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'Greece is not an exception'

Slavo iek on the Greek crisis in the London Review of Books:

There are two main stories about the Greek crisis in the media: the German-European story (the Greeks are irresponsible, lazy, free-spending, tax-dodging etc, and have to be brought under control and taught financial discipline) and the Greek story (our national sovereignty is threatened by the neoliberal technocracy imposed by Brussels). When it became impossible to ignore the plight of the Greek people, a third story emerged: the Greeks are now presented as humanitarian victims in need of help, as if a war or natural catastrophe had hit the country. While all three stories are false, the third is arguably the most disgusting. The Greeks are not passive victims: they are at war with the European economic establishment, and what they need is solidarity in their struggle, because it is our struggle too.Greece is not an exception. It is one of the main testing grounds for a new socio-economic model of potentially unlimited application: a depoliticised technocracy in which bankers and other experts are allowed to demolish democracy. By saving Greece from its so-called saviours, we also save Europe itself.

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Matthew Boudway: After reading and then rereading the passage you've posted here, I have to say that this author's thought does not interest me enough that I would want to read his full essay.You quoted one sentence from the essay in your caption: "Greece is not an exception."When I read that sentence in the passage that you have posted here, I asked, Greece is not an exception to what?After I reread the preceding material, I gathered that the author is saying that their struggle is our struggle -- that is, the struggle in Greece is the struggle in Europe. Fine.The author also says that the Greeks "are at war with the European economic establishment." So if their struggle is our struggle, then Europeans are also at war with the European economic establishment. Fine.But why?The author says that the Greeks and the Europeans in this war are fighting against "a new socioeconomic model of potentially unlimited application: a depoliticized technocracy in which bankers and other experts are allowed to demolish democracy."I'm sorry, but I'm not going to read any more of this author's essay.I think that bankers and other experts in Europe have made certain mistakes. They have exercised poor judgment in making their economic decisions. Their misguided economic decisions now need to be corrected.But I don't think we need the author's rhetoric about depoliticized technocracy and demolishing democracy.

I'm sure that Zizek would be hurt by your rejection, if he weren't so busy popping Xanax and sleeping with lingerie models.

Thomas - here is what I think is this essayist's main point: "But Greeces anti-immigrant defenders arent the principal danger: they are just a by-product of the true threat, the politics of austerity that have caused Greeces predicament. "... which seems a bit silly. The politics of austerity didn't cause Greece's predicament; the politics of austerity have been imposed on Greece in an attempt to head off Greece's predicament. Greece's predicament is banal and boring and extremely perilous: it is so far over its collective head in debt that has advanced beyond mere dysfunction; it is showing signs of civil meltdown. It's a person dying of morbid obesity who, in desperation, has tried to diet, but then realized that dieting means actually consuming fewer calories. On June 17th, it seems likely to flush the diet and order a triple bacon cheeseburger. Europe's predicament is that Greece shares its currency, so Europe can't, for reasons of self-interest, do what Europe would dearly love to do: just let Greece boil away in its own rendered blubber.It seems that the Euro was a really bad idea, and nobody can figure out how to undo it.Imagine that the nations of Europe are all together in a precarious boat. The obese, weak kid who doesn't know how to swim has fallen into the water. All the boat's other occupants are leaning over the gunwale, trying to grab the kid. If they let go of him, he will drown, and the boat will probably capsize and the rest of them may drown, too. If they pull him in, the boat may sink and they'd all drown anyway. They've reached the point in the proceedings where they're thinking that all of them getting into the same boat was probably not very bright.

Zizek is a Marxist, and Marxists are Hegelians, that is, they try to handle the apparent contradictions of life ultimately by accepting the contradictions: A is non-A, is the way Hegel puts it.So you can logically derive anything you want from your premises if you're a Hegelian. Zizek does try manfully to handle the metaphysics, even turning sort of mystical in spots. But as philosophers go, he's a really wild one. Very popular with many young folks at the moment.

Jim,We agree about one thing: the euro was probably a bad idea all along. The economic advantages of a single currency blinded the technocrats to the political complications. About everything else I think we disagree profoundly. I can see why your obesity analogy would be a tempting one for a conservative, but with ordinary Greeks picking through dumpsters in search of food, I think it ought to be resisted. The Greek government obviously acted recklessly in borrowing and wasting so much money, and its toleration of tax evasion was a scandal. But your impulse to anthropomorphize the Greek government is obscuring the distress of real human beings who can't afford the basics because their country's whole economy is being squeezed to save the lenders on the other side of the reckless borrowing. Where it was reckless to borrow, it was reckless to lend. The better analogy would be with the subprime-mortgage racket here in the United States. Big European (and some American) banks were to Greece as Countrywide was to the person buying a mansion with little income and no credit. The EU may have a responsibility to save the banks, but not the bankers or the banks' shareholders, most of whom can afford the lesson they obviously need to learn.

Matthew,Real human beings are really suffering as a result of the European debt problem. The Greek government is the Greek people, and they both lived beyond their means for a long time. Now they have to suffer. But so are the bank shareholders, many of whom are pension funds set up to pay benefits to real people who will now receive smaller benefits. The rot from this crisis is pervasive and it materially affects even those whom you believe 'can afford the the lesson they obviously need to learn'

I am so glad that this Zizek fellow is a Marxist (don't see many of those these days except on Fox nightmares). So we don't have to pay any attention to him. However, clear-eyed non-Marxists can also discern a "new socio-economic model of potentially unlimited application: a depoliticised technocracy in which bankers and other experts are allowed to demolish democracy." Yea, verily, in Italy a frequently elected thug was deposed to make way for a banking expert, and no one peeped. Likewise, around the edges of Europe, democratically elected governments are getting their marching orders from bankers who handled the belatedly described bad investments of their clients. Vox populi cuts no ice. And the non-investing class takes the layoffs and the entitlement cuts (as recommended here as well). But, since a Marxist noticed, we can ignore it. I get it.

"The Greek government obviously acted recklessly in borrowing and wasting so much money, and its toleration of tax evasion was a scandal. But your impulse to anthropomorphize the Greek government is obscuring the distress of real human beings who cant afford the basics because their countrys whole economy is being squeezed to save the lenders on the other side of the reckless borrowing."Matthew, to what degree are citizens in a democracy on the hook for the bad decisions and irresponsible acts of the governments they've elected, over and over again? We here in Illinois are trying to figure that one out, and I suppose the Greeks should be working through the same thing. If they have the luxury of being objective and introspective about the whole thing, shouldn't they be looking at one another and saying, "Well, after all, we did elect 'em. At a bare minimum, let's not do that anymore"?"Where it was reckless to borrow, it was reckless to lend. The better analogy would be with the subprime-mortgage racket here in the United States. Big European (and some American) banks were to Greece as Countrywide was to the person buying a mansion with little income and no credit. The EU may have a responsibility to save the banks, but not the bankers or the banks shareholders, most of whom can afford the lesson they obviously need to learn."But to carry that argument through to its conclusion: wouldn't the same argument, applied to the US in 2008-2009, have been, "Let Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and AIG tank, because their shareholders can afford the lesson"? And in fact, there was a conservative stream of thought that argued that this is what should have happened. But we didn't, thank goodness, because the collateral damage would have been incalculable. For the sake of the rest of Europe and us and the rest of the world, someone needs to figure out which is less bad: to keep Greece on the Euro, or to let them revert to the drachma. Istm that Greece is toast either way. I agree that it stinks that Greeks are picking through dumpsters. I just don't think much can be done about it in the short term.

"The EU may have a responsibility to save the banks, but not the bankers or the banks shareholders, most of whom can afford the lesson they obviously need to learn."There is not a meaningful distinction between these three. And I would suggest you look at who "the banks' shareholders" are.

I don't find the analogy between the subprime mortgage crisis here and the Greek financial situation very useful at all. Private borrowing/lending activities are not the biggest driver of the Greek (and Eurozone) crisis.

It's wonderful how some investors -- like the ones who buy and pay for both parties' candidates in American elections -- disappear when the inexorable workings of the free market cause pain, and how all who are left to be saved or ruined are widows and orphans and pension funds. It is wonderful because when our choice between Tweedledum and Tweedleridiculous yields a crisis of pain, we, and not their creators, are blamed for it.It is also wonderful how the working of the aforesaid free market, the noblest invention of man, can turn people into what other people call "toast," although those other people aren't willing to be toast themselves for a few years so they can lecture the rest of us first-hand on what it's like to be toast.

". . . your impulse to anthropomorphize the Greek government . . ."Matthew --I keep looking for a word that describes trying to turn a human institution into a person (e.g., the U. S. corporations). To "anthropomorphize" catches the meaning exactly, but it's almost as off-putting as "hypostacize". Can you think of a nice everyday word that might do? It seems to me that such hypostacizing/anthropomorphizing is at the root of some very important fallacies. Even a short phrase would be useful.

Tom - I don't want to be toast. I need my job, and my own creditors (not to mention my family) need me to keep my job. I'd think that millions of Americans feel the same way, and we're all equally at fault (which it so say, not at all at fault) for what is happening in Greece. I'd rather not sacrifice my own rather wobbly financial security for the sake of making an ideological point halfway around the world.

Tangent:About our recurring argument concerning who is responsible for the recession, I read yesterday that there are now 4 U. S. senators and 11 representative (all Republican, including one Tea Partier) who have rejected their Nordquist promises not to raise taxes. And also Jeb Bush. Can sanity be returning to the GOP?

JIm P. ==It is simply not true that "we" elected the politicians who are in large part responsible for the recession. I and most other Democrats voted against Dubya, and many of us voted against the other federal candidates who are responsible for eliminating the policing the financial markets and for lowering the taxes on the rich.This is another example of anthropmorphizing -- you have turned us/the electorate into one person -- the person responsible for the recent Republican administrations. But there isn't really any "the electorate/we".

A classicist views some of the deeper historical and geographic factors that make Greece unique:"Greeks understandably both look for foreign succor and then almost instantly fear the repercussions of such dependency, a national characteristic that explains much of their present nonsensical behavior of resenting the Germans who have lent them so much and who now alone can keep Greek bankruptcy at bay."http://victorhanson.com/articles/hanson031812.html

Bruce and Jim Pauwels,Whatever the responsibility of the ordinary Greek citizen for the fiscal decisions made by the Greek government, it is certainly no greater than the responsibility of the ordinary investor for the decisions made by his investment-fund manager -- even if the fund in question is a pension fund. (A Greek citizen suffers from the bad decisions his government made whether he voted for that government or against it. An investor can "vote" against an investment fund by pulling his money out of it, after which his money is safe from the fund manager's mistakes.)How about this, Bruce? If, by taking a loss on bad Greek bonds, an investor would end up in a worse condition than the Greeks now eating out of dumpsters, the government will bail the investor out by catching him in its safety net. Anyway, the technocrats in charge of these things ought to be at least as sophisticated as a good barber: some people should take shorter haircuts than others, and that will depend partly on how much hair they have.The Greek government's first responsibility is to the Greek people, not to Brussels or the bond sharks. Of course Brussels and the bond sharks will both say what's best for the banks is also best for the Greek people in the long run. The Greek people would be fools to take their word for it. And, because Greece is a democracy, they don't need to. Jeff Landry, There is indeed a meaningful distinction between banks on the one hand and bankers and bank shareholders on the other. The EU has already forced bank shareholders to accept write-downs on Greek bonds even as they have moved to recapitalize the banks. If push comes to shove, they can temporarily nationalize banks that hold too much Greek debt, wiping out the shareholders without causing a full-blown credit crisis. If the banks were not, among other things, a public utility, it would be unnecessary for the EU to involve itself in their fate. And since it is necessary for the EU to involve itself in their fate, it should do so in such a way as to protect the most vulnerable citizens in its member states, not its most powerful financiers.Tom Blackburn,Right on.

