All is not well in Greece

A gasoline bomb explodes at riot police during a huge anti-austerity demonstration in Athens' Syntagma (Constitution) square February 12, 2012. Historic cinemas, cafes and shops went up in flames in central Athens on Sunday as black-masked protesters fought Greek police outside parliament, while inside lawmakers looked set to defy the public rage by endorsing a new EU/IMF austerity deal. Below, a protester hurls rocks at riot police; another flees.

(photos: REUTERS)


  1. Ok, no matter what the conflict, using fire – or anything that risks permanent injury –  is not nice. I think we can all agree with that. Now that said, this photo illustrates how easy police in the United States have it. In the U.S., police have to invent stories about bottles being thrown at them to excuse their (the police’s) rioting. In Canada, Officer Bubbles went nuts over soap bubbles. I’m not sure what my point is, but, contrast is high.

    1. You are so right…

      Somewhere,  Lieutenant John Pike (the Pepper Spray Cop) is saying “See, THIS is why we need all that gear! It is only a matter of time!”   

      1. Somehow I can’t imaging Mr. Pike as the kind of person who follows international news, unless perhaps American troops are involved.

    2. Eh, if some people weren’t willing to throw some bombs, and take some bullets in the US there really would have never been much of a non poor working class.  Not far from that bomb are some elected officials voting to take away some of the future of the people that elected them.  I am not sure if I fully understand the fault in the Greek system, but I don’t fault them in being pissed.

      1. You don’t understand the fault in the Greek system, but you don’t fault them for being pissed? So basically you’re saying you have no idea what you’re talking about but I’m going to pick a side anyway. 

        A good primer for learning the fault in the Greek system is Michael Lewis’ book “Boomerang”. Corruption, nepotism, fraud, extortion, tax evasion, retirement benefits at the golden parachute level that are publicly funded, which in turn is being paid for through acquiring sovereign debt.  

        This is like your cat peeing on you for not buying it Fancy Feast because you lost your job. If I were the EU I wouldn’t bail them out no matter what austerity measures they took. They made their bed and these protesters need to be poor, hungry and homeless before they realize the goose is out of gold. 

        1. The Germans are not innocent either; they wanted the Greeks in the Euro for political reasons so now devaluation is not possible; their exports benefit from the lower value of the Euro compared to the Deutschmark. But hey, any excuse for a good riot should never be passed up – it is a class thing – someone’s got to do it, unfortunately. The IMF is not the most democratic of organisations.

          1. „The Germans“ and „The Greek“ do not really exist.  Lots of Germans didn’t even want the Euro – which was understood to be a necessity for being allowed to reunificate – and even more were against Greece and other nations which so-and-so economies joining. 

            The Euro, by the way, isn’t really undervalued against the Dollar, for example. if you look at the charts of the last 30 years. 

          2. Funnily enough, Germany and France were the first countries to exceed the statutory 3%-of-GDP deficit limit.  Some regulators tried to reign them in, they were told to shut up and the rules were made more ‘flexible’.  Other countries, seeing that France and Germany could just elbow the rules aside, followed suit.

            In March 2005, the EU Council, under the pressure of France and Germany, relaxed the rules; the EC said it was to respond to criticisms of insufficient flexibility and to make the pact more enforceable.


          3. Yes Antinous, but not with a 15% deficit.   And while I do not know what problem France had, we Germans had the little matter of rebuilding a fiscally bankrupt country of 16 million people with a crumbling infrastructure  – did you ever see an East German road or inner city? –  while making our EU payments on time. 

            By the way, Greece already profitted from that relaxation, too.

        2. Actually, the Greek people, ya know, the 99%, have surely NOT created the mess their country is in.  The mess was caused by a confluence of events largely outside of their control, the first being a kleptocratic 1% that refuses to pay its fair share of taxes.  Combine that with the Greeks not being able to devalue their currency (as it is not their currency, its the euro), and the Greek government borrowing lots of money from french and german banks to purchase german military equipment and other industrial goods that they didn’t need and couldn’t afford, and you can see why the average Greek is throwing bombs.  All these myths about “profligate Greeks” and “industrious Germans” just hides the corruption of the Greek elites and the sad fact of huge trade imbalances… by that logic the US is a profligate because we have a trade imbalance (deficit) with the entire world… however, if we weren’t buying all their crap the rest of the world wouldn’t be doing so well economically (specifically the Germans, Brazil, India, China and some of the southeast asian nations).  All this is bullshit that obfuscates the true problem, which is massive capital flows from some nations into others from which they all benefit until those imbalances have to be corrected at which point the ones with the money leaving are “profligate immoral scum” and the ones with the money coming are “incredible industrial titans”.  If we don’t figure out how to rebalance currency flows in a more civilized manner the entire world economy is going to implode in a way that will make the “Great Depression”  look like the “Teeny Recession”.  So enough of this hate-filled ignorance and blame-game garbage, let’s try to start acting like adults and solve problems instead of creating more messes like Greece has become.

          1. Those Greek early retirement policies alone are enough to break any bank.

            Early retirement policies are usually created and encouraged as a way to get rid of more expensive long-term employees, not as a benefit to the worker who’s being sent home forever.

          2. There’s no such thing as “The Greeks” or “The Germans” here. There’re no such things as nations. There’s no moral justification for holding the people hostage to the decisions of the ruling class: it would be vile, immoral, inhuman nationalism. [Alas, though it is unthinkable, nationalism is widely accepted, and it’s made war, racism, anti-immigrant violence, apartheid, and genocide possible.] Do you really imagine that 99% of the people, anywhere, or even 9% of the people, have much say in government, its policies, its corruption, etc.?

            Here in America, politicians mostly associate with the super-rich, they embrace the opinions of the super-rich, and they make sure to avoid the opinions of the poor, and most people have no control over the political institutions. Is it so different in Greece?

          3. For Antinous since I can’t reply directly to him…

            According to the New York Times people in Greece have the right to retire with full pensions at 50 if they are in any one of 580 different job categories (including tv presenters and musicians).  14 percents of its work force can retire at 61.  As life spans increase this is unsustainable.

        3. It wasn’t my intention to really take sides.  It sounds more like your cat pissing on your leg for not buying it Fancy Feast, because you got fired after getting caught embezzling.  

      2.  Before deciding who’s in the right being pissed, I’d suggest people have a read of the article Michael Lewish wrote for Vanity Fair in ’10. It’s eight whole pages long, so I guess a lot of knee-jerkers probably won’t bother, but it does offer a convincing summary of how Greece ended up this way.
        Favourite quote:

        “The biggest problem the [Greek] banks had was that they had lent roughly 30 billion euros to the Greek government—where it was stolen or squandered. In Greece the banks didn’t sink the country. The country sank the banks.”
        tl;dr – The whole Greek system is corrupt, with a corrupt, non-taxpaying populace propping up a corrupt government who racked up ever increasing amounts of debt in dole-outs to their corrupt selves and people. The whole system was unsustainable. They lied to get into the Euro (!) and, now that the government has come clean about their levels of debt, everyone is rightly shocked. They have to sort out their system in order to stay in the Euro, and if these measures weren’t ‘imposed from the outside’, then Greece would be a lot worse off than it is now (ie no bailout).

        While I’m in no position to fully assess the article, it seems to have been well-received. At the very least, it provides a counter-argument to a lot of the very-vocal-without-saying-much protest voice.

        On a personal note, I was in Greece around Ohi day last year, and the reality of much of the protesting was a lesson in media portrayal of events. That said, of the people who do get violent: I can’t support the actions of people who claim to be standing up against economic restrictions, while destroying people’s livelihoods.

        1. Michael Lewis is a douche and an over-simplifier.  The 99% in Greece pay plenty of taxes, its the 1% plutocrats who don’t pay their taxes (sound familiar — anyone see Mitt’s 14% tax rate?).  Additionally, the real problem, aside from the aforementioned, that Greece suffers from is that they don’t control their own currency.  If they still had the drachma they would merely print money and provide fiscal stimulus to their economy, which would spur investment and job growth internally and devalue the drachma against other currencies, thereby augmenting their foreign trade and bolstering their economy.  The EU common currency was hugely flawed from the start — a common currency without a fiscal union can never work once a recession sets in.

          1. Could we please stop with this idiot idea that devaluing is a magic bullet that would solve all the problems? Let’s say that Greece leaves the Eurozone and switches back to drachma: they still need oil and gas, they still need food, they still need fertilizers, they still need a lot of things they don’t manufacture internally, and what are they going to use to pay for that? Drachmas that nobody wants because they’re not worth the paper they’re printed on?

            They need hard currency for all that, and how are they going to get it if they’ve got nothing to sell because the agriculture will not be competitive with imported fertilizers’ prices going to the roof, and the industry will not be competitive with imported raw materials’ and energy prices going through the roof, and tourism not viable because the service industry can’t work if there’s no reliable electricity and water supply?

          2. onereader — no one ever claimed that devaluing is a “magic bullet”.  What it will do is allow for the gradual healing of Greek monetary problems in a way that austerity and staying within the euro system will NEVER do.  Greece will have lots of pain going forward no matter what they do.  However, if they had defaulted 3 years ago and left the euro then they would be recovering right now instead of falling off a cliff, and the sooner they do it now the sooner they will start to heal their economy.  So please don’t set up straw men to knock down and put words in other’s mouths.

          3. onereader: Generally devaluation during times of economic recession can be a very good thing. It won’t solve all your woes, but it can help slowly balance a trade deficit. Compare that to austerity, which is a bit like euthanasia for a wounded economy.

  2. I like how the police use tactics that ensure the people will have to accessorize militarily in order to protect themselves from the police. Shields, respirators, etc. are all just more evidence that the police and their managers are failing their public duty.

    1. Most recent protests, especially the ones typically covered here, and I’d agree with your point.  But this situation is different.   This is like, an actual, non-police caused riot, where their tactics and gear are perfectly appropriate.  

    2.  Not sure what you think the response should be to burning and looting businesses.  Plus the people who worked there will now be out of jobs.

  3. Ironic that the country that we think of as the cradle of Western civilization might be the start of the spark that brings it all down.

    1. David Mamet, before he went nuts, once said that Western Civilization is summarized by the following dialogue from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome:

      “Thunderdome is simple.  Get to the weapons, use them any way you can.  I know you won’t break the rules… there aren’t any.”

      1. Hmmm… taking the story a little farther, we find that the strategy that finally works in the end is blowing the whistle, making the most noise possible.

        I like it.And better yet, Bartertown runs on pig shit.

  4. What is it with Europe & austerity?  As Paul Krugman notes, the only thing austerity does is make a depression worse.

    1.  Greece’s politicians are being forced to fix their @#*(& system. They clearly don’t want to. They are clearly more interested in passing posts back and forth and securing their own short-term political futures. However, they are willing to ignore more important systemic changes in order to enact some austerity measures against the poor and/or old people.

      There’s some talk that Greece can’t be allowed to fall until after Sarkozy’s re-election this spring. Supposedly then the firewalls the EU has built in the boughten time will be enough to shore up Spain and Italy. Greece certainly is “a pimple” though, as someone posted recently in

        1. Paying taxes and fight corruption, for one thing.  And yes, the latter should be done to the fullest, even if it turns out that certain German companies feel the pain. 

          Defaulting would be an option, of course, but it wouldn’t fix anything but the short term problem. Greece would be essentially cut off and would be soon unable to pay her public sector, pensions, health care.  Going back to the Drachmae would be a short term fix for some of the problems, but would very likely cause inflation on an epic manner. 

          And even if they pull though that, they’ll probably end up in the same situation in another 40 year, if they do not put a stop to their entitlement politics and tax evasion. 

          On the plus sign, they may stop buying all these arms – it’s not like Turkey is going to invade.

          1. The people of Greece shouldn’t be made to suffer to the follies of the wealthy and elite.  The were admitted into the Union even though everyone knew their budget was whack.  It was fine for the Germans to sell their goods to them on credit based on the Euro and a (fictional) A rating. When the house of cards falls over, nobody wants to take responsibility.  
            When people can’t afford to care for their children, what then?  Its not right.
            The IMF can take the hit on this one.   Giving them another “loan” isn’t helping anyone but the bankers who will collect more interest payments.

          2. @google-95eca8c15d9f8dc0c40311a48d217276:disqus Yes, but then they need to make their wealthy and elite accountable.   Right now, they get let off easy – much more easy than in Germany of even the United States.  But there doesn’t seem to be a real public interest in fixing this matter, as long as everyone gets paid. 

          3. Greece since 2000 spent 2.84 billion euros just on four 214-class submarines and an overhaul for three of its older 209-class submarines from Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft/Thyssen-Krupp.  
            They really, really need them badly.  Because.  
            While Turkey has commenced negotiations with HDW for the co-production of six Type 214 subs. 
            They need them too.  Really need them. 

            I took pictures of one this morning. 
            And I need one too, really badly. 
            Should I get a loan?

          4. No, you shouldn’t., if you can’t afford it. 

            But what is your point?  No credit at all?   Should the German electorate pass laws telling the Turkish and Greece governments what they are allowed to purchase?

            Fine with me.   2.84 billion in ten years, that’s not really a concern for the German economy.  That’s the equivalence of one day worth of German exports in December 2011.

            *That* is the problem: Putting two and more of the largest economies on Earth in the same basket with emerging markets like Greece in the same boat and allowing them all to overspend on the same crazy buying binge.   It’s not like Germany doesn’t have a debt problem, too, it’s just more manageable right now. 

        2. Middle-class people are homeless and hungry in Greece. The rich aren’t hurting, but austerity programs will just push more and more middle-class taxpayers into the streets.

          The Olympics impoverished the country; if you want an austerity program, stop the Olympic movement before they destroy anybody else.

          1. I don’t “want an austerity program”, I was asking that poster what systemic changes should be implemented in Greece , since they were suggesting them as an alternative to austerity without elaborating on what they might be.  

          2. “hosting the Olympics is still optional, right?”

            No. The ruling classes choose to bring the Olympics, and the people get silenced. The people organize mass protests, and the ruling classes launch new crackdowns.

          3. Mass protests do not necessarily mean support of the majority.    The Stuttgart 21 project brought mass protests too, caused in part the first election of a green minister-president and yet the citizens voted against the cancellation of the project when the referendum posed that question.

          4. Voting doesn’t necessarily mean the support of the majority, either.

            Some of us have moral objections to the government, so voting excludes our voices. Some of us have lived in countries [America] which require documentation we don’t have and/or can’t get, so again, voting excludes our voices. And no one makes it on the ballot here unless he’s acceptable to the ruling class and the right wing. They are all pro-war, pro-nationalism, and pro-authoritarianism, and they are mostly pro-criminalizing-some-underclass. All too often they call for rounding up immigrants. Occasionally one of them calls for killing trans folks.

    2. OK, but it isn’t austerity that got Greece into the position it’s in now, it’s spending more than it could afford…
      So if spending too much is bad, and spending too little is bad, then presumably the answer is to spend an amount in the Goldilocks zone? Trouble is, where is that zone for Greece? 

        1. So you think the answer is to continue spending more? That could work (and does, at regional levels within a nation), but the problem would then be not riots in Greece, but riots in Germany.

          1. They need to default and leave the eurozone and reinstitute the drachma.  Short term pain but it will allow them to devalue, generate fiscal stimulus, and improve their export sector… see Argentina.  And for those who say they will never be able to raise money on the foreign markets — bah, maybe for a few months but everyone who knows anything knows that creditors love loaning money to those who have no debt.

  5. “Altogether 199 of the 300 lawmakers backed the bill, but 43 deputies from the two parties in the government of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, the socialists and conservatives, rebelled by voting against It. They were immediately expelled by their parties.”

    Wait, what? Am I reading this right? Elected representatives were stripped of their positions for dissenting against the majority opinion? Is this what they’re saying? Because if so, and I very dearly hope I am mistaken, then democracy in Greece is essentially dead.

    The kicker?

    A quote from Papademos – “Vandalism, violence and destruction have no place in a democratic country and won’t be tolerated.”

    1.  Kicked out of the parties, not their elected position. This is standard for most parliamentary democracies. You remain part of the government… as long as you vote for the government. Once you start voting against the government (on big issues) you get booted from the party and are treated like any other independent representative.

      Happens on a regular basis in almost any functioning democracy.

        1.  In which world? Most European parties existed well before they had elected MPs. Many were banned for part of their history, many existed underground in undemocratic states.

          1. It applies to most organisations in general. Individuals unite to further their particular interests, at a certain point, after some success, the organisation somehow seems to become greater than the sum of its parts allowing manipulation by vested interests. I am in favour of more ad hoc forms of co-operation and disorganisation.

      1. I wouldn’t call any democracy this occurs in ‘functioning’

        Whats the point of having elected representatives who aren’t allowed to represent you for fear of repercussions?

    2. They still hold their seat and vote in parliamant, as elected representations of their people. They just are not members of that particular party anymore.

      That’s normal for representative parliamentary democracies with a strong party system.  

    3. “Vandalism, violence and destruction have no place in a democratic country and won’t be tolerated.”

      I call what is being done to the Greek people “vandalism, violence and destruction”.

    4. especially “funny” if you know that the people doing most of the damage in the protest are plainclothes policemen. There were 100s of 1000s of people in the streets in athens yesterday. the damage was done by a few 100s, especially about a dozen people carrying sledgehammers and breaking store and bank windows and then torching them.
      if you have seen that with your own eyes Mr. Papademos sounds hilarious!

  6. Greece… we’d like to thank you for giving us democracy, philosophy, and now reigniting (no pun int.) protest. 2012 needs a seed. Not condoning exploding policemen.

    1.  Helen, I apologize for saying such mean things about your country in such an overgeneralized way! Perhaps I’ve been watching too many reports on the German and Swiss news.

    2. The current Greek government seems like the result of a boardroom coup.  He was chosen not by the Greek people, but by Merkozy.

    3. In which way was he not democratically elected? 

      When I read through the Wikipedia article on how the Greek minister is to be chosen, it looks to me that the current one was chosen according to the rules.

      While the series of events was unfortunate,  I’d hesitate to call  it undemocratic – parliamentary democracy  unfortunately produces such results, if you don’t want them, install a more direct one, like in Switzerland or at least the one in the USA. 

      1. In which way was he not democratically elected?

        He was chosen in negotiation with France, Germany, the IMF and various other non-Greek parties.  He was quite publicly chosen for his acceptability to the EU bigwigs who are calling the shots.

        1. And yet he was installed by the Greek parliament, as every other prime minister. 

          If they wanted, they could have given him the boot. 

          Personally, I wouldn’t mind if they called for new elections and declare bankruptcy. If banks lent too much, that’s their problem. 

    1.  I think the world would be a safer place if more people knew what is happening and what has happened! It’s very hard to discern what’s relevant if your only sources are the US news. People here in the US seem to be missing vital information that they need to lead better lives and to manage their democracy. Underinformed people are easy to spin when photos hit the front (web)pages.

  7. Still, I wish the anarchists would not burn down businesses around the square.  
    I was going to visit Athens this week but had to change plans too.  It would have been interesting.

  8. The “people willing to throw bombs” in the US never helped the poor working class.   Violence by strikers or unions was what the companies wanted:  violence always clouded the issue, weakened popular support, and allowed the company to move in and crack down with public or private police actions. Those “people” were often as not agent provocateurs, hired to trigger just such a crackdown.

    Regarding Greece, these people throwing gasoline bombs disgust me. Just what message are you giving by sending a policeman to the hospital or grave in such a fashion. What is your message when you indiscriminately loot a small business? These aren’t protestors. They’re opportunistic hooligans and criminals.

    1. Actually, no.  If you read the real history of the Great Depression, it was only once the socialists started sabotaging businesses and blowing shit up that FDR finally became the man we know and love.  FDR saved capitalism for the capitalists.  Ironically they did not thank him for it, but that’s because they are so greedy it poisons them into blindness.  IF it wasn’t for FDR protecting them by enacting humane New Deal initiatives so that people stopped dying from starvation in the streets the people would’ve started stringing up all those plutocrats and mandarins and wouldn’t have stopped until this nation was the United Socialist States of America.

    2.  Yes, sounds like you’ve been reading a very sanitized version of U.S. history.  Read some of Zinn’s _A People’s History of the United States_ just to get some names and dates relevant to violent people power movements and then compare Zinn’s accounts to those presented in other historical presentations of the same conflicts.  History really ain’t very neat. 

  9. 1. the greek riots are justified as a reaction to the IMF/EU stealing the product of the greek economy (GNP) through inflation. 
    2. a fight is a fight. 
    3. Their problem is that the only way the current economy can keep functioning is for more debt to be created. 
    4. Iceland went through this in 2009 and is doing just fine.

    1. Iceland was a different situation. Iceland just refused to bail their banks out – it was never about money owed by the government, which had been borrowed to be used to finance state services.

      Greece, however, borrowed money to buy nice things and had wage increases far beyond the overall growth of the Greek economy.  Which its hurt by the fact that it is of low productivity and cannot even devalue their currency to become more competitive.  

      1. The Greek 99% didn’t benefit much at all from all that government spending — it mostly went to things like purchasing German military equipment.  And yes, the Greeks cannot devalue but again, that is not the fault of the 99%.  Its the fault of a poorly designed EU common currency union.

        1. Sorry, but is Greek a sovereign nation or isn’t she?  

          „Mostly“ German equipment?   Looks to me that it’s quite well spread between German, French, British and US manufacturers. 

          The major deals are dead in the water, anyway.  

          1. Yes, mostly German military equipment.  And Greece is only a partially sovereign nation as they do not control their own currency, which is one of the major components of sovereignty. 

          2. May I remind you that Germany was quite openly not a sovereign nation until the 5-2 talks and also do not control their currency?  

            And I take it that 


            isn’t correct either, when it states 

            “Some 58 per cent of Greece’s military expenditure in 2010 went to Germany, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).The US is the major beneficiary of Greek military expenditure, with the Americans supplying 42 per cent of its arms. In second and third place are Germany, with 22.7 per cent, and then France, with 12.5 per cent.”?

          3. retepslluerb — um, 58% is a majority last time I checked… and yes Germany is part of the common currency as well, but it has inordinate power over the ECB to the point where you can bet they would never ever accept the austerity they are imposing on Greece.  Additionally, Germany has a large functional public banking sector (the landesbanks), which allows it to provide a strong foundation for its manufacturing economy.  There is no comparison between the output of Germany and Greece*, which is why they should not share a common currency.
            *of course this is because Germany is such a wonderful virtuous nation while the Greeks are a bunch of lazy bums — unlike the fascists of the world I don’t determine virtue or moral righteousness on how much capitalist production a nation engages in — by that standard China is the most virtuous nation on earth, while it enslaves large portions of its people to work in sweat shops)

        2. 400 tanks from the U.S. too.   How did the average Greek benefit from that too I wonder?  They’ll probably be asking that when they’re rolling over protestors.

    2.  1) Inflation in the euro zone is low.  3% right now, was lower over the past couple years. Historically pre-crisis it was being held between 2 and 2.5%.  During the height of the global crisis in 2008 it went from 3 to 4% then dropped down to bounce off -1%.  The european central bank, which is dominated by germany and france, is extremely focused on preventing inflation.  Inflation is actually one of the known effective solutions to unservicable debts.  If greece controlled it’s own currency they would almost certainly have devalued their currency (aka inflated it) to reduce the debt load and make imports less and exports more attractive.  Inflation is not the problem.

      3) Their economy is not functioning.  They are in a severe depression already.  It will not start functioning until some time after the debt is eliminated.  The debt will not be repaid by Greece ever.  Those who loaned money to Greece, mostly german and french banks, were stupid to do so and they will either loose it or someone else will pay it back.  Particularly now that Greece’s economy has been wrecked by EU policy nobody will be getting much money out of the country for a long time.

      4) Iceland defaulted on most of the debt involved in its crisis (which was bank debt rather than sovereign debt, but the important bit is that they defaulted rather than pretend it could be repaid and wreck their real economy for years).  Iceland also severely devalued its currency (aka big inflation) reducing the real value of debts in its currency.  The Icelandic kroner’s value was reduced by half over about six months in 2008 compared with the US Dollar or Euro.  Its inflation rate in 2009 got up to around 18% and averaged about 10% from 2008-2011.

      Greece would have done vastly better if inflation had been an option for it.

  10. @Petzl:disqus 

    this is exactly right.  last may/june, i went to syntagma square several times to protest and document the gatherings (if anyone’s interested, my pictures are here ). over a month of peaceful, optimistic protest went by largely unnoticed.when authorities decided that it had gone on long enough, the violence started and the journalists swooped down from the hotel where they’d been staying to take pictures of the chaos… and that’s what everyone the same way, many thousands of people protested peacefully yesterday — but the police threw tear gas into the peaceful gathering and violent elements injected themselves into the crowd.and again, what circles the world is visions of violence, and not unified protest.this cartoon illustrates the situation: the signs in the crowd (in italian) read: dignity, solidarity, brotherhood, equality, work, honesty, union, justice, rights

  11. What’s the point of ramming through new taxes if the old ones weren’t being collected? Are those tax collectors and other government employees going to be efficient workers as their wages and benefits are slashed? Are any of these measures meant to help actual Greek people??

    Right-leaning politicians and pundits constantly call for governments to ‘get their house in order’ or however they put it … but all it seems to mean is privatization, regressive taxation, poorer services, poorer wages, fewer jobs and less democracy.

    It sounds like a whole lot of bullshit, and that’s probably why there are lots of fools with too much time on their hands hurling bombs at the cops. Instead of working a nice 9-to-3 gig with the acropolis maintenance department (and making $70,000/year with 6 weeks of vacation), the rioters have had time to sit around their parents’ basement and Google “economic inequality,” and attend meetings at the docks with local rabblerousers. I bet it’s cheaper to give people cushy jobs than to build up the sickening security apparatus necessary to maintain order in a dystopia.

    1. Which is precisely the strategy imposed by saner governments, (sort of, mostly) as long as it doesn’t hurt their capitalist owners too much. Like some past governments in the US *and* Western Europe. Why they’ve forgotten this lesson is the part I never understood.


    2. The new taxes are, I believe, designed to be hard to evade., like taxes on gas and property tax linked to the electricity bill. 

  12. I really lament the tendency of people (just look at the European tabloids) to cast this in a nation vs. nation light (e.g. “Greece vs. Germany”). It’s not. It is the political and economic elites versus everyone else. It is an unfair burden on the average Greek to have the minimum wage cut by 20%, but it is also unfair to the average German to have thousands of their euros in taxes disappear down a black hole. So let’s stop the talk of “irresponsible Greeks” or “stingy Germans” – the politicians, and the financiers who back them, were playing with matches, started a fire, and are now desperately trying to figure out how to make sure that someone else’s house gets burnt down rather than their own.

    1. I really lament the tendency of people (just look at the European tabloids) to cast this in a nation vs. nation light (e.g. “Greece vs. Germany”).

      There’s a strong subtext of “those dirty, lazy Greeks” in all the media around this.

      1. Yes, and the other way – as atimoshenko correctly stated – too.   May I ask why you feel the need to leave that out?

        Apparently it’s totally okay to photoshop Germans into Nazi uniforms  or to call them banana-munching apes, I take it? 

        1. I believe you are being a bit too defensive. No one said anything about being OK to make fun of Germans, much less to insult them by bringing up any nazi nonsense that has absolutely no relevance today. It is fair in my view however,to sympathize with the greeks (I am Portuguese, so I am clearly biased in this matter …). They are in clearly more dire straits than the Germans (or any european country for that matter), and it is my belief that the average Greek won’t work any less than the average German, but is now being penalized by mistakes made by a small elite of european rulers.

          It is, however, much easier to just believe that they are lazy.

