A Response to Professor Varoufakis’s Thesis that the Greek Crisis is not Home-made
By Con George-Kotzabasis
Professor Varoufakis, we have crossed swords before several times on your website but no blood was spilt. Your thesis delivered with panache was highly interesting, provocative, fascinating, and alluring, but from a negative point of view. Like an exotically seductive woman flaunting dissolutely her charms but refuses to be seduced. You likewise refuse to see or acknowledge that your proposition is made-up from a selectivity of facts and by leaving other facts out you let down your guard as these neglected facts will release the Aeolian winds to demolish your argument in one wind gust. The fact is that there are many countries within Europe that are not in crisis, such as Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Luxemburg, Austria, and Finland, not to mention others. My question therefore is why the European and global crisis did not also embroil these countries in it as well, as it did with Greece and other southern European countries? Why the general predatory capitalist practices of the dominant countries of the Eurozone affected only some countries of the EU and not others?
The reality is that government dirigisme and its ill-fated profligacy of over spending on borrowed funds was the cause of the crisis that engulfed those countries of the south, and especially Greece, within the whirlpool of sovereign debt. The virus of the malaise did not have exogenous origins, as you wrongly suggest, but originated from the mal-practices of socialist governments and followed inevitably by conservative ones—how else could they have a chance to be elected in government?—with their fatal predilection for big government, and Greece was the example par excellence.
But as we all know a crisis is a developmental process and during its course the remedies applied to it particularly when they are wrong can exacerbate it instead of curing it. And as you correctly point out austerity without economic growth, especially in conditions of continued recession, is a recipe of disaster, as the statesman Antonis Samaras also pointed out two years ago. But it is a grave mistake to confuse the cause with the remedy and to build one’s case on the wrongness of the cures, as encapsulated in some of the policies of the two Memoranda imposed by the European lenders upon Greece, as the cause of the crisis in Greece.
In my judgement therefore your thesis that the crisis in Greece has exogenous origins and not endogenous ones is totally wrong and highly misleading. You are peddling shoddy goods wrapt-up in the dignified robes of academe hoping to make an easy but intellectually disrespectful sale. And the strength of your argument can be measured by the kind of opponents you have had in your debates up till now. None of them were real opponents and all of them were fellow travellers sailing with the compass of your ideological position. I remember when you met a real opponent to your thesis you banned him from your website, and I was rather surprised at the time that with your Kazantzakian character you would have debarred someone expressing opposing views to your own. But it is easy to be right when you hear only your own voice.
Also, your recycling theory from countries with surpluses to countries with deficits is in my opinion fundamentally flawed. What prudent investor would invest on a seat in the Titanic? Most of these countries that have incurred those bottomless deficits were and are economically uncompetitive and this was the primal reason why they were embroiled in this abysmal “balance of payments crisis,” as the eminent financial commentator Martin Woolf argues.
The crisis is profoundly complex to be fixed by tailor-made academic economic nostrums as your Modest Proposal suggests. It will be resolved by the method of science, i.e., by trial and error, and that is why, moreover, will not be without pain for the majority of people, after the grave and fatal errors committed by their past governments. The Schumpetarian principle of “creative destruction” will be the pivotal characteristic in this process of economic restructuring, and statesmen of the calibre of Antonis Samaras will play a decisive role toward its resolution.