Tag Archives: ECB

It’s a ‘NO’ from Greece! Decisive rejection of austerity

Alexis-Tsipras

Alexis Tsipras has gambled and won.

Greece has voted decisively to reject the terms of the latest loan offer from the so-called Troika – the IMF, ECB and EU.

Figures published by the interior ministry showed 61 per cent of those whose ballots had been counted voting “No”, against 39 per cent voting “Yes”. This means Greece will go back to the negotiating table with a firm mandate to reject demands for further austerity as part of the conditions of any further loans – and to demand that the country’s huge debt be restructured into a sum that it is possible to pay off.

The victory for Tsipras and his Syriza party is all the more remarkable because it faced enormous opposition from representatives of the Troika and elements of Greek society who scaremongered hard that a ‘No’ vote meant Greece would be ejected from the Eurozone, meaning the Euro would cease to be its currency and it would have to create one of its own.

This is a proud day for Greece. As a nation and democratically, these people have made it clear that austerity doesn’t work and they won’t have any more to do with it – especially when it is imposed undemocratically from beyond their borders.

But you probably won’t hear anything of the kind from the media in the UK. Here’s Guy Debord’s Cat to explain why:

“The BBC and the rest of the British media will continue to peddle the lie that George Osborne’s LTEP is “working”. Can you see the green shoots of reification? If you can’t, then you’re probably an “extreme leftist”.

“As I type this, a BBC News reporter in Athens is interviewing a New Democracy politician who’s claimed that it’s a “dark day for Greece”. Then the reporter interrupts to tell her that Antonis Samaras, the leader of the New Democrats, had resigned. She stumbles and mumbles something along the lines of “I couldn’t possibly comment”.

“Cut to some vox pops of Greek people telling the camera how “scared they are for the future”. The propaganda: it’s blatant.”

The Cat also points out something well worth spelling out to the UK’s current Tory government:

“They don’t have a mandate. 24.3 per cent is nothing. 62 per cent is a mandate. Tories, take note.”

They won’t, though.

Not until the UK finally wakes up and follows the Greek example.

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Why so much hysteria over the Hellenic debt?

It's all looking a bit tense, isn't it? In fact, Alexis Tsipras could have this look on his face because he's playing a particularly tricky game of Spider Solitaire on his laptop - it's the Troika that should be scared at the moment.

It’s all looking a bit tense, isn’t it? In fact, Alexis Tsipras could have this look on his face because he’s playing a particularly tricky game of Spider Solitaire on his laptop – it’s the Troika that should be scared at the moment.

Greece defaulted on its loan from the ILF last night (Tuesday). Gosh.

The world didn’t stop turning; life went on; and if there was any mass hysteria, it was on the part of neoliberals who – it seems – will do anything to keep everyone else in line with their worldview.

The neoliberals at the IMF, ECB and EU want people to believe that Greece (and, in fact, any other country that takes out a loan from western banks) has the wherewithal to pay back its debts. Their way of life depends on it because without that belief, countries start demanding debt relief packages and the whole racket that – as Vox Political mentioned yesterday – returned around $5 for every $1 lent in 2011 will fall like the house of cards it is.

Fintan O’Toole had it right in the Irish Times: “The story must be maintained: Greece must keep punishing its people to pay back the money being borrowed to make the payments on the unpayable loans.

“In the upside-down world we inhabit, Syriza, which has called a halt to this fiction, is a bunch of mad fantasists, while the troika that goes on acting as if the fictions were real is the voice of hard-headed realism. Everything – from the lives of ordinary Greeks to the foundations of the European Union – must be sacrificed to the story.”

But nobody believes that story any more. Everyone knows that Greece doesn’t have the wherewithal to pay back its debts. In fact, increasingly harsh demands by the Troika have made the problem worse, rather than better.

Everybody knows that debt relief will have to happen.

The Guardian‘s economics editor, Larry Elliott, wrote: “Somehow or other, Greece’s debt burden will be reduced. It can happen through a deal in which Athens gets debt relief for economic reform. Or it can came through a default that would swiftly follow Greek exit from the single currency.”

Richard Murphy, of Tax Research UK, agrees: “This fact has been obvious for some time. Greece has rising debt that is well above any internationally recognised sustainable level and because of falling income, imposed on it by the EU and IMF, has not the remotest chance of paying that debt off.”

