The Point
Last updated: 19 June 2017.

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Adrian Cruden on why we should all be celebrating the good news from Greece

 

 

The Hellenic people have this week dealt a huge blow for all Europeans against the corporate interests that over the last 8 years have foisted the political choice of austerity economics across the Continent. The 60%-plus vote to reject the latest demands for massive cuts in public services and welfare to the poorest represents a major victory in the struggle to reverse the "mainstream" view that the monetarism first adopted by Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s should be the default form of orthodox economics.

It is a massive vote of confidence in the Syriza government and the stewardship of Prime Minister Tsipras and Finance Minister Varoufakis, but it leaves huge questions for them to tackle in terms of next steps. For although Greece has spoken loudly and clearly, the anti-democratic forces in the European Central Bank and the IMF, backed by the neo-liberalism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are unlikely to deviate from their obsession with reducing the public sector and increasing the wealth of the rich across the Eurozone. The economics of austerity will not go quietly or quickly.

This is a particularly pernicious form of political economy - it holds that balanced budgets are key for governments, whose involvement in society should rarely extend beyond basic policing and the military (although in practice it actually extends to providing subsidies and  handouts to the big corporations that fund our political masters, either via bailouts viz the banking system or "private finance initiatives" and outsourcing of services such as health and education at criminally high costs to the taxpayer).

 

In this scenario, there is a fetish about reducing the deficit even when sucking money (and demand) out of a becalmed economy will simply lead to a downward spiral with huge costs to the lives of ordinary people. Its proponents however claim that, in the long-run, a harmonious equilibrium of supply and demand will be reached - although this is somewhat incredulously to be determined by the mystical invisible hand of the market rather than any socially-conscious intervention by humans. We are to serve economics, it seems, not the other way round.

The counterpoise to this - the investment-led approach of Keynesian economics - is somewhat more humane (albeit not necessarily an exclusively socialist response). It sees social objectives, primarily the minimisation of unemployment, as a key objective. Here, Governments will borrow or even just print new money to keep demand going in the economy, keeping activity moving so that people stay in work - this reduces the cost of out of work welfare and increases tax take, so that in time, if useful, the deficit can be reduced or eliminated without ruining the lives of ordinary people. As Keynes said of those who would leave things for the market to somehow work things out in the long run, "In the long run, we are all dead." Economics should serve society; social objectives should be their sole purpose, not the enrichment of an ever -smaller circle of owners and shareholders.

However, the neo-liberal elite who came to dominate our political landscape as well as the economy during and since the 1980s have made several key changes that undermine the potential for investment-led economics. They removed many of the controls on money and globalised the movement of capital; and they gave banks the right to create new money out of nothing - a ludicrous and highly dangerous arrangement that led to the 2008 crisis and continues to this day.

And into the midst of this, although Britain is outside it, the Eurozone came into being and countries like Greece surrendered their economic and monetary independence to the European Central Bank. This now determines the economic policies not only of Greece but in effect all Eurozone states. And with its decisions in the hands of austerity-obsessed bankers whose sole objective has been to increase the power and wealth of the elite, the social needs of the poor in Greece, or Spain or even Germany have been of no concern. Hence their belief that Greece should cut and cut and cut and simply keep on bleeding.

In this context, we have seen Greece previously be forced to accept an unelected Prime Minister to impose the diktats of the ECB on its people. This was being openly contemplated again in Berlin last week as Merkel and her gang felt bullish about a Yes vote in the referendum cutting the legs from under the elected Syriza government. This is the same mindset that reportedly led to some bankers allegedly opening a book on whether or not there might be a military coup d'etat to "solve" their problems with the irritant of democratically elected Greek politicians not going along with inflicting ever more misery on their people.

Greece has said no to the austerity that is at the cold heart of Europe now. But the only real option for the Hellenic democracy is to now leave the Eurozone as quickly as possible. With the drachma restored, they would be free to adopt an investment-led recovery, restore their battered public services and revive their economy. In doing this, they would be leading the way for democratic forces across Europe to rise and turn our fractured societies away from the austerity that has left Britons to choose between heating and eating, Spaniards to watch their health services crumble and youth unemployment soar, and Greeks to see their country unravel around them, their young and their rich taking flight abroad.

For some of us on the progressive left in Britain, until now reluctant supporters of the European Union as at least some form of minimal defence against the corporatocracy, the treatment of Greece (and of Portugal, Spain and Italy) demands we revisit our views ahead of the British referendum. The Europe we seek, one that puts people and planet before the profit of big companies and the demands of our elite, is not on offer.

It may feel uncomfortable to be on the same side of the fence as the likes of UKIP, but is it any easier standing alongside the three pro-EU, pro-TTIP, pro-austerity parties coalesced under David Cameron? At the very least, the debate must be had - why should any progressive wish us to remain part of this "ever closer union" that would willingly, even enthusiastically, destroy one of its own? Can this project be saved from itself? How do we get a social Europe genuinely on the agenda? Or do we need to break away to come back together in something more constructive and sustainable?
The No vote for the Hellenes is no negative result. It is a terrifying but optimistic vote that says society must be for everyone. That the collective need, the common good, must come before the apologists of robber-capitalism who hold power in the boardroom, banks and Cabinet offices in capitals across the European Union (including London). It is a line in the sand, but will need to be the first of many.

It is a vote for a future that is about people, not profits.

From the birthplace of democracy, it is a vote for all of us.

 

First published in Viridis Lumen   http://viridislumen.blogspot.co.uk/

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