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I’ve been riveted to the Greece-Eurozone/IMF psychodrama, which is to say I’ve been reading more about it than any other single news story these past few days (and the past week has been pretty intense news-wise). My head is spinning at this point; I almost don’t know what to think; or, to put it another way, my attitude shifts based on the last good analysis I read (and I will readily admit to this). As I’m not a specialist of Greece and follow events and politics in that country episodically, not daily or weekly, I am therefore dependent on the analyses and commentaries of persons who are specialists, follow Greece as part of their jobs, and/or whose perspectives I trust. And I read/know highly smart, well-informed persons on both sides of the cleavage on the question, i.e. those who have been pointing the finger at Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza government as the main culprits in the current mess—and which looks to be headed toward a debacle of potentially catastrophic consequences, i.e. a Grexit—and then those for whom the guilty party is the European Commission-ECB-IMF Troika, the Eurogroup, and the entire German-imposed austerity of the past six years.
In the first, anti-Syriza group are three excellent Greek political scientists whose commentaries I see almost daily on social media: Stathis N. Kalyvas, the Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science at Yale University, my go-to man on anything having to do with Greece, who’s a public intellectual there, and is presently in Athens (check out his latest book, just out last month: Modern Greece: What Everyone Needs to Know); Michalis Moutselos, who’s finishing a doctoral thesis at Princeton (his latest social media comment is here); and Takis Pappas of the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, and presently visiting professor at the University of Freiburg (see his latest post here, on “10 harsh realities for Greece”). To this trio may be added historian Nicolas Bloudanis (e.g. see his piece from March on how, under Syriza, Greece is once again oscillating “between democracy and an authoritarian regime.”).
Michalis linked today to this “essential guide into the #Greferendum and the current state of affairs regarding #Grexit,” by Thessaloniki-based lawyer Zen K. and with this comment
A nice overview, in English, of some of the legal and economic issues behind the Referendum for those who have not followed the details as closely. Again, this has eventually become a referendum on the position of the country in the Eurozone if not the European Union, so a lot of these matters do not weigh as much on what people are voting for/against (once more, we vote YES unequivocally!). But it does demonstrate some of the legal derailments the government was willing to allow and, again, are not good omens, if Greece finds itself isolated.
Tsipras’s hastily called referendum—a fuite en avant if there ever was one—has, for the record, likewise been critiqued by University of Poitiers law professor Pascal Mbongo in a post, “Le référendum grec: un objet juridique non-identifié,” on his website Libertés & Droits Fondamentaux. Another Greek commentator, whose existence I just learned of the other day, is C. J. Polychroniou, a research associate and policy fellow at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, who had a worthy tribune in Al Jazeera English two days ago on how the “Greek referendum is a Machiavellian plot.” The lede: “Alexis Tsipras gambles on Greece’s future with a sham referendum.” See as well Polychroniou’s contribution in today’s NYT’s Room for Debate, in which he asserts that “Greece can’t afford to leave the euro, though it should.”
A high-profile critic (in the French media) of Tsipras and his Syriza comrades is Jean Quatremer, Libération’s Brussels correspondent, who’s written extensively on Greece over the past several years and has been going to town on it this past week (e.g. his piece of last Friday, “Aux racines de la crise grecque.” Every time I read JQ’s analyses, I say “yep, he’s right” (ouais, il a raison). Here’s Quatremer’s latest commentary/lament, posted on his Facebook page late last night
Petit coup de fatigue devant l’incompréhension d’une fraction de l’opinion de gauche devant ce qui se passe en Grèce. Le problème actuel de ce pays, ce n’est pas la dette vis-à-vis des Européens (moratoire jusqu’en 2023), mais celle vis-à-vis du FMI où siègent des pays infiniment plus pauvres que la Grèce. Et les exigences des créanciers, ce n’est pas pour punir la Grèce, mais simplement pour équilibrer ses comptes, réformer son Etat afin qu’il collecte l’impôt, remettre sur pieds son économie. Personne ne dit quelle serait la solution: l’annulation de la dette des Européens (celle vis-à-vis du FMI n’est pas négociable) ne réglerait aucun des problèmes grecs (et j’y suis favorable, il faut payer pour notre erreur de l’avoir admise dans la zone euro). Quelqu’un est-il favorable à ce que les citoyens européens payent les dépenses grecques pour l’éternité? Si oui, il faut le dire au lieu de s’indigner vainement.
