Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Athens and Austerity: A Hymn to the Goddess of Democracy

It must have been one of the most inspiring sights of the year. Spread across the walls of the Acropolis, high above the Athenian plain which birthed the very ideal of democracy, Hellenic Communists demonstrated against the austerity package being forced through the Greek Parliament by pseudo-socialist PASOK at the behest of the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

With Greeks facing a further round of massive cuts in public spending - some €28 billions (£25 billions) in a country of just over 11,000,000 people - a general strike has begun and the streets of the capital have been filled for weeks with people from all walks of life protesting. The cuts come on top of a range of measures increasing taxes, cutting pensions and hiking the retirement age by 4 years, introduced last year in return for loans from the EU. With their nation staring bankruptcy in the face, demonstrations have turned to riots, with police deploying tear gas and a range of violent tactics to suppress the anger of the hundreds of thousands crowding in the city.

And on the Acropolis, the Communists unfurled their protest.

It was a dramatic scene, one played out with a message in English as well as Greek to speak to all the people of the European Continent as smaller states like Ireland and Portugal face the consequences of Austerity Diktats imposed by the Central Bank and the financiers. And who suffers from these measures, the consequences even now a wave rippling out of the whirlpool generated by the credit crisis and banking collapse of 2008? Not the bankers or bosses, whose wealth is now at greater than pre-crisis levels. Not at all. The hit is to be taken by the public services, the hospitals, schools, transport and social services that support the least well-off but often hardest working in society.

The Hellenic crisis is significantly enhanced by the neoliberal monetarist "shock doctrine" of orthodox economists who have run the IMF for decades and also prowl the corridors of the ECB. Their nostrums are about balancing books rather than investing in sustainable growth/equitable distribution of wealth, and consequently shrink economies further and further by sucking demand out of them. That these are also the underpinning of the single European currency, the Euro, adds substantially to the pressures on Greece. Indeed, it does not take a lot of examining to see that the real objective is far more about rescuing the Euro as a viable currency than about reforming or restoring the Greek economy.

Pallas Athena, Goddess of justice and workers
If Greece still had its own currency, we would not be here. There might still be problems with a large deficit, but these could be resolved by the Greek Government, free to take its own path and decide on, for example, expanding demand by printing money and generating wealth which in turn could increase the tax take and reduce the deficit. It could also devalue its currency in relation to other countries, improving its balance of trade and again improving Government revenues. In the Euro, with its fate tied to the desires of the Central Bank and larger economies like France and Germany, Greece has no such option.

By contrast, Iceland, which continues to enjoy financial sovereignty and control over its own currency, recently voted in a national referendum to default on billions of pounds of debts. Has it gone bust? No. Iceland remains at work, its economy readjusting itself, albeit with some short-term disruption, but still functioning and with economic growth now returned.

The same situation applies to Britain, which kept out of the Euro thanks to the punitive "five tests" created in 1997 by then-Chancellor Gordon Brown to deflect the starry-eyed desires of Premier Blair to join the super-currency. This far-sighted act has left Britain with control over its own currency and money supply. While, of course, we need to exercise prudence and cannot exist in isolation of the world economy, we retain the ability to increase the amount of money in the economy via the inelegantly named process of quantitative easing. Consequently, in spite of the hysterical nonsense prattled by the Con Dem Government, there is utterly no prospect of the UK going bust. Cameron and Clegg's often-voiced fears that the UK could end up like Greece are not merely inaccurate - they are downright lies. It is purely for reasons of ideology, not necessity, that they have worked so hard to impose the same neoliberal economic prescription of cuts and deflation on the UK economy as the IMF wants for Greece.

And so this week Britain too faces strikes, with somewhere approaching three quarters of a million public sector workers likely to strike for one day in protest at Government plans to cut their pensions. Again the Government have trotted out a load of exaggerations about the pension schemes being unviable. Rubbish has spewed from Ministers' greasy lips about "gold-plated pensions" for public employees, when the average pension is in fact no more than around £6,000 p.a. But, like PASOK in Athens, the Con Dems parrot the line of austerity and cuts for the less well-off while the super-rich continue to flourish to ever greater heights of prosperity.

The Communist demonstration on the Acropolis was not merely an imposing and inspiring sight. It was also symbolic in its location on the steps of the Parthenon temple, the House of the Hellenic Goddess Athena, deity of civilisation, workers and justice, and patron of the city where the concept of democracy was first fashioned into practice. On the same site where Socrates challenged the greed of the wealthiest and where Plato warned of eternal war between rich and poor, the battle is being fought for Europe's future - for a social Europe that values its people or for one based on the interests of secretive multinationals and a banking system that feeds on itself.

We must pray that the Goddess is listening. And then join the protests on Thursday.

1 comment:

  1. Most counties around the north sea never joined the Euro.
    Why not found the Hanse again with Netherlands, UK , Norway GER & Scandinavia etc..
    We loose 30% on the EURO exit, but we know what we got:
    Real Friends & future of Northern Europe.
    Probably Profit withe a strong new currency.

    Take your loss. Europe was never one.
    No one united EUrope last thousand years and that is it's strength. Greece is for holidays and you should pay there with holiday fake drachma.

    It is reasonable th ask for a moment whre to say STOP. At this moment no one tells. That is alone reason enough to leave the Euro.