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Alex Andreou: Democracy vs Mythology – The Battle in Syntagma Square

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By Alex Andreou, a successful lawyer turned actor living in London. Cross posted from SturdyBlog

I have never been more desperate to explain and more hopeful for your understanding of any single fact than this: The protests in Greece concern all of you directly.

What is going on in Athens at the moment is resistance against an invasion; an invasion as brutal as that against Poland in 1939. The invading army wears suits instead of uniforms and holds laptops instead of guns, but make no mistake – the attack on our sovereignty is as violent and thorough. Private wealth interests are dictating policy to a sovereign nation, which is expressly and directly against its national interest. Ignore it at your peril. Say to yourselves, if you wish, that perhaps it will stop there. That perhaps the bailiffs will not go after the Portugal and Ireland next. And then Spain and the UK. But it is already beginning to happen. This is why you cannot afford to ignore these events.

The powers that be have suggested that there is plenty to sell. Josef Schlarmann, a senior member of Angela Merkel’s party, recently made the helpful suggestionthat we should sell some of our islands to private buyers in order to pay the interest on these loans, which have been forced on us to stabilise financial institutions and a failed currency experiment. (Of course, it is not a coincidence that recent studies have shown immense reserves of natural gas under the Aegean sea).

China has waded in, because it holds vast currency reserves and more than a third are in Euros. Sites of historical interest like the Acropolis could be made private. If we do not as we are told, the explicit threat is that foreign and more responsible politicians will do it by force. Let’s make the Parthenon and the ancient Agora a Disney park, where badly paid locals dress like Plato or Socrates and play out the fantasies of the rich.

It is vital to understand that I do not wish to excuse my compatriots of all blame. We did plenty wrong. I left Greece in 1991 and did not return until 2006. For the first few months I looked around and saw an entirely different country to the one I had left behind. Every billboard, every bus shelter, every magazine page advertised low interest loans. It was a free money give-away. Do you have a loan that you cannot manage? Come and get an even bigger loan from us and we will give you a free lap-dance as a bonus. And the names underwriting those advertisements were not unfamiliar: HSBC, Citibank, Credit Agricole, Eurobank, etc.

Regretfully, it must be admitted that we took this bait “hook, line and sinker”. The Greek psyche has always had an Achilles’ heel; an impending identity crisis. We straddle three Continents and our culture has always been a melting pot reflective of that fact. Instead of embracing that richness, we decided we were going to be definitively European; Capitalist; Modern; Western. And, damn it, we were going to be bloody good at it. We were going to be the most European, the most Capitalist, the most Modern, the most Western. We were teenagers with their parents’ platinum card.

I did not see a pair of sunglasses not emblazoned with Diesel or Prada. I did not see a pair of flip-flops not bearing the logo of Versace or D&G. The cars around me were predominantly Mercedes and BMWs. If anyone took a holiday anywhere closer than Thailand, they kept it a secret. There was an incredible lack of common sense and no warning that this spring of wealth may not be inexhaustible. We became a nation sleepwalking toward the deep end of our newly-built, Italian-tiled swimming pool without a care that at some point our toes may not be able to touch the bottom.

That irresponsibility, however, was only a very small part of the problem. The much bigger part was the emergence of a new class of foreign business interests ruled by plutocracy, a church dominated by greed and a political dynasticism which made a candidate’s surname the only relevant consideration when voting. And while we were borrowing and spending (which is affectionately known as “growth”), they were squeezing every ounce of blood from the other end through a system of corruption so gross that it was worthy of any banana republic; so prevalent and brazen that everyone just shrugged their shoulders and accepted it or became part of it.

I know it is impossible to share in a single post the history, geography and mentality which has brought this most beautiful corner of our Continent to its knees and has turned one of the oldest civilisations in the world from a source of inspiration to the punchline of cheap jokes. I know it is impossible to impart the sense of increasing despair and helplessness that underlies every conversation I have had with friends and family over the last few months. But it is vital that I try, because the dehumanisation and demonisation of my people appears to be in full swing.

I read, agog, an article in a well-known publication which essentially advocated that the Mafia knew how to deal properly with people who didn’t repay their debts; that “a baseball bat may be what’s needed to fix the never ending Greek debt mess”. The article proceeded to justify this by rolling out a series of generalisations and prejudices so inaccurate and so venomous that, had one substituted the word “Greeks” with “Blacks” or “Jews”, the author would have been hauled in by the police and charged with hate crimes. (I always include links, but not in this case – I am damned if I will create more traffic for that harpy).

So let me deal with some of that media Mythology.

Greeks are lazy. This underlies much of what is said and written about the crisis, the implication presumably being that our lax Mediterranean work-ethic is at the heart of our self-inflicted downfall. And yet, OECD data among its members show that in 2008, Greeks worked on average 2120 hours a year. That is 690 hours more than the average German, 467 more than the average Brit and 356 more than the OECD average. Only Koreans work longer hours. Further, the paid leave entitlement in Greece is on average 23 days, lower than most EU countries including the UK’s minimum 28 and Germany’s whopping 30.

Greeks retire early. The figure of 53 years old as an average retirement age is being bandied about. So much, in fact, that it is being seen as fact. The figure actually originates from a lazy comment on the NY Times website. It was then repeated by Fox News and printed on other publications. Greek civil servants have the option to retire after 17.5 years of service, but this is on half benefits. The figure of 53 is a misinformed conflation of the number of people who choose to do this (in most cases to go on to different careers) and those who stay in public service until their full entitlement becomes available. Looking at Eurostat’s data from 2005 the average age of exit from the labour force in Greece (indicated in the graph below as EL for Ellas) was 61.7; higher than Germany, France or Italy and higher than the EU27 average. Since then Greece have had to raise the minimum age of retirement twice under bail-out conditions and so this figure is likely to rise further.

Greece is a weak economy that should never have been a part of the EU. One of the assertions frequently levelled at Greece is that its membership to the European Union was granted on emotional “cradle of democracy” grounds. This could not be further from the truth. Greece became the first associate member of the EEC outside the bloc of six founding members (Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries) in 1962, much before the UK. It has been a member of the EU for 30 years. It is classified by the World Bank as a “high income economy” and in 2005 boasted the 22nd highest human development and quality of life index in the world – higher than the UK, Germany or France. As late as 2009 it had the 24th highest per capita GDP according to the World Bank. Moreover, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Centre for International Comparisons, Greece’s productivity in terms of real GDP per person per hour worked, is higher than that of France, Germany or the US and more than 20% higher than the UK’s.

The first bail-out was designed to help Greek people, but unfortunately failed. It was not. The first bail-out was designed to stabilise and buy time for the Eurozone. It was designed to avoid another Lehman-Bros-type market shock, at a time when financial institutions were too weak to withstand it. In the words of BBC economist Stephanie Flanders: “Put it another way: Greece looks less able to repay than it did a year ago – while the system as a whole looks in better shape to withstand a default… From their perspective, buying time has worked for the eurozone. It just hasn’t been working out so well for Greece.” If the bail-out were designed to help Greece get out of debt, then France and Germany would not have insisted on future multi-billion military contracts. As Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the MEP and leader of the Green group in the European Parliament, explained: “In the past three months we have forced Greece to confirm several billion dollars in arms contracts. French frigates that the Greeks will have to buy for 2.5 billion euros. Helicopters, planes, German submarines.”

The second bail-out is designed to help Greek people and will definitely succeed. I watched as Merkel and Sarkozy made their joint statement yesterday. It was dotted with phrases like “Markets are worried”, “Investors need reassurance” and packed with the technical language of monetarism. It sounded like a set of engineers making minor adjustments to an unmanned probe about to be launched into space. It was utterly devoid of any sense that at the centre of what was being discussed was the proposed extent of misery, poverty, pain and even death that a sovereign European partner, an entire nation was to endure. In fact most commentators agree, that this second package is designed to do exactly what the first one did: buy more time for the banks, at considerable expense to the Greek people. There is no chance of Greece ever being able to repay its debt – default is inevitable. It is simply servicing interest and will continue to do so in perpetuity.

And the biggest myth of them all: Greeks are protesting because they want the bail-out but not the austerity that goes with it. This is a fundamental untruth. Greeks are protesting because they do not want the bail-out at all. They have already accepted cuts which would be unfathomable in the UK – think of what Cameron is doing and multiply it by ten. Benefits have not been paid in over six months. Basic salaries have been cut to 550 Euros (£440) a month.

My mother, who is nearly 70, who worked all her life for the Archaeology Department of the Ministry of Culture, who paid tax, national insurance and pension contributions for over 45 years, deducted at the source (as they are for the vast majority of decent hard-working people – it is the rich that can evade), has had her pension cut to less than £400 a month. She faces the same rampantly inflationary energy and food prices as the rest of Europe.

A good friend’s granddad, Panagiotis K., fought a war 70 years ago – on the same side as the rest of Western democracy. He returned and worked 50 years in a shipyard, paid his taxes, built his pension. At the age of 87 he has had to move back to his village so he can work his “pervoli” – a small arable garden – planting vegetables and keeping four chickens. So that he and his 83 year old wife might have something to eat.

A doctor talking on Al Jazeera yesterday explained how even GPs and nurses have become so desperate that they ask people for money under the table in order to treat them, in what are meant to be free state hospitals. Those who cannot afford to do this, go away to live with their ailment, or die from it. The Hippocratic oath violated out of despair, at the place of its inception.

So, the case is not that Greeks are fighting cuts. There is nothing left to cut. The IMF filleting knife has gotten to pure, white, arthritis-afflicted bone. The Greeks understand that a second bail-out is simply “kicking the can down the road”. Greece’s primary budget deficit is, in fact, under 5bn Euros. The other 48bn Euros are servicing the debt, including that of the first bail-out, with one third being purely interest. The EU, ECB and IMF now wish to add another pile of debt on top of that, which will be used to satisfy interest payments for another year. And the Greeks have called their bluff. They have said “Enough is enough. Keep your money.”

My land has always attracted aggressive occupiers. Its vital strategic position combined with its extraordinary natural beauty and history, have always made it the trinket of choice for the forces of evil. But we are a tenacious lot. We emerged after 400 years of Ottoman occupation, 25 generations during which our national identity was outlawed with penalty of death, with our language, tradition, religion and music intact.

Finally, we have woken up and taken to the streets. My sister tells me that what is happening in Syntagma Square is beautiful; filled with hope; gloriously democratic. A totally bi-partisan crowd of hundreds of thousands of people have occupied the area in front of our Parliament. They share what little food and drink there is. A microphone stands in the middle, on which anyone can speak for two minutes at a time – even propose things which are voted by a show of thumbs. Citizenship.

And what they say is this: We will not suffer any more so that we can make the rich, even richer. We do not authorise any of the politicians, who failed so spectacularly, to borrow any more money in our name. We do not trust you or the people that are lending it. We want a completely new set of accountable people at the helm, untainted by the fiascos of the past. You have run out of ideas.

Wherever in the world you are, their statement applies.

Money is a commodity, invented to help people by facilitating transactions. It is not wealth in itself. Wealth is natural resources, water, food, land, education, skill, spirit, ingenuity, art. In those terms, the people of Greece are no poorer than they were two years ago. Neither are the people of Spain or Ireland or the UK. And yet, we are all being put through various levels of suffering, in order for numbers (representing money which never existed) to be transferred from one column of a spreadsheet to another.

This is why the matter concerns you directly. Because this is a battle between our right to self-determine, to demand a new political process, to be sovereign, and private corporate interests which appear determined to treat us like a herd, which only exists for their benefit. It is the battle against a system which ensures that those who fuck up, are never those that are punished – it is always the poorest, the most decent, the most hard-working that bear the brunt. The Greeks have said “Enough is enough”. What do you say?

____________________________________________________________

Help us by spreading this message to others – don’t let the media airbrush it out of existence, like they have done with the people of Madison, Wisconsin and the Indignados in Spain. Go to the original article on Alex’s blog here, and use the comments below (no registration is needed) to express your solidarity with the people of Greece. If you have any questions, again use the comments section on Alex’s blog he will do his best to answer. Raise the matter with people in power. Ask questions. Talk about it in the pub. Most of all, wake up before you find yourself in our situation.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is the Lebanese-American philosopher who formulated the theory of “Black Swan Events” – unpredictable, unforeseen events which have a huge impact and can only be explained afterwards. Last week, on Newsnight, he was asked by Jeremy Paxman whether the people taking to the streets in Athens was a Black Swan Event. He replied: “No. The real Black Swan Event is that people are not rioting against the banks in London and New York.”

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123 comments

  1. charles 2

    “Wealth is natural resources, water, food, land, education, skill, spirit, ingenuity, art.”

    You forgot a biggie : Trust, both internally (Greeks trusting Greeks) and externally (foreigners trusting Greeks as it is essential to reach a high level of productivity. Actually, it is what differentiates high income economies from low or middle income ones.
    It is particularly fragile in financial crisis. Easy to loose and hard to build.

    That is why the people of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland are indeed poorer than two years ago.

    1. F. Beard

      It is particularly fragile in financial crisis. Easy to loose and hard to build. charles 2

      Who cares? A sovereign country should NEVER borrow in the first place.

      That is why the people of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland are indeed poorer than two years ago. charles 2

      Poorer in what regard other than that it is more expensive for them to do what sovereign nations should NEVER do in the first place, borrow money?

      1. KFritz

        “A sovereign country should NEVER borrow in the first place.”

        Which sovereign country on earth DOESN’T borrow??? The United States, before it became the United States, borrowed $$$ for its War of Independence. Ever heard of Chaym Solomon?

        1. F. Beard

          Which sovereign country on earth DOESN’T borrow??? KFritz

          None that I know of. But that doesn’t mean it has to be that way. According to L. Randal Wray in Understanding Modern Money, government borrowing is used to remove reserves from the banking system to control the Fed Funds Rate. It is not needed at all to finance government.

          Question? Why should government be concerned with the private banking system? Ans: It shouldn’t be.

          One day, if liberals and progressives are really concerned about the poor, they will fight to separate government from private banking.

    2. DownSouth

      I agree. Trust is paramount.

      However, neoclassical economics, our dominant economic paradigm, is built upon a fictitious, or at least incomplete, conceptualization of trust. It relies on a very bleak, highly pessimistic assessment of human beings.

      This has deliterious consequences. As the Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out in “The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness”:

      A consistent pessimism in regard to man’s rational capacity for justice invariably leads to absolutistic political theories; for they prompt the conviction that only preponderant power can coerce the various vitalities of a community into a working harmony.

      For more on this I recommend reading Dan M. Kahan’s essay “The Logic of Reciprocity: Trust, Collective Action, and Law” which can be found on the internet here, beginning on page 339. Here’s an excerpt:

      The ‘Logic of Collective Action’ has for decades supplied the logic of public policy analysis. In this pioneering application of public choice theory, Mancur Olson elegantly punctured the premise—-shared by a diverse variety of political theories—-that individuals can be expected to act consistently with the interest of the groups to which they belong. Absent externally imposed incentives, wealth-maximizing individuals, he argued, will rarely find it in their interest to contribute to goods that benefit the group as a whole, but rather will “free ride” on the contributions that other group members make. As a result, too few individuals will contribute sufficiently, and the well-being of the group will suffer. These are the assumptions that currently dominate public policy analysis and ultimately public policy across a host of regulatory domains—-from tax collection to environmental conservation, from street-level policing to policing the internet.

      But as a wealth of social science evidence now makes clear, Olson’s ‘Logic’ is false. In collective action settings, individuals adopt not a materially calculating posture, but rather a richer, more emotionally nuanced reciprocal one. When they perceive that others are behaving cooperatively, individuals are moved by honor, altruism, and like dispositions to contribute to public goods even without the inducement of material incentives. When, in contrast, they perceive that others are shirking or otherwise taking advantage of them, individuals are moved by resentment and pride to retaliate. In that circumstance, they will withhold beneficial forms of cooperation even if doing so exposes them to significant material disadvantage.

      [….]

      It turns out, however, that the conventional theory isn’t right. Individuals in collective action settings might not behave like saints, but they don’t behave like fiends either. They can be counted on to contribute to collective goods, the emerging literature on strong reciprocity shows, so long as they perceive that others are inclined to do the same… Whatever truth there is in the conventional theory is an artifact of the common acceptance of that theory’s bleak assumptions

      So we should now reject them. To replace the conventional theory of collective action, we should construct a new and more appealing one founded on our nature as reciprocators. The logic of reciprocity not only reflects a more realistic understanding of individual emotional and moral commitments. It makes the hope that citizens will be morally and emotionally committed to contribute to the common good more realistic.

      1. Ming

        Downsouth said: ‘ Trust is paramount.’

        I would add that to be trustworthy is paramount, without which trust cannot be built.

        I believe that, to be trustworthy is a difficult concept to define. But when people are opaque, or speak lies, or attempt to use legalism to force another person to do harm to their own future when that other person did not themselves negotiate the bargain or even have knowledge of it (Goldman’s swaps with Greece), they are the opposite of trustworthy. The Greek bankers and politicicians, and the foreign bankers and politiciansnnwhom they cavort with are clearly not trustworthy for the citizens of Greece.

        1. DownSouth

          Ming,

          There’s also the issue of forgiveness. Hannah Arendt wrote a most insightful essay on this which can be found as part 33—-“Irreversibility and the Power to Forgive—-of her book The Human Condition:
          [T]he remedy against the irreversibility and unpredictability of the process started by acting does not arise out of another and possibly higher faculty, but is one of the potentialities of action itself. The possible redemption from the predicament of irreversibility – of being unable to undo what one has done though one did not, and could not, have known what he was doing – is the faculty of forgiving. The remedy for unpredictability, for the chaotic uncertainty of the future, is contained in the faculty to make and keep promises. The two faculties belong together in so far as one of them, forgiveness, serves to undo the deeds of the past, whose “sins” hang like Damocles’ sword over every new generation; and the other, binding oneself through promises, serves to set up in the ocean of uncertainty, which the future is by definition, islands of security without which not even continuity, let alone durability of any kind, would be possible in the relationship between men.

          Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer’s apprentice who lacked the magic formula to break the spell. Without being bound to the fulfillment of promises we would never be able to keep our identities; we would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each man’s lonely heart, caught in its contradictions and equivocalities – a darkness which only the light shed over the public realm through the presence of others, who confirm the identity between the one who promises and the one who fulfills, can dispel. Both faculties, therefore, depend on plurality, and the presence and acting of others, for no one can forgive himself and no one can feel bound by a promise made only to himself; forgiving and promising enacted in solitude or isolation remain without reality and can signify no more than a role played before one’s self.

          (…)

          The discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that he made this discovery in a religious context and articulated it in religious language is no reason to take it any less seriously in a strictly secular sense. … The only rudimentary sign of an awareness that forgiveness may be the necessary corrective for the inevitable damages resulting from action may be seen in the Roman principle to spare the vanquished (parcere subiectus) – a wisdom entirely unknown to the Greeks – or in the right to commute the death sentence, probably also of Roman origin, which is the prerogative of nearly all Western heads of state.

          It is decisive in our context that Jesus maintains against the “scribes and pharisees” first that it is not true that only God has the power to forgive, and second that this power does not derive from God … but on the contrary must be mobilized by men towards each other before they can hope to be forgiven by God. Jesus’ formulation is even more radical. Man in the gospel is not supposed to forgive because God forgives and must do “likewise,” but “if ye from your hearts forgive,” God shall do “likewise.” … [T]respassing is an everyday occurrence which is in the very nature of action’s constant establishment of new relationships within a web of relations, and it needs forgiving, dismissing, in order to make it possible for life to go on by constantly releasing men from what they have done unknowingly. Only through this constant mutual release from what they do can men remain free agents, only by a constant willingness to change their minds and to start again can they be trusted with so great a power as that to begin something new.

          In this respect, forgiveness is the exact opposite of vengeance, which acts in the form of re-acting against the original trespassing, whereby far from putting an end to the consequences of the first misdeed, everybody remains bound to the process, permitting the chain reaction contained in every action to take its unhindered course … the act of forgiving can never be predicted; it is the only reaction that acts in an unexpected way and thus retains, though being a reaction, something of the original character of action. Forgiving, in other words, is the only reaction which does not merely re-act but acts anew and unexpectedly, unconditioned by the act which provoked it and therefore freeing from its consequences both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven. The freedom contained in Jesus’ teachings of forgiveness is the freedom from vengeance, which incloses both doer and sufferer in the relentless automatism of the action process, which by itself need never come to an end.

          The alternative to forgiveness, but by no means its opposite, is punishment, and both have in common that they attempt to put an end to something that without interference could go on endlessly. It is therefore quite significant, a structural element in the realm of human affairs, that men are unable to forgive what they cannot punish and that they are unable to punish what has turned out to be unforgivable.

          (…)

          …Action is, in fact, the one miracle-working faculty of man, as Jesus of Nazareth, whose insights into this faculty can be compared in their originality and unprecedentedness with Socrates’ insights into the possibilities of thought, must have known very well when he likened the power to forgive to the more general power of performing miracles, putting both on the same level and within the reach of men.”

          It should be pointed out, however, that not all acts are worthy of forgiveness. And this is why, when you read these threads, that so many of the apologists for the bankers and their paid liars and bumsuckers (politicians and propagandists) argue that the bankers didn’t know what they were doing, or that we can’t know what their intentions were. As Arendt goes on to explain:

          The reason [that Jesus gives] for the insistence on a duty to forgive is clearly “for they know not what they do” and it does not apply to the extremity of crime and willed evil.

