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.

May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s Slurs Against China
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail