Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Greek crisis and its possible resolutions: perspectives from London

Above is the recording of an event held here in London on 11 September at the LSE’s Hellenic Observatory on The Greek Crisis and its Possible Resolutions. Mostly, in the UK, when Greek academics and intellectuals have been asked to speak on whats happening in Greece, weve been regaled by Marxist and other leftist interpretations of the country’s demise, from the likes of Yanis Varoufakis and Costas Lapavitsas. So, what we have above is a take on the crisis essentially offering liberal and market diagnoses and solutions.

There is also a consensus among these UK-based and influenced Greeks that Greece’s political culture has significantly contributed to the crisis, particularly an antiquated nationalism and populism that has dominated political discourse.

The speakers are Pavlos Eleftheriadis (professor of law), Apostolos Doxiadis (writer), Andreas Koutras (city banker) and Giorgos Prokopakis. (former academic, now management consultant). The event is in Greek. I’ve translated into English below the essence of what the first speaker, Pavlos Eleftheriadis, the law professor, had to say, since it reasonably captures the thrust of the arguments of all four speakers:

To listen to the debate as a podcast, download mp3 file here.

Eleftheriadis traces the origins of the crisis back to Greece’s entry to the EEC in 1981 and the operation of the European single market in 1992, when Greece ceased to have control over the import and export of products, services and labour; while in 2001 Greece abandoned its own currency in favour of joining a single European currency.

Greece’s economy, Eleftheriadis says, became subject to globalisation.

However, he goes on, what the crisis has shown is that this globalisation of the Greek economy and society was only partial. Greeks may have bought goods and taken out loans from outside the country, but they sold their products only within Greece. In other words, Greece lost the opportunity to develop a domestic economy compatible with the requirements of globalisation and the strictures imposed on it by the EEC, the European single market and then the single currency.

How did Greece miss this opportunity? Eleftheriadis says since 1981 [when PASOK assumed power], the state started to award grants and public contracts on the basis of party political affiliation. Greek products and services were geared towards satisfying the demands and practices of the Greek state rather than finding markets internationally.

The party politicisation of the Greek state and economy not only meant that Greek products and services were not in a position to compete internationally, but also that within the Greek market itself there was a distinct lack of competition. Political intervention, a disregard for law and the prevalence of cartels prohibited healthy competition developing within the Greek internal market. As for public works, Greece suffered from ‘institutionalised protectionism’ in which foreign companies were excluded from bidding and taking on public works in the country.

Eleftheriadis adds that Greece’s ‘relative isolation’ was not only economic, i.e. it wasn’t only Greece’s economy that suffered from protectionism; but there has also existed an issue with Greece’s ‘political isolation’ and isolation in the realm of ideas.

Greece’s political discourse, Eleftheriadis says, is unusually nationalistic and protectionist. For example, Eleftheriadis suggests, Greece was out of step with the rest of Europe when it came to the wars in Yugoslavia, where Greek public opinion had a completely different perception of the conflict than public opinion elsewhere on the continent.

Eleftheriadis argues that since 1981, Greece, rather than converging with Europe has, in fact, distanced itself from the European mainstream. He attributes this to the collapse, round about 1986-87, amid a series of scandals, of the post-1974 consensus. This lead to intensified political conflict and the replacement of post-1974 optimism and idealism with cynicism and mistrust. This fraying of the post-1974 system coincided with a massive influx of European grants into Greece, which, in a society increasingly wracked by party political polarisation, were open to misuse.

By the late 1980s, Eleftheriadis stresses, Greek political discourse was also coarsened by media liberalisation, particularly in the television industry. Greek TV expanded without regulation or the official granting of licenses. Numerous pirate TV stations sprang up, run by whoever had the economic muscle to initiate such operations. By 1993, the government issued temporary licenses to TV stations; temporary licenses which, in fact, still govern the Greek television industry; an industry that operates without supervision, competition or transparency. The populism and lack of ethics that characterise Greek television has become an integral part of Greek political life. News and current affairs programmes are not governed by normal journalistic standards, but are a conduit for powerful station owners to express their opinions and defend their interests.

In general, Eleftheriadis says, from 1988 onwards, Greece entered a phase of ‘smash and grab parasitism’ (αρπακτικού παρασιτισμού). The theory that Greece is the victim of capitalism gone wrong is completely false. Greece’s economic and political system is totally different to that which exists in the rest of Europe. The solution for Greece isn’t to move further away from an overbearing Europe, but to move closer to European standards and values. These European values and standards can be encapsulated by the term ‘democratic equality’, which does not mean equality as a Marxist would understand it; but equality of opportunity, which requires the rule of law and fair and open competition. Indeed, this is the same rule of law and fair and open competition that the Greek economy has been lacking and must acquire. If the rule of law and fair competition does not apply at the economic level, then it cannot apply at political or social levels and vice versa.

Eleftheriadis then identifies four articles of faith that, according to him, came to characterise Greek political discourse after 1974 and which are all false and must be discarded:

1. Greece belongs to the Greeks (Η Ελλάδα Ανήκει στους Έλληνες). FALSE. Greece doesn’t belong to anyone. There is no ‘subject’ Greeks, and no ‘object’ Greece. Rather, Greece is an open European society, which welcomes all so long as they abide by the laws.

