Tag Archives: Euro

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?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

If you have enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
(
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
fighting for the facts.

Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

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.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

If you have enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
(
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
fighting for the facts.

Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

Tory Euro flier is a catalogue of failure

140511flier

A blue leaflet landed on the mat yesterday, urging me to vote Conservative and offering no less than 11 highlighted reasons for doing so.

There’s no chance of this happening, because I know far too much about the state of the nation to be fooled by what was said. Other people may not be as lucky, so let’s run through these claims.

The front cover proclaims: “A stronger economy at home” – not true. The resurgence claimed by the Tories has still, after a year, failed to bring Britain back up to its pre-crisis peak, and pay levels have been skewed to put the lowest earners 14 per cent worse-off than they were under the last Labour government.

“Renewed respect abroad” – another howler. Our military adventures mean we are seen as America’s lapdog, while our economic efforts mean we are seen as China’s.

“Real change in Europe” – ridiculous. David Cameron has marginalised Britain in Europe. We’ll come to an example of this in a moment.

Inside the leaflet is a page headed “What we have done”, which attempts to muddy the issues by linking Tory policies within the UK with their strategy in Europe. The effect is similar to a town councillor running for a seat on the county council, saying if he is elected he will ensure that an allotment is available for everybody (allotment land is a town council responsibility and nothing to do with county councils).

So, under the heading “What you have told us”, the leaflet proclaims: “Cut the deficit”. Under “What we did” it states: “So we’ve cut the deficit by a third”. This is nothing to do with Europe and also misrepresents the facts. When the Coalition government sidled into power it said it would eliminate the deficit by 2015. This is not going to happen and claiming success in cutting it by a third (partially by scrapping investment schemes that should have been kept) is an insult.

Next line: “Create more jobs” – “So we’ve helped businesses create more than 1.6 million new jobs”. If the economy was running properly, this number of new jobs would have created a huge boost for the economy – far more than we’ve seen. The problem is that these jobs are too low-paid to make a difference. It is working-class people who lift the economy because they spend more of their income, pushing money through the system. When they don’t have money to spend because they are struggling to cope on pay grades that mock their efforts, less money goes through the system and the economy stutters.

“Cut tax” – “So we’ve given an average income tax cut of £700 to 25 million people, taking 2.7 million people out of tax altogether”. Remove the £100,000-per-year tax cut for those with extremely high incomes and this average drops dramatically. Add in the extra money people are having to spend because of cuts or caps on in-work and unemployment benefits and people like you are £2,000 worse-off per year.

“Cap welfare” – “So we’ve capped welfare – no out-of-work household can now claim more than the average family earns in a week”. The welfare cap is a sensible idea done in a silly way. If it had been set at an average family’s income – just over £31,000 per year – it would be fair, but almost nobody would have been affected, so the Tories set it at £26,000 per year, purely to knock more people off-benefit and show that it worked – and they thought we wouldn’t notice. Silly Tories!

“Control immigration” – at last we come to something that is relevant to the European election! – “So we’ve taken all the action we can under the current EU agreements to fix our immigration system and limited migrants’ access to benefits”. In fact – as noted in this blog previously – very few of the actions taken by the current UK (not European) government are new. The limited access to benefits was enshrined in UK law already, but they don’t want you to know that.

“Cut the cost of Europe” – “So we’ve cut the EU budget, saving British taxpayers £8.15 billion”. Impossible without the co-operation of other EU member states. They are claiming credit for something that would not have happened if other EU countries had not also wanted it. Naughty Tories!

“No to British taxpayers bailing out the Euro” – “So we’ve taken the UK out of Eurozone bailouts”. This is the only measure in the entire flier that anyone in their right mind can support. The UK was never part of the Euro so there was never any reason for us to support it financially. Any other UK political party would have taken the same action so this is no credit to the Tories.

Finally: “Defend Britain’s interests” – “So we vetoed a new EU Fiscal Treaty because it didn’t guarantee a level playing field for British business”. This relates back to the cover boast about “Real change in Europe”. David Cameron made a laughing-stock of both himself and the United Kingdom with his silly veto, because the other 26 countries involved in the treaty simply carried on regardless, leaving us out in the cold. That isn’t “Real change in Europe”; that’s really being shut out of EU decisions.

This Tory leaflet is an insult to your intelligence. It claims success where the Tories have failed, and calls for you to support people who have intentionally inflicted harm upon you.

And you’ll notice there’s no mention of the elephant in the room: The Conservative Party supports the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that will push conditions of employment down to a lowest-common-denominator level that will devastate workers’ health and livelihoods while also locking the privatisation of the National Health Service into an agreement that will make it an international criminal offence to reverse the changes. Here in Wales, many of us rely on cross-border treatment and this will hit us hard.

Anyone supporting the Conservatives on the basis of this flier would have to be ignorant or insane.

One last thing: Minutes after the Tory flier arrived, I went out to my car and found a plastic bag filled with what appeared to be excrement had been left on the windscreen. I can’t blame this on the leafleters (although local Tories certainly know who I am and what my car looks like) but it did make me question the quality of their local campaign.

Is this a new kind of smear tactic?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

Vox Political needs your help!
This independent blog’s only funding comes from readers’ contributions.
Without YOUR help, we cannot keep going.
You can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Alternatively, you can buy the first Vox Political book,
Strong Words and Hard Times
in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

Goodbye, Baroness Thatcher – perhaps now we can put ThatcherISM to rest as well

The Iron Lady: This is probably the most iconic image of Margaret Thatcher from her tenure as Prime Minister of the UK. "The lady's not for turning," she warned. Unfortunately for Britain, she kept her word.

The Iron Lady: This is probably the most iconic image of Margaret Thatcher from her tenure as Prime Minister of the UK. “The lady’s not for turning,” she warned. Unfortunately for Britain, she kept her word.

It isn’t every day that a former Prime Minister dies – and even rarer that we witness the death of one who affected the UK in such a fundamental way as Baroness Thatcher.

As I write this, the outpouring of tributes and discussion of her achievements in the mass media are in full swing – mostly concentrating on what their editors would define as the ‘good’ she did for our country. Most of the TV channels and papers are run by right-wingers, of course – so you can expect them to be dripping with adulation.

However, as I commented on Facebook yesterday evening, street parties broke out in Brixton and Glasgow, celebrating her demise (I understand celebrations took place in Leeds and Liverpool, and possibly many other cities, towns and villages across the UK). They had bands, they have people handing out milk (remember, she was the ‘Milk Snatcher’ before she was PM), they were chanting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – dead, dead, dead” and popping champagne.

There was a humour – a sense of wit – about it, not only in what was going on (the milk, for example) but also the locations (there were riots in Brixton during her tenure, and Scotland was where the hated Poll Tax was piloted).

But I said it is also tragic “that a person should do so much harm in her life, and be so hated by the people she was elected to represent – more than 20 years after she left office – that her death is marked by spontaneous celebration and, literally, dancing in the streets”.

That comment thread has now been read by more than 15,000 people (usually I get one or two thousand through my Facebook door). A question I posted has received more than four times as many votes saying she harmed the country as say she improved it (47 – 11).

What DID she achieve?

According to Paul Krugman’s blog, it’s debatable whether she achieved anything, in terms of the economy.

“Thatcher came to power in 1979, and imposed a radical change in policy almost immediately,” he wrote. “But the big improvement in British performance doesn’t really show in the data until the mid-1990s. Does she get credit for a reward so long delayed?”

Good question. In fact, her two-and-a-half terms in office constituted an extremely rocky road for those of us who had to live through them (and I was one)! My opinion is that this is because she was not interested in improving Britain’s NATIONAL prosperity.

No – the Thatcher crusade was ideological. She wanted to thrust her form of Conservatism so far down everybody’s throat that it would take decades for any other way to be accepted – and she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

Let’s look at the policies that most clearly demonstrate this ideology.

She sold off Britain’s council houses. The cheap, rented social housing that accommodated those of us who earned the least were sold wholesale during her premiership – and not replaced. Mrs Thatcher is said to have had a dream to create a Britain full of homeowners. Sadly, this is not what happened. Instead, the majority of council houses were sold off to private landlords who then rented them out again – at higher cost. The lack of replacement council houses meant that the country’s poor had no alternative but to rent at the higher level, meaning they had less disposable income than before the sell-off. The rise of housing associations to fill the social housing gap has meant an extra layer of bureaucracy between the tenant and their elected representatives, who can now claim that any abuse of power by landlords is nothing to do with them.

She broke the unions. Some say this was vitally important, as the unions had become too powerful and were able to bring the country to its knees whenever they felt like it, calling strikes on a whim – and there is mileage in this. But it’s also possible to say that business bosses and members of the Thatcher government provoked confrontation in order to justify the erosion of union power – this is certainly true in the case of the mineworkers’ strike of 1984-5. There is an argument that National Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor was paid millions of pounds to engineer the confrontation. The result was that the unions were stripped of many of their rights, meaning working people had nobody left to stand up for them in wage negotiations. It is a direct result of this that workers’ wages have risen by just 27 per cent over the last 30 years, while bosses’ salaries have multiplied by 800 per cent, and the gap between the country’s richest and poorest has grown, massively.

She stripped the UK of its manufacturing industries. What can be said about this? Thatcher saw much of Britain’s private industry as uneconomical, unprofitable. She oversaw a switch to service industries and finance – boosting this with bank deregulation. It is this move, which took place in the USA at around the same time, that led to the financial crisis of 2008 and the austerity measures which the current Coalition government is using to hammer the poorest in the modern UK.

She privatised national utilities. The share sell-offs were, on the face of it, intended to make it possible for every British citizen to buy shares in the companies that provided power, telecommunications, water and so on. In practice, the poorest couldn’t afford it, and those on middle incomes saw the shares as a short-term investment, believing they would be able to sell their shares on for many times the amount they paid, a few months later. This has led to the vast majority of shares in the privatised utilities falling into the hands of – you guessed it – the very, very rich. Another publicised intention of the sell-off was that, as private companies, these organisations would deliver a better service at a lower price. This was a fantasy; it never materialised. Look at British Rail (which I admit was privatised after Mrs Thatcher left office, but is a great example of the trend): Not only do users pay much more for their tickets now than when it was publicly-owned, but the subsidy paid to the private rail companies by the government has multiplied massively as well. Result: Rich shareholders become very much richer. Poor users struggle to cope with rising prices.

Can you spot the trend here?

She changed taxation to make the poor pay more. I refer, of course, to the infamous Poll Tax. Mrs Thatcher claimed in 1989 that a flat-rate tax for local services – with everybody, rich or poor, paying the same amount – was fairer. The public – who had already been fooled by the council housing sell-off, the public utility sell-off and the breaking of the unions, and were therefore sick of being hoodwinked – claimed otherwise and refused to pay. The public won and Mrs Thatcher was consigned to the waste basket of politics soon after. The current Coalition government is working hard to ensure that this policy is carried out, with the so-called ‘Pickles Poll Tax’ – the council tax support scheme that ensures everybody pays council tax. Meanwhile, efforts to ensure the rich pay less are going ahead, with Corporation Tax cut by a quarter during the lifetime of this Parliament, and the ‘Millionaires’ Tax Break’ cutting the top rate of Income Tax from 50p in the pound to 45p.

She kept Britain out of the Euro (or more accurately, European Monetary Union). This was her one sensible policy, history has proved. There is much to be said in favour of a free-trading zone where countries can trade amongst themselves at favourable rates – but monetary union cannot be a workable part of that, when the countries involved are at hugely varying stages of development. Mrs Thatcher was right to oppose it and the fact that the UK is not mired in the current Eurozone crisis, except as a member of the EU with trading interests to protect, is to her credit.

By now, dear reader, you are probably wondering how Mrs Thatcher lasted so long, if her policies were all so divisive, and so clearly trained on impoverishing the lower classes. The answer is simple: She was excellent at public relations. The fact that she was the UK’s first-ever female Prime Minister was a huge publicity boost for her, and she built on it by nurturing an image of herself as ‘The Iron Lady’ – a Prime Minister of firm convictions who knew that what she was doing was absolutely right for Britain (“Right for the goolies of Britain,” as Graeme Garden joked on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue at the time). The PR-reliance was clear from the start – the Conservative Party hired the Saatchi & Saatchi agency to run its 1979, 1983 and 1987 election campaigns. It is notable that this partnership dissolved during the 87 campaign and Thatcher’s premiership ran out of steam shortly afterwards.

To sum up, I’ll leave you with the comment I placed on the New York Times website, in response to that paper’s piece about Mrs Thatcher’s death:

“Having lived through the Thatcher years and the changes her government perpetrated on British society, allow me to assure you that there is little reason to heap praise upon her.

“The entire thrust of her thinking was to ensure that the rich and powerful became richer and more powerful, and the poor – especially those with intelligence and/or ability – would be denied any chance of prosperity or success.

“What’s the American Dream all about? Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness? Everybody created equal, with opportunity for each according to their ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth?  The Thatcher government is a rejection of all those aspirations, as is the current Cameron government, which is its natural successor.

“The Thatcher government deprived people of their liberty by creating a large underclass of unemployed people and using the threat of unemployment to depress workers’ wages.

“As a result, they did not have the disposable funds to take advantage of the sell-offs of national utilities such as British Gas and British Telecom.

“She sold social housing but did not build any to replace it.

“She used the police as a tool of political repression, rather than as guardians of the law.

“She used taxation in a similar manner, crippling the poor with punitive measures such as the hated Poll Tax – a flat-rate charge, effectively a tax cut for the rich, but a huge tax hike for the poor.

“That was her fatal error, of course.”

Goodbye, Baroness Thatcher. Hopefully your passing will trigger a reassessment of your career, so that we can all move on from the political nightmare your policies created for the vast majority of middle- and working-class people whose only political mistake lay in entrusting their future to you.