Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Palast on the Greek elections

One of the more puzzling phenomenon is the enthusiasm for the EU I have witnessed in my highly educated European friends.  Once I carefully explained the damage certain to be caused by the Maastricht monetary agreements to some friends from Finland who looked at me as if I clearly didn't get it.  For them, joining the Euro was a chance to prove to the world that formerly poor, isolated, colonized Finland had arrived in the big time.  I am certain that the same sort of thinking was repeated in many of the other small entrants to the EU from Estonia to Portugal.  This was a point of national pride.  Unfortunately, the neoliberalism of Maastricht was designed to take advantage of the small and weak who were joining a yacht club they could clearly not afford to join.  The fact that income inequality is a global phenomenon pretty much proves how effective these economic policies are in redistributing wealth upward.

Of course, the poster child for all the bad things that can happen to the little fish who joined the EU is Greece.  Now they are about to elect a government that promises to abandon the EU-mandated austerity measures that are crippling their country.  But notice, they still want to stay in the club.  Veblen was right—the desire for status emulation is such a powerful motivation, it is even more powerful at times than the survival instincts.  Example xxxx is Greece's Syriza Party.  Palast mocks this silliness so much better than I could (see below).

Trojan Hearse: Greek Elections and the Euro Leper Colony

Greg Palast, January 20, 2015

Europe is stunned, and bankers aghast, that polls show the new party of the Left, Syriza, will win Greece’s parliamentary elections to be held this coming Sunday, January 25.

Syriza promises that, if elected, it will cure Greece of leprosy.

Oddly, Syriza also promises that it will remain in the leper colony. That is, Syriza wants to rid Greece of the cruelty of austerity imposed by the European Central Bank but insists on staying in the euro zone.

The problem is, austerity run wild is merely a symptom of an illness. The underlying disease is the euro itself.

For the last five years, Greeks have been told that, if you cure your disease—that is, if you dump the euro—the sky will fall. I guess you haven’t noticed, the sky has fallen already. With unemployment at 25%, with Greek doctors and teachers eating out of garbage cans, there is no further to fall.

In 2010, when unemployment was a terrible 10%, a year into the crisis, the “Troika” (the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund) told the Greeks that brutal austerity measures would restore Greece’s economy by 2012.

Ask yourself, Was the Troika right?

There is a saying in America: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Can Greece survive without the euro? Greece is already dead, but the Germans won’t even bother to bury the corpse. Greeks are told that if they leave the euro and renounce its debts, the nation will not be able to access world capital markets. The reality is, Greece can’t access world markets now: no one lends to a corpse.

There’s a way back across the River Styx. But it’s not by paddling on a euro.

There’s Life after Euro

Many nations do quite well without the euro. Sweden, Denmark and India do just fine without the euro—and so does Turkey, which had the luck to be excluded from the euro-zone. As long as Turks stick to the lira, even Turkey’s brain-damaged Islamo-fascist President Tayyip Erdoğan cannot destroy their economy.

Can Greece just dump the euro? They have happy precedents to follow. Argentina was once pegged to the US dollar much as Greece is tied to the euro today. In 2000, Argentines, hungry and angry, revolted. Argentina ultimately overthrew the dollar dictatorship, the IMF diktats and the threats of creditors, and defaulted on its dollar bonds. Free at last! In the decade since, the Argentine economy soared. Yes, today, Argentina is under attack by financial vultures, but that is only because the nation became so temptingly wealthy.

I was in Brazil when its President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told the IMF to go to hell—and rejected privatization of the state banks and the state oil company, rejected cutting pensions and thumbed his nose at the rest of the austerity nonsense. Instead, Lula created the bolsa familia, a massive pay-out to the nation’s poor. The result: Brazil not only survived but thrived during the 2008-10 world financial crisis. Despite pressure, Brazil never ceded control of its currency. (It is a sad irony that Brazil is only now faltering. That’s the fault entirely of Lula’s successor, President Dilma Rousseff, who is beginning to dance the austerity samba.)

Austerity: Religion, Not Economics

The euro is simply the deutschmark with little stars on it. Greece cannot adopt Germany’s currency without adopting Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, as its own.

And Schäuble has determined that Greece must be punished. As my homey Paul Krugman points out, there is no credible economic theory that says that austerity—that is, cutting government spending, cutting wages, cutting consumer demand—can in any way help a nation in recession, in deflation. That’s why, in 2009, Obama ordered up stimulus, not a sleeping pill.

But austerity has nothing to do with economics. It is religion: the belief by the stern Lutheran Germans that Greeks have had too much fun, spent too much money, and spent too much lazy time in the sun—and now Greeks must pay a price for their sins.

Oddly, I hear this self-flagellating nonsense from Greeks themselves: we are lazy. We deserve our punishment. Nonsense. The average Greek works more hours in a year than any other worker in the 34 nations of the OECD; Germans the least.