          1. It is a little known fact that average Germans work less than Americans. 
            Of all EU countries Greeks work the longest weeks with an average of 42 hours. 
            Germans on average work just under 36 hours a week, significantly less than the hard-working Greeks  they are now bailing out.
            The Dutch with 31 hours a week work the least.
            The Netherlands also have one of Europe’s strongest economies,  the world’s 16th largest economy. 
            I think that any nation’s  people are willing to work as much as is necessary. 
            If there is work. 
            That pays a living wage. 

            Why is everybody mad at Germans?  For having to pay most of the bill? 
            Germany borders the Netherlands, not Greece. 
            Most german people are not banks.

          2. @boingboing-acc24295a031cec540665b451bde7e07:disqus  hours a week is a bad metric, which tells only half the truth.  Because it usually just counts the hours that are spend at work, not how much actual work is being done. And even then what work may be not as productive as it could be, for many, many reasons.   
            By the way, Americans usually do earn more than Germans, just look at their GDP per capita compared to that of Germany. 

            That said: Germany profited from the common market and the common currency. That we paid more into EU funding than we got out of it, is only proper – I consider this akin to a progressive tax.  Personally, I think it’s been mostly a win-win situation and that the peace dividend – almost 70 years w/out a war between major European powers – is too often conveniently forgotten by all involved. 

            But it doesn’t look like a win-win from most of Southern Europe, I guess, who probably feel like drowing and getting nice advice from the docks. The Norther European throw then cinderblocks to stand on, while they expect lifebuoys.

        2. Actually I don’t think that’s true. I read plenty of news and that’s not the way most US news outlets are approaching it. I can’t say I get that sense from British newspapers either, although I only read a couple of those. Most of the articles I’ve read about it basically either say or imply that the Greeks took a lot of money and didn’t collect taxes, and now they’re paying for it. I could be wrong of course. I hope some other avid newspaper readers will chime in and give their two cents. 

          1. Are you sure that you wanted to reply to me?  German tabloids did play the “Greeks are lazy” card quite a lot, pandering to their German customers who saw their retirement age raised to 67 and who had to undergo quite a lot cuts during the last 10 years.  

            And if you scroll around in this thread, you’ll find clear counterclaims regarding the tax evasion issue. 

          2. Yes, I did want to reply to you. You said, “Yes, and the other way – as atimoshenko correctly stated – too.   May I ask why you feel the need to leave that out? ”

             You were at least implying there is an equal amount of representation of the Germans as Nazis or “banana-munching apes” in response to Antinous’ point about the “lazy Greeks”, and my point was that that is at least not the case here in the US in our papers. Nothing else.

            You are perhaps being overly defensive. So far, I don’t think anybody on here has said anything unduly harsh about Germans, so perhaps you could relax just a bit. 

          3. Do you seriously mean to say that calling someone a Nazi or an ape is the same as painting him to be lazy? 

          4. I believe he’s saying that the subtext being pushed by the media is more anti-Greece than anti-Germany. At least in Portugal that’s the general idea I’m getting from our local news.

          5. I’ve just skimmed the German press again –  tabloids like Bild included.  While there’s a lot of indignation about the Nazi pictures, the wave of “Greeks have the easy life” seems to have passed weeks ago.  The current trend is human interest stories about Greeks who have to abandon their children or who are otherwise victims of the recession and debt crisis. 

            Also, please remember that not every negative news about Greece is anti-Greek.  When Transparency International reports a 3,4 CPI score for Greece,  it’s a matter of concern and discussion. (As is the shameful 8 of Germany, by the way.)

            BTW, I’ve heard that a portuguese paper accused Germany of colonialism.  If true, I find the irony most amusing. 

      2. Sorry, but that’s not really true.

        The German media are reporting by and large in a neutral matter of fact way. The usual suspects, conservative tabloids that is, are saying really offensive and mean things, as is their habit. It is best to ignore them entirely.

        1. Yeah, it’s DailyMail-ism, but that’s what forms the opinions of much of the electorate in the world. And the worst people tend to have the highest voter turnout.

  13. For two and a half years now the government hasn’t done jack shit to fix the root of the problem and all it has done is the easily justifiable and with the least possible consequences to their electing base. Raise taxes cut benefits. They still haven’t touched the public sector wich amounts to anywhere from 25-35% of the workforce, they still haven’t computerized the government ( wage control, employee database, tax office etc), opened up any of the closed professions or tried to collect taxes from people and companies that owe in the hundreds of millions of euros. Now when the big spending spree is finally over they sign anything without even reading it, as most MP’s admitted doing the last time, and still try to do everything they can to keep votes.
    New democracy wants elections because they have a lead in the polls Pasok doesn’t because their dead in the polls, the left just shouts out and the so called far right, wich by eu standards is center right doesn’t k ow where to stand.

    All in all WE ARE SCREWED. the problem is and always will be political on a local and European level.

    I, and I believe most Greeks, would support any measures if they were accompanied by anything that would support growth. But they aren’t. There are no investments coming. They aren’t touching oil and gas in the Aegean. They aren opening up ports and airports. Or public transportation. Or trains. Or energy production. Or insurance. Or healthcare. Or. Or. Or. Why wait for the value of the country and all it’s goods to fall to bottom prices to do all that. Why. An Turkey lease thousands of acres of land to Spanish companies for agricultural productions and we can’t even farm out unused arid land for solar energy harvesting.

    Just my two cents.

  14. There is something really, really strange about the second picture How on earth does a guy in a hood have a face that is that much brighter than anything else… his own hands, the faces of others (without hoods) are all dimmer in comparison. Not to mention that it seems to be toplit (right through the hood(?), and his head doesn’t seem to be in a natural position within the hood.

    It’s probably just a combination of odd body posture, and strange lighting, but it sure looks wierd to me.

    1. The color is because protesters use maalox to protect themselves from the worse effects of teargas. That particular guy seems to have overdone it a bit tho : }.

  15. Despite some commentary that this is the beginning of the end for the entire European Union itself, this whole Greece fiasco seems to underline the fundamental problem with a single market. I may be out of my depth here, but I think the choice was a risk/reward scenario when many countries initially decided to join the EU. Do you economically transform yourself to become an organ of the whole, or risk economic isolation as an independent player? Some countries were intensely compelled to forge tighter bonds (France, Germany, Italy), while others walked a middle line (Sweden, Norway, Iceland). Those that held out (mainly the U.K) distrusted the system and put faith into their own market structure, for political reasons or otherwise. 

    With the recent news that EU economic officials now have power to directly control economic policy in member states – one would almost believe that this could only mean greater unity. I’m unsure of what this is going to mean in the long run however. While this is not a “Germany vs. Greece” scenario, like a few have mentioned – it’s likely that Germany still holds most of keys to the castle. It’s an “us” vs “them” mentality. 

    The reality though is that everyone will end up paying when this is done. They all made a deal to integrate, and now member states are going to have to make some kind of choices to help out. If they can’t – what happens next? 

        1. I fail to see the relation to the Eurozone. EEA gives them access to to common market and they have to adopt EU laws for this area. 

  16. Can someone tell me why the Greek government hasn’t asked for EU help in expanding it’s tax base? I’ve heard that 50% of the Greek economy is black-market, not taxed at all. If this even half true, should the tax base be Increased rather than only trying to cut services?

    1. The vanity fair article linked would make you believe the greeks treat tax evasion like a national sport. Apparently every member of parliament in greece is shown to have made false property tax declarations. There are too many tax evaders to crack down effectively. 

    2.  Can’t tax people that don’t earn money, that’s the answer I got from my Greek friends. We are getting a new economic refugee wave from Greece, here in Montreal.

      1.  Pay the Greek Taxmen a percentage of their loot? 
        That would aim them at the biggest prey with great appetite.    =]

          1. Louis XVI did it wrong.  He exempted the nobility and the clergy from his tax and made the 3rd estate (commoners) pay for his military ventures. 
            He sent troops overseas to support the terrorist, insurgent revolutionaries over there. 
            And I like the “tax farming” idea even better now that I thought about it. 
            It really did work for France.

    1. Close to 1 million people marched in London against the 2nd Iraq war and were also ignored. In both cases, >1% of the populace on the streets. They must be making a mistake

  17.  ” The usual suspects, conservative tabloids that is, are saying really offensive and mean things, as is their habit. It is best to ignore them entirely.”

    I don’t think that ignoring heavily-biased tabloids on any margin is a good idea. Enough people read them to keep them in business. Take them as intelligence on what those people believe, want to hear, are being told.

    1.  There is no anti-Greek sentiment in Germany so far.

      At one point Merkel tried populistic infamy when she accused Greeks of taking too many days off. It was appalling. She never tried it again, so I suppose it didn’t do her any good.

      You mustn’t underestimate the political intentions of said tabloids.

  18. Great example of how the rich steal from the poor. Having purloined the lions share, the eletes now insist on austerity for the rest of us.

    1.  Disaster capitalism.  Now the business elite will privatize, privatize, privatize, and  loot the country’s assets.

  19. If I can’t pay 3 mortgages on my house the bank takes my house away. Can the EU or whoever Greece owes money to simply take Greece? As in, repossess all their land, dissolve their government, and re-organize the place to their liking. I am curious about that sort of remedy to the debt situation.

    1. They already do that.  It’s called selling off public assets to pay off the debt, i.e. privatization.  The state of Arizona did it with the capitol building.  Elected officials pawning the commons for a quick buck. 

    2. I don’t think it’s desirable. If they had to pay what they are deemed liable for, It’s close to slavery. The rest of Europe should accept the losses that they incurred with a previous corrupt government, write down the debt by ~90%, ask them to pay 4% on what’s left, and be very careful about lending to them in future.

      1. “The rest of Europe” would be?  Greece didn’t borrow from other countries directly, they borrowed from the private sector. (And banks belonging to european nations, too.)  

        1. Well, that would be the problem, wouldn’t it? Why are nations subject to the vagaries of bank bonuses and the caprices of ratings agencies? The EU needs to financially self-insure.

          1. They are subject to rating agencies because they borrow money. Again and again and again. Rating agency simply how risky those bonds are.  Even our leftist left understand that – better than our liberals and  conservatives, where some even fantasise about American plots. 

            What, precisely, do you mean with “self-insure”? 

      2. You are right. But other nations such as Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain have similar problems as Greece. Politicians say that we will face a domino effect if Greece is let off the hook. 

        1. “Let off the hook” implies that it’s smooth swimming afterwards.  I don’t really see this, for any of the involved nations. 

    3. No, that’s simply not possible by international law, though nations to sell state-owned property once in a while. 

    4. No it doesn’t appear that there is a legal process an “international bankruptcy court” that allows private banks to foreclose on public works.

      That said this is what the austerity measures are doing. In the austerity process IMF and others say to the Greek politicians essentially we will keep you going with another bridge loan if you promise to pay your people less, destroy their safety net, and hand over the title of the water works and Parthenon as collateral. Austerity is more punitive than what has been allowed under the legal fallout of government default.

    1. ”…economists had failed to predict the financial crash?”   
      May I laugh? Plenty of economists and leftist politicians predicted that the housing bubble would burst – and burst badly. The only thing they couldn’t predict was an exact date. 

