It’s been seven years since the outbreak of the Greek debt crisis, yet Greece — the country that gave birth to democracy — is still stuck in a vicious cycle of debt, austerity and high unemployment. Three consecutive bailout programs have deprived the nation of its fiscal sovereignty, transferred many of its publicly owned assets and resources into private hands (virtually all of foreign origin), produced the collapse of the public health care system, slashed wages, salaries and pensions by as much as 50 percent, and led to a massive exodus of its skilled and educated labor force. As for democracy, it has been seriously constrained since the moment the first bailout went into effect, back in May 2010, as all governments that have come to power have pledged allegiance to the international actors and agencies behind the bailout plans — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — and follow closely and obediently their commands, irrespective of the needs and wishes of the Greek people.
Unsurprisingly, this includes the so-called Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), an opportunistic political party with a great knack for old-style cronyism and little experience in managing national affairs. Syriza has been in power for two nightmarish years now, co-governing with the extreme nationalist and xenophobic political party, The Independent Greeks (ANEL).
In the course of the last two years, Syriza, under the leadership of its populist leader Alexis Tsipras, reneged on its campaign promises to voters (ending bailouts, ending austerity and creating public work programs to reduce unemployment), and converted itself into a counterfeit copy of a social democratic party. Since the internal split with the far-left segment, Tsipras has made big-time overtures to European socialists and has attained an observer status in meetings of EU socialist leaders. In this way, Syriza has sought to fill the gap after the collapse of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) while signing a third bailout agreement and committing to execute international creditors’ plans for the sell-out of the country and its conversion into a neoliberal paradise for multinationals and big business interests, analogous to what took place in Latvia.
It’s true that Syriza faced incredible pressure from far stronger adversaries once it was elected, especially given the fact that the Greek state was financially bankrupt. However, the party did not need to pursue the course that it opted to follow — namely, betraying the popular mandate and converting itself into a mainstream political party in hopes of remaining in power for as long as possible. The moment Syriza’s leadership realized that it was incapable of resisting the pressures of the international creditors (the EU and IMF), it should have made a direct appeal to the Greek people by explaining the nature of the situation and the anti-democratic proclivities of the euro masters. It could have then stepped down, causing a European crisis, and turned to organizing grassroots resistance and distributive justice from the ground up. But this was never in the works: Syriza’s leadership had paid allegiance to the euro masters and the domestic corporate/financial elite even before it won the election of January 2015.
The reason why Greek governments have opted for all these years to become servants of the EU/IMF duo is quite simple: They are part of the capitalist universe and inextricably linked to the economic project of the European Union. As such, they believe there is no alternative for bankrupt Greece to bailout programs, and subsequently, to ruthless fiscal readjustment along the austerity route, coupled with a massive privatization undertaking and the end of the social state. This sad state of affairs applies even more forcefully to the current Syriza-ANEL government, which is now involved in some very awkward discussions over the completion for the assessment of the new bailout agreement. The IMF has yet to commit itself to this agreement, as it has a rather different perspective from that held by the European fiscal authorities both over the sustainability of debt and the depth of the reforms under way.
Specifically, the IMF finds the current levels of Greek public debt to be simply unsustainable (it stands at 180 percent of GDP and over 90 percent of long-term liabilities are held by public creditors). The IMF has therefore called for a sizeable debt write-off and also pushed for more reforms on all major sectors of the economy (banks, energy, labor market). In fact, the IMF wants the Greek government to commit itself via legislation to measures beyond 2018 — in other words, beyond the expiration of the new bailout agreement. The IMF contends that Greece’s debt levels will explode to much higher levels in the years (and even decades) ahead, and that the reforms proposed by the EU authorities are not specific enough, while their debt sustainability projections are ill-defined.
For the part 40 years or so, neoliberalism has reigned supreme over much of the western capitalist world, producing unparalleled wealth accumulation levels for a handful of individuals and global corporations while the rest of society has been asked to swallow austerity, stagnating incomes and a shrinking welfare state. But just when we all thought that the contradictions of neoliberal capitalism had reached their penultimate point, culminating in mass discontent and opposition to global neoliberalism, the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election brought to power a megalomaniac individual who subscribes to neoliberal capitalist economics while opposing much of its global dimension.
What exactly then is neoliberalism? What does it stand for? And what should we make of Donald Trump’s economic pronouncements? In this exclusive interview, world-renowned Cambridge University Professor of Economics Ha-Joon Chang responds to these urgent questions, emphasizing that despite Donald Trump’s advocacy of “infrastructure spending” and his opposition to “free trade” agreements, we should be deeply concerned about his economic policies, his embrace of neoliberalism and his fervent loyalty to the rich.
C. J. Polychroniou: For the past 40 or so years, the ideology and policies of “free-market” capitalism have reigned supreme in much of the advanced industrialized world. Yet, much of what passes as “free-market” capitalism are actually measures designed and promoted by the capitalist state on behalf of the dominant factions of capital. What other myths and lies about “actually existing capitalism” are worth pointing out?
Ha-Joon Chang: Gore Vidal, the American writer, once famously said that the American economic system is “free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich.” I think this statement very well sums up what has passed for ‘free-market capitalism’ in the last few decades, especially but not only in the US. In the last few decades, the rich have been increasingly protected from the market forces, while the poor have been more and more exposed to them.
For the rich, the last few decades have been “heads I win, tails you lose.” Top managers, especially in the US, sign on pay packages that give them hundreds of millions of dollars for failing — and many times more for doing a decent job. Corporations are subsidised on a massive scale with few conditions — sometimes directly but often indirectly through government procurement programs (especially in defense) with inflated price tags and free technologies produced by government-funded research programs. After every financial crisis, ranging from the 1982 Chilean banking crisis through the Asian financial crisis of 1997 to the 2008 global financial crisis, banks have been bailed out with hundreds of trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money and few top bankers have gone to prison. In the last decade, the asset-owning classes in the rich countries have also been kept afloat by historically low rates of interests.
In contrast, poor people have been increasingly subject to market forces.
In the name of increasing “labor market flexibility,” the poor have been increasingly deprived of their rights as workers. This trend has reached a new level with the emergence of the so-called “gig economy,” in which workers are bogusly hired as “self-employed” (without the control over their work that the truly self-employed exercise) and deprived of even the most basic rights (e.g., sick leave, paid holiday). With their rights weakened, the workers have to engage in a race to the bottom in which they compete by accepting increasingly lower wages and increasingly poor working conditions.
The crisis of the European Union (EU) is multifaceted and has visibly deepened during the last year. The British referendum on EU membership and the vote in favour of Brexit have only been the most explicit symptom of the disintegrative tendencies. The core-periphery rift in the euro area has continued. The arrival of a large number of refugees from the war-torn areas of the Middle East has resulted in acrimonious conflicts in the EU on the question who should take care of them. The way in which the pro-free trade forces pushed through the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada showed utter disregard for the objections of democratically elected bodies (e.g. the Belgian regions of Wallonia and Brussels).
In face of the multiple crisis of the EU, there is a relatively large consensus ranging from Social Democrats to right-wing nationalist forces to seek a flight forward towards an increasing militarisation of the EU. Otherwise, different strategies to deal with the crises can be discerned. The predominant response is muddling through. It is privileged by the majority of Christian Democrat, Social Democrat and liberal forces. This strategy continues the neoliberal mode of integration and seeks to preserve the present geographic shape of the euro area and the Schengen Zone. It will most probably not prevent the deepening of the disintegration tendencies. There are two sub-varieties of muddling through. One aims to combine it with more fiscal flexibility and more public investment. It is mainly advocated by Social Democrat forces in France and the Mediterranean. The other subvariety abandons the integrity of the Schengen Zone and rather advocates a smaller Schengen Zone with tighter border controls. It is favoured by a relatively broad range of forces particularly in Germany, Austria and Central Eastern Europe. A ‘core Europe’ conception with a smaller and more compact euro area is advocated by right-wing nationalist forces like Lega Nord in Italy, Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ) in Austria and Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany as well as some Christian Democrat currents. On the right of the political spectrum, there are finally ‘Europe of Nations’ concepts. They tend to advocate focusing European integration on the Single Market and linked economic regulations. The nationalist right-wing demands more spaces of national competitive strategies. Right-wing nationalist parties, like Fidesz in Hungary and Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS) in Poland, regard regional funds as an essential element of integration. Some forces of the nationalist right even tend towards leaving the EU.