The Euro’s Father Describes his Little Bastard

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, would like to pretend that austerity and the euro are two different things, that you can marry the pretty girl but not invite her ugly sister to the wedding. Apparently, the Syriza chief is blissfully ignorant of the history of the euro. The horror of austerity is not the consequence of Greek profligacy: it was designed into the euro’s plan from the beginning.

This was explained to me by the father of the euro himself, economist Robert Mundell of Columbia University. (I studied economics with Mundell’s buddy, Milton Friedman.) Mundell not only invented the euro, he also fathered the misery-making policies of Thatcher and Reagan, known as “supply-side economics” – or, as George Bush Sr. called it, “voodoo economics.” Supply-side voodoo is the long-discredited belief that if a nation demolishes the power of unions, cuts business taxes, eliminates government regulation and public ownership of utilities, economic prosperity will follow.

The euro is simply the other side of the supply-side coin. As Mundell explained it, the euro is the way in which congresses and parliaments can be stripped of all power over monetary and fiscal policy. Bothersome democracy is removed from the economic system. “Without fiscal policy,” Mundell told me, “the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.”

Greece, to survive in a euro economy, can only revive employment by reducing wages. Indeed, the recent tiny reduction in unemployment is the sign that Greeks are slowly accepting a permanent future of low wages serving piña coladas to Germans on holiday cruises.

It is argued that Greece owes Germany, the IMF and the European Central Bank for bail-out-billions. Nonsense. None of the billions in bail-out funds went into Greek pockets. It all went to bail out Deutsche Bank and other foreign creditors. The EU treasuries swallowed 90% of its private bankers’ bonds. Germany bailed out Germany, not Greece.

Nevertheless, Greece must pay Germany back, Mr. Tsipras, if you want to continue to use Germany’s currency, that is.

Greece: Goldman Sacked

Greece’s ruin began with secret, fraudulent currency swaps, designed a decade ago by Goldman Sachs, to conceal Greek deficits that exceeded the euro zone’s 3%-of-GDP limit. In 2009, when the truth came out, Greek debt holders realized they had been cheated. These debt buyers then demanded usurious levels of interest (or, if you prefer, a high “spread”) to insure themselves against future fraud. The compounding of this interest premium brought the Greek nation to its knees. In other words, the crimes committed to join and stay in the euro, not Greek profligacy, caused the crisis.

The USA, Brazil and China escaped from depression by controlling their money supply, government spending and currency exchange rates—crucial tools Greece gave up in return for the euro.

Worse, once the Trojan hearse of the euro entered Athens, tourism, Greece’s main industry, drained to Turkey where hotels and souvenirs are priced in cheap lira. This allowed Dr. Mundell’s remorseless wage-lowering machine, the euro, to do its work, to force Greece to strip all its workers of pensions and power.

Greece fell to its knees, with no choice but to beg Germany for mercy.

But there is no mercy. As Germany’s Schäuble insists, democracy, this week’s vote, means nothing. "New elections change nothing in the accords struck with the Greek government,” he says. “[Greeks] have no alternative.”

Ah, but they do, Mr. Schäuble. They can tell you to take your euro and shove it up your Merkel. more

1 comment:

  1. I like the "course adjustment" you and Tony have made...this posting exemplifeies its virtue (about so much more than "just" Greek elections). (Greg Palast and Ted Rall are special.)

    I love the notion that the Trojan “Hearse” of “Supply-Side Voodoo Reaganomics” is dead...but that it won’t go away because there are still too many who still believe in the outrageous theory of “Trickle Down” economics!

    I love the notion that “...austerity has nothing to do with economics. It is religion: the belief by the stern Lutheran Germans [in this case] that Greeks [and others] have had too much fun, spent too much money, and spent too much lazy time in the sun — and so now [it's time for everyone] to pay a price for their sins.”

    “Fool me once...fool me twice...,” indeed! There may never be enough grownups on earth (in time enough to matter) who believe "human caused" climate change is happening (much less comprehend it)...and that we should be doing something about it! Indeed: To trump all “parochial rules” on earth...with a whole new set of “worldwide rules” that make sense (in a bio-spherical sort of way) (that can be enforced) has been contemplated but never achieved because, “until now,” it hasn't been necessary! (Until now the planet could take all our crap...until we overdid it!)

    So, if it's possible to leave god and money out of it (which it probably isn't) the choices for our future are simple: “Utopia or Oblivion,” as spelled out by Buckminster Fuller in 1969; or “The Meaning of Human Existence,” by E.O. Wilson in Nov of 2014. Both books make the case for "science," and both books make it clear that utopia is not only possible but essential if we are to survive as a species...and maintain our earth's biosphere.

    My grandsons tell me all they want is “a chance to grow up and be happy!” They're cheap dates at the ripe old ages of 7 and 8.