of rupture, which gives Syriza a powerful weapon – one that it seemingly will not use, yet.
But there is nothing, to use Galbraith’s words, “legitimate” going on at present.
Australian sporting legend – Richie Benaud dead
As a youngster I really liked Richie Benaud as the captain of the Australian cricket team, even if he was a New South Welshman. He died today. Here is the – ABC Tribute.
To celebrate his life, here is Billy Birmingham, aka as – The Twelfth Man – who is the doyen of Richie Benaud impersonators.
Australian readers (and perhaps other cricket playing nations) will appreciate Billy Birmingham’s rap song – Marvellous – taken from his 2006 CD ‘Boned’, where apparently the owner of the TV network that covers cricket decided to sack (‘bone’) all the commentators and replace them with Billy Birmingham as a cost-cutting measure.
The 12th Man could impersonate them all so the TV company could impose austerity – pay one salary only – and get the same quality broadcast. Ingenious.
To restore sanity here is what I was listening to this morning as I worked.
Jazz guitarist – Lee Ritenour – providing a different working of Bob Marley’s great song – Get Up, Stand Up.
The tone on his Les Paul (when he shifts to the top pickup) is exquisite.
The Saturday Quiz will be back again tomorrow. It will be of an appropriate order of difficulty (-:
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2015 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.