          1. Ming

            I like your article and your reflection on the article. I like your article because it points out that people are fallible, and may have events transpire against them, resulting in harm to others. I would add that occasionally, in time of great temptation or great stress, even those that are ‘trustworthy’ may make intentional tresspass against the other who trust them.

            But I disagree with your commentary at the end…’Some actions cannot be forgiven’. The brilliance and miracle of forgiveness is that it can be applied to any action, regardless of how horrendous, BUT, it does not answer the questions of ‘should the other party be forgiven’ and ‘what do we do, and how de we relate, now and in the future’. A party that is truly contrite for what it had done, and who will freely try to undo the damage done, or will try to help the wronged party recover, is worthy of forgiveness
            and can be trusted again.

            Since the bankers in Greece ( and the USA) do not acknowledge any wrongdoing, and are using the unacceptable defense of ‘oh we did not know what we were doing’, or ‘it so complex’, and more importantly, are trying to enforce consequences that are very negative for the prosperity of th people and the nation, these men and women are not to be trusted or forgiven.

          2. Ming

            Downsouth,
            I must disagree with your passage,

            ‘The reason [that Jesus gives] for the insistence on a duty to forgive is clearly “for they know not what they do” and it does not apply to the extremity of crime and willed evil.’

            I beleive that Jesus did understand the deliberate intention of the Pharisees and Jewish priests, which was to have Him handed over to the Romans and crucified. But He did nonetheless pray for their forgiveness. (And I am sure that He has forgiven them).

            There is a place in life for people to act with a divine level of extreme forgiveness. When we should do so, and how we can muster the emotional/spiritual resources to do so, is a mystery to me.
            But I believe Jesus was quite reasonable when he said, ‘ if someone slaps you, turn the other cheek’, which implies that we should tolerate a
            small level if tresspass; If He wanted us to regularly forgive very large sins he would have said, ‘if someone wants to take your liver, let take you kidney too.’

          3. charles 2

            Very apt quotes Downsouth.

            After all, it is not for nothing that debt resolution is also named “debt forgiveness”.

            This is why I am so pessimistic about the outcome of the current GFC, we are so far, for all parties concerned, from understanding, acceptation and forgiveness. All necessary conditions for renewed trust.

            Instead, we have Jean-Claude Juncker saying “when it is important, one has to lie”…

          4. /L

            @charles 2
            Instead, we have Jean-Claude Juncker saying “when it is important, one has to lie”…

            It’s much worse than that, alas Jean-Claude Juncker lying, Jean Claude a former finance minster and president of Euro Group (finance ministers of the eurozone, the political control over the Euro currency) and a key architect of the Maastricht Treaty. Juncker was largely responsible for clauses on economic and monetary union.

            Jean Claude does not understand, Jean Claude really don’t get it why e.g. US and Japan have relatively high dept and low interest rates and ditto inflation while indebted euro zone countries have exorbitant interest rates.

            The real problem is that no one can explain well why the euro zone is in the epicenter of a global financial challenge at a moment, at which the fundamental indicators of the euro zone are substantially better than those of the U.S. or Japanese economy.

            Poor Jean Claude believe it’s a mystery and haven’t read or heard from anyone of those who can explain, Jean Claude walk around in life with blinders.

            Can Sesame Street Help Europe’s Finance Ministers Understand the Debt Crisis?
            Another highlight from the increasingly brighter Stephanie Kelton on neweconomicperspectives.blogspot.com.

      1. hermanas

        And when we send in the Marines, they take names don’t they?

        How can the purchase of subs, jets and destoryers protect the Greeks from bankers?

  2. spiro

    A doctor talking on Al Jazeera yesterday explained how even GPs and nurses have become so desperate that they ask people for money under the table in order to treat them, in what are meant to be free state hospitals. Those who cannot afford to do this, go away to live with their ailment, or die from it. The Hippocratic oath violated out of despair, at the place of its inception.

    I read that the doctors were among the biggest tax evaders. Is this not true?

      1. Pas lolo

        Not really.

        “About three years ago, Rakintzis discovered 32 doctors who worked at the largest hospital in Athens and had performed about 400 appendix, heart and eye operations — at least according to what they had written in patient files. In reality, they had performed cosmetic surgery, which is not covered by insurance, and had sent the bills to the patients’ health insurance agencies. “It was a gang,” says Rakintzis, and it even had the audacity to place the cosmetic surgery at the top of their priority lists, while patients with serious conditions and emergency cases were kept waiting.”

        http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,729492,00.html

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Maybe those docto are paying off their student loans or their children’s Oxford tuition.

          I don’t know. Why do they steal from their own people?

  3. anon

    http://october2011.org/statement

    Stop the Machine! Create a New World!

    A Call to Action – Oct. 6, 2011 and onward

    October 2011 is the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan and the beginning of the 2012 federal austerity budget. It is time to light the spark that sets off a true democratic, nonviolent transition to a world in which people are freed to create just and sustainable solutions.

    We call on people of conscience and courage—all who seek peace, economic justice, human rights and a healthy environment—to join together in Washington, D.C., beginning on Oct. 6, 2011, in nonviolent resistance similar to the Arab Spring and the Midwest awakening.

    A concert, rally and protest will kick off a powerful and sustained nonviolent resistance to the corporate criminals that dominate our government.

    Forty-seven years ago, Mario Savio, an activist student at Berkeley, said, “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

    Those words have an even greater urgency today. We face ongoing wars and massive socio-economic and environmental destruction perpetrated by a corporate empire which is oppressing, occupying and exploiting the world. We are on a fast track to making the planet unlivable while the middle class and poor people of our country are undergoing the most wrenching and profound economic crisis in 80 years.

    “Stop the Machine! • Create a New World!” is a clarion call for all who are deeply concerned with injustice, militarism and environmental destruction to join in ending concentrated corporate power and taking direct control of a real participatory democracy. We will encourage a culture of resistance—using music, art, theater and direct nonviolent action—to take control of our country and our lives. It is about courageously resisting and stopping the corporate state from destroying not only our inherent rights and freedoms, but also our children’s chance to live, breathe clean air, drink pure water, grow edible natural food and live in peace.

    As Mother Jones said, “Someday the workers will take possession of your city hall, and when we do, no child will be sacrificed on the altar of profit!”

    We are the ones who can create a new and just world. Our issues are connected. We are connected. Join us in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6, 2011, to Stop the Machine.

    Here’s the FAQ, which explains the plan in more detail:
    http://october2011.org/node/168

    People unsure about committing to join this protest can sign up with a promise to take part ONLY if 50,000 others sign up as well. Strength in numbers:
    http://october2011.org/besure

    At the october2011 site, you can find lists of people and organizations that have signed on to participate.
    http://october2011.org/organizations
    http://october2011.org/people

    Remember, any system made by people can be completely changed by people, too. There ARE alternatives.

  4. Externality

    Re: the IMF and retirement age

    The IMF allows its employees to retire as early as 50 with a pension:

    Lifetime pensions are payable starting at age 50 with a minimum of three years of service. The normal retirement age is 62 and any pensions starting earlier are subject to early retirement penalties.

    The benefits payable are governed by the provisions of the plan and are not directly linked to the accumulated value of contributions made to the plan by the staff or the Fund.

    http://www.imf.org/external/np/adm/rec/policy/pension.htm#1

    And they complain that Americans and Greeks retire too early.

  5. RebelEconomist

    I would ask you why:

    (1) If Greeks “have already accepted cuts which would be unfathomable in the UK”, why was 2010 Greek defence spending 3.2% of GDP, which I believe is the highest in the EU and higher than the UK despite our involvement in Afganistan?

    (2) If “there is nothing left to cut”, why does Greece still hold 111.4 tonnes of gold, which represents one of the largest gold holdings as a proportion of foreign exchange reserves in the world?

    Perhaps that there are still some things that Greece could give up without causing hardship except to Greek national pride. I would be disappointed if the UK loaned (or more realistically, donated) any more money (in our case through the EFSM and the IMF) to Greece without such sacrifices being made.

    1. Cedric Regula

      The article did claim that defense purchases from other Euro countries was tied to the bailout money. How you square that with “austerity” we can only wonder.

      The gold stash is a good point tho. That’s worth a few bucks and India and China are in the market big, I hear.

      1. Pas lolo

        This information together with the sentence about NG fields under the aegean sea would greatly benefit from some reliable sources.
        I know a few thousands in Europ that would be delighted to read about it.

          1. F. Beard

            And who the heck cares about gold?

            Some rebel you are. You should change your name to ReactionaryEconomist. :)

    2. Maju

      I’m all for cutting military spending but the way you put it: as a demand, I am all for keeping the military at full power, just because it is a demand (and also because if they are going to declare unilateral bankruptcy and a socialist revolution they may need it to defend the country against their NATO “friends”).

      As for the gold it’s obvious that if they need to create their own currency because they will be kicked out of the euro, then they need gold to back it properly.

      I understand that Greece is being bullied and scammed and that it owes nothing at all. Let the creditors tighten their belts: they knew what risks they assumed, did not they?

      1. F. Beard

        … then they need gold to back it properly. Maju

        Government money is backed by its taxing ability, not PMs.

    3. curlydan

      as has been pointed out on NC in previous posts, the gold is only worth $4B or less than 1% of the Greece’s debt–not much there, especially if you have to keep an eye on leaving.

  6. LRT

    I see that it was not their fault at all. These were decent hardworking people living and managing their economy most responsibly.

    Then what happened? Some outside banksters invaded their fine country and forced them to borrow more than they can afford. These hard working people resisted for a while, they knew it was wrong. In the end the banksters forced them too by sheer physical violence and terrorism. I well recall the appalling scenes of mass shootings and beatings in Athens strees, where masses of riot policy (in the pay of the banksters) ran through Athens beating anyone who refused to borrow.

    The apogee of this particular trend occurred when Parliament itself was invaded by a force of the German and French banksters, and made the then Government borrow, literally at the point of a gun.

    This was raw terrorism of a sort the world had not experienced in Europe since a few days earlier, so it is not surprising they yielded.

    After that, for a while, all seemed well. Their strong national currency vanished of course as part of the deal. Cowed, the kept electing bankster govermnents, but it seemed not too bad.

    All of a sudden, these guys came back however! And this is where we find ourselves today. They are taking all the assets of the workers, they are invading, they are oppressing. Finally it is time for the Greeks to resist. No more loans, they cry.

    Stand with them my friends. Do not let the banksters do this again. Never allow another worker to be oppressed at gunpoint into borrowings he has no desire for, is strongly resisting. And if he is forced into borrowing, tell him to refuse to pay.

    And then borrow some more.

    1. F. Beard

      Banks lend money they don’t have for interest that does not exist in aggregate. They are thus counterfeiters and gamblers.

      Question? Is debt to counterfeiters morally valid?

      Ever hear of Murray N Rothbard? He argued that national debt was immoral and should be repudiated. I agree.

      1. F. Beard

        However, in the case of a monetarily sovereign nation like the US the national debt need not be repudiated. It can simply be paid off as it comes due with new, debt-free fiat.

        As for Greece, it should default.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      You are again displaying a remarkably selective reading of the facts. Or rather no facts, that seems to be your stock in trade.

      Germany and France both broke the Maastricht rules as far as fiscal deficits are concerned as badly as Greece did, so they are hardly alone in that club.

      And the blowout in debt level was in fact caused by the crisis, pretty much every economist who has written on this topic stresses that the spectacular rise in debt levels is the direct result of the financial crisis, which led to a collapse in tax revenues. You’ve also ignored the fact that the tax evasion, which is another reason for the shortfall in tax revenues, is done primarily by wealthy Greeks, while the austerity is falling on ordinary citizens.

      Moreover, as we and others have pointed out repeatedly, cutting government spending makes matters worse. GDP fall, which makes debt to GDP ratios worse. It has happened in Latvia and Ireland and is happening in Greece.

      1. LRT

        I do agree that austerity will not solve the problem, that they can must and will default, that tax evasion was not class-neutral.

        What I don’t see is that there is any free ride here. After that, and whether they leave the euro or not, they are still going to have to implement ordinary,prudent fiscal management. They aren’t rich enough to afford the welfare, they have to live within their means.

        Of course austerity reduces GDP which in turn reduces the ability to pay. I fully accept that is not a solution. But there is no solution once you have unsustainable debt. And defaulting is not pain free either.

        The answer is not to get there and once there and out, not to go there again.

        1. lambert strether

          Ah, “unsustainable debt.” The Peterson trope. Some options:

          1. The lenders should take the consequences of their bad business decisions. If that means they fail, so be it. They’re parasites anyhow. A mutually self-reinforcing web of parasites.

          2. One policy option is MMT’s — Greece is not sovereign, but the EU could be. Europe is far from any danger of inflation because productive capacity is unused. So the EU should print some money and put Europe back to work.

          3. A second policy option would be a Jubillee year…

          1. Nathanael

            Yep. #3. When debt is unsustainable on a societal level *it is repudiated*. This is what has been done throughout history, this is the only thing which has ever been done in history.

            I expect Greece to repudiate its national debt — as it must.

        2. DownSouth

          LRT said: “What I don’t see is that there is any free ride here.”

          I think what is at issue is what you do see. And what you do see is an opportunity to make debt slaves of the Greek people. Your intentions became abundantly clear in this comment of yours from yesterday:

          …if a nation gets into debt over its head, for whatever reason, and no matter what class it benefits to do it, it will lose its sovereignty and probably its democracy will take a hit too.

          That’s highly deterministic. Greece could choose to do what Argentina and Iceland did. The people could reassert their control over their government and tell their elites, and foreigners like you, to go take a hike.

          On the other hand, if the United States is willing to intervene to subvert the popular will, and the general welfare of the nation—either through overt military invasion or by sending in its covert operatives—-your wish (prediction) may come true.

        3. readerOfTeaLeaves

          I’m guessing the shipyard worker and the archeology employee were not savvy to the way that their so-called ‘leaders’ were selling their souls (and future generations of Greeks) into debt slavery to big banks.

          Meanwhile, if these banks are such brilliant thinkers, then WTF were they doing lending sums far greater than could realistically be paid back? Why don’t all those Great Economic Analysts ever have to face the music for their reckless conduct?

          At what point does the political stranglehold of impetuous, reckless banks get called out and exposed for the mathematical system of computerized shams that it has become?

          I’d say the Greeks are doing their part to expose this nonsense.
          More power to them!

          If you want to be a moralist and scold the shipyard worker and the woman at the Ministry of Culture, then you appear to be somewhat myopic. After all, they weren’t lending an entire nation far more than it could repay.

          1. ajax

            On a related subject, contracts awarded where the
            government official approving the contract receives
            a bribe from the company that gets the contract, I’ve
            been looking for a logical way to proceed (once it’s
            proven and public knowledge).

            Firstly, I’d say such contracts lie in a “gray zone”,because
            of the conflict of interest, and because for the nation,
            the “deal” could be anywhere from not so bad to very bad.

            I’ve been searching for an equitable way to proceed
            once a “deal” or contract is deemed to be in the
            “gray zone”.

            Suppose six submarines were ordered under a “gray zone”
            contract, and two were delivered. The contractor
            might argue that four of the six are “in production”.
            The people of the nation, if a referendum occurred,
            might say by 95% that one submarine is Ok, but that’s
            all.

            All I see is a messy situation, with no obvious
            equitable (logical) solution. One could argue that
            no valid contract existed, but that there was a flow
            of goods one way, and a flow of money paid in the other
            way. Beyond that, I can’t see a clear, equitable way
            to resolve the messy situation …

          2. readerOfTeaLeaves

            Well, ajax (the Telamonian? or the Oilean?)

            One way to do it would be to create a grid, with center = 0, 0
            To the left X axis, negative numbers for amounts of money not fulfilled by the contract (i.e., looks like in your example, you are missing 4 ships out of a contracted 6?) In other words, the X axis *could* represent ‘value supplied per contract, relative to negotiated terms’. (That’s just one idea; obviously, that X axis can represent whatever you want.)

            Then, you could have a Y axis, again negative below the central X=0, Y=0 center point, then the positive numbers moving up. Perhaps it could represent government departments, or some other identifiable measure that could be plotted.

            So perhaps in your upper right quadrant, it would turn out that the Ministry of Archeology had a pretty good return on contracted investment (say the calculations for their contracts come in around x=200, y=150.

            And then perhaps your ship contract (from Ministry of Defense?) comes in around x= -400, y = -200.

            So you could glance at those quadrants and get a quick view of patterns: do some of the government divisions always end up in the bottom left quadrant? If so, you call it your ‘incompetence and corruption’ quadrant (or whatever name you choose).

            Then, as another layer, you *could* put circles radiating out from the 0, 0 position … say, 100 per circle layer in concentric circles radiating out from the center. Anyone in the 100s is doing okay, in the 300s, needs attention, in the 600s “red alert”.

            There are plenty of ways to get your head unlocked from ‘grayspace confusion’.
            Hope this humble blog comment helps…

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajax_(mythology)
            (But you probably know all that…?
            ;-)

      2. IF

        I am not quite sure why you are resorting to re-posting fact free articles. As much as I want to sympathize, if Alex is all the Greek intelligentsia can muster, the situation indeed is hopeless.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Ahem, his post points out that Greeks work more hours than most Europeans (that has been discussed elsewhere and has not gotten the attention it deserves) and debunks the incorrect factoid that they retire early. So it most certainly is not fact free. It also point out correctly that while middle class people got some benefits from the cheap lending era, it went disproportionately to the top, and they are not going to take the hit on the downside.

          So let me turn that around: why are you engaging in a not only fact free, but affirmatively inaccurate criticism, with a snide ad hominem thrown in?

        2. DownSouth

          Here, let me fix that for you:

          I am not quite sure why you and LRT are resorting to re-posting fact free comments. As much as I want to sympathize, if you and LRT are all the neo-imperialist intelligentsia can muster, the situation indeed is hopeless.

    3. Cedric Regula

      Don’t make fun of the greeks. In CA I saw lots of people forced to buy a Porsche a gunpoint.

      Why they always do that I’ll never know.

    4. lambert strether

      It’s like LRT, for all his oh-so-heavy irony, never heard of marketing or scamming. He’s also identifying the Greek people with the Greek government. Why do that? In any case, the idea that the borrower is always to blame, and the lender never, though pleasing to bankster enablers, isn’t true for the case of accounting control fraud. Bill Black:

      Here’s the four-part “recipe” for a fraudulent lender optimizing fictional accounting income and real losses:

      1. Grow massively
      2. By making awful loans at a premium yield
      3. While employing extreme leverage, and
      4. Providing only grossly inadequate loss reserves

      Deregulation and desupervision are more extreme in some industries and regions and certain assets provide superior “ammunition” for accounting fraud.

      And if the European elites are like our own, fraud is that the base of what they have done, just as it is with our own elites.

    5. DownSouth

      LRT said: “Then what happened? Some outside banksters invaded their fine country and forced them to borrow more than they can afford.”

      Have you ever picked up a history book in your entire life? It appears not, either that or you have a built-in censoring faculty that blocks out any factual knowledge that clashes with your neoliberal dogma. How many nations must suffer the ravages of liberalism and its ugly stepchild—-neoliberalism—-before the doctrine is finally discredited in the eyes of its defenders?

      Liberalism has never worked as billed. The problems became manifest well before Adam Smith even formalized it as a doctrine, as C.R. Boxer explains in The Dutch Seaborne Empire 1600-1800:

      When the States of Holland formally renounced their allegiance to King Phillip II of Spain in 1581, they also enacted a law forbidding town councilors to consult with the representatives of the guilds (from whom they had originally sprung in the Middle Ages) or of the civic guards (as such) on any provincial matters. The regents thus took advantage of the struggle with Spain to consolidate their position as a self-perpetuating burgher-oligarchy and to exclude the ordinary citizens from any direct say in either the local or the provincial administration.

      Liberalism’s failures since its very inception are manifold, and run through history like a thread. Jean Simonde de Sismondi amply documented its pernicious consequences in his Studies in Political Economy (1818-36), completed soon after Smith formalized the liberal dogma in Wealth of Nations, first published in 1776.

      In The Buried Mirror Carlos Fuentes describes how the liberal dogma was used to subjugate Latin America during the 19th century:

      In the phase immediately after independence, Britain managed Latin America’s foreign trade; in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the United States came to be the principal partner. However, they employed the same instruments of economic power, namely favorable agreements for their merchants, loans and credits, investment, and the handling of the export economy of minerals, agricultural produce, and natural products acquired by Anglo-American expansion. A highly privileged local minority served as intermediaries, both for these exports and for the imports of manufactured European and North American goods, which were in demand among the urban population in the interior.

      And then in A New Time for Mexico, Fuentes describes how, after a short partial reprieve from liberalism in the middle part of the 20th century, it, like Freddy Krueger, came back from the dead:

      It is worth recalling that the prefix “neo” is particularly well suited to this doctrine, which already had its change in Latin America during the last century. Throughout the nineteenth century, Latin America followed the precepts of laissez-faire and the magic of the markets, and its nations implemented policies geared toward exporting raw materials while importing capital and manufactured goods. Powerful economic elites emerged from Mexico to Argentina. The hope was that the wealth accumulated at the top would sooner or later find its way down to the bottom. This did not happen. It has never happened. Instead, the wealth generated at the working base found its way up to the top and stayed there.

      Fuentes describes in great detail how neoliberalism played out in Mexico. Mexico’s experience may be of special interest at this particular time, as leaders in both the United States and Europe appear hell-bent on imposing neoliberalism upon their populaces. The short and long of it is that neoliberalism in Mexico has proven to be a fast track to economic polarization and social chaos.

      Up until 1982 Mexican governance was dominated by statism, “a straitjacket of extreme protectionism, subsidized consumption and production, captive markets, and lack of competitiveness,” as Fuentes puts it.

