A response to the article by
Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics in The Guardian, Monday 26 June.
I agree with you Stiglitz, Greeks should vote No!, but what should the rest of us do?
This week I've been diverted from writing my novel by things that are happening in the present. The carnage in Tunis seems to everyone to be the product of mad men influencing one weak man.
But what about the mad men (and a few women) of the Troika (EU, ECB, IMF) who are influencing Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Greek radical government?
Is this unholy alliance of bankers, politicians and economists the best group of people to secure the future stability of Europe?
We are so blinkered. In Tunisia we can think only in terms of terrorism, while in Greece we think only of economy. Yet the two are inextricably linked.
Economists like Sheehan, Hamilton and Munck have, for a long time highlighted the link between social harmony and economic success. (Review of Radical Economics 39/1) Tony Blaire's settlement in Northern Ireland would not have been so easy had the agreement not coincided with an economic boom. Men with good jobs, a wife and kids, a car and a mortgage tend not to throw bombs.
Tunisia's issues are financial as well as political. As the most democratic of Islamic countries, as the least sexist, as the least intolerant, it is the most vulnerable. Yet how far is the EU helping this country? How much aid and support are they receiving from the UK?
Russia's tragedy is that Perestroika happened to coincide with an economic downturn in the West. So the country didn't get the investment it hoped for. Instead private enterprise wide-boys, as well as imported 'cowboys' from the West, took over state owned utilities and profited, while unemployment soared and the proletariat took to drink. Now we have a country of 140 million people, ruled by an ex KGB with one itchy finger on the red button while the other hand is poised to turn off Europe's supply of natural gas.
After 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, West Germany almost bankrupted itself by embracing their much poorer Eastern cousins and giving them parity. That was the right thing to do. Today the boundary between East and West Germany has all but been rubbed out. Perhaps the East German accent is still a little harsher. Perhaps the East had attracted the hip and the young, leaving West Germany a little staid. But on the whole it has worked.
Those uptight West Germans had been taught liberalism and reconciliation by the post war occupation. They had learned that even if they were destitute again, it would not be worth killing for, but that they should fight for a equitable society.
The fight we need in Europe today is not a military campaign. Instead we need to remember what brought us together in the first place. I think that is what HM Queen was alluding to when she spoke of unity in Berlin last week. I think it's worth fighting for values such as equality, dignity and sustainability.
The Troika only care about money. But we all know, even though we often choose to forget it, that money is nothing but a social construct. The Pound in your pocket, or the Euro in your sac à main doesn't actually have any value at all.
People who rail about balancing the books or reducing the deficit 'at all costs' fail to recognise that debt makes the world go round in international economics. No industrial economy is debt free. It is part of the capitalist system. Greece is unable to pay its debt and always will be. The more it is squeezed dry, the less her government can do to ease the situation for ordinary people.
We must get off this Anglo Saxon self-flagellation trip. Instead we must focus on the real choices that Europe faces. You can't casually halve someone's pension and expect them to take it lying down. Greece can't sustain its current unemployment rate of 60% without risking serious social unrest. The Troika should be seeking less scarifying solutions with Greek politicians. Why would it be so terrible if Greece were to go back to the Drachma but remain within the European Union? The only problem might be a short term dip in the rate of the Euro.
Those (mainly journalists) who predict that Greece's default will spell doom for the European Union are merely trying to 'talk up' a story. Most responsible commentators, like you Stiglitz say that won't happen.
The reason the threat is there, is purely banking rhetoric. These bankers have been tasked with saving us from recession and inflation at all costs. If Greece doesn't 'come quietly' ... then what? Yet these technocrats don't realise that humans don't behave like predictable mathematical formulae.
In the thirties it took a caring and liberal President Roosevelt to drag America out of depression. That depression had fueled a gangster society where everyone needed to be on the take, in order to get by. Roosevelt's New Deal not only solved the economic crisis, it got people back into work and transformed the country's infrastructure. And it was the increase in confidence and prosperity that eventually stifled America's appalling racketeering.
By contrast, Germany in the Thirties was isolated by its neighbours and struggling under punitive WW1 debts. The country gradually sank into failure. The outcome was a Nazi regime, an administration just as ferocious and sadistic as Islamic State is today. They were both born out of similar frustrations, while the world looked the other way. The similarities are frightening. Economic failure, leading to scapegoating, leading to xenophobia, leading to nationalism and violence.
The lesson for the EU must be 'eine bisschen Verständnis'- A little understanding, as Sally Bowles once sang. What we need is a little human empathy. We need it for Greece, but we also need it for Syria, for North African refugees and for Tunisia. If we don't, history tells us that the cure will be far costlier than prevention.
In my novel, set in Suffolk in 1941, a renegade Heinkel swoops down, after a night of bombing London, to take a pot shot at a car in a quiet country road. The family within it are killed.
The Second World War was perhaps the first time when mechanisation meant that the perpetrators did not see the consequences of their destruction. In the same way today, international bankers do not see the consequences of their fiscal assaults.
The EU are trying to solve Greek problems by manipulating the mechanics of monetarism. This type of fiscal engineering is a blunt instrument.
Please remember that people are real, but currencies are fiction.