Matthew and Tom -Your rhetoric is all nice and succint - slice and dice good versus evil, institutions from shareholders, "ordinary" Greek citizens from their politicians, and, of course, everyone versus the big bad bankers. Unfortunately the world (or at least the world economy) isn't. E.g. your "widows, orphans and pension funds." Pension funds! Who do you think are the banks' shareholders?

"Whatever the responsibility of the ordinary Greek citizen for the fiscal decisions made by the Greek government, it is certainly no greater than the responsibility of the ordinary investor for the decisions made by his investment-fund manager even if the fund in question is a pension fund. "Matthew, are you arguing that if I delegate responsibility for my financial affairs to a professional manager, and he is corrupt or incompetent or both and loses my savings, I should be shielded from the consequences? Surely that is the risk - the flip side of the hoped-for reward (the "positive risk") - that I accepted when, eyes wide open, I hired him?In a democracy, we're stuck with the consequences of the bad decisions of the elected officials chosen by the majority of our fellow citizens, even when we personally voted for someone else. I don't see a way around that. One brainy fellow has noted that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried. No doubt, this stuck-with-the-boobs-we-elected situation is one of those factors that makes it so worst. The prescribed remedy is to minimize the damage by throwing the bums out in the next election. If a majority of our fellow citizens keep returning the same boobs to office election after election after election, a bit of soul-searching may be in order: have I really done everything I could do to change things?

No, Jim: I am suggesting the opposite. Bruce thinks ordinary Greeks should be made to suffer because they elected the government that borrowed so much from "real people" here in the states who have their retirement money locked up in pension funds. I am pointing out that those real people have at least as much responsibility for the bad decisions of fund managers as Greek voters have for the bad decisions of Greek politicians. It is easier for someone here to pull his money out of a pension fund than it is for a citizen of Greece to shield himself from the bad decisions of a government he didn't vote for. But even if a Greek citizen did vote for the political parties responsible for Greece's debt, that does not oblige him to vote for those same parties now, just so that he will suffer as much -- and the bankers as little -- as possible. Whatever their complicity in the policies that brought their country to grief, Greek voters should now vote for the parties whose first priority is to take care of vulnerable Greeks, not to preserve the euro.

This BBC News report on what is happening in Greece uses another anthropomorphic metaphor - a poker game. Fascinating, scary stuff.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-18436777

"Whatever their complicity in the policies that brought their country to grief, Greek voters should now vote for the parties whose first priority is to take care of vulnerable Greeks, not to preserve the euro."Ok, Matthew. Btw, this is a neat illustration of the fundamental problem with the Euro. The Euro is pan-European, but Greeks vote for what is best for Greeks, not what is best for pan-Europe. I don't mean to imply that Greece is somehow unique in this respect; I expect that Germans, French, Slovenians et al do the same.

Bruce thinks ordinary Greeks should be made to suffer Matthew, Thanks for putting words in my mouth. Not all Greeks are suffering and neither are all bank shareholders and lenders. But some of both are and most likely similarly. Even if Greece reinstates the Drachma, many will continue to suffer, both Greeks and non-Greeks. Wealth has been destroyed by human actions. Many are affected across all categories of people; no category escaped unscathed.Btw, as an economic matter the private sector lenders to Greece have lost economic wealth because the price of the debt they hold has plunged. The only lenders being protected are the other governments which are lending new funds to Greece.

Why are we(and I'm not sure I can define 'we') all so enamoured of capitalism? A system whose foundation is greed produces human suffering and we are suprisied?

Here is more on the poker game between Germany and Greece.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/9332021/Its-a-poker-g...