Jun 272017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

A homeless person changes clothes outside a bank in central Athens. Nearly one-in-four Greeks are unemployed and receive no benefits. Poverty rates have surged here since the start of the crisis in late 2009, with nearly 36 percent of the country living in financial distress. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A homeless person changes clothes outside a bank in central Athens. Nearly one-in-four Greeks are unemployed and receive no benefits. Poverty rates have surged here since the start of the crisis in late 2009, with nearly 36 percent of the country living in financial distress. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS (Analysis)– It has become an increasingly common sight on Greek streets, even in formerly prosperous neighborhoods. Elderly—and sometimes not so elderly—individuals rummaging through rubbish bins in search of scraps of food to eat. Beggars are now practically a universal sighting in Athens and other large cities.

More and more young Greeks are migrating abroad by the day, contributing to a “brain drain” that has totaled approximately 500,000 individuals since the onset of the crisis. In my neighborhood in central Athens, several parked cars are filled to the brim with a life’s worth of possessions, packed in boxes by individuals who have likely lost their homes and livelihoods and who now call their automobiles home. Everywhere, abandoned cars and motorcycles rust away on curbsides and sidewalks.

In another universe, the Greek coalition government comprised of the “leftist” SYRIZA and the “patriotic” Independent Greeks political parties is celebrating. Greece has, at the recently-concluded Eurogroup summit, once again been “saved.” In this latest agreement, an 8.6 billion euro tranche of “bailout” funds—a loan (not a “handout”) which had already been promised to Greece in previous agreements—was released and a long-delayed review of Greece’s “progress” under the austerity mechanisms was finally completed. Quite a cause for celebration!

Or is it? Out of the 8.6 billion, 7.7 billion euros will initially be disbursed, out of which 6.9 billion will be immediately paid back to Greece’s lenders: the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and bondholders. In exchange for the release of these funds, which will be funneled right back to those who are releasing them, Greece’s government has agreed to achieve a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent of its GDP annually through 2023, and thereafter to maintain primary budget surpluses of 2 percent annually from 2023 until 2060.

Until 2023, the Greek government has agreed to pay 27 billion euros (15 percent of Greece’s GDP) in debt service alone, and that figure increases to a 36 billion euro annual sum until 2060.

For the uninitiated: what does a primary budget surplus actually mean? It means that the state spends less than it receives in revenue. While this may sound like a fiscally prudent policy direction for Greece or any country to take, what this actually means in plain language is that in an economy that is shrinking, as with Greece, the amount of money being spent by the state each year on investment, social services, salaries, pensions and other vital services will perpetually decrease, furthering the austerity death spiral.

To provide some perspective, the IMF itself considers a primary budget surplus of 1.5 percent “realistic,” while the Central Bank of Greece, 92 percent of whose shareholders are not known, considers 2 percent a “realistic” target. In a study by economists Barry Eichengreen and Ugo Panizza that examined economic performance across 235 countries, it was found that there were only 36 cases in which countries were able to maintain a primary budget surplus of 3 percent of GDP for a five-year period, and only 17 cases where countries maintained a primary budget surplus of 3 percent of GDP across an eight-year period. Germany, often touted for its fiscal prudence, was not one of these countries.

For the SYRIZA-led regime in Greece, this is a cause for celebration. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras publicly announced that “we got what we wanted” through this deal, which points the way towards Greece’s exit from the “supervision” of its lenders.

The newspaper Avgi, an official party organ of SYRIZA, announced for the upteenth time Greece’s impending “exit” from the economic crisis. And the Greek government is publicly touting the upcoming return of Greece to the international financial markets, ironically celebrating the prospect of Greece once again being able to attain more debt via borrowing, likely at usurious terms.

Unfortunately for Tsipras and his government, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble acted as a party pooper, putting a damper on the celebrations. Speaking publicly after the Eurogroup deal was reached, Schäuble stated that the agreement, which followed what were claimed by the Greek government to be fierce negotiations, was reached three weeks prior but was delayed because the Greek government requested additional time for PR reasons—in other words, to claim that hard negotiations took place.

Pensions, salaries see cuts as austerity steamrolls ahead

Indeed, if the rhetoric of the SYRIZA-led government is a guide to go by, then the successes have kept on coming. In February, the SYRIZA government reached yet another deal with its lenders to once again release “bailout” loan funds that already had been pledged to Greece from previous austerity agreements.

In this agreement, the government claimed that “not one euro” of new austerity would be enacted, as any austerity measures and cuts (including interventions to the tax system, which were previously claimed by the government to be “red lines” in its “negotiations” with lenders) would be offset by countermeasures in other areas, euphemistically referred to as “neutral fiscal balance” and “zero-sum fiscal interventions.”

In a “read my lips, no new taxes” moment for the Greek government, these declarations of “zero-sum fiscal interventions” and the “end of austerity” had only just barely been uttered when a host of new austerity measures were unveiled. Initially announced at 3.6 billion euros, these austerity measures now total 14.2 billion euros’ worth of cuts.

These include further reductions of 18 percent to already battered pensions, as well as salary cuts, tax increases, a cut in health expenditures, a further reduction of 50 percent to heating oil subsidies (in a country where the majority of households already cannot afford heating oil and have reverted to fireplaces and makeshift furnaces to keep warm), a reduced tax-free threshold and an increase in tax contributions, and the freeing up of home foreclosures and auctions.

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ''Ministry of broken promises" and " We drown in debt and bailouts" in central Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ”Ministry of broken promises” and ” We drown in debt and bailouts” in central Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

In exchange, “countermeasures” that will be enacted in 2019 will only take place if Greece meets “fiscal targets” up until then, include minor tax cuts (such as a 70-euro reduction to the “unified property tax” which SYRIZA, prior to ascending to power, denounced as “unconstitutional”) and offering school lunches.

The Greek government, along with its bosses in Brussels and Berlin, continue to insist that tax increases will help, despite all economic evidence to the contrary. While revenues from the value-added tax (VAT) were at 16.3 billion euros when the VAT rate was at 19 percent, those revenues declined to 14.4 billion euros when the VAT was increased to 21 percent, and dropped further to 13.7 billion euros when the VAT was increased again to 23 percent. Today, the VAT for most goods and services is at 24 percent amidst an economic depression that has shown no real signs of abating.

While the SYRIZA-led government is congratulating itself for putting an end to austerity, the aforementioned unified property tax, which according to SYRIZA’s pre-election rhetoric was unconstitutional and to be abolished, will remain in effect at least until 2031. One year ago, in June 2016, a 7,500-page omnibus bill ratified by the Greek government without any debate transferred ownership of all of Greece’s public assets (ranging from water utilities to prime beachfront parcels of land) to a fund controlled by the European Stability Mechanism for the next 99 years.

The same bill also reduced the parliament to playing a rubber-stamp role, as it annulled the ability of the Greek parliament to formulate a national budget or to pass tax legislation, with automatic cuts to be activated if fiscal targets agreed upon with the country’s lenders are not met. Foreign experts working on the implementation of the austerity measures and privatizations in Greece were also, as of 2016, granted immunity from prosecution. If all of this seems exaggerated or far-fetched, consider a recent remark by the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Pierre Moscovici, who stated that “[The EU] often decide[s] Greece’s fate, in place of the Greeks.”

Move toward cashlessness benefiting “too big to fail” institutions

As all of this is taking place, Greek businesses—particularly small businesses—are being burdened further, required as of July 27 to install “point of sale” (POS) card readers and to accept payments via credit, debit or prepaid cards. Another law, which came into effect on January 1, pushes consumers towards card payments by setting a minimum threshold of spending at least 10 percent of one’s income via card in order to attain a somewhat higher tax-free threshold.

In a country where capital controls restricting withdrawals from bank accounts and ATMs have been in effect since June 2015, cash is being further withdrawn from the marketplace and is being delivered to a banking system that has already been recapitalized three times and is likely on its way towards a fourth taxpayer-funded “bailout,” keeping with the fine tradition of financial institutions that are said to be “too big to fail.” We are told, of course, that this is for society’s own good, in order to combat “tax evasion” and other terrible things.

As all of this has taken place, 14 profitable Greek regional airports of strategic and economic importance have been privatized—ironically by being sold to Fraport, itself owned by the German public sector. The port of Piraeus, one of the largest in Europe, has been completely privatized; sold for a pittance to Chinese-owned Cosco. Greek water and power utilities, having been transferred to the aforementioned fund controlled by the ESM, are among the next assets slated for privatization.

Foreclosures of homes are slated to be expanded to primary residences, leaving many households at risk of ending up on the streets, while come September, foreclosures are slated to take place electronically, in accordance with the Greek government’s agreements with its lenders. It should be noted that foreclosure auctions that take place in Greek civil courts each Wednesday have become one of the few remaining battlegrounds where citizens are actively, and often quite successfully, pushing back against one of the products of the economic crisis, preventing many foreclosures from occurring. Switching to electronic foreclosures would eliminate this “inconvenience.”

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Other “inconveniences” are also being done away with in swift fashion. In August 2016, police in the city of Katerini arrested a father of three for selling doughnuts without a license, fining him 5,000 euros for the offense. In another case, a vendor selling roasted chestnuts in the city of Thessaloniki was surrounded by 15 police officers and arrested for the high offense of operating without a license. In the meantime, Greek television and radio stations—almost the entirety of which are vehemently pro-EU and pro-austerity and which greatly impact public opinion—operate without valid broadcast licenses.

The SYRIZA government, elected in part on pledges to “nip oligarchs in the bud” (including taking care of the issue of unlicensed broadcasters), has instead allowed oligarchs to shift their money to offshore tax havens, while collectively treating ordinary citizens and small business owners as being guilty of tax evasion. Former finance minister with the center-right New Democracy political party Gikas Hardouvelis was recently acquitted in court for failure to submit a declaration of assets.

