Is Greece On The Road To Recovery, Or Will It Remain Trapped By Debt? An Interview With Economist Costas Lapavitsas


Professor Costas Lapavitsas BSc Photo: SOAS University of London

In early 2010, Greece became technically bankrupt as it was shut out from borrowing in the international credit markets because of skyrocketing deficits and huge public debt levels. Since then, the country has been under bailout programs created by the European Union (EU), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to keep it inside the eurozone. However, the bailout programs have been accompanied by brutal austerity measures that have had a catastrophic effect on Greek economy and society. Yet the current pseudo-leftist Syriza government — which has been enforcing the EU neoliberal agenda since coming to power in 2015, with greater dedication than any other Greek government since the outbreak of the crisis — declares today’s economic situation a “success story.” However, not everyone is buying the official story.

Costas Lapavitsas is a Marxist economist at the University of London. Since the outbreak of the eurozone crisis in 2010, he argued consistently in favor of Greek default and exit from the eurozone as the key to a left-wing strategy to confront the crisis. He produced much analytical work and his arguments had considerable influence within the left, but also more widely across Greek society. For several years, his name became widely associated with these policies and had influence within Syriza, even though its leadership was completely opposed to this strategy. In January 2015 he accepted an invitation by Syriza to join its electoral ticket as an independent, and was elected to the Hellenic Parliament with a great majority in his electoral region of Imathia.

Lapavitsas served as a member of parliament for seven months and was one of the leading voices in the country in favor of a radical course of action that would bring a political rupture with the lenders. The Syriza leadership, and especially the circle of Alexis Tsipras, tried systematically to marginalize him, keeping him away from positions of authority. When the Syriza leadership surrendered to the lenders in August, 2015, Lapavitsas left the party, together with more than 30 others. They were the true left of Syriza and tried to create an alternative left-wing party called Popular Unity. Unfortunately, their efforts have not been successful, partly because of their own organizational weaknesses, and partly because a disillusionment with the left prevailed in Greek society after the surrender of Syriza.

Is Greece on the road to economic recovery? In this interview, Lapavitsas suggests it is simply ludicrous on the part of a former left party to speak of a neoliberal success story for a country mired in poverty and debt. Read more

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How To Achieve Zero Emissions, Even If The Federal Government Won’t Help


Prof.dr. Robert Pollin

With Donald Trump in the White House, the prospects for fighting climate change have never been any bleaker in the US. Yet there are options available to state governments to move forward with the greening of the economy even without federal support. This point is made crystal clear in two studies produced recently by economist Robert Pollin and some of his colleagues at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for the states of Washington and New York. In this exclusive interview for Truthout, Pollin explains the significance of Green New Deal programs.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, two new studies on fighting climate change have been produced by you and two PERI researchers for the states of New York and Washington. How did these studies come about?

Robert Pollin: These were both commissioned studies. For the New York study, the commissioning group was New York Renews, which is a coalition of over 130 organizations in New York State, including labor unions, environmental groups and social justice organizations. For the Washington State study, three important groups within the US labor movement commissioned the study — the United Steelworkers, Washington State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO and the Tony Mazzocchi Center for Health, Safety and Environmental Education (TMC). Tony Mazzocchi was a great visionary labor leader with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW — [which] has since merged into the United Steelworkers), who fought to link the aims of working people with those of environmentalists.

It is not an accident that my co-workers and I were asked to do these similar studies at basically the same time. In both cases, the groups supporting the studies are advancing ambitious green economy programs within their respective states. It is obvious that nothing good on climate change is going to be coming out of the federal government under Trump. It is equally obvious that we can’t wait around on climate issues (and many other matters) until somebody less awful gets into the White House. We therefore have to take the most forceful possible actions at the level of state politics. This is what the coalitions are doing in both New York and Washington States.

It is also significant that, with both studies, our priority was to show how a viable climate change project can be completely compatible with — indeed, supportive of — a pro-labor agenda. Trump and others on the right have feasted on the divides between labor and environmentalists, claiming that if you are for the environment, then you have to be against working people and their communities. These studies show in great detail (some might even say excruciating detail) that these Trump claims are flat-out wrong.

