Hellenic Blues

Longtime First Draft reader, online pal, and fellow blogger Dan of Pruning Shears fame asked me the other day for my take on the Greek clusterfuck, my word, not his. That’s what it is: a Pure-D clusterfuck that has been mishandled by the political and financial leadership of both the EU and Greece.

Dan wrote a very thoughtful post about the Greek crisis. Here’s an extended excerpt:

I’m theoretically massively in favor of Grexit. Greece is now in the fifth year of a Depression and austerity budgeting has created unconscionable human suffering. Dump the bastards, make them eat their losses, crank up the printing presses, shove handful after handful of drachmas into every Greek’s pockets, export the hell out of your products with your newly-cheap currency, and welcome vacationers across the continent for the same reason. Take a short term hit in order to end the vicious cycle of budget cuts and decreased revenues, and re-assert democratic control of the nation. Oxi!

But again, the devil is in the details – and revolutions usually don’t bother too much with anything outside the big picture. It doesn’t seem very wise to simply postulate the existence of engaged and competent leadership, available social infrastructure (like a large and well prepared civil servant class), etc. There are a multitude of factors that have to line up in order to avoid long term, widespread misery. From the outside none of that can be measured, and maybe not from the inside either. It’s like not knowing the width of a chasm until after you’ve jumped.

Well said, Dan. People need to exercise some impulse control right now. My belated take on this mess is coming up after the break.

The current Syriza government in Greece is just as aggressively inept as recent governments of both Left and Right. One good thing is that the Papandreou and Karamanlis dynasties that have dominated Greek politics for the past 60 years (excluding the Junta interregnum) are not involved in the government, but Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis are rank amateurs who specialize in heroic posturing and rubbing people the wrong way. I’m not sure if alienating the EU governments who hold all the cards was the best way to proceed, BUT the Germans, in particular, are insufferably self-righteous. There’s no good way to handle an epic mess like this but both sides have been comically inept as well as downright rude in their interpersonal dealings. There’s been a surfeit of two D words in this process: Dictat on the EU/IMF side and Drama on the Greek side. Another reason that it’s such a clusterfuck.

I think that austerity in times of economic hardship is not the way to go. The ordinary people of Greece have suffered mightily over the last 7 years and are sick and tired of being sick and tired. The problem is that there’s no easy solution even though there *is* an indiegogo campaign that’s raising money to bailout Greece. It’s raised 1.4 million Euros thus far but as Neil Young would put it, they’re just pissing in the wind.

Greece is a chronically ill-governed country no matter who’s in charge. The Left and Right stage a Kabuki dance over ideology but when elected everyone hires their relatives and cronies. Nothing changes. On the surface, Syriza offers a radical break from the past but competence and common sense remain in short supply. Who the hell calls a national referendum on a vital issue 9 days before election day? I understand why they feel panicky but that’s, quite simply, nuts.

The Greek Finance Minister is an academic economist whose minor seems to have been in drama:

Greece’s finance minister has pledged to resign if his country votes yes to the bailout plan proposed by international lenders.

Yanis Varoufakis, the academic-turned-minister who has riled his eurozone counterparts, said he would not remain finance minister on Monday if Greece voted yes.

In an interview with Bloomberg, the self-declared “erratic Marxist” said he would rather cut off his arm than accept another austerity bailout without any debt relief for Greece.

However, he was “quite confident”that the Greek people would back the government’s call for a no vote.

<snip>

If Greece votes yes, Varoufakis made it clear that the government would “sign on the dotted line” for the bailout plan, even if some in the ruling Syriza party could not stomach it. “I am allergic to extend and pretend.”

While it is an open secret that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and many of her colleagues would be happy to see Varoufakis toppled, the iconoclastic minister has also lost support at home. Many in the Greek government blame Varoufakis personally for the international isolation Greece now finds itself in . “There are many who would rather he had done things differently,” a senior government official.

Varoufakis is a hugely influential member of Alexis Tsipras’s administration. The Greek prime minister has faithfully followed his finance minister’s agenda of game theory and brinkmanship in dealing with the EU and IMF.

The whole “I’d rather cut my arm off” thing is so very Greek. It’s totally unproductive when you’re dealing with cold-eyed bean counters like the IMF’s Christine LaGarde and Chancellor Merkel. It’s also difficult to engage in brinksmanship when your position is so weak. I hope it works and gives the people of Greece some relief but much of Varoufakis’ strategy appears to be fueled by a toxic cocktail of testosterone and malakatude.

I have no idea what the Greek people should do on Sunday.  It’s up to them. I’d vote “beats the hell outta me” if that was an option. It’s unclear if Greece should stay in the EU or, in the dread word of the day, Grexit. The Syriza government is convinced that the EU will cave regardless of the outcome of the vote. I suspect, however, that Chancellor Merkel might hold Mr. Varoufakis to his “pledge” to cut off his arm if the Greek people vote YES. Whatever happens, the ordinary people of Greece are going to take it in the neck. They’re the important ones in this clusterfuck. The EU/IMF side should stop worrying about the banks and Syriza should stop focusing on their egos. Enough with the dick waving.

I have one suggestion to make. One attractive thing about Greek culture is its stress on education. It has, however, led to far too many academics exercising political power: former Prime Minster Andreas Papandreou sat out the Junta years at UC Berkeley. Btw, his father, George, was the PM who was deposed by the military. It’s the Greek way.

This clusterfuck returns me to the extreme fogginess of Greek political history. Both Right and Left claim to have truth and justice on their side but that’s rubbish. Both sides have customarily turned a blind eye to tax avoidance, and nepotism is the most important thing to all concerned. Family is everything to the Greeks but, trust me, when there’s a family blowup, it’s epic. That’s what’s happening right now between Greece and the EU.

I wish that Greek politicians and their EU counterparts would take a deep breath and stop playing games. People’s lives are at stake. It’s time for all concerned to act like grownups and figure out what’s the least bad course of action. Enough with this endless Euro or Drachma drama.

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2 thoughts on “Hellenic Blues

  1. mmferry1965 says:

    Can’t claim any level of understanding beyond what’s in the popular media…but using the popular media as my source, I side with Krugman. Vote no.

    Forget where I saw this, but yesterday someone pointed out that the Germans conveniently forget they’ve been on the other end of the stick even more often than the Greeks. OK, this was not my original source, but

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/economic-historian-germany-was-biggest-debt-transgressor-of-20th-century-a-769703.html

    I think this is a classic case of politics trumping common sense — the European pols think, probably with at least some data/focus groups/polls, or whatever, that any position other than telling Greece where to stick it would seem like a concession. Meanwhile, the Greeks have been taking it on the chin for, what, five years now, and it’s not going to get any better with increased austerity. Rock, meet hard place.

    I dunno: maybe the Greeks can leave a wooden horse on the steps of the EU Parliament…except that, it’s hollow…and…

  2. Adrastos says:

    Nothing but bad choices. That, however, will leave Varoufakis in place and there will be no settlement as long as he’s in government. He’s utterly poisoned well.

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