What happens next in Greece?

15 May

The Greek Parliament in Athens (with its beautiful interior chamber at bottom), originally the Royal Palace (1843), one of the buildings in the Bavarian Neo-Classical style, often much-maligned, that were part of that beautiful city that our first, touchingly sincere and totally daft Teutonic dynasty built for us, till we levelled it all — as thoroughly as a carpet bombing and entirely on our own — between about 1960 and the early eighties.

Pessimistic and disconcerting, if semi-intelligent analysis below by Brady Kiesling (except for the actually offensive labour-camp island references — sorry, white boy, I don’t remember granting you the right to joke about that stuff, I don’t care how long you’ve lived there — and the nonsense scenarios of resurgent dictatorships).  It’s just still…well…still not totally convincing.  It just has the same general assumptions of all right-wing positions: if we challenge the giant financial actors here: Europe, banks, even what’s left of Greece’s shipping industry, they will abandon us.  But when the unpaying indebted reach a critical mass, what do the creditors do?  I still don’t understand why it’s an all or nothing question.  Hardliners outside Greece (which means Merkel mostly) have just had their positions significantly weakened; the pigs are squealing louder than ever, she just lost the Netherlands, France and even some hefty political points in her own country.  And it’ll cost them to let Greece go or kick it out, no matter what a mess it is.  I haven’t even heard Tsipras speak, honestly, other than in Al Jazeera voice-overs, so I don’t know how much of an old-school seventies populist he really is, but what if he’s just holding out for slightly more lenient terms?  Then, if they get in, no, they obviously won’t be able to give Greeks back their antideluvian frappe-paradise (and who wants to…?), but so what?  What politician comes through on his electoral positions?  Sorry if these are “communist sunday school” questions.  (Kiesling’s references to Tsipras’ KNE-te past are not smart either, just cheap.)

“Dear friends,
This pessimistic piece I just posted on Facebook, is what logic says will happen in the coming months. Logic is a slender reed, and I seriously underestimated the depth of anger at PASOK and ND when I predicted election results. Evangelos Venizelos is finding the other party leaders a tough sell, but their alternative scenarios depend heavily on magic and/or divine intervention. My prediction tracks with what the financial markets are saying, another reason to doubt it.
Feel free to share … though there’s nothing really surprising.

What happens next in Greece
Publication of an opinion poll showing SYRIZA/Alexis Tsipras as leading party has essentially destroyed the possibility of an “ecumenical” government and thus made it impossible for Greece to stay in the Euro-Zone.

Not wishing to commit electoral suicide like Karatzaferis of LAOS, Fotis Kouvelis of DIMAR refuses to join a government that does not include Tsipras. But Tsipras has been handed the opportunity to fulfill the Left’s dream of taking power democratically. Thus he prefers to force a new election.

Take a solid core of Greeks who loathe the “bourgeois” parties. Add voters who still believe in client-patron politics and want to back the winner. Add romantics who will vote for any leader who loves them enough to tell them beautiful lies, and you achieve critical mass. Though SYRIZA will probably fall short of an independent majority, the 50-seat bonus will give Tsipras the maneuvering room he needs to form a government.
Why is this bad? Papandreou, after all, made equally beautiful, terrifying promises to get elected in 1981. The 52% of the electorate that did not vote for him was sure he would turn Greece into Cuba or Libya. But in fact, Papandreou forgot his promises to take Greece out of the EU and NATO. He left the U.S. bases intact, let private education continue, and nationalized companies that mismanagement had left on the verge of bankruptcy anyway. A new set of clients got their first taste of government jobs and pensions. The Greek economy took on massive new debt, but did not instantly collapse. So electing Tsipras, who at least insists he wants Greece in the Euro, ought to be simply business as usual.
But this time it won’t work. It remains easy to break promises about foreign policy, because ordinary Greeks don’t care whether Greece is a member of NATO or not. On the economic front, Papandreou promised to give Greeks things they never had. Tsipras has made a much more dangerous promise, to restore things they recently had and still remember, their old jobs, wages, and pensions.

In 1981, Greek state books had recently almost balanced, and the debt load was manageable, with effort. The current situation is much worse. Tsipras, a non-practicing civil engineer whose knowledge of economics apparently comes from KNE (Communist Youth) Sunday school, perhaps genuinely does not understand that no lender, not even the EU, will ever agree to lend Greece (or anyone else) money for public sector wages and pensions. When he keeps insisting, they will throw him out on his ear. At that point, in order to pay for promises Tsipras dares not break, Greece will stop paying its foreign debt.

Wages and pensions, now paid in drachmes, will theoretically match their old euro levels. But without basic budget equilibrium, inflation/devaluation is inevitable. The Tsipras government, which will need every euro and dollar in the country to pay energy and other vital imports, will discover that the shipowners have fled to avoid being taxed, and the illicit savings of the wealthy are out of reach in foreign banks. People need to be fed. Farmers, however, will need strong encouragement to sell their produce for drachmes. Tsipras will be sorely tempted to make the parallel euro market and euro pricing illegal.

Technology, the technocrat’s cure for waste, fraud, and mismanagement, cannot be counted on in a society where a billion-euro industry in fraudulent pharmaceutical prescriptions simply hires a few hackers to bring down the state’s computerized prescription system.
 It is not impossible that a culture of endemic corruption will transform itself, inspired by a self-assured young socialist, into a virtuous collectivist paradise like Cuba or Venezuela. But if not, what is a humane, progressive leader to do? Greek prisons are already overflowing. SYRIZA is full of genuine human rights advocates, so the historic islands of Makronisos and Gyaros are off-limits. But about the time they find a less politically loaded location for the reeducation centers likely to be required, I fear a Greek Pinochet will install them there instead, to the applause of many of the same people now applauding the defeat of PASOK and ND. When that happens, I and my wife, though penniless by then, will follow the shipowners… Stay tuned…”

Brady Kiesling
May 11, 2012 ·

Alexis Tsipras, leader of popular and gaining left-wing Syriza party, currently the young gilded bete noire of Eurocrats across the Continent.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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