Showing posts with label austerity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label austerity. Show all posts

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Who is the pilot on the GreekWings flight

The flight deck door is locked, autopilot is set, the passengers are frantically banging on the cabin door but can Greece bank before it crashes into the immovable Alps. And, more importantly, will we have to wait for recovery of the black box to discover who was really at the controls.

In these final few hours before impact the Eurogroup is steadfast in its position of total and complete capitulation by the Greek government before it will consider releasing €7.2 billion bailout funds. After reviewing Athens’ proposals for reform, the guardians of the purse strings have deemed them inadequate and even amateurish. So, what are the options for the eurozone if Greece does not satisfy their demands and defaults on the €450 million payment to the IMF on 9th April and who or what is driving those decisions.

The suspects are:


Alexis Tsipras, 40 year-old ‘Radical’ leader of left-wing coalition party, Syriza who has seen a meteoric rise in the last two years but has been in activism and politics since University. His mandate from the Greek electorate is the lifting of Austerity measures imposed by the Troika of creditors and to keep Greece in the single currency.



Jeroen Dijsselbloem, 49 year-old Dutch Labour party finance minister and president of the Eurogroup, the select committee of European finance ministers who since 2015 have jurisdiction over the Euro. His role is to maintain stability of the single currency.



Angela Merkel, 60 year-old German chancellor. She is the leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union. Germany’s position in the union makes it the de facto leader in negotiations but she has expressed a desire not to have the Euro fail under her watch.



Jeroen Dijsselbloem
If Greece defaults and a Grexit occurs then in the short term, the bond markets could go bear and the euro would go into free fall. In this age of bond market sycophancy, this is a big deal.

That said, any concessions given to the Greeks would become a precedent for other struggling Eurozone nations and while the band-aid needed to plug the hole in Greece is relatively small, Italy and Spain or even France could be far more damaging.

The austerity strategy appears to be working for some members such as Portugal and Ireland, both have exited the bail-out programme and re-entered the international credit market, the latter is now the fastest growing economy in Europe. However this is just balance-sheet understanding, many Irish and Portuguese are not seeing the benefits.

Many Eurozone nations would be watching Greece to see how it dealt with the divorce and depending on how painless it turned out or what could be learned from the experiment, there could be more departures from the single currency which could well lead to complete devolution.


Alexis Tsipras
In the event of an ill-prepared and messy Grexit the already fatigued Greek people would loose faith in the young prime minister, not only ending his career but sparking chaos and possibly an opening for the far-right fascist groups to seize control. Greeks have hankered for state reform for as long as I can remember but the reality would cause more collateral damage than they are prepared for.

An unnamed Syriza official recently said that as a left-wing government, faced with the choice of defaulting to the creditors or their own people it was a no-brainer. Brave words indeed but also damn straight, given the choice of paying the mortgage and feeding your kids, what would you do. No-brainer, right?

But his choice is not just death or dishonour.


Greece could gain support from Russia. Syriza harbours within its ranks some far left idealists who may still hold romantic notions of allegiance to Russia. They may not have realised that Putin’s Russia has bypassed communism to revert back to the days of the Tsars. 

However, Russia has its own liquidity problems and would not bailout Greece without some pretty heavy caveats whether declared or implied. Recent events in Ukraine are very telling of Putin’s ambitions. Russian gas supplies to Greece which are used for domestic use and electricity generation have already given it a significant political foothold.

Russians also represent a huge growth in tourism for Greece who are also buying up holiday property. In some tourist areas English has been demoted to third place on menus and shop signs.

Angela Merkel
Germany’s motives have much in common with the Eurogroup’s, but Angela must play to the home audience. Germany is running a sizable surplus due to its reluctance to take advantage of cheaper than cash credit which is available to it and the austerity measures it has been imposing on its own people, which it systematically blames on Eurozone slackers like Greece. Bending to Greece would be a domestic disaster for Merkel. While a short-term fall in the Euro could hurt but foreign currency holdings and cheap exports would buffer the blow and she would be seen as a saviour.

The Euro is significantly undervalued compared to the German economy. It is the only economy that could withdraw from the Euro with money in the bank but a return to the Deutsche Mark would mean more expensive German exports and it would go back to being another European nation rather than the epicentre of an EU empire.
If Greece were to be cut loose this would mean a constriction of the European borders especially in a very strategic area of the Mediterranean.

We forget though, there is a new wave of Eurozone candidate nations in the wings including Iceland, Albania, Montenegro and Turkey. Turkey gives access to the Med and the middle east, Albania and Montenegro who give access to the Ionian across from Italy and who along with Serbia and Macedonia go to bridging the northern members to Bulgaria and ultimately Turkey and beyond.

These candidates may be seen as more manageable than Greece and not to mention, a Greek withdrawal would make Macedonia and Turkey’s integration easier.

So who is in the driving seat then? 

Well, Merkel does seem to have the most options.

Tsipras is between a rock and several hard-places. Threats have been thrown of everything from Russia to opening the roads for Islamist extremists but ultimately his hand is bluff. Varoufakis’ and his post-election European road trip found few allies. His only option may be to steer into Russian and Chinese ploughed fields.

Dijsselbloem represents the auto pilot, his role is the result of programming. He can only prepare for the fallout.

And all the while the bond markets are licking their lips with glee, fail or fly the euro will make many hedge funds even more obscenely rich.

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Monday, 30 March 2015

Go Greek for a Week



The Greek tragedy that is being played out like a car-crash reality show that gets recommissioned for a new series every time we think it is coming to the final episode. Like any of you who stuck with ‘LOST’ until the climax, the story just lost any semblance of reason. The Greek narrative is becoming so convoluted and discombobulating that it is difficult to make any sense of it. Are the Greeks the lazy feckless moustache twirlers who siesta’d away over 300 billion Euros or is it the insensitive megalomaniac Germans, hell bent on annexing their neighbours… again. Is Varoufakis an economics rock star Yoda or a naive idealist who still believes he can have his souvlaki and eat it and is Greece’s claim to WWII reparations that could effectively wipe the slate clean valid or simply risible. The fact is that all of this has clouded the real issues. For the simple answer I urge you to look no farther than yourself, your neighbours and your family.


For anyone following the will-they-won’t-they Grexit saga that is being played out in the media, you will notice that the story invariably falls into the language of bond yields and bank solvency. The macroeconomics of the situation are both baffling and contradictory. The Greek government was loaned more money than they could repay under the guise of a stable Eurozone member. Then, woken by the shock waves of the same crash that brought down some of the world’s biggest financial institutions, the markets began to panic causing a world recession which tipped Greece, among others, into a downward spiral. Greece is now locked out of the world finance markets beholden to the TROIKA for its life blood. The money needs to be borrowed in order to pay the loans that have stacked up and not to repay the loans but just the interest. So, more than two thirds of the bailout money is going straight back to the banks. But, it still holds a responsibility to its pensioners, unemployed and the people who earn a living working for the state.

The EU have attached certain conditions to these loans, the so called austerity measures, imagine the credit card company coming into your home and telling you what you can and can not spend your money on, imagine the bank telling you that in order to keep your overdraft facility you will have to sell your delivery van and service your customers with a bicycle then punish you for your business going down the tubes.

Stop!

I’m sorry, it is really difficult to talk about the Greek crisis without getting bogged down in the big picture, because it is so big and there is a reason for that. I did ask you to look to yourself for the answer and I will make good on that.

What did you do to create the property boom? Maybe you bid a little too high on the home you dreamed of, maybe you were a little creative with your mortgage application.

What did you do to cause the decline of the health service, did you worry too much about that lump, did you have an accident in your car, did you get into a fight.

What did you do to cause the downturn in industry that forced companies to move production to Asia, did you need too much to pay you rent/mortgage, did you pull a few sickies, did you spend a bit too much time on facebook.

What did you do to cause the credit crunch, did you fail to resist the sales, did you get tired of your old banger and borrow to get your family around in something cleaner and safer.

You will surely answer yes to many of these questions and more I could ask, so are you deserving of a country that has 25% of its workforce unemployed. A tax system that changes so unpredictably that businesses cannot plan or develop. Or as has recently started, main roads and high streets with the lights out at night because the council can’t pay the bills. No, of course you are not.

In 2011, channel 4 invited audiences to ‘Go Greek for a week’, they laid the blame for Greece's woes quite firmly on the population. This is a message that they intended you to internalise, to make you look to your own culpability in your nation’s flaws. There was some truth in the examples given but it did miss the point. The same point that is missed every time the media bang on about bond market yields and currency markets and GDP. The system manages the country not the other way round, the people took advantage of what was on offer, as you do. Government exists to manage a nation, bond markets exist to help finance these nations and the businesses that rely on the nation’s workforce and infrastructure to make profit. These same businesses and industries rely on the same population to consume their products and services.