      “Riding the crest of the oil boom, Mexico contracted gigantic debts that it could not pay when the oil glut, followed by a plunge in prices, left the country without liquidity. In 1982, Mexico went broke,” Fuentes explains.
      What came in place of statism was “a demonization of national states, a delusional faith in the free play of market forces, and the cruel complacency of social Darwinism in lands of extreme hunger and need,” Fuentes says. He goes on to explain:

      And Mexico, battered by the debt crisis of the 1980s…sought strong and revolutionary macroeconomic solutions, first under the de la Madrid administration, and then more fully under the Salinas administration. These measures included bringing inflation down to single digits, balancing the budget, increasing foreign reserves, welcoming foreign investment, keeping interest rates competitively high, and privatizing as much as possible. And enshrining supply-side economics, known in Latin America as neoliberalism, the equivalent to the trickle-down theory (or voodoo economics, as candidate George Bush called it back in 1980).

      But neoliberalism’s promises were never fulfilled:

      The neoliberal model espoused by the Salinas administration responded by fighting inflation, balancing the budget, inspiring confidence in Mexico, attracting investment, concentrating wealth in a few competitive firms and individuals, and hoping that trickle-down would take effect. But the hope was undermined by evidence that the economy was not growing, that fighting inflation had become a fetish, that excessive foreign spending was not compensated for by increasing local production, that real growth was hindered by one of the lowest savings rates in the world, and, finally, that flight capital had become unmanageable.

      […]

      Mexico needed—and did not get—policies encouraging investment in activities that would further employment, wages, growth, and savings. Instead, the Salinas reforms provoked a flood of speculative, unregulated capital that did not go into productive areas. Like flight capital in any other emerging market, it stayed in Mexico as long as it was profitable to stay and fled as soon as dark clouds started accumulating in the sky…

      Never has Mexico received as much foreign investment as it did during the Salinas years: almost $59 billion between January 1989 and September 1994, but of that enormous sum, almost 85 percent was speculative flight capital.

      […]

      The economy became hostage to foreign investment in order to maintain the peso’s parity and pay the current-account deficit. But foreign investment was concentrated mainly in stocks, bonds, and other short-term instruments: in the volatile and transitory paper economy. Only 15 percent of foreign investment went into the real economy, into creation of factories, increased employment, and increased production. The country was threatened with an acute case of schizophrenia. A minority centered their lives on the New York Stock Exchange, and a majority on the price of beans. One economy was all gilded wrapping paper, the other all huts and untilled land. The former was the minority’s, the latter the majority’s.

      When the neoliberal house of cards came tumbling down in 1994, Mexico did not turn away from the neoliberal model. Instead, the newly inaugurated president, under extreme pressure from the United States, opted for neoliberalism on steroids:

      In effect, President Clinton withdrew the original $40 billion loan requiring Congressional approval and gave Mexico $20 billion out of a discretionary fund. Strings were attached: Mexico’s oil revenue would serve as collateral and be paid directly into the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. President Zedillo didn’t even blink at this onerous condition and both Zedillo and Clinton knew that the U.S. lent Mexico money to repay U.S. banks, and investors, who had already harvested enormous earnings in their Mexican ventures. Production, employment, salaries, education, and social services—the real saviors of the Mexican economy—were once more postponed. Sovereignty was severely affected: the agreement gave the U.S. the right to monitor Mexico’s economic policies.

      […]

      Mexico is pledging to follow an economic policy that is precisely the one that led to the current situation: zero growth in the money supply, cuts in government spending, and more privatization. This is a renewed formula for disaster in a country that needs to stimulate growth even at the risk of inflation, as Brazil has done (though one need not go to the same extremes). Mexico has yet to learn the lesson that economists everywhere else have deduced from the crises perpetrated by the supply-side economics practiced during the twelve years of Reagan, Bush, and Thatcher: that to restrict money supply and spending during a recession leads to depression, not recovery.

      […]

      The draconian self-discipline imposed by the Zedillo administration, though temporary, is, by the president’s own admission, cruel: steep increases in the prices of gasoline and transportation, a 50 percent increase in value-added taxes, cuts in government spending, and almost total credit restriction. These are coupled with a 2 percent fall in the GNP, 750,000 people out of work, 42 percent inflation, and only 10 percent in wage increases.
      These short fuses may set off the Mexican bomb: bank failures, company closedowns, or street demonstrations and acts of vandalism, as in Venezuela of President Perez’s second term—a Mexican reprise of that caracazo.
      I certainly hope that none of this occurs. The Mexican people are extraordinarily patient, though most have never known anything but misfortune. But in 1982 the debt crisis struck a middle class with money in its pockets thanks to the oil boom. Today, Mexican middle class families will be unable to pay the mortgages on their two-bedroom apartments, the monthly payments on their Volkswagens, and maybe even the rent. Their dramatic pauperization is evident in every corner of our larger cities.

      Do we have time to set the stage for economic renewal?

      The answer to Fuentes’ question now appears to be no. Fuentes published his book in 1996, and since that time neoliberalism in Mexico has created some of the world’s richest men, including Carlos Slim who is reputed to be the wealthiest man on the planet. But it has created a level of inequality previously unknown in Mexico, and a majority of the population has been reduced to abject poverty, robbed of all hope. The country borders on social chaos, with crime and corruption spiraling out of control.

      Economic polarization and social chaos: These are the fruits of neoliberalism, and what the people of the United States and Europe have to look forward to if they cannot figure out some way to wrestle power away from global corporations who view the planet as their own private plantation.

      1. DownSouth

        Jonathan Schell also takes on liberal mythology in “From Laissez-Faire to the Military Revolution”:

        The early champions of the free market, most of them British, had in fact looked to industry mainly to create the wealth of nations, as the title of Adam Smith’s classic book had it, not the power of nations, which had been the preoccupation of their mercantilist predecessors. The advocates of laissez-faire declared the independence of economics from state power. (The eventual coining of the word “economics,” identifying a distinct realm of human activity subject to its own laws, was one sign of their faith in that independence.) The market worked best, the worldly philosophers of the late eighteenth century believed, when the government kept its hands off it. Classical economics, in fact, “had no place for the nation, or any collectivity larger than the firm.”

        Smith’s successors proceeded even further in this line of thinking. In the early nineteenth century, the most prominent champions of the market, including the British champions of laissez-fare Richard Cobden and John Bright, contended that free trade, by breaking down or ignoring national boundaries, naturally tended to foster world peace. The market, they ardently believed, was a solvent of national units and a pacifier of national conflicts. “I see in the Free Trade principle,” Richard Cobden said in a speech in 1846, “that which shall act on the moral world as the principle of gravitation in the universe, drawing men together, thrusting aside the antagonism of race, and creed, and language, and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace.”… An unbroken thread of faith in free trade as an abettor of peace runs through the entire tradition of liberal internationalism, surviving many disappointments and continuing, in attenuated form, to this day.
        –Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World

        But, as Schell goes on to point out, “soon a different relationship of markets to war emerged.” And in the late nineteenth century, “economic motives for empire steadily yielded to geopolitical ones”:

        However, events did not proceed as the liberal imperialists expected—-neither in Asia nor in the Ottoman Empire. The economic arrangements forced upon those lands did not strengthen and liberalize their governments but undermined them and drove them, one after another, toward collapse. The Egyptian government, for example, accepted loans from Europe, spent the funds on large but unproductive public projects, and, when these failed, sought to keep up payments on the loans by raising taxes on the poor, who grew discontented and rebellious. The imperial powers then were faced with what seemed a drastic choice: between withdrawing entirely and imposing direct rule. They chose direct rule.

        1. Nathanael

          To clarify for the less educated reader, you are referring to what is known as “economic liberalism” and its descendant “neoliberalism”.

          “Social liberalism” means something quite different although the two have been connected during certain historic periods (and not others). “Political liberalism” sometimes means one, sometimes means the other, and sometimes means neither.

          The root adjective “liberal” means something entirely different from all of the above: it’s a synonym for “generous”.

          1. wb

            Thanks for that, Nathanael, – less educated or not, I find the usage and meaning of that word ‘liberal’ is very confusing, and although I love downsouth’s posts, I wasn’t clear about how the term was being used, liberal > neo-liberal…

          2. attempter

            To clarify, the term “social liberal” doesn’t make any sense unless conjoined with economic liberalism. Otherwise, one would be a socialist, period.

            Well, I’ll ask anyway: What does it mean to be a “social liberal” but not support capitalism, but also not be a socialist? There is such a thing as market anarchism, but that’s not what you meant, since liberals (every sort) also support the State.

  7. attempter

    This is indeed war by other means, and must be resisted and counterattacked as such.

    The whole bubble-crash-bailout-austerity-feudalism process is a planned strategy for the complete looting of nations and the imposition of tyranny upon them.

    The people must respond in kind:

    We owe nothing. On the contrary, only society ever enabled finance extractors to exist at all, so they were already our creatures before the crash they imposed upon us and the bailouts they stole from us. The latter have only cinched it once and for all. Through the bailouts we the people own the banksters and their political lackeys. We own them, we own their banks, we own their corporations, we own every cent they stole on a personal level, we own it all. They owe us everything. They must repay it all upon demand.

    And then there’s their systematic assault upon our jobs, upon the real economy, upon the safety net, upon social stability, upon civil society itself. There’s their crashing of the economy and the systematic robbery of trillions for which they used this crash as the pretext. The restitution they owe for these crimes is beyond tallying. Here again, for the second time, they owe us everything they have, and vastly beyond. They must repay it all upon demand.

    The debt they owe us is literally infinite. We owe them nothing.

    This is the simple, wholesome, true consciousness all of humanity must develop, if we intend to continue as human beings at all, as opposed to being reduced to the most wretched servitude.

    Every human being is standing tall in Syntagma Square.

  8. PeakVT

    an invasion as brutal as that against Poland in 1939

    Oh, get real. Estimates of casualties for the invasion of Poland by Germany and Russia are:

    66,000 dead,
    133,700 wounded,
    694,000 captured
    904,000 total casualties

    Two sentences in, and you manage make it clear your judgment is flawed, and that you should be ignored.

    1. K Ackermann

      It’s just now unfolding.

      If there is just a 2% increase in mortality brought about through austerity, that will mean 220,000 dead.

      Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

      1. Alex

        The Polish invasion increased mortality and decreased lifespan a hell of a lot more than 2%. Life expectancy at birth in parts of Poland fell to *10 years*. You may have also heard of a place called Auschwitz. I have better suggestions where you can stick *your* pipe.