Voilà. But then there are the denunciations of the Troika, Eurogroup, Angela Merkel/Wolfgang Schäuble et al, which are more numerous on my various news feeds and whose arguments are equally convincing. First, the usual Nobel Prize-winning economist suspects, i.e. Paul Krugman (latest salvo here) and Joseph Stiglitz (here). Guillaume Duval, editor-in-chief of the excellent monthly Alternatives Économiques—of which there is no equivalent in English: a slick, glossy magazine on economics from a progressive/Keynesian perspective aimed at an educated but non-specialist readership; economics journalism at its best—has been shredding Greece’s European creditors almost daily on the AlterEco website (e.g. here) and his Facebook page (where he has kindly taken the time to respond extensively to my questions or critiques of his positions). My dear friend Alice Sindzingre—research scholar at the CNRS in Paris, visiting lecturer and research associate in the economics department at SOAS, specialist of African political economy, who’s worked at the World Bank, and knows the international financial institutions (IMF et al) well—has been riveted to the Greek psychodrama drama more than I—and is much smarter about it than I will ever be—and emphatically delivered to me a week ago, and in convincing manner, her virulent indictment of the Troika/Eurogroup/et al and defense of the Greek position. I could hardly disagree.
One source of analysis on Greece that Alice has highly recommended is Romaric Godin, the assistant editor-in-chief of the La Tribune, one of the Paris dailies (mainstream) on the economy and business. Godin is indeed quite good on the issue, as I have noted, e.g. see his piece from three days ago, “Grèce: la victoire à la Pyrrhus de Wolfgang Schäuble.” My blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer, always measured in his analyses and critiques—and not too sympathetic toward Jean-Claude Juncker & Co—weighed in on the Greek crisis on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog on Sunday. Two commentaries, in particular, merit mention. One is by Jeffrey Sachs, writing in Project Syndicate exactly two weeks ago, on “The endgame in Greece.” This one is particularly unsparing toward the Troika et al and absolutely worth the read. The other is by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, international business editor of the Telegraph and well-known critic of the single currency, who had a severe commentary eleven days ago, in which he asserted that the “Greek debt crisis is the Iraq War of finance.” No less. Money quote
Personally, I am a Burkean conservative with free market views. Ideologically, Syriza is not my cup of tea. Yet we Burkeans do like democracy – and we don’t care for monetary juntas – even if it leads to the election of a radical-Left government. As it happens, Edmund Burke would have found the plans presented to the Eurogroup last night by finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to be rational, reasonable, fair, and proportionate.
Comme quoi, the Greece vs. Troika et al issue does not cleave along left-right lines.
A non polemical commentary has been offered by the well-known French economist Elie Cohen—one of my longtime references—on the excellent website Telos, “Leçons grecques pour l’Europe.” And probably the best proposal for a satisfactory way out of the Greek crisis has come from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, unveiled, as it were, on his Twitter account on Saturday, “Greece: On learning from one’s mistakes #Greece #EU.” Smart and reasonable man he is, DSK, at least when it comes to economics. Too bad he’s made so many mistakes in his own life.
UPDATE: Martin Wolf’s column in the June 30th FT, “The difficult choices facing the Greeks,” gets it exactly right IMO. The lede: “If I were a [Greek] voter, I would bemoan my government’s leftism and the eurozone’s self-righteousness.”
2nd UPDATE: Jürgen Habermas, in a tribune in Süddeutsche Zeitung dated June 22nd—and translated by Social Europe—explains “Why Angela Merkel is wrong on Greece.”
3rd UPDATE: Gerassimos Moschonas, who teaches political science at Panteion University in Athens, has a most interesting and informative piece in Telos, dated May 22nd, “Syriza et l’UE après la première longue bataille: bilan des négociations.” Also in Telos (June 30th) is a response by Charles Wyplosz to Elie Cohen’s piece linked to above, “Quelle politique économique pour la Grèce?”
4th UPDATE: Takis Pappas has a commentary in OpenDemocracy (July 2nd) on “What is at stake in the Greek referendum?,” in which, entre autres, he critiques Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz. The lede: “[If the ‘no’ wins, h]ow will Greece be able to fix its economy in a desert landscape, with no appetite for reforms, without helpful partners and with a crippled democracy?”
5th UPDATE: Michalis Moutselos has posted this pertinent comment (July 2nd) on his Facebook page
Several friends, mostly from abroad, have written to me in good faith about my steadfast support of the YES in the referendum, wondering whether I do not see the elephant in the room: “But don’t you agree that austerity is pointless, self-defeating and harmful to Europe as a whole? Don’t you agree that European policy has been captured by powerful pro-austerity interests and that the struggles of the Greek government deserve our understanding, if not solidarity”?
Here is a first way to answer to this question. For anyone following this wall somewhat closely, it should be clear that my distaste for SYRIZA (and their right-wing partners ANEL) was never purely economic. These two are parties that would never budge before calling European partners and institutional lenders gangsters, usurers, blackmailers and perpetrators of a social genocide. These are parties that would undig the most self-victimizing, national-populist themes of Greek political history (the cult of NO, war reparations, civil war themes) and tie them to metaphors regarding the negotiations. These are also parties that would say no to everything in terms of reforms of the Greek state, reforms that did not have anything to do with fiscal consolidation, regardless of whether they were included in the Memorandums. Their supposed, newfound “reformism” during negotiations that was meant to make up for their demands for debt reduction was laughable for anyone who followed their domestic campaigns. In sum, these are, basically, parties targeting the lowest, reactionary instincts of frightened and angry mobs, not the grievances of citizens being unjustly underrepresented or over-punished. No Nobel-prize winning economist made the effort to dig into these aspects of the SYRIZA-ANEL phenomenon, nor did many intelligent leftists (many still don’t care to see). So now that these two parties seem to have completed their strategy of isolationism; now that even those friendly to them are wondering why they abandoned the negotiatons two days before the closeing of banks without really realizing there was no spirit of cooperation with Europe to begin with; the debate becomes not just about whether austerity measures were good or bad, but also whether we want these people running the country outside the European fora, uncheckered by the rules and norms of Europe. This has now, evidently, become more existential than whether 3-4% primary surplus per year was a self-defeating strategy or not.
And this from Takis Pappas, posted on his FB page
My reason for voting “Yes”:
Here is a Greek story. It begins in Anatolia with my grandparents, who came to Greece as refugees after the forced exchange of populations – for them it was “The Disaster” – in the early 1920s. They became merchants and relatively prosperous Greek citizens. It continues with my parents, who worked their way in the private sector both in times of political tumult and in peace; politically moderate and wise folks as they were, they taught me to be a good citizen and productive member in society. The story is now at a chapter where I have long ago moved residence from Greece to somewhere near the heart of Europe, happily seeing my own children to develop as true European citizens and proud heirs of a mixture of cultures. This has been a century-long, tortuous but also dignified journey from the Ottoman east to the enlightened West. And I don’t want to see it reversed by a “leftist riffraff” in partnership with ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis. To have a happy ending, this story demands that I vote “yes”.
More opinions, mostly supporting the “No”, in the link below.
The link is “Greferendum: an anthology,” by Alex Sakalis, associate editor of OpenDemocracy. The lede: “Some of our best contributors on the Greek crisis give their thoughts on how they would vote in Sunday’s referendum.”
6th UPDATE: Ana Swanson of WaPo’s Wonkblog has a meritorious report (July 1st) on “The forgotten origins of Greece’s crisis [that] will make you think twice about who’s to blame.” Also on Wonkblog is a piece (July 3rd) by WaPo policy editor Zachary A. Goldfarb, “18 key facts about Greece that will leave you totally up to date about a huge crisis,” in which he links to “an excellent primer” by University of Chicago business school professor Anil Kashyap.
7th UPDATE: Check out the commentary (July 3rd) by The New Yorker’s John Cassidy, “Greece’s debt burden: The truth finally emerges.”
8th UPDATE: Le Monde’s economy supplement (June 30th issue) has a “retour sur les trente-cinq années qui ont conduit l’Europe et la Grèce au bord de la rupture.” The full text of the article is in the comments thread below.
9th UPDATE: Spiegel Online International has a most interesting analysis (July 3rd), “Angela’s ashes: How Merkel failed Greece and Europe.” The lede: “Angela Merkel relishes her reputation as queen of Europe. But she hasn’t learned how to use her power, instead allowing a bad situation to heat up to the boiling point. Her inability to take unpopular stances badly exacerbated the Greek crisis.”
10th UPDATE: Oxford University econ prof Simon Wren-Lewis skewers “The ideologues of the Eurozone,” i.e. the Troika and other austerians, in a post on his Mainly Macro blog (July 3rd; reblogged by Social Europe). In the post he links to an analysis (July 2nd) by economist Angel Ubide, “A political and intellectual proxy war over Greece,” on the blog of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
11th UPDATE: Thomas Piketty gives his view of the Greek crisis (“ceux qui cherchent le Grexit ‘sont de dangereux apprentis-sorciers'”) in a must-watch 25-minute video interview (July 2nd) with Le Monde’s Arnaud Leparmentier.
12th UPDATE: Economics blogger Steve Randy Waldman, who’s billed as a libertarian, has a detailed, well-worth-the-read analysis (July 3rd) of the Greek predicament on his Interfluidity blog.
13th UPDATE: Here’s Jeffrey Sachs in Project Syndicate again (July 3rd), offering “A way out for Greece,” involving four steps and after the Greek people vote ‘No’ in the Greferendum (as Sachs says they should).