      And it’s the same with the European debt crisis, German overspending, and so on. 

      1. I’m uncertain what you’re reacting to here.  The larger statement you’re pulling your quote from is: “During an official visit to the LSE in November 2008, the Queen asked a professor why economists had failed to predict the financial crash.”  So I presume you’re laughing at the Queen’s question?  Because the whole rest of the article is about exactly your point — that many economists did predict the crash.

        1. Yes, I was laughing at the question.  I do not hold it against the Queen – she may have been sarcastic for all I know – but lots of people acted as if the crisis had been some unforeseeable act of God. Like the current Greek debt crisis. 

    2. You could liken it to the IMF austerity program for Argentina (that crashed its economy in 2001).  Versailles was something entirely different.

  20. Pure Colonialism, the French did the same with their ex african colonies : 
    1-  indebt them (in case of African countries, you win independence but you have to pay for all the colonial infrastructure) 
    2 – impose the debt in a foreign controlled currency (Franc CFA). 
    3 – buy all the resources that can generate cash (cocoa, gold, uranium etc) 
    4 – enslave them forever. 
    I am sure they gave to the african the same ‘ its only for 40 years’ they give to the Greek right now.

  21. People forget that Greece hasn’t enjoyed the sort of stability and democratic environment we take for granted in most “rich countries”.

    After WWII, they had a disastrous civil war that was just another Cold War frontline (and literally so), and eventually were taken over by a US-backed military junta, restoring democratic institutions only in the late 70s. They have been involved in a costly military engagement with Turkey for almost 40 years, again in a Cold War framework.  

    People say their economy is not great and their elite is not exactly a shining beacon of virtues — well, what a surprise! 

    Like Spain and China, they started basically from scratch in the 80s, so the inevitable get-rich-quick attitude coming from boom periods is still dominant. Rich Eurobanks and financial speculators were happy to cut cheques and just turn a blind eye, as long as their profits were flowing steadily; now that they need some cash and Greek authorities are not able to pony up their own bit of extorsion money (see also “quantitative easing”), they’re turning the screw.

    I’m perfectly happy with the Greek underclass taking it out on their elites as much as they can. By all means, let Greece fail, and Italy, and Spain, and Portugal… people say the Euro will crash, I actually think it will soon spike upwards (because the remaining members will be more homogeneous) , annihilating German exports and destroying their industry. Frau Merkel is bluffing hard, but she’s still bluffing; the Greeks should just call it.

    1. I think the death of German exports has been foretold almost as often as the impending downfall of Apple. 

      1. Yeah, German politicians are so self-assured, they’re not troubled by Greece crashing out. Not one bit. Uh-uh. They keep coming back with new loan offers just out of pity! Sure. Fancy buying a new bridge ? The one in Glasgow has just been repainted.

        1. I’m not saying that German banks and economy wouldn’t get hurt. They will be.   Parts of the population will feel the burn.   However, it’ll be first or second degree, not third or fourth.   

          No, the loan offers aren’t done out of pity. Otherwise they wouldn’t come with provisions.

  22. Alternative to austerity: default on the debt, go bankrupt. It’s getting harder and harder to see how anyone other than billionaire bankers would be harmed by this.

        1. Which had up to 60% of the population around poverty levels at first, falling from a lower height than Greece now  and which has a fully developed agricultural export business. 

          Also, the average annual income is around 9.000 USD, with im- and exports mostly balanced. They actually export MORE to China than they import from there.

          Again: Defaulting may help Greece in the long term.  But it will be painful and unless they change at least some, they will be same situation in 40 years from now. Unless they manage to install a better economic model than mercantile capitalism.  Right now, the only better model (growth-wise) seems to come with harsh authoritarian governments.

          1.  So what’s your suggestion?  All I can get from your contribution is “Germans have never done anything wrong and you guys are jerks for implying they might have.”

  23. What is absurd is that the discussion always evolves around Greece’s obligation to pay its debts, but the risks taken by those who invested or loaned money to Greek governments are seldom mentioned. It’s like the risk factor is just another capitalism anecdote. Hedge and pension funds administrators, bankers of all sorts, economists and other technocrats (who are more to blame than the Greek, Spanish, Irish or Portuguese people) manage to perpetuate their discourse through media corporations and fora such as Davos, proposing convenient solutions to problems they consciously helped to create. 

    Common citizens usually don’t have much access to the means necessary to play their part on big decisions like the ones approved by the Papademos/troika coalition this weekend. Polls show that nearly 60% of the Greeks want elections right now. Most of them feel that the current political rulers are not legitimate enough to set the course of their country anymore. Around 50% are willing to discuss a return to drachma. Still, their voices keep being dismissed without much consideration.

    The ECB, Merkel, Sarkozy and the IMF keep saying there is no time to discuss and approve things in a truly democratic way. Greek Health and Education budgets, public essential services and a whole generation’s chance to thrive will be sacrificed to keep the illusion alive in a broader context. It’s part of the game blaming them for “lazyness”, “lack of responsability” and similar terms, another injustice to a population hijacked and fooled by local and transnational elites, like so many others around our planet. 

    But what is happening in Greece eventually will happen to other countries in the near future. The european project has many positive qualities, but is plagued by economic liberalism, internal contrasts and lack of true democratic debate. I don’t know if a media blackout is taking place regarding the public opinion on the matter in other european countries, but I sure would like to see more demonstrations of solidarity to Greeks in the streets of France, Germany, Spain, UK, Italy and etc.

  24. “I’ve built the perfect time machine.  We’re going to Greece.”
    “And swim the English Channel?”
    “…No, no, to Ancient Greece, where burning Sappho stroked the Wine-Dark sea, in the temple by the moonlight, wa-de-do-dah..

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