In a December 2015 interview, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos stated that the SYRIZA-led government “didn’t have time to go after the rich.” Unlicensed chestnut vendors, apparently, are another matter altogether, as are activists against the environmentally destructive and economically dubious gold mining operations in north Greece’s Skouries that are being conducted by Eldorado Gold with a Greek oligarch, Giorgos Bobolas.

In late May, the physically disabled 77-year-old Thodoros Karavasilikos was issued a 12-month suspended jail sentence for, apparently, physically assaulting 10 riot police officers in a protest against the Skouries mining operations. Furthering this war on the elderly, Dimitris Kammenos, a member of parliament with the “patriotic” Independent Greeks party which is co-governing with SYRIZA, stated in a televised interview in April that 100 euros that were being slashed from pensions were “better off being taken by the state” than to be “given by pensioners to their grandchildren to go out and have coffee.”

Civil unrest on the rise amid economic uncertainty

It can be argued that being a Greek citizen is a great disadvantage in Greece at the present time. In the blighted Athens suburb of Menidi, an 11-year-old Greek child was apparently killed by a stray bullet, said to have been fired from a residence of a Roma family. Civil unrest has followed in the area between the Greek and Roma populations, to which the SYRIZA-led government has somehow responded by proposing that Roma children be allowed to enter Greek universities and the police academy without taking entrance exams.

A protester reacts next to a flare outside the the Interior Ministry as thousands of striking municipal workers demonstrate in central Athens, June 22, 2017. Union officials want the left-led government to grant full-time, permanent state jobs to municipal workers employed on short-term contracts that have expired or are about to expire. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A protester reacts next to a flare outside the the Interior Ministry as thousands of striking municipal workers demonstrate in central Athens, June 22, 2017. Union officials want the left-led government to grant full-time, permanent state jobs to municipal workers employed on short-term contracts that have expired or are about to expire. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

While migrants in Greece are receiving 400 euro monthly subsidies (greater than many salaries and pensions in present-day Greece) and free housing, thanks to assistance from the EU and numerous “well-meaning” non-governmental organizations, the same sensitivity has not been displayed to victims of a recent earthquake that severely impacted the island of Lesvos, one of the primary entry points for migrants. Instead, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of the center-right New Democracy, the main opposition party in Greece which is favored to win the next national elections whenever they take place, promised those whose homes were destroyed by the quake a two-year waiver of the unified property tax, should his party be elected.

Tourism, however, is said to be saving the day. Greece is said to be receiving record numbers of visitors, and the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens is receiving a record number of passengers. These statistics are often repeated by the government and by Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura of the Independent Greeks political party, the minority partner in Greece’s coalition government. What is not said is who these tourists are, or what their real impact on the economy is.

Many of these tourists are visiting the country on package travel deals booked with overseas travel agencies, flying to and from Greece on foreign-owned charter airlines and staying in hotels which themselves are often owned by foreigners. Many of these hotels offer “all-inclusive” hospitality packages, often offering the very lowest-quality imported food and drink products in order to slash costs. While foreigners get to enjoy Greek resorts and sunshine at bargain rates, austerity-hit Greeks, battered by the crisis, cannot afford to—nor are they offered the same low rates provided to foreign visitors.

Most tourists on “all-inclusive” deals rarely venture away from their hotels, and businesses in tourist regions, ranging from convenience stores to restaurants, are seeing business suffer while their tax burden continues to increase. In a recent visit to Rhodes, one of Greece’s pre-eminent tourist destinations, I observed that the Old Town of Rhodes, perhaps the top tourist destination on the island, was almost deserted at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night in a country that “stays up all night.” Tourists remained largely locked away in their all-inclusive resorts.

Greece’s “boom times” for tourism are evident by the country’s lack of a national air carrier, which has been the case ever since the previously state-owned Olympic Airlines was dismantled at the behest of the EU and purportedly for violating the European Commission’s competition rules. The privately-owned near-monopoly that has replaced it, Aegean Airlines, has somehow managed not to run afoul of such rules.

While Greece, one of Europe’s top destinations, does not possess any wide-body aircraft, countries such as Serbia and Rwanda do and are running nonstop flights to the United States. Aegean Airlines may not have long-haul flights, but it has delivered much-vaunted “foreign investment”—often touted as the cure-all for Greece’s economic ills, despite a major privatization push since the 1990s, which did not stop the crisis—as 25 percent of the airline is reportedly being purchased by Hainan Airlines of China.

Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura, apropos of nothing, recently brought us back to 2015 and to the referendum which took place that year, where 62 percent of voters rejected an EU-proposed austerity plan—only for the result to be overturned within days, as the SYRIZA-led government turned around and agreed to an even harsher austerity package, known as the third memorandum agreement, than the one voters had rejected.

The SYRIZA-led government has since agreed to a fourth memorandum agreement, but according to Kountoura, the negotiation that occurred in 2015 that led to the third memorandum—chock-full of austerity measures and the privatization of profitable assets—prevented 16 billion euros’ worth of austerity measures from being enacted.

No end in sight for bleak austerity

Unfortunately, two years after the “triumphant” referendum and rejection of austerity—which was promptly overturned and replaced with even harsher austerity—there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for the beleaguered nation. Nor does a political “savior” appear to exist. The aforementioned New Democracy party is part and parcel of the corrupt political duopoly, along with PASOK, which ruled Greece for 40 years after the fall of the military junta in 1974, and is vehemently pro-EU and pro-austerity (as long as they are the ones implementing the austerity and pro-Europe policies, instead of SYRIZA).

In previous elections, political “renegade” Vasilis Leventis and his Centrists’ Union political party were elected to parliament—likely as a protest vote. Leventis is famous for his supposed crusades against corruption and the two-party system, and for wishing cancer upon former Prime Ministers Kostantinos Mitsotakis (father of the current New Democracy leader) and Andreas Papandreou (father of George Papandreou, prime minister when Greece was led into the IMF-EU “bailout” and austerity regime) on live television in 1993.

A motorcyclist looks on as he drives next to a pile of garbage in Piraeus, near Athens, on Monday, June 26, 2017. Municipality workers have been on strike for almost a week , hindering trash collection across the country. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A motorcyclist looks on as he drives next to a pile of garbage in Piraeus, near Athens, on Monday, June 26, 2017. Municipality workers have been on strike for almost a week , hindering trash collection across the country. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Today, Leventis is calling for the installation of a “government of technocrats” (much like the non-elected government led by banker Loucas Papademos in late 2011 and 2012, which passed the second memorandum agreement with no popular mandate) and who has also stated recently that Greece “does not deserve to have its debt restructured.”

In reality, the entirety of parliament—despite the eight political parties which comprise it and which create the facade of political pluralism—can be described as being pro-austerity, pro-euro, and pro-EU. The same can be said of smaller political parties, currently outside of parliament and vying to gain public support.

These include parties founded by Panagiotis Lafazanis and Zoe Konstantopoulou—who as part of the first SYRIZA government of January-September 2015 voted in favor of numerous pro-memorandum and pro-austerity pieces of legislation and in favor of the pro-Europe corrupt former government minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the Hellenic Republic, who recently stated that Greece will remain in the EU “indefinitely and irrevocably.”

Two years after saying “no” to austerity, this is the state of affairs in Greece today. Poverty, fear, unemployment and a continued brain drain, as well as corruption, lies, and above all, an undying attachment to the EU and the Eurozone, at least on the part of the almost complete entirety of the country’s political class. That’s life today in a modern-day EU debt colony.

Jun 222017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

A man makes a transaction at an automated teller machine (ATM) of a Piraeus Bank  branch in Athens, Greece. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

A man makes a transaction at an automated teller machine (ATM) of a Piraeus Bank branch in Athens, Greece. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS (Analysis)– Day by day, we’re moving towards a brave new world where every transaction is tracked, every purchase is recorded, the habits and preferences of everyone noted and analyzed. What I am describing is the “cashless society,” where plastic and electronic money are king, while banknotes and coins are abolished.

“Progress” is, after all, deemed to be a great thing. In a recent discussion, I observed on an online message board regarding gentrification in my former neighborhood of residence in Queens, New York, the closure of yet another longtime local business was met by one user with a virtual shrug: “Who needs stores when you have Amazon?”

This last quote is, of course, indicative of the brick-and-mortar store, at least in its familiar form. In December 2016, Amazon launched a checkout-free convenience store in Seattle — largely free of employees, but also free of cash transactions, as purchases are automatically charged to one’s Amazon account. “Progress” is therefore cast as the abolition of currency, and the elimination of even more jobs, all in the name of technological progress and the “convenience” of saving a few minutes of waiting at the checkout counter.

Still insist on being old-fashioned and stuck behind the times, preferring to visit brick-and-mortar stores and paying in cash? You may very well be a terrorist! Pay for your coffee or your visit to an internet cafe with cash? Potential terrorist, according to the FBI. Indeed, insisting on paying with cash is, according to the United States Department of Homeland Security, “suspicious and weird.”

The European Union, ever a force for positive change and progress, also seems to agree. The non-elected European Commission’s “Inception Impact Assessment” warns that the anonymity of cash transactions facilitates “money laundering” and “terrorist financing activities.” This point of view is shared by such economists as the thoroughly discredited proponent of austerity Kenneth Rogoff, Lawrence Summer (a famed deregulator, as well as eulogizer of the “godfather” of austerity Milton Friedman), and supposed anti-austerity crusader Joseph Stiglitz, who told fawning participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year that the United States should do away with all currency.

Logically, of course, the next step is to punish law-abiding citizens for the actions of a very small criminal population and for the failures of law enforcement to curb such activities. The EU plans to accomplish this through the exploration of upper limits on cash payments, while it has already taken the step of abolishing the 500-euro banknote.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which day after day is busy “saving” economically suffering countries such as Greece, also happens to agree with this brave new worldview. In a working paper titled “The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing,” which the IMF claims does not necessarily represent its official views, the fund nevertheless provides a blueprint with which governments around the world could begin to phase out cash. This process would commence with “initial and largely uncontested steps” (such as the phasing out of large-denomination bills or the placement of upper limits on cash transactions). This process would then be furthered largely by the private sector, providing cashless payment options for people’s “convenience,” rather than risk popular objections to policy-led decashing. The IMF, which certainly has a sterling track record of sticking up for the poor and vulnerable in society, comforts us by saying that these policies should be implemented in ways that would augment “economic and social benefits.”

The IMF’s Greek experiment in austerity

These suggestions, which of course the IMF does not necessarily officially agree with, have already begun to be implemented to a significant extent in the IMF debt colony known officially as Greece, where the IMF has been implementing “socially fair and just” austerity policies since 2010, which have resulted, during this period, in a GDP decline of over 25 percent, unemployment levels exceeding 28 percent, repeated cuts to what are now poverty-level salaries and pensions, and a “brain drain” of over 500,000 people — largely young and university-educated — migrating out of Greece.

Protesters against new austerity measures hold a placard depicting Labour Minister George Katrougalos as the movie character Edward Scissorhands during a protest outside Zappeion Hall in Athens, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. The placard reads in Greek"Katrougalos Scissorhands".

Protesters against new austerity measures hold a placard depicting Labour Minister George Katrougalos as the movie character Edward Scissorhands during a protest outside Zappeion Hall in Athens, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. The placard reads in Greek”Katrougalos Scissorhands”.

Indeed, it could be said that Greece is being used as a guinea pig not just for a grand neoliberal experiment in both austerity, but de-cashing as well. The examples are many, and they have found fertile ground in a country whose populace remains shell-shocked by eight years of economic depression. A new law that came into effect on January 1 incentivizes going cashless by setting a minimum threshold of spending at least 10 percent of one’s income via credit, debit, or prepaid card in order to attain a somewhat higher tax-free threshold.

Beginning July 27, dozens of categories of businesses in Greece will be required to install aptly-acronymized “POS” (point-of-sale) card readers and to accept payments by card. Businesses are also required to post a notice, typically by the entrance or point of sale, stating whether card payments are accepted or not. Another new piece of legislation, in effect as of June 1, requires salaries to be paid via direct electronic transfers to bank accounts. Furthermore, cash transactions of over 500 euros have been outlawed.

In Greece, where in the eyes of the state citizens are guilty even if proven innocent, capital controls have been implemented preventing ATM cash withdrawals of over 840 euros every two weeks. These capital controls, in varying forms, have been in place for two years with no end in sight, choking small businesses that are already suffering.

Citizens have, at various times, been asked to collect every last receipt of their expenditures, in order to prove their income and expenses — otherwise, tax evasion is assumed, just as ownership of a car (even if purchased a decade or two ago) or an apartment (even if inherited) is considered proof of wealth and a “hidden income” that is not being declared. The “heroic” former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had previously proposed a cap of cash transactions at 50 or 70 euros on Greek islands that are popular tourist destinations, while also putting forth an asinine plan to hire tourists to work as “tax snitches,” reporting businesses that “evade taxes” by not providing receipts even for the smallest transactions.

All of these measures, of course, are for the Greeks’ own good and are in the best interest of the country and its economy, combating supposedly rampant “tax evasion” (while letting the biggest tax evaders off the hook), fighting the “black market” (over selling cheese pies without issuing a receipt, apparently), and of course, nipping “terrorism” in the bud.

As with the previous discussion I observed about Amazon being a satisfactory replacement for the endangered brick-and-mortar business, one learns a lot from observing everyday conversations amongst ordinary citizens. A recent conversation I personally overheard while paying a bill at a public utility revealed just how successful the initial and largely uncontested steps enacted in Greece have been.

In the line ahead of me, an elderly man announced that he was paying his water bill by debit card, “in order to build towards the tax-free threshold.” When it was suggested to him that the true purpose of encouraging cashless payments was to track every transaction, even for a stick of gum, and to transfer all money into the banking system, he and one other elderly gentleman threw a fit, claiming “there is no other way to combat tax evasion.”

The irony that they were paying by card to avoid taxation themselves was lost on them—as is the fact that the otherwise fiscally responsible Germany, whose government never misses an opportunity to lecture the “spendthrift” and “irresponsible” Greeks, has the largest black market in Europe (exceeding 100 billion euros annually), ranks first in Europe in financial fraud, is the eighth-largest tax haven worldwide, and one of the top tax-evading countries in Europe.

Also lost on these otherwise elderly gentlemen was a fact not included in the official propaganda campaign: Germans happen to love their cash, as evidenced by the fierce opposition that met a government plan to outlaw cash payments of 5,000 euros or more. In addition, about 80 percent of transactions in Germany are still conducted in cash. The German tabloid Bild went as far as to publish an op-ed titled “Hands off our cash” in response to the proposed measure.