The markets, industries, banks and governments exist because of the people, not the other way round. The EU and government’s sycophancy towards narcissistic markets has caused the problem, not you.

The markets are everything that Greece and all the other failing nations are accused of. They are fickle and myopic, they grab all they covet, they do not build civilisations, they do not nurture their own. They liquidate all they touch.

I would, once again, ask you to ‘Go Greek for a week’. Look at what is being allowed to happen to the people you met on holiday and whether you be British, French, German or anyone who feels above their plight to look around and see that you may not be the next Greece but that your time is coming.

The banks are so often described as ‘Too big to fail’ but surely this is a description that should only apply to nations of people.


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Europe needs councelling

I've been living in and writing about Greece for over 15 years This is my ride

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Investment tip: Go long on Jackboots

The clock is ticking for Greece, a new tranche of bailouts has been agreed on the caveat that Alexis Tsipras’ reforms are up to scratch, not something he managed last time. When the money runs out the banks will implode and Greece will default and fall out of Merkel's merry little club and start printing drachma, right? Wrong. My investment tip is go long on jackboots because there are groups in the sidelines rubbing their hands together for a chance to begin their own ‘Project Mayhem’. A wave is coming and it smells of smoke.


Greece's new government will be successful just so long as it can maintain some stability. At the moment, the people are behind them in sufficient numbers, 47% according to a recent Metro analysis poll (but since when have polls been bankable), because they are trying to stand their ground against the austerity measures that have brought the country economically and socially to its knees. But if Varoufakis’ game theory ultimately turns out to be Candy Crush vs Eurogroup’s World of Warcraft, things will change and fast.

The country’s neo-nazi group, Golden Dawn has had its head a little low of late. Its leaders have been in prison and it has fallen back a little in the polls but that does not mean their support has waned. The thing with single policy groups is that they always attract floaters who will align with whoever satisfies that need at that time. The need at the moment is HOPE and Syriza is selling it by the bushel. But, If their ring turns brass, as is inevitably will, the need will be ANGER and for that the far-right is one-stop shopping.

In Germany, the war of words between the Greeks and the Germans has stoked the fires of xenophobia. The German government has been running a surplus which has called for a its own brand of austerity. Wages have not been keeping up with inflation and many are feeling the pinch. The obvious cause of this turn of fortunes is the lazy Mediterraneans and the French who have not been pulling their weight. Many Germans are tired of bailing out the rest of Europe and neo-nazi groups have gained ground.

Nigel Farage’s Ukip seem to be talking to the people despite the derision in the media, they are saying something the people need to hear. The ‘squeeze on the middle’ has made the middle-classes less affluent in real terms and house prices are taking a huge chunk from their incomes. At the lower end, eastern Europeans are believed to be taking unskilled and semi-skilled positions driving wages down to a point where the minimum wage is a standard not a safety net.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s Front National took 25% of the votes in the recent local elections. This is largely due to the Charlie Hebdo and related attacks as well as the struggling economy. The people are looking for action not words, they don’t feel safe and could easily fall into getting more protection than they bargained for.

The right-wing Sweden Democrats have been maintaining a steady presence and are now the third party with 13% of the vote.

So why the comment at the beginning of this article about ‘going long’ on jackboots.

It seems that the current obsession with finance and economics, the bond markets, going long, going short, currency markets and yields has detracted for the reason for their existence. Adam Smith, the grandfather of capitalism in his 1776 seminal work “The Wealth of Nations” focuses on the people, population’s role in wealth and prosperity. Marx built his thesis around the needs of the people vs the aims of industry, JM Keynes with JF Roosevelt built a ‘New Deal’ that focused on putting liquidity into the market (shops and industry) through the workers’ pockets and even Milton Friedman recognised the fundamental role of the population.

‘The markets’ have become narcissistic in their Hubris, a self-serving Matrix with the right to all and responsibility to none. But, worse of all, we and especially the world’s leaders are buying into it. The Banks must be firewalled at all cost and market value is the only value. Our young entrepreneurs are told to seek out venture capitalists, Dragons den and Shark tanks. Work, build and form an exit strategy. Investment is the only real goal. The markets are betting on the Eurozone’s demise and in the bond markets they are trading sovereignty futures.The system is no longer serving anyone but the system.

And, while the world is looking the wrong way, certain groups are flourishing in the peripheral vision. Building networks, brewing hate and offering solutions.

It is often said that Europe sleepwalked into WWI but we couldn’t make that mistake again, after all, we all learned from the past mistakes, didn’t we. Could it be said in the future that we were not asleep just blindsided by the markets and the pursuit of a unified European trading platform.


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Monday, 23 March 2015

Episode 24: Media Panic

Media Panic
The story behind the truth

Monday morning smelt like the aftermath of the world’s biggest boyscout jamboree, dear blogees. The fires and barbecues had burned all weekend leaving the air seasoned with charred concrete and grilled meat.


The roads were jamming again with shop-keepers, office workers and mechanics inching their way slowly into a new week, a week like no other behind convoys of outside broadcasting vans looking for the story behind the story. Why would anyone set fire to the city’s tax offices, why indeed. Thousands of public employees had been turned away from blackened buildings by a thick perimeter of armed police. Now, with nowhere to go they littered the city’s cafes and snack bars, making everyone very nervous and the cash registers work harder than ever before.

I parked my Vespa on the pavement next to my allocated spot that was taken by a truck with a big white dish on its roof. The rest of the car park was occupied by the usual array of staff cars but, as I soon realised, the town hall was not occupied by their drivers. I passed ungreeted through the lobby and up to my office where I found the sole public employee actually employed in public duty, the well-assembled secretary. She sat behind her PC huffing and puffing. I threw a smile and a jovial good morning her way but it cut no ice, she sighed and told me that they were all at the cafe opposite. We had not been hit by the fire storm but opportunities like this don’t knock very often.

The cafe had been divvied up by the news crews collecting sound bites and talking heads that would support their particular narrative. As I arrived they were fighting over one of my maintenance staff, who always looked woeful enough to suck the cheer from all tomorrow’s parties. It was too late, far too late when I realised the unholy error of my action. I recognised one of the reporters fighting over the spanner monkey and he did not need a double take to spot me. He launched himself with his mic a quivering foil before him, the cable uncoiling behind him as he called my name in that faux-polite way that hounding hacks do. A passing school bus just missed him, fortunately it had already deposited its precious cargo but the trailing mic cable got whipped up in the wheels. The roving reporter’s legs overtook his body and flew into the air. His body hit the yellow bus like a damp towel and only then did the bus begin to apply usual braking procedures. I knew I couldn't stick around but I couldn't kid myself that I would be unseen. There was more foreign press in town than you could shake a shitty stick at, I would be buried. I needed my publicist more than ever and all I had was Socrates. I ran.

Home felt safe, the wife dropped the vacuuming to make some coffee, any excuse. I began hunting for some chemical relief.

“If you’re looking behind the Tolstoy, it’s gone!” She yelled over the sound of the choking peculator. “…and in the Scrabble.”

I was looking in the Cluedo. Shit!

She emerged from the kitchen carrying two steaming cups and still wearing her marigolds but I was not in the mood and I knew she wouldn't be either after I told her what had happened. I was right. I phoned Socrates while she threw expletives at me. He could be here in twenty minutes. When she started throwing solid objects, I prayed he would hurry and ran for the back door and the safety of the garden. I stopped and peered through the window. Had they found me yet? I was stuck between a psychotic wife and a telephoto lens. I chose the wife.

She was telling me how she wouldn’t tell me that she told me so for the God-knows-howmanyth time when Socrates arrived. I was under the delusion that his presence would calm her but I was wrong. There was absolutely no precedent to support this belief, in fact his presence usually made her more inflammatory. But, thank the good lord and all his angels, he was swinging a bottle of Bushmills black. I implored my good lady to be a little more welcoming to our guest.

“Why?” Her face contorted in forced quizzicality. “You don’t want the world to know the ins and outs of your private life’s armpit, you fucking Diva. That’s all you’ve ever lived off, selling tickets to the public washing of your dirty pants!” She was on a roll and I’m not sure about me but Socrates jaw was visibly hanging. “I don’t see what those fuckwits saw in you, prancing around the stage talking about your cock, for hours! I can’t think of anything to do with your cock that would fill a few minutes!” she even wiggled her little finger in the air.

Socrates reeled in his jaw and turned to me. “What is she talking about?” he whispered.

I squirmed, “Don’t know mate, it’s not that small.”

He gurned and shook his head and I fell in, feeling a little smaller than her little finger now.
She hadn’t paused her tirade for a breath but now she changed tack. “Ahh! Yeah tell him, tell him what the press found out. Tell him why you’re hiding from them. Tell him before I blow the fucking doors off your little scam.”

“Now, now missus, there must be a way we can—” He was beginning to squirm as bad as me, my wife is good at that.

She was now pointing fingers at us both and I was trying to find the words to explain something I hadn’t really understood myself. Dr. Alex had helped me come to terms with so many things during our sessions but I still had far to go. I drew breath to begin but she cut me off, thank God.

“Your boy here, used to be a big celebrity back in Britain until he lost it. What did they call it?”

I mumbled an answer at the floor. She thrust her finger at me and I turned to Socrates and said. “Messiah complex.”

“Got himself sued by the Vatican!”

“How was I to know they had the rights on Messiahs?” I protested.

Socrates deflated, “Oh! Is that it?”

“Sued us out of house and home, this was the only place we could afford to live!” She was building up to the full story. “Then he went anad a Soo public fucking breakdown—” She stopped and turned to Socrates, a smile grew on her face. “You sneaky little bastard, you knew, didn’t you?” He had gone back to a squirmy denial stance but the wife had her bone and no intention of letting it go. “You manipulative shit. You knew all the time!”


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Where it all began Episode 1 

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Monday, 23 February 2015

Is Greece ready for the New Drachma

On Friday 20th February Tsipras, Varoufakis and the Greek people found themselves between a rock and a hard-place. The rock was supplied by Wolfgang Schäuble who has been quite gloating in his intentions to break the Greek delegation and continue with EU's strategy for the Eurozone. The hard place was supplied by the Greeks themselves as the announcement on Greek media that around €20 billion had hemorrhaged from Greek bank deposits since December and the scene was set for a full-on run on the banks. Of course, telling people that their deposits may not be safe can have but one result; their deposits will not be safe. An insolvent banking system would be politically disastrous for the most popular government since ousting the junta in 1974. Finally Tsipras ad Varoufakis had no choice but to capitulate and return home with their tails between their legs.

           

Tsipras has vowed that if he doesn't get a fair deal he will leave slamming the door so hard that the whole house will fall in. Has that time come. The win that has be lauded, in lieu of anything else to say is that the Eurogroup has agreed to see a list of proposals for exactly how they intend to bring the economy into check, this is seen as a positive but we must also consider that while the knot has been loosened, it is also possible to wriggle the noose tighter still. There is no way that the Eurogroup (Schäuble) will be satisfied with the proposals this whole exercise is a last ditch demoralisation tactic, maybe even to force Tsipra’s to play his hand. The backlash has begun with the most audible coming from within Syriza’s own ranks, Manolis Glezos has accused Tsipras of trying to get away with calling meat fish with reference to the lexical realignment of the Eurogroup agreement.

Are the Greeks finally ready to bite the bullet and embrace the Drachma again.

There have been no reliable domestic polls on a Grexit and return to the Drachma and none could possibly done as merely putting the question to the people would cause the mother of all runs and a collapse of the economy before anything could be done. I have been trying to gauge public opinion here on the subject and the first impression took me by surprise, people are reluctant to talk about it. This is strange for a people who have always had a preoccupation with politics, taken relish in criticising the government and more recently the governments of its European partners but now starting the conversation provokes nervous fiddling with smart-phones, shoulder-shrugging or irritated changes of subject. So tired by hope against hope, so weary of broken plans, many have shut down completely. Their last burst of excitement spent, they are resigned to a new status quo and are trying to get on with breathing again. The world outside the political rallies and euro zone negotiations is calm detachment. According to Robertson and Bowlby’s attachment theory Greece has come to the third stage of ambivalent attachment, a survival stage that avoids any further emotional investment and the pain that accompanies disappointment.

Is Greece ready to embrace a new drachma. According to Bowlby, Robertson and even Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, Greece is neither ready nor resistance to anything any more and those who feel powerless will just get on with breathing regardless of the flavour of air they are given. 

The one thing I have realised is that for the first time the Greeks have leaders to rally behind and that could just make the difference. 


UPDATE: WHAT WILL GREECE DO AFTER THE GREXIT


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Europe needs counselling


Forget game theory, what is going on in Brussels is an acrimonious divorce with Germany playing the stoical male role while Greece is the emotional wife trying to get the best for her kids. The passion has gone and it is a relationship that has been reduced to mere financial dependence, a situation that will be familiar with many frustrated spouses. The eurozone is a dysfunctional family that is in desperate need of reconciliation counselling if it is not to pull itself apart causing generations of bitterness and trauma.


If this divorce goes through, the Fatherland will keep the house and cars.
Twitshot


She just won't listen!
We, especially in northern Europe are are conditioned to rely on the head to make important decisions, logic is good. The financial institutions are playing this role, crunching numbers and coming up with plausible reasons why Greece is being histrionic and unreasonable to expect concessions that might allow the family to flourish as a stable and contented union. Wifey just doesn’t understand the pressure that he is having at work and needs to get on with keeping a thrifty home. But Dad’s work has become an obsession with him and while it was originally intended to be a good source of income to feed and clothe his family, it is now beginning to take the place of the family. He has become so defined by this role that it has blurred all perception of purpose. The Euro is a medium of exchange, a facilitator existing only to service the family unit and yet as it fails to satisfy this purpose it is the family who are made to adapt, it has become the only thing of importance.

In 2011, I had he pleasure to meet the now Belgian finance minister, Johan Van Overtveldt. In his 2011 book The end of the Euro, he points out that the single currency was doomed from the outset as an economic union was foisted on a group of nations that had not established a political union on which to base it. Like a marriage of convenience where the couple had not had adequate time to establish a sound understanding and mutual admiration before deciding that his job prospects were sufficient to base a life long bond. So arrogant have the world’s bankers become that they really feel that money makes the world go round. They expected the common currency to be the leverage in European political unification under the logical auspices of the German banking system. This, as Overveldt predicted is blowing up in their faces now and Greece is being offered up as the unstable mother, unfit to care for her children.

The Fatherland is presenting a face of maturity that casts aside the humanistic aspect of government as folly and whimsy. Their focus is on balance sheets and policy that has been (badly) designed to support a currency system that will eventually condition the population of Europe to serve it. This is an autistic mindset that cannot contemplate the uncountable. We are being expected to side with the validity of this argument as it is irrefutable with logic.

The mother of democracy is harping on about how badly she has been treated and that she cannot support her children. She is not getting the right kind of support from her partner. Yes, he gives her money for the home but it’s how he gives it, the demands he makes on her, the disapproving frowns when she tries to make herself nice, the silence at the dinner table when she serves something a little simpler because she has evening classes. She has a point but her argument can get a little confused with ideas that are less easy to quantify as they are off-balance sheet considerations.

We sympathise with Mum but Dad makes more sense because he is logical.


What is needed is a mediator who can reconcile this difference of language. Yanis Varoufakis is arguing socio-political aspect of the relationship, a strategy for growth while the Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem insists on strict adherence to the austerity programme, a financial paring intended to support the medium of exchange at all costs.

Relationships of all kinds are dependent on understanding and evolution. I spoke to psychiatrist, Dr. Alexios Lappas, he said that successful relationships are based on similarities and differences, the prior form the core of shared goals while the differences maintain interest. However, as the responsibilities and strains of routine bite, the interest begins to wane and they regress into survival mode. The differences begin to be viewed as betrayal, by the anxious survival mode mind and they look for endorsement from friends (common ground relationships) who will tend to agree with their friend and support an exit from the relationship. It will not be long before irrevocable differences are cited and the family will split into those on dad’s side and those who support mum.



It is too late to impose a retro-fit political framework to underpin the eurozone’s fiscal policies but if the relationship is to develop through the present crisis it will need to be forward facing. The present negotiations in Brussels is an opportunity for growth but in order for that to happen Dad is going to have to loosen his tie and open himself up to some uncomfortable new feelings.  

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Monday, 16 February 2015

Alexis and Yanis are screwed

And it came to pass that in Europe’s darkest hour came forth two horsemen from an ancient land to slay the dragon and free the good and the pious from servitude. These dashing knights held aloft the swords of righteousness and wisdom to hack away at thorn and bracken to bring hope and light. And now deep in the dragon’s lair they fear no evil, for they have been summoned in the hearts of men to right wrongs. We shall all feast on roasted beast, my brothers, before spring blossoms the trees.


Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis are these brave knights who bring hope of a renaissance of classic Greek democracy once more unto a world that has lost its way. But irrespective of what happens in Brussels in the coming weeks, they are screwed.


The whole of Europe if not the world is beguiled by these two men who have seemingly sprung from nowhere to take on the might of the Eurozone policy makers (Read: Angela Merkel). Not since Barack Obama’s first campaign in 2008 has a political leader evoked such idolisation, before him it was Tony Blair, delivering a desperate Britain from Thatcherism in 1997. History is littered with similar stories. And, herein lies the problem. Each of these beacons of hope have ultimately disappointed, exposed as flawed men in a near impossible situation (and maybe I’m being kind). 

Alexis Tsipras came from left-wing student activist roots to pull off a democratic coup in the Greek parliament. Despite not managing an overall majority in the house his support has snowballed spreading far beyond national borders to garner support from throughout the austerity-stricken Eurozone. He has vowed not to wear a tie until his mission is complete, a sentiment that his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis has taken to heart and run with. This is a man who embodies the Greek economic situation; he needs growth, not a haircut, his charismatic presence belies his true stature and he is definitely not dressed for the bank. He has proved to be an inspired choice. An academic Goliath, highly respected by his economist peers, has a penchant for game theory and a dynamic youthful demeanour rarely seen in his position. The two of them have become the Kirk and Spock of modern politics showing up many for the out-of-touch dinosaurs that many believe them to be.

To all intents and purposes though, the Eurozone is Angela’s game, its her ball and she will be captain, she can even decide to adapt the rules should anyone get out of step. Then along come these two upstarts from a cigarette kiosk of a country telling her she’s off-side. The task ahead of them is formidable and the chances of walking away with all they ask is a snowball’s chance in hell.

The real problems begin when they get back home. Let’s say that they get the majority of what they ask for. Which, if you follow Varoufakis is not a haircut but a restructuring of debts, something akin to consolidating all your credit cards into one low interest loan with a manageable payment plan. But what they really want is to be freed from the conditions of the loan, the austerity measures that have forced Greece's economy to shrink a 1/4 in the last few years and the selling off of public assets to foreign investors. This is the real bone of contention. For while Greece has been forced to take loans to pay the loans which pay the interest, the economy has had its laces tied together by a series of cuts that have forced anorexic shrinkage of an already troubled economy. If they get all this then they have to make it work and be seen to work and that means that people are going to have to magically pop back into full employment, debts accrued during the last years will have to go away and taxes will have to return to being an avoidable nuisance. Things will have to go back to the good ole days (during which everyone would tell you they had never been so bad) things will have to be right for everyone and they won’t.

They have promised to reinstate public employees who were sacked over the last government's term. this is part of what put an unsustainable burden on Greece's resources in the first place and had come about due to successive governments trading votes for jobs. Its result was a public sector bloated with the wrong, unqualified people who didn't give a jot about solving your problem because they had tenure. They have also vowed reopen the state TV and Radio channel ERT, a popular move but will need to be well-managed if it isn't to fall back into the habits of its public sector peers. These are expensive promises, though and neither of them are growth catalysts.

So much is being expected of these two men that there is no way that they won’t disappoint. The best that can be expected is for them to return from Brussels with their dignity and integrity intact carrying the means to create an environment where businesses can begin to build on stable ground. There is still a lot of hard work and sacrifice ahead but what many are going to have to digest is that it will not be only Tsipras’ and Varoufakis’ hard work and sacrifice but their own. They can only do so much and there is still so much domestic reform that needs to take place before the benefits of the concessions that can realistically be expected can take hold.

There will be a backlash. Not only from the Greek people, but all the other nations watching closely to Greece for sign of light at the end of the austerity tunnel. When things do not work out as they hoped or as they chose to believe that T & V had told them. They will cast aside Tsipras and Varoufakis in a wave of told-you-so wisdom. Such is the fickle nature of the people. This will allow the next wave of cure-all promises from whoever has the public ear.

The world has taken these two men to their hearts at a very vulnerable phase in its history. Expectation will be unrealistically high. I hope you have factored this into your game plan, Yanis. 


UPDATE: After more final hours and more renegotiations and more broken promises, the general consensus is getting closer to just roll over and let it happen, already. People are tired and I feel that they are ready to vote back the old order if only to let the screwing be done and lubricate appropriately.
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From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY