If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. – F. Nietzsche
On the early morning of 27 June when reading that the leader of the Greek coalition government, Alexis Tsipras, called for a national referendum to get the views of Greece’s population on the bitter on-going disputes with Europe and the IMF, and in particular whether or not to accept the Troika’s uncompromising bailout conditions to settle the country’s government-debt crisis, I decided to see if we might do our bit in the context of our collaborative program in which we examine the concept of “sustainable development”, both from the vantage of the workings of the economy and challenges of equity and democracy in different countries. To this end I set out to monitor developments over these critical ten days by providing selective daily summaries and international commentary on this unfolding the topic – and, more importantly, the uncertain evolving process behind it.
This quickly took the form of a series of daily summaries of a certain number of what I regard as the key points, issues, ideas, attitudes and players shaping this debate. You will find just below the dozen-plus articles that were posted here since the 27th. They appear here in the order written, and each is hot-linked to facilitate your access.
The core of this story is the huge gap between the level of understanding of leading members of the economics and policy community and that of the troika members. The ever light-handed Paul Krugman put it like this in a 5 July article in the New York Times.
But the campaign of bullying — the attempt to terrify Greeks by cutting off bank financing and threatening general chaos, all with the almost open goal of pushing the current leftist government out of office — was a shameful moment in a Europe that claims to believe in democratic principles. It would have set a terrible precedent if that campaign had succeeded, even if the creditors were making sense.
What’s more, they weren’t. The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding. A “yes” vote in Greece would have condemned the country to years more of suffering under policies that haven’t worked and in fact, given the arithmetic, can’t work: austerity probably shrinks the economy faster than it reduces debt, so that all the suffering serves no purpose. The landslide victory of the “no” side offers at least a chance for an escape from this trap.
The battle lines are drawn. The hard work lies ahead and the challenges are going to be met, one way or another.
The resources and skills to get the job done are plentifully there, so if these challenges ultimately remain unmet or unsatisfactorily met you will know exactly to whom to look. Everything is now out in the open and there is no place to hide. And that in itself is a great victory for democracy.
Articles on Greek Crisis appearing in SDED: 27 June – 6 July 2015
27 June. Piketty steps up to bat on Germany and Debts *
29 June. Jeffrey Sachs: Let Greece Default
29 June. Joseph Stiglitz on casting his vote *
29 June. “On Europe’s cruel capitalism”
5 July. Europe wins *
5 July. As the polls close . . . *
In addition you can find more results from our monitoring efforts at finding the missing pieces at :
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My great regret
My great regret in all this is above all the appalling lack of greatness on the part of the Troika, the abject unwillingness to even try to understand the errors of the past years and in particular the tragic consequences of policies based on unproven (actually dis-proven) theory about “austerity”, and finally the brutal thoughtlessness of the key personalities and institutions who “decide for Europe”. I can only hope that at least one or two of them will understand the importance of this moment, that the decisions are not so much about that one small country that constitutes barely 2% of the European economy, but about the bold adventure of Europe itself.
After all that was all it took back in 1950 to lay the foundation for today’s Europe in the form of the European Coal and Steel Community were two committed Europeans, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet who together dedicated themselves to the high ideal of a united and prosperous Europe. Now all we have to do is to hope for signs of greatness in the chaos that currently surrounds us.
Greece deserves better, Europe deserves better. And one can only hope
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About the author:
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Bio: Britton is an American political scientist and sustainability activist who has lived and worked in Paris since 1969. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest book, "BETTER CHOICES: Bringing Sustainable Transport to Your City" focuses on the subject of environment, equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions. A pre-publication edition of Better Choices is currently undergoing an international peer review during Sept.- Oct. 2017, with the goal of publication in English and Chinese editions by end-year. If you wish to participate drop a line to BetterChoices@ecoplan.org .