FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bankers Crush Greek Democracy

by DEAN BAKER

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou touched off a firestorm last week when he proposed putting the austerity package designed by the “troika” (the I.M.F, the European Central Bank and the European Union) up for a popular vote. The idea that the Greek people might directly be able to decide their future terrified leaders across Europe and around the world. Financial markets panicked, sending stocks plummeting and bond yields soaring.

However, by the end of the week things were back under control. The leaders of France and Germany apparently laid down the law to Papandreou and he backed off plans for the referendum. While the government is in the process of collapsing in Greece, the world can now rest assured that the Greek people will not have an opportunity to vote on their future.

This is unfortunate since it means that Greece’s future will likely be decided by politicians who may not have the interests of the Greek people foremost in their minds. By their own projections, the austerity package designed by the troika promises a decade of austerity, with high unemployment, falling real wages and sharp reductions in public services and pensions. And, their projections have consistently proven to be overly optimistic.

If given the opportunity would the Greek people endorse this sort of austerity package? The answer obviously depends on the alternative.

The alternative route almost certainly means a disorderly debt default and a departure from the euro. That is not a pretty picture. If Greece follows the path of Argentina, the last country to make a similar break, then the economy is likely to undergo a free fall for a period of time. The duration of this free fall will depend on how long it takes the government to get a new currency in use and construct some provisional formula for converting euro-denominated contracts into the new currency.

In Argentina this period was three months, with another three months of stagnation before the economy began a sustained boom. The process could be more difficult in Greece, both because it is tied in more extensively to the eurozone countries and also because Argentina at least had its own currency.

However, even in the case of Greece, such a break would not be impossible. There will be a desire to hold the new currency. The government just has to impose a new property tax that is only payable in the new currency.

People will want to hold onto ocean-front property in the Greek islands or at the foot of the Acropolis, so there will be demand for the currency. Also, the prospect of a tourist boom, once prices in Greece fall by 50 percent relative to Italy, Spain, and other popular destinations will go a long way toward supporting the Greek economy.

If the Greek people can convince themselves of a plausible alternative then they could make a few demands on the troika. First, they could say that 10 years of continuous austerity is not acceptable.

Yes, the Greeks had been reckless borrowers, but the European banks had also been reckless lenders. It is true that the Greek government had lied about its budget situation. However, the word among finance types is that everyone knew they were lying and went along with the joke. Goldman Sachs even designed a nifty swap that allowed it to profit from the lies.

Instead of austerity, the Greek people might insist that the ECB focus on a growth agenda. This would mean that the ECB would have to ditch its obsession with a 2 percent inflation target and start acting like a real central bank. The ECB could start by guaranteeing the debt of Italy and Spain, both of which risk a rising interest rate-default death spiral if there is not a credible guarantee behind their debt.

It might also start pushing more expansionary policies. It’s always hard to admit when you are wrong, but the ECB-IMF policy of growth through austerity is not working. Every month we get more proof of this fact with data showing that growth is lower than expected and unemployment is higher than expected. Is there any evidence that could get these people to change their minds before they destroy Europe’s economy? Maybe the Greek people could have forced the troika to actually look at the data.

There would have been other potential for fun in these negotiations. The Greek people, who have already been forced to accept a rise in their retirement age and lower pensions, may suggest the same for IMF economists. These hard-working types can often retire from their jobs in their early 50s. Instead of the meager Greek pensions of a few hundred euros a month that got the banker types so riled, the IMF crew can be pocketing close to $10,000 a month in their pensions. Maybe IMF pensions would have come up for debate if the Greek people actually had to be convinced that a bailout was in their own good.

But the chance to bring the Greek people into the discussion was quickly nixed. We are back to a conversation among the bankers and the politicians. There is not much room for democracy in this story, but we can still dream.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy . He also has a blog, ” Beat the Press ,” where he discusses the media’s coverage of economic issues.

This article was originally published by The Guardian.

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail