Yanis Varoufakis: Greece, EU Elections, Palestine & the International Order – JACOBIN Interview with David Broder

Yves here. In a bit of synchronicity, after giving a very short recap of some key issues in the 2015 Greek bailout negotiations, the then Finance Minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, revisited the topic in a Jacobin interview. Aside from synchronicity, another reason for showcasing this interview was that Varoufakis served up a tidbit about the process I had never seen before, and as Lambert is wont to say, I do try to pay attention. On top of that, it gives the opportunity to address some misperceptions that were widespread at the time, and due to the press amplifying them, still persist.

Specifically, Varoufakis describes how the incoming Syriza government could have used an unspecified mechanism, which I assume would be a voluntary default, for 50 billion Euros of debt that was heavily owned by wobbly Italian banks. That was a nuclear threat that Varoufakis said Greek President Tsipras agreed to give up (how? why?) before Varoufakis assumed office.

An issue Varoufakis does not mention but we covered at the time was that the US Treasury briefly acted as if it would try to intervene with the Troika on behalf of Greece. Many in the press discussed openly and loudly that Greece had the better economic case: imposing yet more austerity on an already depleted economy was sure to make the situation worse. Any apparent reduction in debt levels would be more than matched by further economic contraction, making the debt to GDP ratio worse. That in turn would produce more extend and pretend with the borrowings, when the IMF, EU lender states, and ECB were pretty much at the limit of how much stealthy relief they could provide this way.

According to DC insiders, the US line of thought was that Syriza, which was full of new faces and not part of the traditional Greek political machine elite, could fix Greece’s corrupt tax system. The short version is lots of people paid no or pretty much no tax, particularly Greek oligarchs. The obvious place to start was to crack down on media moguls. The Syriza government could have told them to pay their back taxes or lose their broadcast and print licenses. A move like that would have earned Syriza a great deal of credibility with EU leaders and would have opened the door to other approaches to the budget shortfalls than the IMF default of crushing labor.

But Syriza was not willing to do that. It had depended on the backing of the press barons to get elected. It was afraid, and likely correctly, that they’d seek to turn the public against them.

A final issue is the referendum, mentioning in passing by a voter quoted in the piece. Note that Varoufakis had nothing to do with it; he had resigned before then. The voter was right to be angry with Tsipras over the bailout, but the reporting on it at the time was generally terrible.

The Troika had made a bailout offer that expired on June 30. That was not an arbitrary date; that was when some of Greece’s debt matured and had to be refinanced.

But Tsipras tried to buy more time, or alternatively, muscle the Troika despite his weak position, by calling for a referendum on June 27, with the vote to be held July 5, after the bailout offer expired. Mind you, this gambit violated the Greek constitution, which requires at least a month between the announcement of the referendum and the poll date.

And before you say, “Oh, that’s just silly. The EU drop dead date could be postponed, think again. From a June 17, 2015 post, Tsipras’ Bailout Referendum Sham:

The bailout in fact expires on June 30. It would require the approval of each and every one of the 18 other countries in the Eurozone to extend the bailout beyond June 30. In some countries, most importantly Germany, extending the bailout requires parliamentary approval. The New York Times reported that German chancellor Angela Merkel told Tsipras that the latest offer was “extaordinarily generous.” It has also been widely reported that her stance towards Greece is more generous than that of the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, and Schauble’s views on this issue carry more weight in the Bundestag that Merkel’s do.

Now of course, since Schauble taunted Tsirpas in early May that Greece should consider calling a “helpful” referendum, one can argue he can hardly reverse himself now. But his suggestion came in early May, which is an eternity ago, and when a referendum did not conflict with the bailout end. Thus to have this referendum at all requires a approval of Eurozone countries who for the most part are already unhappy with serial Greek brinksmanship, and may well see this as a stunt too far.*

