Monday, 7 May 2012

A Spectre is Haunting Europe...

...the spectre of anti-austerity.

The last week has seen major democratic challenges at the ballot box to the neoliberal parties of austerity economics across Europe.

In Britain, the two Coalition parties went down in flames at a series of electoral contests covering local councils and the Mayor of London and other cities - in London, the Lib Dem wing of the government ended up in fourth place, behind the Green Party, for both the Mayor and the Assembly elections. And although Tory Boris Johnson was elected, it was in the end by a much tighter margin than predicted and after a campaign distinguished by distinguishing himself from the Tory Government. At the other end of England, in Liverpool, the Conservative Party trailed in seventh place, behind parties like the Greens, Trade Unions & Socialist Coalition and the independent Liberal Party (as well as their Lib Dem allies). Meanwhile across the country, swathes of Conservative and Lib Dem councillors were felled by an anti-government revolt that saw big gains for the Labour Party but also for a range of smaller groups like the Greens, UKIP and Respect, as well as the SNP in Scotland.

Then, in France, the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande was elected President, defeating the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy on an anti-austerity programme committed to renegotiating the fiscal treaty of the neoliberal, cuts-obsessed EU and taxing the rich. In the first round of the election, nearly 3 out of 4 voters supported candidates opposed to austerity measures.
The Drachma marked Greece's sovereignty - then and now?

And then today, the Greek people firmly rejected the German-led takeover of their country by the Central European Bank, voting in its place for a wide range of right and left wing parties opposed to the slash-and-burn methods of the international banking community. These austerity measures have dictated a dreadful scything of Hellenic public services to pay for a combination of dodgy bank dealing by Goldman Sachs early in the last decade and tax evasion by the rich elite. An early exit from the Eurozone beckons, the clearest and most logical route for Greeks to regain control of their country from Gauleiter Papademos, Merkel's Minister without Mercy, who has been squeezing the Greek state to death for the sake of the bankers.

Italy has followed suit, with a big swing to the left in local elections yesterday as well, and even in Merkel's own backyard, a federal election held today would be unlikely to return her to power. The response of the bankers and market traders, previously secure with the "public will pay" promises of the conservative regimes that had dominated much of Europe, has been predictably negative as their ill-gotten gains come under scrutiny once again.

So what happens now? The People have spoken - austerity is rejected as the ever-decreasing circle that it is. Like the old medieval cure of bleeding the humours out of people, austerity saps the capacity of national economies to ever recover, putting the short-term gain of speculators ahead of community and national needs. But a simple return to Keynesian reflation probably won't work in a world where increasing resource scarcity and environmental damage militate against continuous growth.

The challenge now has to be to get economies moving again to create jobs, but also to distribute wealth fairly. Hollande may make a good case for the first, but unless the Left in France keep the pressure on him, there may be less attention paid to the second, promised tax increases aside. Syriza, the new second party of Greece (typically still described by the BBC as a fringe party!), argues for a wider social change in terms of ownership of resources as well as fiscal reflation and progressive taxation. It is a coalition of green and socialist groups, so its programme is undoubtedly more radical than the French Socialists, but the latter would do well to read it.

The crash of 2008 led to many on the left making bold statements to the prevailing right wing that there could be no return to business as usual. No disagreement there - but it holds for the left as much as for the right. Reflationary economics based on massive public spending programmes, like the Green New Deal put forward in the UK, have a role to play, but only in part. Keynesian economics are still the economics of capitalism - social democrats have long assumed the possibility of continued growth creating enough to keep everyone happy and in that respect, historically, they have often delivered. Except that in terms of where we are now with the resources available to humanity and the urgent need for sustainable economics, more of the same anti-austerity economics will work only marginally better than austerity - and will leave plenty of scope for capitalist speculators to play havoc with any recovery.

So although Syriza may, just possibly, lead Greece out of the Euro and back to the drachma, the rest of Europe would do well to consider the wider range of proposals coming from red-green alliances around the Continent - and end to austerity yes; but an end to inequality too. This way, slowing and even ending the obsession with growth can still lead to better living standards, to a more sustainable economics and to happier lives for people and communities throughout Europe and across the planet itself.

Previous posts : Athens and Austerity - a Hymn to the Goddess of Democracy
                         The Greek Myths

From Austerity Nut dot com - click here

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