        1. craazyman

          there is a form of thanatic brutality which is equivalent to some degree in its noospheric mind wave presentation, but certainly the bloodletting and bone breaking aren
          t equivalent. at least not yet.

          anyway, metaphors aren’t always identities, and they can be stretched.

          and anyway #2, I don’t see this as Greeks vs. Northern European bureaucrats and bankers as much as kleptocrats and the beneficiaries of kleptocracy vs. labor. I’m sure there are plenty of reasonably well-off Greeks who could pay a fairer share of taxes and ameliorate the problem, but they don’t see “fair” that way and they don’t, presumably, get sentimental at the notion of “Greek” nationhood. Why not? A very interesting question for those who pursue it.

        2. lambert strether

          If there’s a collapse in Europe (or the United States, for that matter) like that in Russia when their own multi-national, continental, imperial, and sclerortic political economy collapsed, then life expectacy will drop 10 years indeed, as it did in Russia for males. Those are the stakes. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Straw man. He said the invasion BY GERMANY in 1939. That can be read as the initial conquest. It certainly does NOT include the Russian invasion. So at a minimum, you need to take those casualties and deaths out. As I read it, you need to restrict it to the deaths related what it took to subdue Poland.

      And many of the deaths inflicted by Germans were the result of the Final Solution which was not implemented until 1942. Again, not part and parcel of the invasion and conquest, but a separate, later decision.

      And under Pinochet, people were killed and “disappeared” by the thousands as part of the implementation of neoliberal reforms. As a minister of a kinder and later Chilean government said, “People died so markets could be free>”

      1. PeakVT

        Straw man. He said the invasion BY GERMANY in 1939. That can be read as the initial conquest. It certainly does NOT include the Russian invasion. So at a minimum, you need to take those casualties and deaths out. As I read it, you need to restrict it to the deaths related what it took to subdue Poland.

        First, he didn’t indicate Germany specifically, so you’re not justified in inserting it, unless you can read his mind. Second, you seem to be misinformed about this bit of history. Germany and Russia invaded Poland at essentially the same time as part of a plan to split the country in two spheres of influence. The Germans invaded on Sept 1, 1939, and the Russians invaded on Sept. 17, 1939. Fighting took place simultaneously on both fronts. Because of this, casualty estimates are not listed separately.

        And many of the deaths inflicted by Germans were the result of the Final Solution which was not implemented until 1942. Again, not part and parcel of the invasion and conquest, but a separate, later decision.

        The deaths listed in my initial comment were just for the invasion in 1939. Total deaths in Poland from 1939 to 1945 ran into the millions.

        And under Pinochet, people were killed and “disappeared” by the thousands as part of the implementation of neoliberal reforms. As a minister of a kinder and later Chilean government said, “People died so markets could be free>”

        What does this have to do with the comparison of the imposition of an austerity package by the Eurozone heavies on Greece, to the invasion of Poland? A domestic police state isn’t the same as an invasion and occupation, enforcing neoliberal economic policies wasn’t the only reason, or even the primary one, for the Chilean police state, and you’re loopy if you think Germany is going to try to enforce some austerity package at gunpoint.

          1. DownSouth

            Chester Genghis,

            The waters are without a doubt getting pretty murky with all the exaggerations, but PeakVT certainly hasn’t risen above the fray, and has shed more darkness than light. PeakVt’s stock and trade is not outright lies, but distortions and half-truths.

            —————————————-
            • PeakVT: “….enforcing neoliberal economic policies wasn’t the only reason, or even the primary one, for the Chilean police state….”

            • From your link: Although the coup was described as a military coup, Orlando Letelier, Salvador Allende’s Washington ambassador, ‘saw it as an equal partnership between the army and the economists ‘ “.
            —————————————-
            • PeakVT: “….you’re loopy if you think Germany is going to try to enforce some austerity package at gunpoint.”

            • Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism: “We have chosen to marry the means of the Old World to the ends of the New, relying on force and the threat of force to spread the American Way of Life, or, as the writer Max Boot has with unusual candor observed, ‘imposing the rule of law, property rights and other guarantees, at gunpoint if need be.’ “
            —————————————-
            • PeakVT: And under Pinochet, people were killed and “disappeared” by the thousands as part of the implementation of neoliberal reforms. As a minister of a kinder and later Chilean government said, “People died so markets could be free>”

            “What does this have to do with the comparison of the imposition of an austerity package by the Eurozone heavies on Greece, to the invasion of Poland? A domestic police state isn’t the same as an invasion and occupation…”

            • John Ross, The Annexation of Mexico: “U.S. National Security is a global strategic doctrine, relative to maintaining economic, political and military supremacy in its zone of influence is how Mexican politilogue Adolfo Aguilar Zinser defines theses same polices.

            “U.S. ‘National Security’ is a Cold War concept codified in the 1947 National Security Act, which also created the National Security Council, to combat Communist penetration of U.S. spheres of influence. In the name of its hallowed ‘national security,’ the United States has mounted military invasions and suppressed internal dissent in Latin America, encouraged political assassination, civil wars and military coups, winked at torture, applauded fraudulent elections and ignored genocide…

            “As the U.S.’s Latin American ‘sphere of influence’ has deepened, every challenge to U.S. hegemony—-from guerilla movements to a moratorium on foreign debt payments to a reluctance to privatize a national petroleum corporation to drug money laundered in Latin political campaigns—-is evaluated by Washington as a possible threat to its own ‘national security.’ “
            —————————————-
            • PeakVT: “Fighting took place simultaneously on both fronts. Because of this, casualty estimates are not listed separately.”

            • Adolf Hitler, instructions to his generals in a briefing to his generals before the invasion of Poland: “Be harsh and remorseless. Act with brutality, close your hearts to pity. It is the stronger man who is always right.”

            Wikipedia: “The Polish September Campaign was an instance of total war. Consequently, civilian casualties were high during and after combat. From the start, the Luftwaffe attacked civilian targets and columns of refugees along the roads to wreak havoc, disrupt communications, and target Polish morale. Apart from the victims of the battles, it is alleged that the German forces (both SS and the regular Wehrmacht) murdered several thousand Polish civilians. Also, during Operation Tannenberg, nearly 20,000 Poles were shot at 760 mass execution sites by the Einsatzgruppen.”

        1. DownSouth

          PeakVT,

          For someone like myself who lives in Mexico and has been an eye witness to the ravages of neoliberalism—-the poverty in the shadow of unfathomable wealth, the human misery, the mass migration, and the eventual complete disintegration of the society with the attendant mass murder that entails (40,000 and counting as we speak)—-I find your defense of neoliberalism to ring hollow, to say the least.

          I have no doubt that someone like you, with your ability to distort and cherry pick history and screen out anything that doesn’t conform to your point of view, can justify just about anything you set your mind to. As I was reading your comments, this quote from John Adams came to mind:

          Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all His laws. Our passions, ambitions, avarice, love and resentment, etc., possess so much metaphysical subtlety and so much overpowering eloquence that they insinuate themselves into the understanding and the conscience and convert both to their party.

    3. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      You might have to go back to Xerxes and his invasion of the ancient Greece for comparison.

      I suggest to my Greek friends that they trap the IMF, ECB and the Germans at Thermopylae. I think they have a chance there.

  9. Brick

    As a defence of Greece this is quite a good one, but I think I have to argue from both sides of the fence here. Firstly how are you going to react when it comes to your countries turn. What will you say to the rest of the world when they say.
    1) All americans are fat and lazy stuffing their faces with MacDonalds and 30lb steaks.
    2) The retirement age for americans is very low wih some public employees retiring at 48.
    3) Americans are too busy watching their big flat screen TV’s in their Mcmansions running up bills on their credit cards.
    4) Americans are warmongers splashing out money on interfering in other countries.
    5) The US economy is a weak economy due to the vast inequality in its structure.
    6) American politics is all about money and rife with corruption.
    There are elements of truth but it is not a real picture of much of America, just as we don’t see a real picture of Greece. News media yet again has been pretty poor about getting the picture accurate.

    From the other side of the fence I would have to question some of the numbers and point out that over the next few years those graphs are going to change significantly. Most Eu countries are raising retirement ages, productivity levels are rapidly changing and perhaps Greece needs to think less about comparisons to where the EU members are now but where they are heading. The whole of the EU is in rapid flux and change when compared to the US.
    The real problem though is that the Greek population don’t appear to have a solution to promoting growth or at least preventing the economy shrinking. Adjustment is fine providing you at least keep the economy ticking over, otherwise each contraction forces more adjustment and you get into a contractionary spiral. That the EU and IMF solution is probably even worse for the Greeks I would not argue with and their solution smacks of teaching a lessons rather than working as a partner. Devaluation if Greece was out of the Euro would seem like a solution to the growth problem but as the UK has found out, time delays and funding costs can completely negate the positive benefits. In a way I see Greeks as throwing a hissy fit that they don’t like any of the options for them (understandable in a way).
    I think Greece should default, have a small internal devaluation and be shouting very loudly that eurozone spending should be diverted from France, The UK,The Netherlands and Germany towards Greece. This does mean that likes of France would have to finally sort out its agricultural policy, eastern europe would have to start to stand on its own two feet. At the moment it seems all about the Greeks making hard decisions while parts of the rest of Europe get to ignore many of the hard decisions they should be making. Just maybe we will have proper financial regulation and stress tests at the end as well. Unfortunately we all know its going to be a kick the can down the road solution if politicians have their way.

    1. SidFinster

      No way Outback Steakhouse makes a 30 pound steak!

      That’s absurd, even their biggest steak doesn’t weigh more than 20 or so pounds. 25, 27 tops if you order it with “extra big-ass fries.”

    2. Pas lolo

      “This does mean that likes of France would have to finally sort out its agricultural policy”
      That would be politically quite painfull as our farmers are a strong and coherent political force.
      But, on the other hand, that would maybe allow us (frogs) to reconsider our industrial policy and get out of that “free trade” fairy world where anybody from anywhere can win in a bid in France, whereas in germany the winners are german.
      Kind of coincidences that makes you doubtfull after witnessing that for 20 years in the business.

    3. reslez

      Ok, as an American I’ll cop to “fat warmongers”. However the neoliberal paradigm is further along here than in Europe, so I’m not sure what your list of criticisms is meant to demonstrate. Obesity and warmongering and most of the other things on your list are symptoms of capture by industry.

      No health care, no sick days, no paid time off, no maternity leave, laughable minimum wage routinely violated, minimal safety net. Most Americans will never retire. In “retirement” they will merely shuffle through a series of menial minimum wage jobs until they die. As for those public workers who remain unionized, well the knives are out for them already. They have even begun dissolving local governments just to get at the public workers. Coming soon to a European country near you.

  10. financial matters

    “”Nassim Nicholas Taleb is the Lebanese-American philosopher who formulated the theory of “Black Swan Events” – unpredictable, unforeseen events which have a huge impact and can only be explained afterwards. Last week, on Newsnight, he was asked by Jeremy Paxman whether the people taking to the streets in Athens was a Black Swan Event. He replied: “No. The real Black Swan Event is that people are not rioting against the banks in London and New York.””"

    At least the crisis has helped focus attention on the Fed and the ‘City of London’ for what they really are, a collection of private banks.

    “”The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was a major coup for the international bankers. This is the strangest, most dangerous advantage ever placed in the hands of a special privilege class by any Government that ever existed.”" (Web of Debt)

  11. Bruce

    I distinctly recall visiting Argentina just after their default in 2001, and the devaluation was massive. The peso/ USD went from a pegged 1:1 to 4:1.

    Everyone’s dollar savings and dollar pensions were instantly deval’d by 75 %. Worse, so were their future earnings.

    1. DownSouth

      Bruce said: “Worse, so were their future earnings.”

      Please, let’s not let the thread degenerate entirely into fiction.

      Argentina GDP – real growth rate (%): This entry gives GDP growth on an annual basis adjusted for inflation and expressed as a percent.

      The Argentine president De la Rua and his neoliberal guru, Domingo, escaped in a helicopter in the wee hours of December 20, 2001.

      It took Argentina a while to get its political house in order, and Nestor Kircher didn’t become president until May, 2003.

      In the interregnum, Argentina defaulted on its foreign debt, devalued the peso to a fourth of its previous value and entered into a full-fledged depression. However, the nation was restored to economic (and political) sanity, as the GDP figures illustrate.

  12. sean

    The original intent behind the formation of the EU was to prevent another war in Europe and the rise of Fascism.

    Greece is edging towards implosion and possible civil war.

    Fascism is the ruling policy of puppet governments in Ireland, Portugal and Greece mandated by the ECB and its client banks in Germany and France to loot the Sovereign wealth of those countries to pay back private loans(bank bonds).

    The intent of the creators of the EU has spectacularly failed and has been the direct cause of the rise of fascism in peripheral countries.
    This type of Fascism is the alignment of State power with corporate interests (banks) in defiance of the democratic will of the people.

  13. Abhijeet M

    This is definitely a lesson for all other countries who are shown carrot by the private investors. My country -India, will soon suffer from the same problems that Greeks are suffering from, as we are shown carrots by out thug politicians & industrialist who are looting the country. Its time for all those who do not wish to see their loved ones die of hunger on street corners. Time to wake up & spread the Revolution.

  14. lambert strether

    Actually, the real black swan event is this:

    A totally bi-partisan crowd of hundreds of thousands of people have occupied the area in front of our Parliament. They share what little food and drink there is. A microphone stands in the middle, on which anyone can speak for two minutes at a time – even propose things which are voted by a show of thumbs. Citizenship.

    The square occupations — at least, Tahrir, Plaza del Sol, Syntagma — have experimented with new social pattern like consensus decision making. Whether these patterns “work” is not known, but it’s possible they can avoid the 20C pattern where Lenin turns into the Czar and Mao into the Emperor. It’s always nice to avoid killing a few million people for “same as the old boss.”

  15. /L

    According to the World Bank data Greece public debt was 127% relative to GDP 2001. I assume that it was predominantly in Drachma. So then they over night converted this debt to Euros, a foreign currency they was the user of not the issuer. What economic experts were advising the Greek politicians on this issue?

    “a rising tide lifts all boats”?

    Greek current account, external Balance on goods and services
    Germanys current account, external Balance on goods and services

  16. LAS

    We can break down a population or break down contracts (debt obligations). I would vote for the second choice.

    Contractural obligations that defy biology and nationality should be broken down; they are unnatural and the extent of politics/lobbying necessary to maintain them is ridiculous or enforceable only thru warfare. Contracts so one-sided must be broken, it is just a question of when and at what human cost. Do it now so that the inevitable austerity will not be in vain.

    As Yves points out in other contexts, contracts are often in default on both sides, improperly executed on both sides. The apparent creditor authority as much to blame as any party.

    Take back your government.

  17. billwilson

    1. Where is the outrage at the rich Greeks not paying taxes? It seems to me protesters should be protesting in the rich neighborhoods, telling the rich to pay their fair share, or it will be taken by force.

    2. At some point someone has to step in and cut up the credit card. The longer it takes to do this the worse the problem will become. Because Greece has been unable to get a national consensus, the force has to come form outside (yeah, I know, the outside is what got Greece in the mess in the first place, by lending them so much in the first place). The US is in a similar situation, and has the advantage/curse of being the world reserve currency. The hole just keeps getting deeper and deeper.

    3. Hang Greenspan in effigy. His low rate policy fed the destructive fires of debt.

    4. It is a lot easier to lose money than make it and easier to borrow than repay. What most don’t intuitively “feel” is how fast this can spiral out of control. Debt is rightly a 4 letter word. Many nations borrowed too much in good times and are now screwed. The only question now is who “eats” the mistake. The banks will push hard to blame the borrowers, the borrowers to blame the crack dealers (banks). There are few innocents here and the aftermath will be a mess.

  18. eatbees

    If enough people around the world chipped in $5, $20, or $100, we could pay the Greek national debt and that would be the end of this sorry scam.

    I would love to see the look on the bond traders’ and bankers’ faces when they realized they had no further claim on Greece because its debts were paid in full!

    The author is right, these people don’t want Greece to settle, they want it in a position of desperation so they can strip its resources for 10 cents on the dollar.

    1. Philonius

      If enough people around the world chipped in $5, $20, or $100, we could pay the Greek national debt and that would be the end of this sorry scam.

      No, I think this would just perpetuate it.

  19. John A

    Nice article, but a few disagreements. They’re protesting because their handouts are being cut. End of story.

    1)They do want the bailout if it means they can keep the previous (and ever increasing) level of benefits, pensions, free health care, etc.

    2)They don’t want the bailout if it means forced austerity and reduction of benefits.

    In the end, they refuse to admit to themselves that their (and most of Europe’s & the US’s) way of life and of living is unaffordable and will not continue. They lied to themselves and each other about it and their politicians lied to them about it. And they’re country lied to to other nations and foreign creditors about it. And they lied to get into the Euro. And on and on. It’s all about lying and greed by both the people their elected officials, the creditors, the Euro Zone government. And now, like pouting children, they’re stomping their feet and screaming because they can’t have what they promised themselves based upon their own lies. This will happen in quite a few other countries before the debt crisis is all over.

    The Greeks are begging for a strongman right about now. These are dangerous times for Greece, indeed.

    I say screw it, just leave the Euro, reissue the drachma and repudiate the debt. Accept reality for chrissakes!

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Your comment doesn’t appear to consider how many millions and billions were made by bankers to *service* and expand the Greek debt.

      In the late 20th century, with resources in decline, municipalities, states, and federal governments appear to have been the next key revenue target for many financiers. A responsible banker would have called the question on Greece some time ago, but had they done so then they’d have missed their big bonus and their books would have looked pretty spare.

      But all of this required ‘massaging’ the numbers to make Greece look like a better deal than it was. See lambert strether’s reference above to ‘control fraud’.

      There’s obviously plenty of blame to go around, but that’s not very helpful. Very few citizens have the luxury of time or knowledge to go digging about into their nation’s contractual arrangements with banks. That’s supposed to be the job of the electeds, and it appears that in this sense the politicians and the bankers are very culpable.

      It’s quite obvious the Greeks in Synagma Square are the ones demanding that their national ‘credit card’ be cut up. These do not appear to be people looking for any kind of handout. See earlier comments under ‘damaged trust’.

      1. John

        It’s not a matter of Greeks not wanting the credit card cut up. They don’t care about that. They care about what they can get out of the state, which really means what they can get out of everyone else. The usual scapegoats will be trotted out (death to the “rich!,” evil banksters!, the politicians! etc.) but, in the end, it’s their own fault. They sold themselves down a river of their own lies, greed and false promises. Now they’ll have to grow a set and just default on the euro-debt and go back to the drachma. They may be a third world country after that.

        Don’t get me wrong, I think the banks should be screwed on the debt hard. Let them take massive haircuts, I don’t care. They should have known that they were being lied to left and right (and probably encouraged the lying). Fuck ‘em. Maybe they will learn a lesson and be more prudent lessons in the future. I can tell you who won’t learn a lesson…the Greek people. As soon as they’re able to borrow again (in drachma or euros), they will. As a previous poster commented, they won’t be frozen out of the debt market for long, just like Argentina. They’ll demand from their elected officials more and more money and benefits and then they’ll be right back to having midnight “votes of confidence.”

        Also, the OP mentioned someone “building a pension.” Let’s be serious, no one in the public sector “builds” a pension, in the sense of fully-funding it. They pay in a paltry sum over their career and then take out multiples of that total over the rest of their life after retirement. And that doesn’t include whatever the health benefits are. It’s the same with many public sector pensions in the USA. The difference between the percentage points paid in and “built” by the employee and what will be paid out to them is covered by every other taxpayer. Promised to the pensioner by the elected official who bought their votes with promises of wonderful retirements.

        What’s unfair is not reducing benefits. What’s unfair is lying to the public sector employee in the first place by convincing them that this is at all sustainable. But, of course, the worker doesn’t give a shit about that. He just wants as much as he can get out of the government (which is his fellow citizens) and screw everyone else.

        People need to grow the hell up and admit to reality.

  20. PQS

    Let’s see….America has the lowest tax rates since WWII, yet we are engaged in wars all over the globe and spending money hand over fist to enrich Halliburton and every other war profiteer, and DC hasn’t been able to cut a single digit from the Pentagon budget while they are busy cutting WIC funding and money to feed the poorest Americans…not a single banker has had to answer for the economic meltdown – or has been asked to pay even a tiny portion in penalties for breaking the economy…and now everyone in DC is talking about “Saving” Social Security and Medicare by cutting them, not to mention how every local municipality and state are cutting everything from the street lights (Colorado Springs) to teachers’ salaries.

    Does anyone else feel Greek yet?

    (PS – yes, I am aware that we can print our own money, unlike Greece…)

  21. Dan Duncan

    Blame the Lender or Blame the Borrower.

    This entire thread is nothing but a circular Chicken or Egg Analysis.

    “Reckless borrowers took on too much debt!”

    “Nuh uh. Irresponsible lenders gave out too many loans!”

    At least we can all feel good that everyone, in this case, is correct.

    Now what?

    When the analysis of causality won’t provide a solution, it needs to be dropped. Fairness, equity, “who’s to blame”…all these sentiments need to be junk-heaped. They don’t help and they only cause more acrimony and confusion.

    Greece can’t pay the money back. The debt needs to be written off for the following simple reasons:

    If you demand that Greece must pay reparations for the default, then…

    1. US must pay reparations to African Americans for slavery. And Native Indians as well–as tax-free cigarettes just aren’t cutting it.

    2. JP Morgan, Wachovia, CITI and Bank of New York also need to pay up for profiting from slavery.

    3. All of colonial Europe must pay reparations to Africa and India for slavery and colonialism.

    4. Ford, GM, GE, and Dupont (among so many others) all did business with the Nazi’s. Pay up, bitches.

    5. As I recall, Rome plundered Greece, so any moneys received by Italian banks need to be returned to Greece.

    And on and on it goes. It’s absurd.

    Instead, I propose a novel solution…something that’s never been contemplated up until this moment:

    I propose:

    –That banks STFU and allow a Greek Sovereign Wealth Fund (“GSWF”)to borrow unlimited sums at zero percent. These loans will be guaranteed by German and French taxpayers.

    –Then, the GSWF can invest said funds out to European treasuries at 3%.

    –the GSWF will then be able to demonstrate “perfect” trading quarters, and reap tens of billions in profits.

    –The Greek credit rating will stabilize and all will be made whole.

    Problem solved.

    This is what I do, folks: I solve problems. Thank you and have a great day.

    1. A Good Bankster

      Dan Duncan: “This is what I do, folks: I solve problems. Thank you and have a great day.”

      Come and work for my team! Ever since Winston Wolf left, things have not been the same.

      “The Wolf: I’m Winston Wolf. I solve problems.

      Jimmie: Good, we got one.

      The Wolf: So I heard. May I come in?……..Now, you’ve got a corpse in a car, minus a head, in a garage. Take me to it…”

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANPsHKpti48

    2. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: This entire thread is nothing but a circular Chicken or Egg Analysis.

      Belief in infinite debt causes these loops. Eventually, the belief will die, that will be a blackest of swans.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          All faith based debts can be paid off once you believe or stop believing, whichever the case might work for you.

          The key to realize is that it’s all in your mind.

    3. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      It’s no different from ‘Which came first, black holes or galaxies?’

    4. F. Beard

      When the analysis of causality won’t provide a solution, it needs to be dropped. Dan Duncan

      But you are wrong. Banks, the government enforced counterfeiting cartel, are the cause.

  22. Psychoanalystus

    Thank you, Alex, for an excellent article. 

    You make a very cogent point in that Greece is not, nor should it try to be, a so-called European nation. Its geography, customs, religion, and history makes that obvious. The west calls Greece lazy, undeveloped, and corrupt, forgetting to mention the West’s own imperial rapaciousness, long-history of murder and genocide, institutionalized deceit, and genetically-engrained corruption. The Germans, French, British, and American empires may point fingers at Greece and others all they want, and indeed, they have fooled most of their own uninformed and empire-brainwashed citizens most the time, but they can no longer fool our people anymore.

    The solution, my friend, is resistance. It is not acceptance of austerity. It is not haircuts. It is complete erasure of debts to FOREIGNERS. 

    The solution is not in the west, among the imperial wolves ready to devour nations. The solution is among friends in the east. It is among other oppressed nations who know their history and their suffering and no longer buy the imperial propaganda. 

    It is time to ditch the Euro and ditch this failed criminal attempt at empire and subjugation called the European Union. Greece is still respected in Eastern Europe. Greece can be the catalyst for starting a new alliance of Orthodox nations in Eastern Europe to include friends such as Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, and other like-minded nations that have been  victimized by the same imperial FOREIGNERS. A friendly relationship can then be established with Russia, China, other BRICS nations. There is no need to remain in the EU or the Eurozone, unless Greece really wants to see its islands taken away by Western FOREIGNERS.

    I repeat: The solution is not with the empires of the west. The solution is with Greece’s like-minded friends who themselves are unshackling themselves from centuries of oppression at the murderous hand of Empire. 

    Psychoanalystus

  23. LRT

    Those arguing lenders should also be responsible are perfectly correct. That is one valuable lesson a default would teach to those who lent to Greece: next time, be more careful.

    This is a two-way thing. Don’t lend what people cannot afford, or they will default and you will lose all you lent. And do not borrow more than you can afford, or you will default, and lose less predictably but equally badly.

    I am not aware of being a neo liberal or indeed a neo anything, and don’t really know what those terms mean as bandied about here. We are also hearing from some people advocating something they refer to as new monetary theory which seems to mean that borrowing more than you can repay is just fine and will have no consequences because you will just print money, and everyone will accept it as if nothing has happened.

    Fine, adopt it, and see who will lend to you.

    Greece should default, not because it will somehow free the workers from oppression, but because it cannot repay. After that, people should learn their lesson and be real careful about lending to other people who cannot repay.

    Probably what will happen is that Greece will default, but people will carry on lending to it, and it will default again, and each time there will be howls of rage and surprise. Interest rates will peak suddenly and sharply as default nears again. The result will be to doom the economy to stop-go economics, to the lasting disadvantage of the population.

    All they have to do, but one realizes its very difficult politically, is have a sensible budget with a sensible level of spending, and better tax collection, and stop thinking about all this stuff. Its a problem that has been solved. Just run reasonable, conservative, sensible fiscal policies and let your population get on with working, saving, spending, and making a decent living.

    What you have seen in Greece has been looting by minorities at the expense of the whole. Not just looting by the rich either. The problem is that this looting imposes far greater costs on the economy as a whole than the profits for the minorities, who don’t care as long as their returns are positive. The effect however is to drag everyone down as the pie shrinks.

    1. Nathanael

      Modern Monetary Theory is much subtler than you think it is.

      Fundamentally, it involves analyzing the root psychology behind the money…. the fact is we DO know that sometimes people will keep accepting money when we just print it. And sometimes they won’t. How do we tell when? Well, MMT people have attempted to actually figure out what the conditions are.

      Most old-school economists just made a wild stab in the dark *the way you just did* and assumed they were right. Well, they’re *not* right — the evidence shows otherwise. You *can* just print money to inflate away debts under many circumstances, *without* triggering hyperinflation — it’s been done *repeatedly*. The question is when can you, when can’t you. MMTers have been trying to study the historical evidence, the evidences other economists haven’t been looking it.

      Turns out it seems that it has to do with general (i.e. non-financial) perceptions of the government. In which case the US may be in big trouble. (Whereas the US under the widely trusted FDR was perfectly safe.)

  24. Eric

    This article leaves me a little confused. Greeks work hard and they don’t go on pension early. Outstanding Greek soverign debt was issued exclusively by governments that everyone recognizes as both democratic and legitimate. As part of the Euro, those governments sold debt at rates that were favorable to their national experience. Creditors do not want a part of the Parthenon, or an island and particularly they do not want ownership of public companies. They would like their debt obiligations honored. Why is that difficult for the nation that Alex describes? It is difficult because Alex’s version of Greece is nonsense.

    1. Psychoanalystus

      In that case, you must also agree that the US needs to pay its entire debt to China, Russia, Germany, and others immediately in non-devalued dollars backed by hard assets… unless, of course, it desires to auction off a few peripheral states.

      Because the American people are, just like the Greeks, a lazy nation, accustomed to long vacations, short work weeks, early retirement, and extravagant health insurance plans. Because certainly, the predicament that the US finds itself in has absolutely nothing with a corrupt and criminal banking system, and it is entirely unrelated to a rigged political system completely controlled by the Death Industrial Complex (military and medical industries), to name a few.

      Seriously, Eric, you should be ashamed of displaying such lame-brained logic.

  25. xct

    Germany even had a period of non-payment in 1990.

    SPIEGEL ONLINE: Really? A default?

    Ritschl: Yes, then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl refused at the time to implement changes to the London Agreement on German External Debts of 1953. Under the terms of the agreement, in the event of a reunification, the issue of German reparations payments from World War II would be newly regulated. The only demand made was that a small remaining sum be paid, but we’re talking about minimal sums here. With the exception of compensation paid out to forced laborers, Germany did not pay any reparations after 1990 — and neither did it pay off the loans and occupation costs it pressed out of the countries it had occupied during World War II. Not to the Greeks, either.

    (…)

    Ritschl: (…) The anti-Greek sentiment that is widespread in many German media outlets is highly dangerous. And we are sitting in a glass house: Germany’s resurgence has only been possible through waiving extensive debt payments and stopping reparations to its World War II victims.

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,769703,00.html

  26. Gerald Muller

    One technical, but important question, should Greece leave the Eurozone: Greece borrowed in euros, which was its legal currency. If its return to the Drachma, does Greece have to pay its debts in its new legal currency, the Drachma or in the old one? That could make a difference of at least one hundred billion euros, if not more.

  27. Lloyd C. Bankster

    Dieter (a German Bankster): Not sure how long we can keep a lid on this thing, Lloyd. If we take a haircut on Greek bonds, even one-thousandth of one percent, some of the boys are talking about firing up the gas chambers again, send in a dozen or more SS Panzer Divisions and turn those spendthrift Greeks into lampshades.

    LCB: You ain’t got no problem, Dieter. I’m on the f*cker. Go back in there and chill them banksters out and wait for the wolf, who should be comin’ directly.

    Dieter: You sendin’ the Wolf?

    LCB: Feel better, my man?

    Dieter: Sheeit, that’s all you had to say!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4UeHWPeOrA&NR=1

    (Runtime: 37 seconds)

  28. dbk

    For any NC readers/commenters who might be interested, the Greek Parliament has just awarded PM George Papandreou a vote of confidence (154-143).

    1. The lives of others

      From my vantage point as a dual ordinary observer, in terms of corruption, tax avoidance and political dysfunction, I see the US of today as equivalent to the Greece I left 40 years.
      I cannot see that Greece has gotten any worse.
      All the failings you attribute to today’s Greece are patently obvious in today’s US. May be you all wear pink glasses for US and magnifying lenses for Greece.
      But it remains to be seen whether US or Greece will meet their deadlines first.

  29. Benedict@Large


    The greatest of all moral hazards is to allow a banker to write a loan without fear that the loan might later be written down.

    Write it down, Greece.

  30. Inspectorate

    Greek lawyers were among the worst tax-evaders, bribers, and cheaters I have known doing business in Greece, so I am glad that Alex is now a lawyer. Unfortunately, his mom and his friend’s granddad have one thing in common with their fellow Greeks, and now they’re paying for it dearly: For around the last thirty years, they have kept reckless politicans and tax-and-spend governments in power who did little to modernize the country, but kept it running by draining funds from “Europe” into private pockets and devaluing the currency over and over. Now either default, disown your well-known, corrupt elites,mint a new drachma, or be quiet.

  31. Jojo

    As with here in Ireland, the Greeks were suckered into the rampant consumerism more common in the USA and UK through apparently low cost loans and one of the most sophisticated corporate propoganda programmes in history.

    The aim is to make us all debt slaves for the benefit of a very few (but very clever) elites.

    If we don’t stand up to this….. what was that song line? “If you tolerate this, then your children will be next”

  32. Danny

    This expresses my thoughts exactly on geo-political events now culminating in Greece, according to Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism”.

  33. Ho Dikaiopolis

    I agree that the events in Athens are of great importance to people throughout Europe. This is a stimulating piece; I engage with some of its claims at agoranomos.blogspot.com.

  34. ruth shepley

    Interesting article. Hope everyone reads and absorbs it. Have read many articles on the Greek “crisis”. This one throws a different light on it. Banks? The IMF what can the ordinary person do against the banking giants?

  35. costa

    That’s the best damn article about the Greek sovereign debt crisis I ever read, congrats man

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