Germany had already demanded that Greece pass legislation consistent with the bailout terms by the end of this weekend as a condition for approval by the Bundestag. It is thus hard to see, absent Schauble having a sudden conversion experience by virtue of a visit by The Ghost of Christmas Future, that a bailout extension would be approved. Other bailout extension offers made by the more Greece-sympathetic European Commission have also been conditioned on Greece agreeing to structural reforms, aka pension cuts and increases in tax collections (curiously, Greece may actually have won a concession of sorts from the creditors in that labor market “reforms” no longer seem to be a major bone of contention). In keeping, the Wall Street Journal reports that, “Some European Union officials in Brussels suggested it would be difficult to persuade other eurozone governments to extend Europe’s bailout program beyond June 30, the current expiration date.”…

Thus a cold-blooded weighing of the odds means the “referendum” looks like democracy theater. It gives Tsipras and Syriza cover as they have effectively decided to go into arrearage with the IMF (IMF-speak for default, since the IMF is used to dealing with third-world countries) and are relying on the kindness of governments that are already none too pleased with them to not have the bailout expire. So take your pick: is Tsipras deluded, or is he cynically having his cake (leading Greece to a rejection of the bailout due to well-known creditor constraints) while trying to eat it too (packing the outcome as of now as a voter choice)?

And a June 29 post:

We described in detail how the referendum scheduled in Greece for next Sunday, July 5, is a cynical exercise in democracy theater. The Greek people are being asked to vote on a (draft) proposal by Greece’s lenders to unlock €7.2 billion in funds, the last portion of the so-called “second bailout” agreed by the Greek government in 2012. Tsipras knew at the time he announced the referendum that the proposal expired on June 30; that was the known-well-in-advance final date for the bailout terms to be agreed if each and every one of the 18 Eurozone countries agreed. We said it was a no-brainer that they would not agree; in Germany as with some of the other countries, it would require parliamentary approval to accommodate Greece’s too-late request, and there was no reason for any of them to cut Greece slack when the government has plenty of opportunity to schedule the vote in time, so it actually would inform the government’s actions.

Instead, Tsipras has already taken the decision to miss the €1.6 billion IMF payment due June 30 and the €3.5 billion ECB payment that falls on July 20, while falsely telling Greek citizens that they have a say in this momentous choice…..

As we warned for months, the ECB has been keeping the Greek banking system afloat only by stretching its own rules to the breaking point. They only needed political cover to end or curtail the backstop, which would put the Greek banking system in a death spiral. We discuss the implications in an accompanying post.

Moreover, the question being put to voters is incomprehensible to most and misleading on multiple levels.

So in a very abbreviated version of what happened next, the ECB did indeed drop a hammer on Greek banks. That resulted in severe restrictions on cash withdrawals, extreme difficulty for importers (most could not round up enough currency and get it cross border to convey it onward to pay for product) and tourists being unable to use credit cards, which led to trip cancellations. The Greek government capitulated in a few weeks and was forced to swallow a deal worse than earlier ones that had been offered.

So the contempt for Syriza was fully earned.

By Yanis Varoufaki, Greek finance minister during the first months of the Syriza-led government in 2015. His books include The Global Minotaur and Adults in the Room and David Broder, Jacobin’s Europe editor and a historian of French and Italian communism. Originally published at Jacobin; cross posted from Varoufakis’ website

Yanis Varoufakis’s new film series explains how elites used the financial crisis to terrorize Europe’s populations into submission. In this interview, he tells Jacobin why the anti-austerity movement failed and why the center is converging with the far right.

Debt is to capitalism what hell is to Christianity: unpleasant, and essential.” Speaking in his new documentary series In the Eye of the Storm, Yanis Varoufakis explains how elites have used capitalism’s own structural conditions to terrorize populations into submission and advance their counterrevolution. For the former Greek finance minister, austerity was not a necessary response to crisis but an instrument of “class war,” used to redesign economies in Europe and beyond.

Varoufakis’s new series recounts the resistance against this process — and the ways in which the European institutions’ dogmas set the EU on its current right-wing course. In an interview for the new print issue of Jacobin’s German-language magazine, David Broder spoke to Varoufakis about his time as finance minister, the reasons why recent crises have mostly benefited the far right, and the decline of Western hegemony globally.