I will emphasize though that we have to be very careful in making this case (and thus the excruciating detail in these studies). In particular, there is no getting around that, if we are going to stop burning fossil fuels to produce energy — as we absolutely must to have any chance of stabilizing the climate — the jobs of people in the coal, oil and natural gas industries — along with many other allied sectors of the economy — will be lost over time. We need to forthrightly confront this fact, but then advance beyond it, to develop what Tony Mazzocchi himself termed a “just transition” for workers and communities who will be hurt by the necessary environmental transitions. The overarching point of both of these studies is precisely to show how we can stop burning fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are the primary cause of climate change, and to accomplish this in ways that expand job opportunities overall while also creating a just transition for workers and communities that are currently dependent on the fossil fuel industry. Read more

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Boxing Humans


Well, moving in the academic realm is too often about boxing humans – yes, both sides going together: putting people into boxes and brutally beating them up. The following a letter I sent to relevant newspapers as comment on what is going on, how students [and lecturers] are mal-treated, disrespectful encounters when students are following their curiosity. It makes me increasingly sad, and I feel deeply ashamed …

Dear colleagues,

adding to the various discussions on ranking and formalistic approaches to studying, admission to universities and performance of third-level teaching and research, one point is easily overlooked – the following example is perhaps extreme, though not necessarily completely exceptional.

I worked for two years as professor of economics at Bangor College China, Changsha [BCC] before taking up my current position as research fellow at the Max-Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy in Munich, Germany. Still, one persisting bond to the previous job is concerned with writing references for some students. Some universities where students applied, accepted only references, requiring my mail-address from the previous job – but shouldn’t universities at this time and age accept that scholars are moving, following ambitions and calls in other positions? This means: they should also accept that mail addresses change, and one may even prefer to use a non-institutional address. Anyway, I mentioned the BCC-mail address – however, sending a mail to that address is answered by an auto-reply referring the sender to another address. This is the first point where the institution that was seeking the reference – the Graduate School, The Chinese University of Hong Kong – failed. They ignored the auto-reply and I did not know about the request they sent. Finally I was made aware of it [by the bright applying student], checked the dormant mail box and continued to the website for the submission of the reference. A form opened [after going through a more or less cumbersome procedure], asking for replies to multiple choice questions. I still think students are not made up of multiple choice elements, instead: they are real beings, humans with a multifaceted personality that cannot be squeezed into such forms – even when considering data-processing as an at-times appropriate tool. So, instead of ticking the boxes I preferred skipping them, attaching a recommendation letter instead. However, the system did not allow me to submit the letter unless I would first answer the multiple-choice questions which would feed into a one-dimensional profile. I complained, sent the letter as a mail attachment – and did not receive a reply by the said office of the Hong Kong University. At some stage, I agreed – honestly disgusted by the lack of qualification and respect towards students – ticked the boxes and attached the letter [again cumbersome, as one had to enter a code which was not clearly legible, not allowing to distinguish 0 and O]. I sent another letter of complaint to the Graduate School, The Chinese University of Hong Kong – which was again answered to the BCC address, and again they failed to resend the mail to the e-mail address mentioned in the auto-reply.

If these are the standards of entering higher education, one should not be surprised that at the other end, i.e. at the time of finishing studies, many people have difficulties. They feel their creativity being limited by the requirements of publishing, acquiring funding and the competition along lines of subordination under expectations instead of striving for innovation [see Maximilain Sippenauer: Doktor Bologna; Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 20.10.2017: 11]

Still, it is a bit surprising that all this is well known and still not much is changing. Surprising … ? Perhaps it is not really surprising if we consider that the income of top-administration posts increase while the income of lecturers does not follow accordingly [see for instance the article titled: Times Higher Education pay survey 2016 in The Times Higher Education;https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/times-higher-education-pay-survey-2016%5D.

It seems that there is a long way towards ‘supporting the brightest by open systems’, overcoming the dominantadministrative policy of ‘wedge the narrowest by furthering their smart submission’.

Sincerely

Peter Herrmann

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Imagining A New Social Order: Noam Chomsky And Robert Pollin In Conversation


Prof.dr. Robert Pollin

We live in an age of illegitimate neoliberal hegemony and soaring political uncertainty. The evidence is all around: citizen disillusionment over mainstream political parties and the traditional conservative-liberal divide, massive inequality, the rise of the “alt-right,” and growing resistance to Trumpism and financial capitalism.

Yes, the present age is full of contradictions of every type and variety, and this is something that makes the goals and aims of the left for the reordering of society along the lines of a true democratic polity and in accordance with the vision of a socialist reorganization of the economy more challenging than ever before.

Noam Chomsky ~ Photo: en.wikipedia.org

In this context, the interview below, with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, which appeared originally in Truthout in three separate parts, seeks to provide theoretical and practical guidance to the most pressing social, economic and political issues facing the United States today. It is part of an effort to help the left reimagine an alternative but realistic social order in an age when the old order is dying but the new has yet to be born.

Noam Chomsky is professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT and laureate professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Arizona. Robert Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. These two thinkers are pathbreakers in the quest to envision a humane and equitable society, and their words can provide a helpful framework as we strive — within an oppressive system and under a repressive government — to fathom new ways of living together in the world.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the rise of Donald Trump has unleashed a rather unprecedented wave of social resistance in the US. Do you think the conditions are ripe for a mass progressive/socialist movement in this country that can begin to reframe the major policy issues affecting the majority of people, and perhaps even challenge and potentially change the fundamental structures of the US political economy?

Noam Chomsky: There is indeed a wave of social resistance, more significant than in the recent past — though I’d hesitate about calling it “unprecedented.” Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact that in the domain of policy formation and implementation, the right is ascendant, in fact some of its harshest and most destructive elements [are rising].

Nor should we overlook a crucial fact that has been evident for some time: The figure in charge, though often ridiculed, has succeeded brilliantly in his goal of occupying media and public attention while mobilizing a very loyal popular base — and one with sinister features, sometimes smacking of totalitarianism, including adoration of The Leader. That goes beyond the core of loyal Trump supporters…. [A majority of Republicans] favor shutting down or at least fining the press if it presents “biased” or “false news” — terms that mean information rejected by The Leader, so we learn from polls showing that by overwhelming margins, Republicans not only believe Trump far more than the hated mainstream media, but even far more than their own media organ, the extreme right Fox news. And half of Republicans would back postponing the 2020 election if Trump calls for it.

It is also worth bearing in mind that among a significant part of his worshipful base, Trump is regarded as a “wavering moderate” who cannot be fully trusted to hold fast to the true faith of fierce White Christian identity politics. A recent illustration is the primary victory of the incredible Roy Moore in Alabama despite Trump’s opposition. (“Mr. President, I love you but you are wrong,” as the banners read). The victory of this Bible-thumping fanatic has led senior party strategists to [conclude] “that the conservative base now loathes its leaders in Washington the same way it detested President Barack Obama” — referring to leaders who are already so far right that one needs a powerful telescope to locate them at the outer fringe of any tolerable political spectrum.

The potential power of the ultra-right attack on the far right is [illustrated] by the fact that Moore spent about $200,000, in contrast to his Trump-backed opponent, the merely far-right Luther Strange, who received more than $10 million from the national GOP and other far-right sources. The ultra-right is spearheaded by Steve Bannon, one of the most dangerous figures in the shiver-inducing array that has come to the fore in recent years. It has the huge financial support of the Mercer family, along with ample media outreach through Breitbart news, talk radio and the rest of the toxic bubble in which loyalists trap themselves.

In the most powerful state in history, the current Republican Party is ominous enough. What is not far on the horizon is even more menacing.

Much has been said about how Trump has pulled the cork out of the bottle and legitimized neo-Nazism, rabid white supremacy, misogyny and other pathologies that had been festering beneath the surface. But it goes much beyond even that.

Read more

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After Brexit And Catalonia, What Will Become Of The EU?


The future of the European Union is surely in doubt.
Brexit and Catalonia are the most glaring recent examples of the irrepressibly dynamic forces of nationalism that continue to exert powerful influence on the human psyche within European communities.

More importantly, the processes that led to the victory of the “Leave” campaign in the June 2016 and the eruption of Catalonia’s cessationist sentiment form part of the disintegrating tendencies under way in today’s global political economy. They add to the growing list of cases illustrating the limits of the idea of a united Europe.
The more likely future of Europe is a neoliberal superstate jointly run by Berlin and Brussels. The European elite has been working hard for a long time now to have power transferred from the national governments to a Brussels-based super bureaucracy, with Berlin acting as the political and economic hegemon.

But there is also an alternative – a United States of Europe (a Europe with total integration and without nation states), which is a widely shared idea within certain European elites. Such a project can succeed only if the norms and values of democracy are applied at a transnational and global level (cosmopolitan democracy).

An imperial superstate
As a citizen of a European neoliberal superstate, your life will be determined by two entities: the Brussels-based bureaucracy and the unelected hegemon, Berlin. They will dictate the policymaking process, while nation states – especially those situated on the periphery of the Union – will be turned into “satellites”.

We have already seen plenty of evidence that the EU is heading that way.
Economic cooperation among European member states has revolved around distinct Machiavellian principles and it is the interests of the strong and influential economic agents and of powerful state actors that drive public policy agenda.
The tradition of political cynicism also defines the actual foreign policy agenda of EU authorities and institutions as evidenced by their double-standard approach towards integration and secession. They opposed Catalonia’s declaration for independence in late October 2017 because they don’t wish to see Spain (an EU member state) split, but provided unanimous support in 2008 to Kosovo’s independence.

As a matter of fact, the European Community (along with Washington) not only failed in the case of former Yugoslavia back in the early 1990s to guarantee the territorial integrity of European state frontiers, in clear violation of the 1975 Helsinki Accords Final Act, but individual European member states actually played a key role in the destruction of the Yugoslavian state.

But no one has ever charged the EU with being a democratic political entity. If anything, it acts as an imperial power by virtue of the very emergence of a neoliberal superstate, at least in regard to economic affairs. The manner in which the bailout programmes for Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Cyprus were handled during the euro crisis stands out as a glaring example of heavy-handed, anti-democratic tactics. Read more

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Noam Chomsky And Robert Pollin: Breaking Through The Political Barriers To Free Education


Robert Pollin – Photo: UMass Amherst

In an increasingly unequal country, the stakes are high for debates over student debt and the prospect of free higher education. Driven by neoliberal politics, our current educational system is both a product of and a driver of deep social inequities. In this interview, world-renowned public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin take on the question of who should pay for education — and how a radical reshaping of our educational system could be undertaken in the US.

This is the third part of a wide-ranging interview series with world-renowned public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin. Read part one here and part two here.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, higher education in the US is a terribly expensive affair, and hundreds of billions are owed in student loans. First, do you think that a system of free higher education can coexist alongside tuition-charging universities? Secondly, what could and should be done about student debt?

Noam Chomsky ~ Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Noam Chomsky: The educational system was a highly predictable victim of the neoliberal reaction, guided by the maxim of “private affluence and public squalor.” Funding for public education has sharply declined. Tuition has exploded, leading to a plague of unpayable student debt. As higher education is driven to a business model in accord with neoliberal doctrine, administrative bureaucracy has sharply increased at the expense of faculty and students, developments reviewed well by sociologist Benjamin Ginsburg. Cost-cutting dictated by the revered market principles naturally leads to hyper-exploitation of the more vulnerable, creating a new precariat of graduate students and adjuncts surviving on a bare pittance, replacing tenured faculty. All of this happens to be a good disciplinary technique, for obvious reasons.

For those with eyes open, much of what has happened was anticipated by the early ’70s, at the point of transition from regulated capitalism to incipient neoliberalism. At the time, there was mounting elite concern about the dangers posed by the democratizing and civilizing effects of 1960s activism, and particularly the role of young people during “the time of troubles.” The concerns were forcefully expressed at both ends of the political spectrum.

At the right end of the spectrum, the “Powell memorandum” sent by corporate lobbyist (later Supreme Court Justice) Lewis Powell to the Chamber of Commerce called upon the business community to rise up to defend itself against the assault on freedom led by Ralph Nader, Herbert Marcuse and other miscreants who had taken over the universities, the media and the government. The picture was, of course, ludicrous but it did reflect the perceptions of Powell’s audience, desperate about the slight diminution in their overwhelming power. The rhetoric is as interesting as the message, reminiscent of a spoiled three-year-old who has a piece of candy taken away. The memorandum was influential in circles that matter for policy formation.

At the other end of the spectrum, at about the same time, the liberal internationalists of the Trilateral Commission published their lament over “The Crisis of Democracy” that arose in the “terrible” ’60s, when previously apathetic and marginalized parts of the population — the great majority — began to try to enter the political arena to pursue their interests. That posed an intolerable burden on the state. Accordingly, the Trilateral scholars called for more “moderation in democracy,” a return to passivity and obedience. The American rapporteur, Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, reminisced nostalgically about the time when “Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers,” so that true democracy flourished.

A particular concern of the Trilateral scholars was the failure of the institutions responsible for “the indoctrination of the young,” including the schools and universities. These had to be brought under control, along with the irresponsible media that were (occasionally) departing from subordination to “proper authority” — a precursor of concerns of the far-right Republican Party today. Read more

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