On the political left, there are divergent strategies as well. Some forces advocate a form of democratic European federalism. The political presuppositions of such a project are extremely demanding. Other left-wing forces do not regard democratic European federalism as a realist solution and see the EU institutions as being particularly strongly shielded against popular pressures. They propose an explicitly pro-social agenda and defying EU regulations and abandoning the euro area if this is necessary to bring about progressive policy changes. Read more
For the complete text – in English – go to (PDF): The European Union: The Threat Of Disintegration
Die Arbeitsgruppe Europäische Wirtschaftswissen schaftlerInnen für eine andere Wirtschaftspolitik in Europa (EuroMemo Group) veröffentlicht am Dienstag, den 24. Januar 2017, das EuroMemorandum 2017 “The European Union: The Threat of Disintegration.” 270 Ökonomen und Sozialwissenschaftler aus ganz Europa fordern darin gemeinsam einen radikalen Kurswechsel in der europäischen Wirtschafts- und Sozialpolitik.
Das EuroMemorandum 2017 offenbart ernste Gefahren für die Integration Europas: Die Polarisierung zwischen den europäischen Kernländern und der Peripherie hält an. Der Umgang mit der großen Zahl an Flüchtlingen hat zu erbitterten Konflikten innerhalb der EU geführt und die Durchsetzung des europäisch-kanadischen Freihandelsabkommens CETA machte eine völlige Gleichgültigkeit gegenüber Einwänden von demokratisch gewählten Organen deutlich. Der Brexit war nur das klarste Zeichen der Gefahren für die europäische Integration.
Die wirtschaftlichen Aussichten Europas sind weiterhin düster: Während sich die Eurozone noch lange nicht nachhaltig erholt hat, erhöhen die nachlassende weltweite Konjunktur und der Brexit die Unsicherheit noch mehr. Die zaghaften Bestrebungen der EU-Politik wie der Juncker Plan und der etwas größere fiskalpolitische Spielraum für die Mitgliedsstaaten sind bei weitem nicht ausreichend. Das EuroMemorandum 2017 fordert eine koordinierte Wirtschaftspolitik, die statt auf ausgeglichene Haushalte auf eine ausgeglichene Volkswirtschaft mit hoher Beschäftigung und den Abbau von regionalen Ungleichheiten setzt. Eine effektive Fiskalpolitik auf EU-Ebene, die in der Lage ist, Abschwünge auf EU-, nationaler und regionaler Ebene zu bremsen, und eine langfristige Investitionsstrategie sind notwendig. Strategische Lohnzuwächse würden eine gerechte Teilhabe der Arbeiter am Wachstum und stabile Inflationsraten ermöglichen. Dem Steuerwettbewerb muss eine Ende bereitet werden.
Zwar haben die deutliche Niedrigzinspolitik und die unkonventionellen geldpolitischen Maßnahmen der EZB angesichts der restriktiven Fiskalpolitik höchstwahrscheinlich einen vollkommen wirtschaftlichen Zusammenbruch infolge der Finanzkrise verhindert, doch stößt diese Politik zunehmend an ihre Grenzen. Auch ist die geplante Kapitalmarktunion kaum in der Lage, einen maßgeblichen wirtschaftlichen Anstoß zu geben und gerät infolge des Brexit ins Ungewisse, da die britischen Finanzmärkte ganz klar als Zentrum des Wertpapierhandels vorgesehen waren. Unter Vorraussetzung einer koordinierten expansiven Fiskal- und Investitionspolitik fordert das EuroMemorandum 2017 daher eine “Normalisierung” der Geldpolitik mit niedrigen, aber positiven Zinsraten.
Auch im Hinblick auf die Flüchtlingsmigration zeigt das EuroMemorandum 2017 auf, dass der Druck auf die gesellschaftlichen Ressourcen vielmehr auf die jahrelang vernachlässigte staatliche Grundversorgung in den EU-Ländern zurückzuführen ist. Finanzierungsmodelle für die Integration von Flüchtlingen und EU-Migranten, die gleichzeitig den Volkswirtschaften der Zielländer zugutekommen, sind ganz klar möglich. Das Solidaritätsprinzip innerhalb der EU bietet eine Grundlage, um populistischen fremdenfeindlichen Positionen zu begegnen.
Die Krise der EU begünstigte den Anstieg rechtsorientierter Kräfte in Europa, die sich vom nationalliberal-konservativen bis ins faschistische Spektrum erstrecken. Wirtschaftspolitisch sind die Programme der jeweiligen Parteien eher neoliberal, teilweise in Verbindung mit national-konservativen und auch heterodoxen Elementen, ausgerichtet. Klar ist die Präferenz nationaler gegenüber europäischer Lösungen. Im Zentrum der Forderungen des EuroMemorandums 2017 stehen vielmehr inklusive Reformen, die soziale und wirtschaftliche Ungleichheiten abbauen. Der territoriale Rahmen ist dabei nicht Ausgangspunkt und sollte danach bestimmt werden, wo die größten Erfolgschancen sind. In der Tat ist dies oft eher die nationale als die EU-Ebene. Angesichts der strikten institutionellen Beschränkungen innerhalb der Eurozone, müssen auch Austrittsstrategien erwogen werden.
Während die Verhandlungen zum transatlantischen Freihandelsabkommen TTIP zeitweise ausgesetzt wurden, geriet das europäisch-kanadischen Freihandelsabkommen CETA ins Zentrum der Aufmerksamkeit. Doch ist CETA im Hinblick auf Demokratie und Rechtsstaatlichkeit genauso rückschrittlich wie TTIP. Auf Ebene der Mitgliedsstaaten sollte versucht werden, die noch ausstehende Ratifizierung von CETA durch die nationalen Parlamente zu verhindern. Im Hinblick auf die Europäische Nachbarschaftspolitik sollten statt weitreichendem Freihandel, untergeordneter Integration und Militarisierung, beiderseitig vorteilhafte Kooperationen zum Beispiel auf Branchenebene eingegangen werden.
Das EuroMemorandum ist eine jährlich erscheinende Publikation der EuroMemo Group, in der aktuelle wirtschaftliche Entwicklungen in Europa kritisch analysiert und Alternativen aufgezeigt werden. Die EuroMemo Group ist ein Netzwerk von Ökonomen aus ganz Europa mit dem Ziel, darzustellen, dass es eine wirtschaftlich nachhaltige und sozial gerechtere Alternative zu neoliberalen Liberalisierungsmaßnahmen gibt.
Mehr Informationen über die EuroMemo Group finden Sie unter www.euromemo.eu
Stefanie Marie Scholz, M. Sc.
Koordination der EuroMemo Group
A wide range of politicians and media outlets have described the alleged Russian interference in the last US presidential election (by way of hacking) as representing a direct threat to American democracy and even to national security itself. Of course, the irony behind these concerns about the interference of foreign nations in the domestic political affairs of the United States is that the US has blatantly interfered in the elections of many other nations, with methods that include not only financial support to preferred parties and the circulation of propaganda but also assassinations and overthrows of even democratically elected regimes. Indeed, the US has a long criminal history of meddling into the political affairs of other nations — a history that spans at least a century and, since the end of World War II, extends into all regions of the globe, including western parliamentary polities. This interview with Noam Chomsky reminds us that the United States is no stranger to election interference; in fact, it is an expert in this arena.
C. J. Polychroniou: Noam, the US intelligence agencies have accused Russia of interference in the US presidential election in order to boost Trump’s chances, and some leading Democrats have actually gone on record saying that the Kremlin’s canny operatives changed the election outcome. What’s your reaction to all this talk in Washington and among media pundits about Russian cyber and propaganda efforts to influence the outcome of the presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor?
Noam Chomsky: Much of the world must be astonished — if they are not collapsing in laughter — while watching the performances in high places and in media concerning Russian efforts to influence an American election, a familiar US government specialty as far back as we choose to trace the practice. There is, however, merit in the claim that this case is different in character: By US standards, the Russian efforts are so meager as to barely elicit notice.
Let’s talk about the long history of US meddling in foreign political affairs, which has always been morally and politically justified as the spread of American style-democracy throughout the world.
The history of US foreign policy, especially after World War II, is pretty much defined by the subversion and overthrow of foreign regimes, including parliamentary regimes, and the resort to violence to destroy popular organizations that might offer the majority of the population an opportunity to enter the political arena.
Following the Second World War, the United States was committed to restoring the traditional conservative order. To achieve this aim, it was necessary to destroy the anti-fascist resistance, often in favor of Nazi and fascist collaborators, to weaken unions and other popular organizations, and to block the threat of radical democracy and social reform, which were live options under the conditions of the time. These policies were pursued worldwide: in Asia, including South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Indochina and crucially, Japan; in Europe, including Greece, Italy, France and crucially, Germany; in Latin America, including what the CIA took to be the most severe threats at the time, “radical nationalism” in Guatemala and Bolivia.
Sometimes the task required considerable brutality. In South Korea, about 100,000 people were killed in the late 1940s by security forces installed and directed by the United States. This was before the Korean war, which Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings describe as “in essence” a phase — marked by massive outside intervention — in “a civil war fought between two domestic forces: a revolutionary nationalist movement, which had its roots in tough anti-colonial struggle, and a conservative movement tied to the status quo, especially to an unequal land system,” restored to power under the US occupation. In Greece in the same years, hundreds of thousands were killed, tortured, imprisoned or expelled in the course of a counterinsurgency operation, organized and directed by the United States, which restored traditional elites to power, including Nazi collaborators, and suppressed the peasant- and worker-based communist-led forces that had fought the Nazis. In the industrial societies, the same essential goals were realized, but by less violent means.
Noam Chomsky: The US Health System Is An “International Scandal” ~ And ACA Repeal Will Make It Worse
Changes are coming to America’s health care system. Not long from now, the Affordable Care Act could be history. President-elect Donald Trump wants to repeal so-called Obamacare, although he is now urging Republicans to repeal and replace it at the same time. But replace it with what?
The political culture of the most powerful nation in the world is such that it vehemently defends the right of people to buy guns but opposes the right to free and decent health care for all its citizens. In all likelihood, the Trump health care plan will be one based on “free market principles.” Under such a plan, as Noam Chomsky notes in the interview for Truthout that follows, poor people are likely to suffer most. In other words, the scandalous nature of the US health care system is bound to become even more scandalous in the Trump era. Welcome back to the future.
C.J. Polychroniou: Trump and the Republicans are bent on doing away with Obamacare. Doesn’t the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) represent an improvement over what existed before? And, what would the Republicans replace it with?
Noam Chomsky: I perhaps should say, to begin, that I have always felt a little uncomfortable about the term “Obamacare.” Did anyone call Medicare “Johnsoncare?” Maybe wrongly, but it has seemed to me to have a tinge of Republican-style vulgar disparagement, maybe even of racism. But put that aside…. Yes, the ACA is a definite improvement over what came before — which is not a great compliment. The US health care system has long been an international scandal, with about twice the per capita expenses of other wealthy (OECD) countries and relatively poor outcomes. The ACA did, however, bring improvements, including insurance for tens of millions of people who lacked it, banning of refusal of insurance for people with prior disabilities, and other gains — and also, it appears to have led to a reduction in the increase of health care costs, though that is hard to determine precisely.
The House of Representatives, dominated by Republicans (with a minority of voters), has voted over 50 times in the past six years to repeal or weaken Obamacare, but they have yet to come up with anything like a coherent alternative. That is not too surprising. Since Obama’s election, the Republicans have been pretty much the party of NO. Chances are that they will now adopt a cynical [Paul] Ryan-style evasion, repeal and delay, to pretend to be honoring their fervent pledges while avoiding at least for a time the consequences of a possible major collapse of the health system and ballooning costs. It’s far from certain. It’s conceivable that they might patch together some kind of plan, or that the ultra-right and quite passionate “Freedom Caucus” may insist on instant repeal without a plan, damn the consequence for the budget, or, of course, for people.
One part of the health system that is likely to suffer is Medicaid, probably through block grants to states, which gives the Republican-run states opportunities to gut it. Medicaid only helps poor people who “don’t matter” and don’t vote Republican anyway. So [according to Republican logic], why should the rich pay taxes to maintain it?
Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) states that the right to health care is indeed a human right. Yet, it is estimated that close to 30 million Americans remain uninsured even with the ACA in place. What are some of the key cultural, economic and political factors that make the US an outlier in the provision of free health care?
First, it is important to remember that the US does not accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — though in fact the UDHR was largely the initiative of Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the commission that drafted its articles, with quite broad international participation.
The UDHR has three components, which are of equal status: civil-political, socioeconomic and cultural rights. The US formally accepts the first of the three, though it has often violated its provisions. The US pretty much disregards the third. And to the point here, the US has officially and strongly condemned the second component, socioeconomic rights, including Article 25.