David Broder: At the end of 2023, the Economist named Greece “economy of the year.” In June’s elections, New Democracy had won a majority, a result widely attributed to signs of economic growth. The main opposition party, Syriza, continues to decline. So, aren’t things going well in Greece?

Yanis Varoufakis: The Economist has every reason to celebrate an economic miracle. If you’re a money man, or a vulture fund purchasing distressed loans, Greece is an El Dorado.

Today there are 1.2 million homes being repossessed, in a land of ten million. Let’s say a house was bought for $250,000 before the crisis. Now it’s worth €200,000. It had a loan on it of €150,000, of which €50,000 was repaid. The mortgagee can’t repay the other €100,000 because of the crisis, loss of income, etc. Then a vulture fund registered in Delaware, with a bank account in the Cayman Islands, buys up the loan for €5,000. Even if they sell it for only €100,000, they’ve gained €95,000 on €5,000. I doubt there’s anywhere you can get higher rates of return. This is happening on an industrial scale.

The Greek state is more bankrupt now than in 2010, when it became bankrupt. Today the national debt is higher while national income is down. But now that a series of governments have been good girls and boys for the troika, the international creditors’ community has decided to proclaim Greece no longer insolvent. How come? Everybody knows that the Greek state is bankrupt. But there’s also the European Central Bank [ECB] winking at everyone who has bought Greek debt: don’t worry, we’ll stand behind it. So, why buy German debt when you can buy Greek debt that gives you higher yields?

The Economist has every reason to celebrate Greece as an economic miracle. If you’re a money man, or a vulture fund purchasing distressed loans, Greece is an El Dorado.

If you have capital to use in order to extract other people’s wealth, then Greece is the place to come to. But if you’re Greek and you don’t belong to the oligarchy, you’re in serious trouble. For thirteen years your real income has been falling. The social safety net is dismantled, as are any collective bargaining agreements. Then came the cost-of-living crisis, which has hit the Greek working class and underprivileged harder than anywhere else in Europe. Inflation is class-conscious: if you’re on lower incomes, your inflation rate is far higher. So, put all that together and you have this remarkable bifurcation: Greece, the best place in the world to be a vulture fund and the worst if you’re not.

David Broder: OK, but even a decade ago you predicted the likely effects of austerity. And this insight, and these consequences, don’t seem to have had a positive reflection in reviving the anti-austerity movement or building forces to the left of Syriza. Your MeRA25 was in parliament for four years, but didn’t get reelected in last year’s elections. Is this just because of lasting demoralization after defeat in 2015? Or is there something you’re not doing to mobilize support?

Yanis Varoufakis: Full disclosure: we were among the big losers of last year’s elections. Why was that? Why did we all lose, both those of us in the then Syriza government who did not surrender to the troika and those who did?

The best explanation was given to me by a taxi driver. He was taking me home from the airport and told me, “You know what? I agree with all that you’re saying. And I like you, but I didn’t vote for you, or for Syriza. I won’t forgive you for giving me hope. I didn’t use to vote. I only went to the polling stations twice. Once in January 2015 to vote for you. And then again in July 2015, in the referendum to say “no” to the creditors. And what happened? You all folded, and we’re back in the same quagmire as before. I don’t care whether you were one of the good guys. Then you came to me in the election last year with a whole program that you can never implement because you’re struggling at 5 percent. So, I’m not voting again.”

On the Left, if we’re lucky, we can get majority support once every fifty years, during the acute phase of a capitalist crisis. If we blow the opportunity, we have to wait another fifty years. That doesn’t mean we stop fighting. MeRA25 keeps doing all that we think needs doing, because in the end, we’re a bit like surfers: you can’t control when the wave comes, but you’d better be ready to catch it when it does.

David Broder: But was the taxi driver right to think that the initial hope was misplaced? Your series tells us that a small country saying “no” inspired many internationally. But the troika also wanted to demonstrate that you couldn’t say “no,” and then crushed you to prove the point. If this could have been a “David and Goliath” tale, what “catapult” did you have?

Yanis Varoufakis: We knew they’d try to crush us. In April 2013, while living in Texas, I warned Syriza’s leaders that the Cypriot government and the ECB was a dress rehearsal for what they were going to do to a future Syriza or Podemos government. They were flexing their muscles with little Cyprus to rehearse shutting down the banks to force a capitulation. [Alexis] Tsipras understood and asked me: “OK, so what do we do?”

I sat down for six months and devised an action plan. I presented it to the team and they approved it. Then, just before the January 2015 election, Tsipras offered me the finance ministry to implement it. Alas, that action plan can’t be judged, because they didn’t let me implement it. I’m convinced that had we followed it the troika wouldn’t have been able to crush us.

In the ministry which I inherited, I had €50 billion worth of bonds in Greek law, which I could restructure with one signature. I didn’t even need to go through Parliament. And it was in Greek law. They couldn’t take me to New York like they used to take Argentina and so on. That was our nuclear weapon — because had I proceeded to haircut those bonds, the ECB would not be allowed (by Germany’s constitutional court) to save the Italian state by buying its bonds. Mario Draghi was very worried about this weapon of ours, as he told me during our first meeting. But right after that, my own government signaled to him behind my back: “Don’t worry. We won’t let Varoufakis do it.” It was like sending David against Goliath without the catapult.

David Broder: But why did Tsipras refuse to let you use it?

Yanis Varoufakis: It’s clear that he had already reached an agreement with Angela Merkel to sign the memorandum to surrender. What’s not clear is when he decided to surrender: before we were elected or after? I don’t think I’ll ever know.

What I do know is that those who, after the event, claimed that we were always going to be crushed are profoundly wrong. I am not saying that we would have definitely won. But we did have a good chance — assuming we used our weaponry. In my estimation, it would have cost them more than €1 trillion if they did crush us. That’s serious money for a monetary union that doesn’t have a fiscal union to back its expenditure. I don’t think Merkel would have dared. I think we’d have had a chance, and then Podemos would have had a chance, and then our Italian comrades . . . . So, Greece was the linchpin, and when Tsipras sold us down the line, he was also selling the whole European left down the line.

David Broder: In the past, you made intelligent arguments about why Grexit was not just unnecessary but a bad idea. You said that you’d end up with an autarkic economy, and that — unlike, say, Argentina unpegging the peso from the dollar — it’d take months to prepare the return to the drachma, effectively offering advance warning of a huge devaluation. Ahead of last year’s elections you proposed a state-backed electronic payments system. But wouldn’t the creditors also have been sure to ensure Grexit failed?

Yanis Varoufakis: Hypotheticals and counterfactuals are always hard to work out. My point was simple: capitulating would render Greece unviable — as it now is. Fighting back gave us a chance to break out of our doom loop. The digital payments system would help in any case. By how much, no one knows. But it would help whether we are in the eurozone or after going back to the drachma. Even if there was even a 5 percent possibility that we could have averted extra austerity and privatization within the euro, why not try it? I’m still convinced we could have done it — and that, thus, resistance was the optimal strategy.

Today, we have fewer options. One reason is the nonperforming loans (NPLs), mortgages, repossessions, and so on that I mentioned before. In 2015, we had nonperforming loans, but since then, with the Syriza government creating the foundation for it, they created a secondary market for NPLs. This is a gigantic source of rents for the vulture funds. The restructuring of the Greek banks is based on new derivatives that contain these NPLs as a form of capital.

So, now we don’t have the nuclear option we did in 2015, and the troika has a greater incentive not to allow us to stop home repossessions. If we ever came anywhere near government again, I’ve no doubt they’d try to crush us with double the energy of 2015. We would need a new nuclear option: an alternative to the euro. The electronic payment mechanism you mention has a dual use: to help create liquidity within the euro and to be the first move — if need be — toward the drachma.

This is, of course, a major reason for proposing it — if they shut down our banks, payments can be transferred to this system — which can, fairly easily, evolve into the new national currency. In 2019 and then in 2023, MeRA25 communicated this plan A, B, C to the public in a transparent way, so that they’d know what they were voting for. Alas, unlike in 2019 when voters gave us nine seats, in 2023, they kept us out of Parliament and voted new fascist parties in.

David Broder: Ahead of the EU elections, it seems far-right parties are mobilizing people against the establishment — but also, increasingly, joining the establishment. In the film you say that liberals need these far-right bogeymen just to be able to rally people against something. But if their opposition is so fake, then why such success?

Yanis Varoufakis: All we need to do is look at the 1920s and 1930s. After their 2008, which of course took place in 1929, the fascists and Nazis managed to harness discontent — even borrowing or stealing from the Left’s criticism of the bankers and so on while directing the people’s anger to the “other,” toward the Jew. And when they got into power, the fascists became the agents of industrial and financial power, of capital.

That’s always the case. Think of [Donald] Trump: he told blue-collar workers in the Midwest that he was going to get rid of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street from Washington. Then what’s the first thing he did? He took the CEO of Goldman Sachs and made him head of the US Treasury.

It is a mistake to think that the nationalist, or fascist, international are clashing with a radical center. We should think of them as different sides of the same coin. They are symbiotic. [Emmanuel] Macron would never have become president if [Marine] Le Pen did not threaten the system. And Le Pen would never rise to challenge for the presidency if you didn’t have people like Macron introducing the austerity that causes the discontent that feeds her rise.

The top 0.1 percent, the upper echelons of the ruling class, demand of governments that they pass tax cuts for them and transfer huge quantities of rents to them. But they know that such legislation is extremely unpopular. So, the EU’s right-wing populists incite hatred toward “the system,” the Jew, the Muslim, the other, the foreigner, the migrant, the refugee to gain power. Once in power, they enact this legislation on behalf of the top 0.1 percent.

David Broder: Bernie Sanders often says that the Biden administration needs to do more for working-class America to answer the despair that Trump feeds off. What do you think it can do to stop Trump winning?

Yanis Varoufakis: There’s nothing the Biden administration can do. Firstly, it doesn’t have the numbers. Secondly, it doesn’t have the time before the next election in November. Thirdly, it doesn’t have the will. The Biden administration was sold to Wall Street and to Big Tech and the powers-that-be even before it was formed.

Bernie Sanders and I started the Progressive International together in Vermont. However, I’ve been in disagreement with him — a comrade and friend — since 2016. After the then primaries, when the nomination was stolen from him and handed over to Hillary Clinton, Bernie had nine hundred thousand wonderful volunteers all over the country, ready to become the third force in US politics. I thought he should have started a new party. Instead, he let those young activists go to ground — and then disappointed them entirely, four years later, when he sided with [Joe] Biden.

I’m not one to turn on comrades. We can have legitimate disagreements. I understand that, especially given his age, Bernie wanted to make a difference. Not just demonstrating in the streets but from within the corridors of power. He had something of a positive impact on some of the Biden administration’s initial policies during the pandemic. Some people got to eat because Bernie Sanders fought for their corner within the Biden administration. But that doesn’t last.

Now, the whole progressive movement and the DSA [Democratic Socialists of America] have been sidelined, especially with what’s happening in Israel/Palestine and Ukraine. The dynamism of the political revolution that Bernie had started in 2016 dissipated. I’m afraid that the new wave that Bernie energized is not going to survive in a Democratic Party, which like Labour in Britain, is extremely good at destroying all progressive energy within itself.

David Broder: On the international front: South Africa’s case to the International Court of Justice offered a damning indictment of Israel’s actions but may end up exposing the hollowness of international law. I’m interested in your thoughts on how European countries have reacted to the war, and what effect this has on how people outside Europe see the EU and the “international community.”

Yanis Varoufakis: They’ve reacted disgracefully. The EU and almost every government will go down in history as aiding and abetting the genocide of the Palestinians. It’s not just complicity but a mode of behavior that is turning our prime ministers and presidents into prospective defendants in the International Criminal Court [ICC]. When Ursula von der Leyen — as it happens, without any authority — went to Israel to cheerlead the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], she deserves not only to be condemned by future historians, but also to be prosecuted by the ICC.

This last couple of decades, instead of becoming less reactionary, Europe has become criminal. Once, French president Jacques Chirac, during a visit to the occupied Palestinian territory, confronted the Israeli gendarmes and the IDF. I can’t imagine Macron doing that. Willy Brandt waxed lyrical about Palestinians’ right to their own state. Today, Olaf Scholz is presiding over a regime that is arresting Jewish comrades of ours in Berlin for the crime of carrying a placard saying “As an Israeli and a Jew, stop the genocide in Gaza.” You couldn’t make it up!

David Broder: The current wars, and the expansion of BRICS, seem to point to a breakdown of the Western-led order. Do you think this is a changing power balance in a re-formed international order or something more like a hardening of regional trade blocs?

Yanis Varoufakis: We never had an “international order” and there was never an “international rule of law.” Where do we start: Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam before that?

My concern is that we’re putting too much — but also too little — emphasis on BRICS. It’d be a huge mistake for progressives to do what they used to do with the USSR, to imagine that, whatever its authoritarian aspects, at least it’s the counterweight to the United States. Let’s not think of the BRICS that way.

India’s Narendra Modi is a fascist. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are edging closer to BRICS, have a currency that is pegged to the US dollar. With BRICS, they are creating a plan B for themselves, not for the world’s dispossessed. The most interesting part of the BRICS is China. It contains the most progressive and the most authoritarian forces on this planet. A huge class struggle is going on there as we speak.

In my recent book Technofeudalism, I offer an analysis of the new Cold War between the US and China. The essence of the new developments lies in what I call “cloud capital.” This is a kind of capital which is algorithmic, based on the internet, on Big Tech. It’s not like a robot that makes cars or a steam engine: for the capital that lives in your laptop or your phone is a produced means of behavioral modification, that grants its owners tremendous power to extract rents from workers, capitalists, and users alike.

That same cloud capital is the foundation for a new kind of payment system. And there are only two bundles of cloud capital. One is to be found in the US, the other is China. Nobody else has cloud capital worth talking about. If my hypothesis holds water, we are seeing a huge rivalry between these two mega cloud fiefdoms. And what really concerns the United States is this: the only reason why the United States has been hegemonic since the late 1960s and early ’70s, after they lost their trade surplus to the rest of the world, is because of the exorbitant privilege of the dollar. The payment system is in dollars, which means that the US faces no trade or budget constraint. Even though it has a huge current account deficit, it continues to buy stuff from the rest of the world because it pays in dollars that it prints — dollars that are recycled back to Wall Street and to American government debt as capitalists from all over the world send their dollars back to the US to buy US government debt, shares, and property.

The dollar payment system hasn’t been challenged so far. But the combination of Chinese cloud capital and Chinese finance, which is separate from US finance, can become an international digital payment system, alternative to the dollar. That’s why Saudi Arabia is interested in China and the BRICS: they want access to that alternative payment system because they saw what happens if you fall foul of Washington. You can have $300 billion confiscated, which is what happened to Russia after they invaded Ukraine. This is the reason why we have a new Cold War: because they are trying to quash the capacity of Chinese cloud capital to antagonize the dollar payment system.

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  1. CA

    “The most interesting part of the BRICS is China. It contains the most progressive and the most authoritarian forces on this planet. A huge class struggle is going on there as we speak.”

    — Yanis Varoufakis

    Excuse my foolishness, but I have no idea what this means. How, in particular, have I failed to notice the huge class struggle going on?

    1. Mikel

      Are the alerts being sounded, especially in the MSM and by establishment organizations, and being framed as “class struggle” for anywhere in the world?

      1. CA

        Are the alerts being sounded…

        [ Please explain further when possible. I am not sure what alerts are meant. The New York Times repeatedly finds a complaint made on an internet platform in China, and the complaint is generalized even if 1 among several million. So a problem written about was an internet complaint about not finding a copy of “1984” in a particular bookstore, when every library and most bookstores have the work. The Times however is maniacally focused on finding dire fault with China. ]

  2. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    This paragraph resonates particularly:

    “Specifically, Varoufakis describes how the incoming Syriza government could have used an unspecified mechanism, which I assume would be a voluntary default, for 50 billion Euros of debt that was heavily owned by wobbly Italian banks. That was a nuclear threat that Varoufakis said Greek President Tsipras agreed to give up (how? why?) before Varoufakis assumed office.”

    At the time, I was employed by the City’s main trade body and often worked with the Bank of England (literally around the corner, Paul Tucker’s team), European Banking Authority (literally, then, across the road) and Basel Committee. I often saw the liability data.

    Defaulting on debt owed to Italian banks would have brought down France’s BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole, first, and then Deutsche, exposed by way of its Italian operations and HQ. The likes of HSBC and Barclays had direct / first hand exposure to Greece, so could have been threatened, too, and brought German and US banks into play / the maelstrom.

    I remember the interventions by the US, Cameron and Osborne and, when chairing a conference at Mansion House, having Tucker excuse frequently excuse himself, so that he could take calls from the Bank, across the road, and relay to Mervyn King, then at Wimbledon or Lord’s (cricket ground). Dates get a bit fuzzy. They had access to the same data and were panicking.

  3. juno mas

    Hmm, are Tsipras and Sanders birds of a feather, selling their political supporters hokum and then selling out? It seems current ‘democratic’ political systems are being fronted by poseurs.

    1. djrichard

      Tsipras and Syriza had nuclear options and they had gentlemen’s agreements to not resort to that arsenal. Suggests they had stakeholders beyond the people who voted for them. That they wanted to finesse the process. They weren’t able to finesse the process and nobody can blame them for not being able to finesse the process. So they were successful.

      Did Bernie have nuclear options? I’m not so sure. He certainly viewed himself as needing to finesse the process. So in that way that Bernie is a bird of a feather: nobody can blame him for not being able to finesse the process. And therein lies the problem. Because there’s a strong contrast to finessing the process: Trump. Trump has no nuclear options and that hasn’t limited him to finessing the process.

  4. CA


    May 23, 2015

    A Finance Minister Fit for a Greek Tragedy?
    The defiant stand by Yanis Varoufakis in the high-stakes economic negotiations with the E.U. threatens to tear Europe apart.

    Yanis Varoufakis knows when he will go. “I’m not going to humiliate myself, and I’m not going to become compromised in terms of principles and in terms of logic,” he told me in early May. The Greek finance minister had just returned to Athens from a hopscotch tour of European capitals, during which he warned his fellow European leaders that they faced a Continental crisis: If they didn’t lend money to his ailing country soon, Greece might end up forced to leave the eurozone. And yet Greece wouldn’t accept many of the conditions they were demanding in return. He sounded angry. “I’ll be damned if I will accept another package of economic policies that perpetuate this same crisis. This is not what I was elected for.” He would resign, he said, rather than push the Greek people deeper into economic despair: “It’s not good for Europe, and it’s not good for Greece.”

    Varoufakis has been Greece’s finance minister for only four months, but the story of how he has thrown Europe into turmoil is one many years in the making. After Greece joined the European Union’s monetary union in 2001, the tiny country of 10 million was flooded with money from elsewhere on the Continent. Over the course of the next decade, Greek leaders, whose sclerotic and corrupt economy had long been rife with patronage and tax evasion, borrowed billions from imprudent European banks and then lied to E.U. officials about its mounting debts. When the financial crisis finally rolled into Greece in 2009 and 2010, the country was an estimated $430 billion in debt, a staggering figure that imperiled the economic health of its near and distant neighbors — indeed, all of Europe….

  5. Susan the other

    Just thinking back on all this financial insanity, I’d really like to see a timeline of what looks like financial dominoes falling as a result of more debt than opportunity, spreading out in all directions, shutting down the system if not rescued. Maybe the “Whatever It Takes” chart of sustainability. I think it would be instructive to have a visual like that because the logic might be wonderfully apparent and serve to shut down orthodox freak-outs of austerity, and etc. And finally answering the question, “Where do we need to spend our cooperation for the future?”

  6. Oldtimer

    Kudos to this guy for being one of rare voices in taking a stand on the ongoing Palestinian genocide.
    Other than this, he being a greek, would always propose to screw the creditors.
    Greece has been an ongoing concern since her foundation in 1833 by Britain, France and Russia, always borrowing money and never paying it back.
    Greece is a permanent leach on the EU in the same manner Israel is on the US.
    Interesting also that both countries are founded on absolute myths, Israel having resurrected hebrew language to claim the ancient heritage by a people who spoke yiddish and greece tried hard till 1976 to teach her inhabitants ancient greek and convince the world they were descendants of Plato but had to abandon it finally and come back to their vernacular demotic.

  7. Samuel Conner

    This old interview (which for some strange reason YouTube suggested recently, and I listened to),


    seems relevant to the tools Syriza government had to pressure European governments to accommodate Greek recovery. Starting at 15:30 until about ~19:00, YV describes a “nuclear option” that he thinks would have kept Greece’s adversaries in the negotiations on-side.

    TL;DR, Greece could have defaulted on a large tranche of Greek-law bonds (Greek sovereign bonds, I think) held by ECB, which would have violated a Draghi pledge to never allow restructuring of sovereign debts held by the ECB, which would have unraveled a legal defense of ECB’s QE program, which would have endangered the financial stability of the Eurozone.  

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The problem is the EU had a nuclear option it could deploy much faster, which was the ELA , which was supposed to be a short-term, emergency only facility. The Greek banks had ginormous loans from the ELA. It had to be renewed every 2 weeks.

      If the ECB did not renew the ELA, the entire Greek banking system would collapse. As in close to immediately.

  8. Lambert Strether

    > On the Left, if we’re lucky, we can get majority support once every fifty years, during the acute phase of a capitalist crisis. If we blow the opportunity, we have to wait another fifty years.

    Very acute. Thanks, Obama!

    (Let me wander off topic because people may not know this history–

    To be fair, I would place the “blown opportunity” in 2006, a “wave” election where Democrats won the House and the Senate, and a decisive repudiation of the Bush Administration. I can’t say the blogosphere drove the election, but certainly “our” issues of the the Iraq War, warrantless surveillance and Bush executive power grabs (building a case for impeachment), plus a planned-but-retracted Republican assault on Social Security, were salient in the press and in party discourse.

    Bush’s program of warrantless surveillance involved the commission of multiple felonies (that were not even technically necessary). Impeaching Bush would have been completely justified on those grounds (and for real, unlike the Democrat nonsense with Trump). Pelosi took impeachment off the table, IIRC, the day after the election. With that decision, the Democrats became friends-with-benefits with the spooks. They consummated the marriage under Obama when Bush’s program of warrantless surveillance was retroactively legalized ( the only person who went to jail was a telco CEO who opposed it). Fast forward to the Censorship Industrial Complex; the cancer has been metastazing for a long time.)

    1. spud

      remember lambert it was bill clinton that originated the patriot act, legalized torture, and made the war in iraq a government policy.

      so you think the democrats were going to open that can of worms?

      any government that gives up sovereignty is fascist. the quacks that came to power in 1993 were actually hard core fascists, who have out fascist ed, the fascists.

      anyone that thinks bill clinton and obamas right hand man was going to put a end to what he help to create, does not understand fascism.

      the reason why so many want in on the brics, is because fascism has never worked for very long, nor ever will.

      sovereignty is everything, this is why free trade is fascism, and cannot be reformed,

      “Today there are 1.2 million homes being repossessed, in a land of ten million. Let’s say a house was bought for $250,000 before the crisis. Now it’s worth €200,000. It had a loan on it of €150,000, of which €50,000 was repaid. The mortgagee can’t repay the other €100,000 because of the crisis, loss of income, etc. Then a vulture fund registered in Delaware, with a bank account in the Cayman Islands, buys up the loan for €5,000. Even if they sell it for only €100,000, they’ve gained €95,000 on €5,000. I doubt there’s anywhere you can get higher rates of return. This is happening on an industrial scale.”

      once the fascists own it all, then what happens? that’s why so many want into the brics.


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