THE ABSURD TIMES
Illustration: We found these to juxtaposed yesterday.
Illustration: A flag worth flying these days. Almost like Guy Fawkes.
SYRZIA, SOCIALISM, KAPITALISM, AND FASCISM
Czar Donic, PM.
The overwhelming vote, 61% to 39%, of the Greek people in their own interest came as a surprise to the vast corporate media outlets that began to believe their own propaganda. They have created a climate, there, in Europe, and even here, that makes class struggle seem popular once again. It seems obvious now that the people will not tolerate further "austerity" (which means give us your money) and want a fair distribution of wealth.
If one thinks this is merely a left-wing movement, they are mistaken. The far right-wing party of Le Pen in France is fascist, but popular support is comming not as a backlash against immigration as the media likes to point out, but as a reaction to austerity. For anyone who remembers John Maynard Keynes, the economist, he is the one who predicted WWII and someone like Hitler as a result of the treaty of Versailles which imposed, supposedly as punishment, a regime of austerity on the German people. A similar uprising happened in Russia against the Tsar. Any party that works on behalf of the people, at least at first, will gain further support if the current actions against the people continue.
The Greeks did not have to "tighten their belts." That is what they did five years ago for a bribe or "bailout," and the result is the chaos we see now. The governments of Europe bailed out their banks and did it by shifting the debt to their own people. Now, the Germans are stuck with the result of the problem and they don't even realize it as yet. They are still buying into the same nonsense we have here that they are hard-working and the Greeks are lazy, just as we say the middle class is hardworking and people who want free health care are lazy. Health care, like life, is a basic right, not a privilege to be bought. The insurance companies here fought like hell to keep a public option out of the Affordable Care Act and they won, but the people would like a system with nothing else but a public option or right. We will se how this works, below.
Now the EU and its corporate bosses think they have gotten rid of the problem with the resignation of the finance minister in Greece, but he is replaced by Euclid who will be even more of a problem for them. If the EU insists on maintaining its own "rules," Greece and several other countries have no sensible option but to leave the Euro and revert to their own currency. Sort of like how we should revert to our own economic structure of the 50s and 60s and the tax structure then. Face it, supply side economics and Milton Friedman's idiocy has proven false and a failure. It only takes time for people to wake up and realize it. This will be difficult with six corporations owning about 99.9% of the media here, but it will finally happen. We see it starting with the support Bernie Sanders is getting in this primary.
TUESDAY, JULY 7, 2015
Economist Richard Wolff on Roots of Greek Crisis, Debt Relief & Rise of Anti-Capitalism in Europe
As Greek voters reject further budget cuts and tax hikes in exchange for a rescue package from European creditors, who is to blame for the debt crisis embroiling Greece? Is Germany trying to crush Greece to set an example? Will Greece leave the eurozone? What does this mean for the global economy? We speak to Richard Wolff, emeritus professor of economics at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and visiting professor at New School University. He’s the author of several books, including, most recently, "Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism." Still with us in Athens, Greece, is Paul Mason, economics editor at Channel 4 News.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Wolff, Germany clearly is controlling this situation, of any country. Why do they want to crush Greece? Or do they?
RICHARD WOLFF: I think the Germans face a choice. They’re worried that as the richest country, as the country that controls the situation, and as a country that historically has benefited from the very thing that Greece now wants, which they don’t want to give to the Greeks, that they face the risk that if they crush Greece, it will produce the reaction Paul has described. On the other hand, they will send a message to the Spanish, to the Italians, to the Portuguese and others, who are basically in a very similar situation, only they’re much larger, and the Germans are therefore afraid they’ll have to bail out all of Europe. They can’t afford it. They’re terrified. On the other hand, if they don’t cut a deal with Greece, then they face the possibility of left-wing governments in these other countries and a whole transformation, and they’re choosing between them.
The irony here, the historical irony, is something I think we need to understand. Back in 1953, the Germans, with a very crushed economy—in that case, because of the Great Depression and the fact that they lost World War II—went to the United States, France and Britain and said, "We can’t join you as a bulwark against the Soviet Union unless you relieve us of our enormous debts, which are hampering our ability to grow." Across 1953, they had meetings in London. When those meetings concluded, with the so-called London Agreement, here’s what Germany got from the United States, France and Britain: 50 percent of their outstanding debt, which was very high, was erased, and the other 50 percent of their debt was stretched out over 30 years. In effect, Germany got the relief of all of its basic indebtedness, based on two world wars that they were held accountable for, and that enabled them to have the so-called Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle that happened. They now refuse to give to Greece what they got. They refuse to allow Greece to have the chance to solve its economic problems just the way Germany asked for and got. And this discrepancy between these two countries is producing a stress inside Europe that is, what Paul Mason correctly points to, fundamentally dangerous to the whole project of a United States of Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Paul Mason, what about, for example, the people of Germany and other European countries versus their governments that are pressuring Greece right now? And also, in addition to your analysis of Germany’s role, Paul, people cannot take out more than what’s equivalent to $60, 67 euros, from the bank right now, the banks actually closed until Wednesday, if not beyond. And what does that mean? Is there a rift between younger people, who voted overwhelmingly no, and pensioners, who were more supportive of a "yes" vote?
PAUL MASON: No, no. I mean, let’s take that, to start with. Greek society is divided between left and right, between the grandchildren of people who fought in a civil war here in the late 1940s and indeed the Communist resistance movement that defeated the Nazis in 1944. So that goes back a long way. That’s the real division. And therefore, you know, one of the first sets of people on the streets when Tsipras even tried to make a compromise were 70 coachloads of Communist pensioners who tried to storm the street his office is in. So, don’t think it’s young v. old. Look, it is left v. right. And it is class—as Tsakalotos says there, it is a class issue, as well. The richest areas voted 80 percent yes, the poorest areas voted 80 percent no. But the Greek elite got a lesson that the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley taught the English elite in the aftermath of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre in the famous line from his poem: "Ye are many," to the working class—"they are few." You can’t win a referendum with only rich people. So, that’s the issue here.
On the question of the 60-euros-a-day withdrawal, again, it is, in a strange way, redistributive. Young people here earn, on average, 400 euros a month. That’s what you get for waiting table. And you’ll find many graduates and Ph.D.s waiting table. If you draw 60 euros a day out of your account, you’ll clear your 400 euros in a week. You’re not going to be drawing 60 euros a day out. Some people are walking around this city with five euros in their pocket. Now, that has been survivable for them, but not really survivable for businesses. And I’m finding, in the businesses I talk to, extreme pain. It’s the payments mechanism. It’s the supply chain. It is the ability to settle accounts. And, of course, I understand that large corporates, the big global corporates, are keeping supplies coming in, even while they’re not being paid. They’e been advised to do that to avoid reputational damage. But it’s the Greek corporates, it’s the Greek medium and large enterprises that don’t have that ability, where things are breaking down. So if the banks were to go on top of that, that would really be an awful situation.
And that is what—you know, to sum up here, because I do have to rush and do my day job, and indeed complete the documentary that we’ve been working on for six months here, is—the sum-up here is the Europeans cannot afford to let this country go. As Rick says, it’s about Europe. But we are one border here away from the Islamic State. So we have the Turkish border and then the Turkish border with the Kurdish areas, and that’s the Islamic State. Some Greek islands are five miles away—less than five miles away from Turkey, where Syrian refugees are pouring in at thousands a week. And then we are in the region of Vladimir Putin and the newly belligerent Russia. Do you really want a state that has the biggest spend per capita on military, in NATO, in Europe, to fail? That’s the issue. And it’s the issue, I know, that the American State Department is well aware of. The State Department are pressuring the Germans very heavily.
The problem is, as you suggested there, the German people. Don’t get your hopes up about a German mass revolt in favor of Greece. Yes, the left party, Die Linke, is a sister party of Syriza, and, yes, it rules a couple of regions. But the leader of the German Social Democrats has been saying to the Greeks, basically, "Get lost." And many German voters who vote for that party, this German socialist party, and the two right-wing parties that run Germany, the CDU/CSU, have kind of switched off their solidarity with southern Europe. They’ve begun to think very nationalistically in terms of their own economy. And, of course, if you’ve got the Greeks voting for their own bailout and the Germans voting against, democracy is beginning, in other words, to tear the euro apart. I’m afraid that is—if Merkel makes a deal tonight, she’ll probably do it against the wishes of her own party and her own people.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Mason, thanks for being with us, economics editor at Channel 4 News, producing the forthcoming documentary about Greece titled And Dreams Shall Take Revenge. Go to your day job. Speaking to us from Athens, Greece. And Richard Wolff is still with us. In our next segment, I want to talk to you about what’s happening here at home in the United States, and particularly the rise of the Democratic candidate for president, Bernie Sanders, who is a socialist himself, and what that means in this larger global context. But this whole issue that Paul Mason was just referring to, leaving the eurozone, what does that mean, actually? Especially for people in the United States, it’s hard to understand anything besides dollars as a currency.
RICHARD WOLFF: Well, basically, what the Greeks would achieve if they left the European Union is they would revert to their own currency. They could go back to the drachma, which was their currency before, or a new one. And once they control their own currency, they can also control the relative worth of that currency, relative to others. If that currency becomes much, much cheaper relative to the euro, which is what will happen, then everything priced in that local currency will appear very cheap to people with dollars or people with euros. And suddenly a Greek vacation will become much cheaper than a vacation anywhere else. Greek olive oil will outprice everybody else’s. And that has traditionally been the way that a country blocked into this dead end crawls its way out of that dead end. It’s painful, but they at least have the prospect that their goods will become very attractive around the world, what they have to sell, and they’ll begin to recoup.
The reason they want to go more and more in that direction is that the austerity imposed on them since 2010 has given them lots of suffering with no improvement, with no chance to get out of it, therefore they were choosing between a proven dead end and a difficult strategy, but one that has in the past worked and might in the end work again here, especially if leaving the euro meant they could also cancel their debts, with or without the approval of their creditors, the way the Germans arranged it. But if they had less debt and a cheaper drachma as their own currency, that’s a strategy that at least has a chance, whereas what they were in was endless promises that it will eventually work, that never came true.
AMY GOODMAN: What exactly is happening there, when you say the pain they are now feeling in Greece? What is the pain? And what do you see the future looking like if they do pull out of the eurozone? How will their economy be shaped?
RICHARD WOLFF: Well, they’re being squeezed by 25 percent or more unemployment, by a cutback in public sector, which is the largest part of their economy, of about 40 percent since 2010, drop in their actual wage. Businesses are closing because they can’t solve the payments problem that Paul talked about. So you have a general disintegration that has been worse in Greece than in any other country. That’s why they keep saying, "We’ve been the ones who have borne the brunt of all of this. And don’t make us do more. That’s unjust and not solidarity with the rest of Europe." So, they’re struggling to keep their pensioners having enough to live, to prevent, for example, the continued exodus. They have lost tens of thousands of young Greek citizens, who were educated at the expense of the Greek economy and are now taking what they’ve learned to go to other countries and work and be productive over there. A country like Greece, which is small to begin with, can’t keep hemorrhaging its best and brightest young people at the same time that everybody else’s salary is collapsing. This is an economy that—where you have to look for a metaphor, go back to the depths of the Depression in the 1930s, when we had comparable kinds of situation of desperate people and rampant poverty. They want out of that, because, otherwise, they face an indefinite future of this kind of behavior.
AMY GOODMAN: What happens to the rich people in Greece? And what about the issue of taxes?
RICHARD WOLFF: Well, you know, that’s the unspoken but real story behind all of this, because the more the Europeans squeeze the Greeks, with a left-wing government, that government, especially strengthened by that referendum now, has to sooner or later—and Paul referred to this—go after the wealth that’s there in order to solve some of these problems. They should have done that a long time ago, but they never had a leftist government with a mindset to do it. Now they do. And that’s the great danger, that you’re converting a problem of European disequilibrium and inequality into a real class struggle between the mass of the Greek people, on the one hand, and the one place where wealth exists inside Greece, among the rich and the corporations, to help them solve a problem. So you’ve converted a European problem into a class struggle. And if Syriza can pull that off, the message sent to the comparable groups in every other European country is a staggering reconception of what the future of Europe may look like, where the words "anti-capitalism" become a unifying slogan for people across that continent. Merkel’s great danger is that in pushing as hard as she has, she may reap a whirlwind of results.
AMY GOODMAN: Is she aware of this?
RICHARD WOLFF: I’m sure she must be, although they are so caught up. The Germans are victims of their own propaganda. They converted an economic crisis into a nationalist, we-versus-them mentality—we, Germans who work hard, against the Greeks, who don’t. Reminded me of nothing so much as Mr. Romney’s unfortunate remark in the last campaign where he divided Americans into the 47 percent moochers and the 53 percent who work hard, trying to get the 53 percent to believe they were carrying the other 47. That’s what the Germans have done. "We Germans work very hard, and we’re carrying these lazy Greeks." This—put aside the questionable issue of whether the Germans ought to play such a nationalist card, given their history, but this is a way of solidifying opposition to what’s going on, and this is a very, very dangerous track. But she may be trapped by it. She has done it now. So, as Paul said, her own people wouldn’t support making a deal. She’s made that impossible for herself.
AMY GOODMAN: A few months ago, we talked to Professor Noam Chomsky about what’s happening in Greece.
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very significant. But notice the reaction. The reaction to Syriza was extremely savage. They made a little bit of progress in their negotiations, but not much. The Germans came down very hard on them.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean in dealing with the debt.
NOAM CHOMSKY: In the dealing with them, and sort of forced them to back off from almost all their proposals. What’s going on with the austerity is really class war. As an economic program, austerity, under recession, makes no sense. It just makes the situation worse. So the Greek debt, relative to GDP, has actually gone up during the period of—which is—well, the policies that are supposed to overcome the debt. In the case of Spain, the debt was not a public debt, it was private debt. It was the actions of the banks. And that means also the German banks. Remember, when a bank makes a dangerous, a risky borrowing, somebody is making a risky lending. And the policies that are designed by the troika, you know, are basically paying off the banks, the perpetrators, much like here. The population is suffering. But one of the things that’s happening is that the—you know, the social democratic policies, so-called welfare state, is being eroded. That’s class war. It’s not an economic policy that makes any sense as to end a serious recession. And there is a reaction to it—Greece, Spain and some in Ireland, growing elsewhere, France. But it’s a very dangerous situation, could lead to a right-wing response, very right-wing. The alternative to Syriza might be Golden Dawn, neo-Nazi party.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Noam Chomsky speaking in March. Are we in a very different or a very similar situation right now, Richard Wolff? You actually have just returned from France.
RICHARD WOLFF: Yes, in France, the very fear that Noam Chomsky referred to is a reality, that the anti-austerity position was taken by the far right, by Madame Le Pen, who has become an important political leader in France, who declared her solidarity with Syriza. That’s why the complicated politics of this. She sees the future of an anti-capitalism in France enabling her right wing to capture that kind of idea. But it’s a sign that the—below the surface, the anger about austerity, the resentment of the burdens of this crisis being shifted onto average people, is becoming a European problem. And the Germans may discover that they have isolated themselves yet again in European history by being the champion of something which is provoking a backlash larger than anything they had foreseen.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think President Obama could be pressuring them in a different way?
RICHARD WOLFF: There’s no question in my mind, from the evidence we have, that the American government is more interested with a stable Europe than with provoking this kind of a split inside Europe, partly because of the ramifications here in this country, where the same anti-austerity is building. That’s one of the causes for the support for Bernie Sanders, for example. But he’s also concerned that the Germans are making a classic political error, going way too far, and that this will disturb global markets. The economic recovery in this country is very weak and very fragile, and that doesn’t want disturbance to come from a powerhouse like Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk about the United States after break. Richard Wolff, our guest, professor emeritus of economics at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, visiting professor here in New York at The New School. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
TUESDAY, JULY 7, 2015
"A Europe of Equals": Report from Athens as Greek Voters Seek Alternatives to Austerity
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has arrived in Brussels for an emergency eurozone summit two days after Greek voters overwhelmingly turned down the terms of an international bailout in a historic rejection of austerity. On Sunday, Greeks, by a 61-to-39-percent margin, voted against further budget cuts and tax hikes in exchange for a rescue package from European creditors. Tsipras is scrambling to present a new bailout proposal as Greek banks remain shut down. If Greek banks run out of money and the country has to print its own currency, it could mean a state leaving the euro for the first time since it was launched in 1999. Euclid Tsakalotos was sworn in Monday as Greece’s new finance minister, replacing Yanis Varoufakis, who resigned following Sunday’s referendum. Tsakalotos, who has called for a "Europe of equals," had served as Greece’s main bailout negotiator and has been a member of Syriza for nearly a decade. Like Varoufakis, Tsakalotos has been a vocal opponent of fiscal austerity imposed by the core of the eurozone, saying it has unnecessarily impoverished Greece. We go to Athens to speak with Paul Mason, economics editor at Channel 4 News, and economics professor Richard Wolff.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has arrived in Brussels for an emergency eurozone summit two days after Greek voters overwhelmingly turned down the terms of an international bailout in an historic rejection of austerity. On Sunday, Greeks, by 61-to-39-percent margin, voted against further budget cuts and tax hikes in exchange for a rescue package from European creditors. Tsipras is scrambling to present a new bailout proposal as Greek banks remain shut down. If Greek banks run out of money and the country has to print its own currency, it could mean a state leaving the euro for the first time since it was launched in 1999. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande met in Paris Monday to discuss the crisis.
PRESIDENT FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE: [translated] We have been paying close attention to the voting results, and we respect Greece’s referendum. The door remains open for discussions. It is now up to the government of Alexis Tsipras to make serious, credible proposals so that this willingness to stay in the eurozone can be realized.
AMY GOODMAN: In Athens, Euclid Tsakalotos was sworn in as Greece’s new finance minister, replacing Yanis Varoufakis, who resigned following Sunday’s referendum. Tsakalotos had served as Greece’s main bailout negotiator and has been a member of Syriza for nearly a decade. Like Varoufakis, he has been a vocal opponent of fiscal austerity imposed by the core of the eurozone, saying it has unnecessarily impoverished Greece.
EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: [translated] I will not hide from you that I am nervous and very anxious. It’s not the easiest time in Greek history to be taking on this job. There are class issues with this vote, simple working-class and middle-class people who have lost their businesses, so that we want to trust the government that will deliver a viable solution.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Greece, we’re joined by two guests. In Athens, Paul Mason is with us, economics editor at Channel 4 News, producer of a forthcoming documentary about the rise of Syriza in Greece titled And Dreams Shall Take Revenge. And here in New York, Richard Wolff is with us, emeritus professor of economics at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, visiting professor at New School University here in New York. He hosts a weekly national radio program calledEconomic Update, the author of a number of books, including Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.
Let’s go first to Athens. Paul Mason, first, were you surprised by Sunday’s vote? And talk about what this means now.
PAUL MASON: I was surprised by the size of it, but, of course, all the opinion polls were effectively rubbish, because you just can’t opinion-poll a country like this on an issue like this. But the size of it astonished not only the journalists, but also the Syriza leadership, as well. I think both the size of the rally that preceded it on Friday night visibly shocked the leadership around Alexis Tsipras—I mean, it filled the square behind me and several streets around it; it was six times bigger than the opposing right-wing "yes" rally—and then the vote itself. You know, there’s probably maybe 35 percent, 40 percent leftist voters here. To get 60 percent means that liberals, conservatives, just people who are not political must have voted for the "no."
And I think it just—it’s part of actually what we’re observing here on the ground: a very rapid radicalization of population. I think it’s probably fair to say nine out of 10 of the media groups that are camped out here in Greece are not getting that, because they’re tied to these satellite dishes that are all around me, but there is a radicalization going on. And it happened in the last two days of last week, when people saw TV stations, owned by oligarchs, pumping out not only the usual one-sided news, but actual straightforward sort of World War II-style propaganda for the "yes" camp. Many people said they switched their votes when they saw these TV stations break even the most rudimentary Greek—which are not very good—TV regulations and became—basically, they make Fox News look objective.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about Yanis Varoufakis, who briefly spoke to reporters after he announced his surprise resignation as finance minister on Monday.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: [translated] What is happening here is just a change of the guard between something more than comrades. We are friends, colleagues and fellow academics. Euclid and I have shared similar philosophical, ideological views for a long time now.
AMY GOODMAN: Yanis Varoufakis left the Ministry of Finance with his wife, Danae, on the back of a motorbike, downtown Athens, on Friday, two days before the Greek referendum. He was interviewed by you, Paul, for Channel 4 News. This is a clip of what he said.
PAUL MASON: Yanis Varoufakis, you said yesterday you’d resign if there’s a "yes" vote on Sunday. What will you do if there’s a "no" vote?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: We’re going to press ahead. We have a deal to make, one that is viable, unlike the deal that was offered to us by the institutions. The only reason why we’re having this referendum, Paul, is because we were given an ultimatum on the basis of a set of proposals, which we consider to be nonviable. In other words, next week, two weeks from now, three weeks from now, two months, four months from now, we’re going to be still mired in an endless negotiation, with economy fading, without investment. And we thought that we should put this to the Greek people: Accept this if you wish, but if you don’t, empower us with a "no" to seek a better deal for Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Yanis Varoufakis said he would quit if there was a "yes" vote. There was an overwhelming "no" vote, and he quit. Paul Mason, explain.
PAUL MASON: Well, look, the official explanation is that he did it to lessen the physical and sort of moral friction there is with the creditors. He has been winding them up very—very effectively for months, and they don’t like him. The reason they don’t like him is because he’s U.S.-trained. He speaks perfect English and speaks the language of the IMF, the World Bank and Wall Street, and indeed Silicon Valley, where he worked. That’s the official reason.
I think there’s an extra set of reasons, though. And it’s like this. Varoufakis privately, throughout these negotiations, I think, was urging a tougher stance, an earlier break. The break only really—it’s called "the rupture" here in Greece. The strategy of rupturing with the lenders began only in June, early June. I think he wanted to do that earlier. I think he wanted them to go out to the people, physically, earlier.
And I think the other thing is, because he’s a professional economist whose entire career has been based on this critique of austerity, as finance minister, what’s he going to do? The best deal they’re going to get today is going to be eight billion euros’ worth of austerity over two years, because that’s what they offered two weeks ago. I know that he believed that deal itself is a recessionary deal, unless there’s several tens of billions poured into Greece in the form of a kind of Marshall Plan that would offset it. So I think he’s taking a step back.
The other thing is psychologically—[inaudible] psychologically, about the background of the two men. Tsakalotos and Varoufakis are both people I’ve spoken to at length during this crisis. Tsakalotos is somebody who is organically from the far left, from that New Left generation that you know very well, Amy, and that your listeners probably know very well, going back to the Port Huron declaration, etc., in the '60s. Varoufakis is not. Varoufakis came to the far left from the center. And I think that just, basically, people know, who have been on the left for some time, for decades, that it tends to build a level of patience in you. You can do things and accept things moving slowly. Varoufakis, mentally, I think, wanted to win, and he wanted to win big time and to win now. They're not going to win now. And so, somebody is going to have to sign a deal that is a compromise.
And maybe they win, maybe—or they advance, when they’ve actually shored up behind them in Greek society a little bit more support for the things they want to do, because although 60 percent of people voted no, you don’t see 60 percent of people on the streets out there protesting in favor of Syriza. You don’t see 60 percent of people out there self-organizing, doing the soup kitchens, doing the voluntary pharmacies. And the Syriza activists will tell you that’s the hardest part. So I think for the strategists of Syriza—and Tsakalotos is a strategist of the Syriza party—this is one step in an advance of taking Greek society down the route of a left-wing project. And maybe Varoufakis will be leading, as it were, from the sidelines. I know when I spoke to him, he was looking forward to being a back bencher.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to comments made by the new Greek finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, earlier this year. While speaking to Sinn Féin activists in March, he described the negotiations between Greece and its creditors as part of a wider ideological struggle across Europe.
EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: We will be seeking to negotiate a new deal to address Greece’s nonsustainable debt. No economy that has lost a quarter of its GDP, has 25 percent of its population unemployed and over 50 percent of its young people unemployed, and has one-third of its population facing extreme poverty can be expected to repay its debt with a succession of years of very high primary surpluses. For all of this, we need the solidarity of European peoples. Some European governments will be arguing that we should not give problematic Greeks special treatment. But you know that we are not asking for special treatment, but for equal treatment in a Europe of equals. Greece—Greece had had the biggest per capita fiscal adjustment of any economy since the crisis began—hardly special treatment, especially when you consider that the bailout was more to serve Northern banks than sovereign peoples.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the new Greek finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, earlier this year in Ireland addressing Sinn Féin. We’re joined by Paul Mason. He is in Athens, Greece. He has been intensively covering Syriza and what’s been going on in Greece. And in New York, we’re joined by Richard Wolff, a professor, economist here at The New School. Your response to what is happening and what the new finance minister was just saying?
RICHARD WOLFF: I think the real importance of what is happening in Greece is that fundamentally a poor corner of Europe has said it will no longer absorb the disproportionate burden of this crisis and of the bailouts that have been used to cope with it. Basically, what is going on here is that the richer countries of Europe, led by Germany, are shifting the burden of all these crises—that they are responsible for—onto people in Greece. They never imagined that in trying to do that they would generate their worst nightmare: a left-wing political organization that goes from 4 percent of the vote a few years ago to an ability to call out a referendum and get 60 percent of the people to support them. So, they have generated a response, and that struggle, of which this is only one step, is what’s being played out here. And that’s why it’s relevant to the rest of Europe and to the United States, everywhere where there is mounting evidence of people saying, "No, we will not continue to absorb the costs of a system that works in this dysfunctional way."
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and when we come back, to talk about what the alternatives are, what the alternatives to austerity are, in Athens, as well is in Europe, and even here at home. We’re joined by New School professor, economist Richard Wolff, as well as Paul Mason, who is the economics reporter for Channel 4 News—economics editor, speaking to us from Athens. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: "Zorba’s Dance" from the 1964 film Zorba the Greek, Mikis Theodorakis. His popular songs and music, including the scores for the movies Zorba the Greek and Z, were banned during the military dictatorship of the 1960s and '70s in Greece, and Theodorakis spent much of his three years of banishment in a remote village and in prison. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman.
As we talk about what’s happening in Greece, what’s happening in Europe, what is the trend that’s happening in different places all over the world and the global repercussions of the battle taking place over austerity in Greece? Paul Mason with this, economics editor, Channel 4 News, producer of a forthcoming documentary about Greece titled And Dreams Shall Take Revenge. And with us here in New York, Richard Wolff, well-known economist, formerly at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, now at New School.
Paul Mason, before we lose you on the satellite, do you share this view that this is a turning point in European history?
PAUL MASON: Tonight and tomorrow are absolutely strategic moments for Europe. I’m sorry, Amy. Tonight and tomorrow are absolutely strategic moments for Europe, because the Europeans know that not only did 60 percent of people in Greece vote against the austerity, but that means the structural reforms that the IMF always try to do, that the Greeks have been saying won’t work here, won’t work here as a fact. You cannot impose economic structural reforms on a population that has voted 60 percent against them, with the television blaring out propaganda for them, every TV station and every newspaper, virtually, doing that. You just can’t do it. It’s not a question of argument; it’s a question of fact.
Because they know that, the Europeans—Merkel and Hollande—met last night, and they were supposed to come up with something. We’ll find out today what that thing is. If it is more division, if it is more recourse to the rules—because the rules of the European Central Bank say that the Greek banks should be forced into submission, the rules of the various bailout funds say that Greece should get no more money—well, the rules are going to destroy Europe, in that case. If they cannot break out of the rules, then they are going to be—it’s no longer here are Syriza and the Greek people the actor, the protagonist in the drama. The protagonist is Europe. And we need to decide whether it has a single personality or a split one. We need to decide whether or not it is going to save Greece or not. And we’ll probably find that out in the next 36 hours. If not, the streets behind me, which are calm now—and they remained calm in the face of a very big media attempt to cause panic—will eventually reach some kind of breaking point, because you can’t shut supermarkets and pharmacies and doctor surgeries for so long, for too long. They’re open now, but if the banks collapse, it will be—it will be an uncharted territory.
And, of course, the other thing is Syriza’s response. Yesterday, Syriza can be in a meeting of every party except the Communist Party. Communists here dislike Syriza more than they dislike capitalism. But every other party agreed to back Syriza in its negotiations today. If the ECB decides to completely crash the Greek banking system, I do not believe this government will do what a normal government would do, which is to first of all wipe out the shareholders and then wipe out some of the depositors. They will more likely wipe out the private ownership of the banks themselves and nationalize them. If they do that, that is like pressing a nuclear button for the European Union. And most likely, Greece will find itself suspended from the European currency’s payments mechanism, TARGET2. At that point, we’re into what we call "Grexit," Greece’s exit from the eurozone. Everybody in the Syriza leadership who I’ve spoken to, personally and privately, in the last 48 hours, fervently wishes they do not get to that point. They do not want to get to that point. But this is not a party that’s going to step back and just do what the international finance people want it to do. They would rather lose power than do that, and they know now that 60 percent of people would rather they did not lose power.
AMY GOODMAN: The ECB being the European Central Bank.
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