2. Workers rights determine what is lawful (Νόμος είναι το Δίκιο του Εργάτη). FALSE. In an open European society, labour is not a victim.

3. Cops, pigs, murderers (Μπάτσοι, Γουρούνια, Δολοφόνοι). FALSE. The police are there to protect us from organised interests, public and private.

4. EEC, NATO, all part of the same gang (ΕΟΚ και ΝΑΤΟ, το ίδιο Συνδικάτο). Many Greeks still believe this, even if the EU is now the most advanced force for peace and social justice in the world.

To stress the importance of restoring the rule of law to Greece and inculcating within Greeks a renewed awe of the law, Eleftheriadis invites us to consider the following anecdote involving one of the pre-eminent heroes of the Greek War of Independence, Ioannis Makriyiannis.

When the political leaders of the Greek revolution offerred him payment to mediate in the civil war that had broken out in the Peloponnese in 1824, the freedom fighter retorted:

‘I’ll go, but I want to prove to you that I’m not a merchant who buys and sells his country for money. To support my country and its laws, that’s what I’m prepared to die for, not for anything else. Even if Gypsies were in charge of the government, I’d submit to their will.’

(Θα πάγω, αλλά θέλω να σας αποδείξω ότι εγώ δεν είμαι πραματευτής να κάνω πραμάτεια την πατρίδα μου δια χρήματα... Δια την στερέωση της πατρίδος μου και νόμους, δια κείνο πεθαίνω, όχι διά άλλο. Και οι Γύφτοι νάχουν την Κυβέρνησιν, εγώ υποτάζωμαι).


Anonymous said...

Interesting John, but I get a little tired of the one world market ideology of the money men. It is just as wilfully oblivious to the reality of the nation or ethnos as its ideological counterpart, Marxism.

The notion that there should be no Greece (object) or Greeks (subject) is appalling dribble. As appalling as the hoary Internationalist Marxist notion that workers have no nation.

The childish faith in Europe is also nauseating.

Hermes said...

Oh dear. The above is a perfect example of why academics and other idea merchants should be careful when they encroach on other disciplines they clearly know nothing about. When it comes to diagnosing the political-economic problems of Greece, the people in the video are mostly right. However, when they veer into areas which they clearly know nothing about, like international affairs or geopolitics, they just sound silly or even dangerous. For example, how does Eleftheriadis come to the conclusion that Greece does not belong to the Greeks? And it welcomes all? Obviously, he is unaware of Greece’s parlous demographic state. He is also unaware that there are tens of millions of Third World Muslims itching to get into Greece. Combined, these two factors would destroy the ethnic Greek composition of Greece within a generation and fatally weaken it to confront our enemy, Turkey. Of course, all this is completely irrelevant to Eleftheriadis because for him, the people that live in Greece are mostly Economic Beings without a history, language, religion that defines who they are and who they will be. Those Beings simply follow EU laws and directives and the only thing that happens to differentiate them from people in Luxemburg is that they have piece of paper that states that they live in a place called Greece.

Of course, this line of thinking is complete nonesense. The EU, NATO and other international corpses will disappear into the dustbin of history, just like similar supernational organisations of the past, but Hellenism and Romanity will still be around.

John Akritas said...

Yes, I found E's adamant rejection of 'Greece belongs to the Greeks' problematic. But I guess what he's getting us is a couple of things. Firstly, as a lawyer, he takes a legalistic view of citizenship, i.e. that as long as you abide by the laws and rules of society then you are entitled to citizenship. Secondly, he is saying, in an EU of free movement, etc, citizens from Germany, the UK, Sweden, Latvia and so on have as much right to live and work in Greece as Greeks (just as Greeks have a right to live and work wherever they choose in the EU) – in which case Greece, as a full member of the EU, belongs as much to Germans and Swedes as it does to Greeks. And, thirdly, if he is right and Greece needs to abandon its protectionist economy, open its economy to globalisation, what does this mean at the social and political level?Can you have an open, outward-looking economy, but an inward-looking social and political system?

John Akritas said...

Just to add, I think the third point is the most challenging. The first two points are about the nature of citizenship; and I doubt whether being a citizen is enough to allow you to assert ownership of a country or society.

Hermes said...

John, you ask the question, “Can you have an open, outward-looking economy, but an inward-looking social and political system?” Most Asian Tigers are structured like that. People cannot just saunter into Japan or Korea or Vietnam. Other states like Israel are also structured like that. They are quite successful and lauded by development economists.

John Akritas said...

This is true, H. and there has been some talk recently – given the success of these countries, and Russia, China and Turkey – that the theory that economic liberalism must go hand in hand with social and political liberalism is false; that you can have a free market economy with authoritarian social and political structures. But it might be too early to see if this authoritarian capitalist model is sustainable or whether these countries too will develop more recognisably liberal and open societies.

Anonymous said...

Whilst we're on the subject how open is Germany, Switzerland or Finland? The idea that they take all comers is laughable. What do you think the Dublin treaty is all about? Also try telling the Swiss or Germans that they dont exist or that they should open their borders and markets wide open to Asians!