He continues: “What is left is unserviceable without radical reform of the Greek economy that permits it to grow again, and that reform is not possible unless existing debt is written off. That’s because without that write off all the money needed to invest for growth will instead go in debt servicing,” as Vox Political has also mentioned in the past.

“If Greece was a company a pre-packaged insolvency would probably solve most of its problems, in days. It is time we did the same for countries. But don’t hold your breath because bankers object to this, largely because the guarantee that countries won’t fail is what they think underpins their own risk, and the last thing they want to do is accept responsibility for that.”

But Greece has failed. It is precisely its membership of the Euro that made it inevitable. Without its own sovereign currency, Greece could not take measures to prevent that failure. So Mr Murphy is right again and the banks are wrong. Again.

Meanwhile the neoliberal attempt to rule Greece undemocratically from beyond that country’s borders continues. The current plan is to make wild claims about the purpose of the yes/no referendum on the new loan conditions, called by Alexis Tsipras, to take place on Sunday. Merkel, Hollande and Juncker want the Greek people to believe it is about whether they stay in the Euro – which is not an inevitable consequence of a ‘no’ result, and would not, in any case, be a disaster (see yesterday’s post).

They’ve already lost that one, though. You see, everybody knows what’s on the table isn’t their last offer. They already gave in on that one, several renegotiations ago. If they had pulled the plug the instant Greece started to demur, they would have had leverage when Greece came back to the table but they didn’t. Now they’re on the sliding scale. They’ve admitted they need Greece to be paying back something, which means that Greece is now in a position to decide what that something should be.

(I got the above from an episode of Doctor Who entitled Deep Breath; if someone threatens to kill you and then doesn’t, they have nothing left with which to threaten you, having foolishly gone to their most extreme option first. Good show, Doctor Who.)

Angela Merkel has said the Troika won’t negotiate on anything at all until after the referendum. This has given Mr Tsipras a chance to bring in a new offer – it doesn’t even matter what it is – making him look like the reasonable man at the table. Already Merkel is on the back foot. She can refuse, look unreasonable and face a ‘no’ vote on Sunday, or she can agree, look weak and – again – face a ‘no’ vote on Sunday.

What are the neoliberals going to do?

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Who is more worried about Greece defaulting on its debts – Tsipras or the creditors?

Alexis Tsipras.

Alexis Tsipras.

If the Greek government is holding further talks with its creditors, it is because the IMF and the Eurozone are afraid – not Alexis Tsipras.

The IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Union have a lot riding on their attempt to get Greece to give in and submit meekly to further austerity measures that are designed to keep that country in a debt-servicing economy rather than help get it back in the black.

The idea – as This Blog has reported before – was to create a debt trap, similar to that created for the so-called Developing Nations – and keep Greece in it.

Greece could continue receiving financial support if it sold off nationally-owned assets, privatised services and increased taxes – thereby insuring that it could never actually repay the loans; the profit-making facilities would all have been sold off and the tax burden on citizens would be so great that they could never pay their way out.

But Tsipras came into government on a promise to end austerity measures like this. His sticking-point, it seems, is that this may mean defaulting on the nation’s debts and dropping out of the Euro – returning to a currency unique to Greece – and the electorate doesn’t seem to want that.

Defaulting on loans isn’t as bad for a nation as it may seem. It means all those involved have to agree that the loan won’t be repaid under current conditions and new conditions must be negotiated. The Troika opposes this because its debt trap relies on presenting an illusion that the loans can be honoured. It is only an illusion; Tsipras knows that.

It seems to This Writer that he would be better-off taking a leaf out of Germany’s (history) book. When Gustav Streseman became the new Chancellor of the Republic in the 1920s, debt repayments had crippled that country. Inflation was out of control and industry had ground to a halt due to strike action.

Streseman abandoned Germany’s old currency and introduced a brand new version which was given a very high, stable starting value through the backing of US gold. Similar options are open to Greece, if it abandons the Euro.

Streseman negotiated a new, more realistic arrangement with his country’s creditors, cutting the reparations to be paid by Germany for World War I down from a wildly-punitive £2 billion to the more reasonable £50 million. He also ended the strike and ordered a full- scale return to work, making it possible to pay off this amount. This also is possible for Greece, if it refuses the austerity being proposed by the Troika.

Greece’s creditors will do everything they can to stop this from happening. They want Greece to join the Developing World countries who – as recently as 2011 – were paying back nearly $5 for every $1 lent to them by the western banks. They don’t want Greece to become another Germany; that would profit Greece – not them.

Here in the UK, it is in our interest to hope that Tsipras doesn’t blow it. He could find himself leading the way out of the neoliberal debt trap – not just for Greece, but for many other nations as well.

All that is required is the political will.

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Greece could break Austerity – if Tsipras has the courage

150324tsipras-merkel

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss his country’s economic strategy and debt repayments.

The point of Austerity in Greece was never to help that country pay off its debts; it was to create a permanent debt that Greece would never be able to pay off.

Under a submissive government, this was feasible – as it has been in many countries in what is laughably called the Developing World – but now Syriza has taken control and Alexis Tsipras could have the Troika (European Central Bank, IMF and the European Union – the three organisations that have been lending money to the Greek government) over a barrel.

The plan was to add Greece to the list of nations running a ‘zombie economy’ in the service of neoliberal corporate interests, rather than the well-being of its own citizens.

The Troika’s settlement with Greece was similar to that carved out by the western banks with the Developing World – the creation of a Debt Trap.

Western banks indulged in a lending spree across the Developing World during the latter half of the 20th century but the oil shocks of the 1970s created a domino effect of economic disaster which ended up putting most of Africa and Latin America on the verge of bankruptcy.

They could not be allowed to default on their debts. This would have allowed those countries to recover but would have harmed the western world – both economically and politically, as its influence would have faded.

So the IMF stepped in with ‘bridging loans’, ensuring that the original debts could be serviced – but there was a cost. In return for these loans, the IMF created a mechanism called the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP – an appropriate acronym as it has sapped away a huge amount of money from every nation where it has been used).

The SAP set conditions under which debtor nations were provided the bridging loans: The sale of nationalised industries and resources – mostly to foreign-owned corporations and governments; the removal of capital controls on money flowing into and out of these nations; allowing the IMF to dictate the level of public spending; prioritising debt repayment and corporate welfare over infrastructure investment and human welfare; and suppression of wages and restrictions on trade unions.*

This is more or less the deal that Greece was offered.

The result has been clear – as Professor Simon Wren-Lewis pointed out in his Mainly Macro blog yesterday: “Austerity… is of course why Greek GDP has fallen by 25 per cent.”

At the moment, the Troika is threatening Tsipras with the loss of further loans, as he has stated that he intends to reverse the privatisations that have been forced on Greece over the last few years, raise the minimum wage, and increase public spending. These are measures designed to reverse the Troika-engineered Greek economic collapse and make it possible to start paying off the huge debt the country has built up.

Tsipras wants that money because he wants his economic recovery to take place in an orderly way, so he has agreed not to roll back the privatisations that have already taken place but to review those that haven’t; to introduce collective wage-bargaining, stopping short of raising the minimum wage but encouraging non-statutory wage rises; and tackling the humanitarian crisis with free medical care for the uninsured unemployed, along with housing guarantees, at no extra cost to the public purse.

But here’s the thing: Greece can manage without that loan money, if it has to. Yes, there will be a great deal of pain, but Tsipras effectively has the Troika over a barrel. The promise of some money is better than no money. All he has to do is hold his nerve and point out that what the Troika is doing is exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to be doing.

By funding Greece during Austerity, the Troika was perpetuating its debt, rather than helping end that debt; now it is actively fighting a plan that will genuinely help end that debt. And the world can see this.

It is an important lesson for the UK, as well. This country didn’t need the Troika to enforce privatisation, wage suppression, public spending restrictions and so on because we have a neoliberal Conservative-led government that is already avid for those things.

Our economy has suffered badly – and our people have suffered brutally – because of these choices by rich Conservatives who have not had to bear any of the pain themselves.

For no reason.

It seems possible that both Greece and the UK could probably take a leaf out of 1920s German chancellor Gustav Streseman’s book – re-industrialisation and (in Greece’s case) renegotiation of loans and an exit from the Euro in order to create a new currency. Whether that is practical is best left to economists who have more expertise than a layman like this writer.

What is clear is that Austerity – and its champions – are bad for everybody’s national interest.

*Austerity – The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy, Kerry-Anne Mendoza, published by New Internationalist. Pick up a copy now!

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