Global powers jumping on cashless bandwagon

Nevertheless, a host of other countries across Europe and worldwide have shunned Germany’s example, instead siding with the IMF and Stiglitz. India, one of the most cash-reliant countries on earth, recently eliminated 86 percent of its currency practically overnight, with the claimed goal, of course, of targeting terrorism and the “black market.” The real objective of this secretly planned measure, however, was to starve the economy of cash and to drive citizens to electronic payments by default.

Indians stand in line to deposit discontinued notes in a bank in Jammu and Kashmir, India,, Dec. 30, 2016. India yanked most of its currency bills from circulation without warning on Nov. 8, delivering a jolt to the country's high-performing economy and leaving countless citizens scrambling for cash. (AP/Channi Anand)

Indians stand in line to deposit discontinued notes in a bank in Jammu and Kashmir, India,, Dec. 30, 2016. India yanked most of its currency bills from circulation without warning on Nov. 8, delivering a jolt to the country’s high-performing economy and leaving countless citizens scrambling for cash. (AP/Channi Anand)

Iceland, a country that stands as an admirable example of standing up to the IMF-global banking cartel in terms of its response to the country’s financial meltdown of 2008, nevertheless has long embraced cashlessness. Practically all transactions, even the most minute, are conducted electronically, while “progressive” tourists extol the benefits of not being inconvenienced by the many seconds it would take to withdraw funds from an ATM or exchange currency upon arrival. Oddly enough, Iceland was already largely cashless prior to its financial collapse in 2008—proving that this move towards “progress” did nothing to prevent an economic meltdown or to stop its perpetrators: the very same banks being entrusted with nearly all of the money supply.

Other examples of cashlessness abound in Europe. Cash transactions in Sweden represent just 3 percent of the national economy, and most banks no longer hold banknotes. Similarly, many Norwegian banks no longer issue cash, while the country’s largest bank, DNB, has called upon the public to cease using cash. Denmark has announced a goal of eliminating banknotes by 2030. Belgium has introduced a 3,000-euro limit on cash transactions and 93 percent of transactions are cashless. In France, the respective percentage is 92 percent, and cash transactions have been limited to 1,000 euros, just as in Spain. Outside of Europe, cash is being eliminated even in countries such as Somalia and Kenya, while South Korea — itself no stranger to IMF intervention in its economy — has, similarly to Greece, implemented preferential tax policies for consumers who make payments using cards.

Aside from policy changes, practical everyday examples also exist in abundance. Just try to purchase an airline ticket with cash, for instance. It remains possible — but is also said to raise red flags. In many cases, renting an automobile or booking a hotel room with cash is simply not possible. The aforementioned Department of Homeland Security manual considers any payment with cash to be “suspicious behavior” — as one clearly has something to hide if they do not wish to be tracked via electronic payment methods. Ownership of gold makes the list of suspicious activities as well.

Just as the irony of Germany being a largely cash-based society while pushing cashless policies in its Greek protectorate is lost on many Greeks, what is lost on seemingly almost everyone is this: something that is new doesn’t necessarily represent progress, nor does something different. Something that is seemingly easier, or more convenient, is not necessarily progress either. But for many, “technological progress,” just like “scientific innovation” in all its forms and without exception, has attained an aura of infallibility, revered with religious-like fervor.

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Combating purported tax evasion is also treated with a religious-like fervor, even while ordinary citizens — such as the two aforementioned gentlemen in Greece — typically seek to minimize their outlays to the tax offices. Moreover, while such measures essentially enact a collective punishment regardless of guilt or innocence, corporations and oligarchs who utilize tax loopholes and offshore havens go unpunished and are wholly unaffected by a switch to a cashless economy in the supposed battle against tax evasion.

This is evident, for instance, in the case of “LuxLeaks,” which revealed the names of dozens of corporations benefiting from favorable tax rulings and tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg, one of the original founding members of the EU. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, formerly the prime minister of Luxembourg, has faced repeated accusations of impeding EU investigations into corporate tax avoidance scandals during his 18-year term as prime minister. Juncker has defended Luxembourg’s tax arrangements as legal.

At the same time, Juncker has shown no qualms in criticizing Apple’s tax avoidance deal in Ireland as “illegal,” while having been accused himself of helping large multinationals such as Amazon and Pepsi avoid taxes. Moreover, he has openly claimed that Greece’s Ottoman roots are responsible for modern-day tax evasion in the country. He has not hesitated to unabashedly intervene in Greek electoral contests, calling on Greeks to avoid the “wrong outcome” in the January 2015 elections (where the supposedly anti-austerity SYRIZA, which has since proven to be boldly pro-austerity, were elected).

He also urged the Greek electorate to vote “yes” (in favor of more EU-proposed austerity) in the July 2015 referendum — where the overwhelming result in favor of “no” was itself overturned by SYRIZA within a matter of days. In the European Union today, if there’s something that can be counted on, it’s the blatant hypocrisy of its leaders. Nevertheless, proving that old habits of collaborationism die hard in Greece, the rector of the law school of the state-owned Aristotle University in Thessaloniki awarded Juncker with an honorary doctorate for his contribution to European political and legal values.

Cashless policies bode poorly for the future

Where does all this lead though? What does a cashless economy actually mean and why are global elites pushing so fervently for it? Consider the following: in a cashless economy without coins or banknotes, every transaction is tracked. Buying and spending habits are monitored, and it is not unheard of for credit card companies to cancel an individual’s credit or to lower their credit rating based on real or perceived risks ranging from shopping at discount stores to purchasing alcoholic beverages. Indeed, this is understood to be common practice. Other players are entering the game too: in late May, Google announced plans to track credit and debit card transactions.

Claudia Lombana, PayPal's shopping specialist, stamps a guest's passport as he visits the travel section of PayPal's Cashless Utopia in New York (Victoria Will/AP)

Claudia Lombana, PayPal’s shopping specialist, stamps a guest’s passport as he visits the travel section of PayPal’s Cashless Utopia in New York (Victoria Will/AP)

More to the point though, a cashless economy doesn’t just mean that financial institutions, large corporations, or the state itself can monitor all transactions that are occurring. It also means that the entirety of the money supply — itself now existing only in “virtual” form — will belong to the banking system. Not one cent will exist outside of the banking system, as physical currency will simply not be in circulation. The banking system — and others — will be aware not just of every transaction, but will be in possession of all of our society’s money supply, and will even have the ability to receive a percentage of every transaction that is taking place.

So what happens if your spending habits or your choice of travel destinations raises “red flags”? What happens if you run into hard times economically and miss a few payments? What happens if you are deemed to be a political dissident or liability – perhaps an “enemy of the state”? Freezing a bank account or confiscating funds from accounts can take place almost instantaneously. Users of eBay and PayPal, for instance, are quite aware of the ease with which PayPal can confiscate funds from a user’s account based simply on a claim filed against that individual.

Simply forgetting one’s password to an online account can set off an aggravating flurry of calls in order to prove that your money is your own — and that’s without considering the risks of phishing and of online databases being compromised. Many responsible credit card holders found that their credit cards were suddenly canceled in the aftermath of the “Great Recession” simply due to perceived risk. And if you happen to be an individual deemed to be “dangerous,” you can be effectively and easily frozen out of the economy.

Those thinking that the “cashless revolution” will also herald the return of old-style bartering and other communal economic schemes might also wish to reconsider that line of thinking. In the United States, for instance, bartering transactions are considered taxable by the Internal Revenue Service. As more and more economic activity of all sorts takes place online, the tax collector will have an easier time detecting such activity. Thinking of teaching your child to be responsible with finances? That too will have a cost, as even lemonade stands have been targeted for “operating without a permit.” It’s not far-fetched to imagine that particularly overzealous government authorities could also target such activity for “tax evasion.”

In Greece, while oligarchs get to shift their money to offshore tax havens without repercussion and former Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis has been acquitted for failure to submit a declaration of assets, where major television and radio stations operate with impunity without a valid license while no new players can enter the marketplace and where ordinary households and small businesses are literally being taxed to death, police in August 2016 arrested a father of three with an unemployed spouse for selling donuts without a license and fined him 5,000 euros. In another incident, an elderly man selling roasted chestnuts in Thessaloniki was surrounded by 15 police officers and arrested for operating without a license.

Amidst this blatant hypocrisy, governments and financial institutions love electronic money for another reason, aside from the sheer control that it affords them. Studies, including one conducted by the American Psychological Association, have shown that paying with plastic (or, by extension, other non-physical forms of payment) encourage greater spending, as the psychological sensation of a loss when making a payment is disconnected from the actual act of purchasing or conducting a transaction.

But ultimately, the elephant in the room is whether the banking system even should be entrusted with the entirety of the monetary supply. The past decade has seen the financial collapse of 2008, the crumbling of financial institutions such as Lehman Brothers in the United States and a continent-wide banking crisis in Europe, which was the true objective behind the “bailouts” of countries such as Greece — saving European and American banks exposed to “toxic” bonds from these nations. Italy’s banking system is currently teetering on dangerous ground, while the Greek banking system, already recapitalized three times since the onset of the country’s economic crisis, may need yet another taxpayer-funded recapitalization. Even the virtual elimination of cash in Iceland did not prevent the country’s banking meltdown in 2008.

Should we entrust the entirety of the money supply to these institutions? What happens if the banking system experiences another systemic failure? Who do you trust more: yourself or institutions that have proven to be wholly irresponsible and unaccountable in their actions? The answer to that question should help guide the debate as to whether society should go cashless.

Apr 022017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

karousos3-1-300x207The transcript of Dialogos Radio’s interview with economist and analyst Dimitris Karousos. This interview aired on our broadcasts for the week of March 22-28, 2017. Find the podcast of this interview here.

MN: Joining us today on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series is economist and economic analyst Dimitris Karousos, who is a member of the political directorate of Greece’s United Popular Front, and who has enjoyed a long career working for financial institutions within and outside of Greece. Mr. Karousos, thank you very much for joining us today.

DK: Thank you for your kind invitation.

MN: Let’s begin by discussing the recent deal that was reached between the Greek government and its European lenders. The Greek government has engaged in a big PR show, portraying this new agreement as one that will not deliver even one euro’s worth of new austerity measures, as a result of the so-called “equivalent measures” that will be adopted. This begs the question, if the net sum of these new measures is zero, then why enact them? And continuing along this line of thinking, what does the new agreement actually entail and mean for Greece?

DK: As we now find ourselves in Oscar season, it is clear that the Oscar for best director should go to the communications team of the Greek government, as their new dogma which claims that 1+1=0 is one of the most absurd things that the Greek people have heard yet. Indeed, “professor” Tsipras, by claiming that 1+1=0, seems to be reinventing the rules of mathematics. In other words, the government is attempting to claim that for every euro of austerity measures and cuts that will be enacted, there will be one euro in equivalent measures to offset those cuts. This, of course, is a blatant lie, because if there indeed will be no impact, these measures would not be needed.

The Greek government is lying, and this can be demonstrated in three ways. First, the troika—meaning the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—is not discussing the possibility of cuts in the special property tax and the value added tax, and indeed is not even allowing these issues to be brought to the negotiating table.

Second, the troika, instead of tax cuts, is insisting on the enactment of the so-called Juncker growth package, named after the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. This package is essentially the European Union’s Partnership Agreement, known as ESPA, but this is not a true replacement because Greece already qualifies for funds from this agreement regardless. Therefore, somebody needs to explain how low wage earners who are now faced with a lower tax-free threshold and will be forced to pay taxes, or how pensioners who will face further cuts to their pensions, will benefit from the European Union’s Partnership Agreement, which in the first place has nothing to do with this group of people, since it is concerns only entrepreneurs and supposedly offsets these cuts.

Third, whatever “equivalent” measures are agreed upon will only begin to be enforced if and only when Greece has fully and successfully enacted new cuts to wages and pensions, as foreseen in the new austerity package with 3.6 billion euro worth of cuts.

MN: The deal which was recently reached foresees the achievement of a primary budget surplus of at least 3.5% of the Greek GDP in 2019, while we are also hearing that Greece’s primary surplus for the month of January surpassed targets. Is this a good thing, however? Are primary surpluses a positive thing for a country like Greece, with the economy in the state that it is in?

DK: Here, we should first make it clear that no economy which has found itself in a similar condition to that of Greece has been able to recover through the enforcement of strict austerity and the pursuit of surpluses.

The economists Barry Eichengreen and Ugo Panizza, in a study of theirs, examined 235 countries and found that there were only 36 cases of countries which were able to maintain, for a five year period on average, a primary budget surplus of at least 3 percent of GDP, representing 15 percent of the total sample. In the same study, they found that there were only 17 cases of countries which, over an average of eight years, maintained a primary budget surplus of at least 3 percent of GDP, representing just 9 percent of total cases. There were only 12 cases of countries which, over a ten year period, maintained a primary budget surplus of at least 3 percent of GDP. It should be noted that Germany, the strongest economy in Europe, was not one of these countries!

In other words, they are asking Greece to achieve something that not even an economy at the level of Germany’s has been able to ever achieve! It should also be added that Eichengreen and Panizza note that extraordinarily strict fiscal policies—austerity in other words—with the goal of achieving a high primary budget surplus, may in fact achieve the opposite results, leading to recession and to political and social turmoil. These policies, in other words, may lead to the opposite outcome from that which is intended.

MN: With this new agreement which has been reached, do you believe that the risk of a so-called Schauble-style Grexit has been averted, or does it remain a distinct possibility? And continuing on that frame of thought, what would this German-proposed Grexit, which would include the imposition of a dual or parallel currency, mean for Greece?

DK: Not only has the threat of a Schauble-style Grexit and the imposition of a dual or parallel currency not been surpassed, but I believe it remains the plan that will be put into place. I believe that the following will happen: once the Greek government completes the so-called “troika review” of its finances with an agreement for new austerity measures totaling 3.2 to 3.6 billion euros, the troika will break up the next installment of so-called “bailout” funds into sub-installments. Once the German elections have occurred, then a fake “crisis” between Greece and its creditors will be orchestrated, and that is when the Schauble plan, named of course after the German finance minister, will be imposed. This plan would entail Grexit and the imposition of a dual or parallel currency within Greece.

The circulation of a dual or parallel currency will mean an even more rapid internal devaluation and will signify the immediate impoverishment of the Greek populace. There will be one currency used for internal transactions, such as the payment of salaries and pensions, while whatever euros are still in circulation will be collected and used towards the payment of the national debt, which will continue to be denominated in euros.

This would be a terrible development for Greece, as this dual or parallel currency will face constant devaluation versus the euro, as it will not be hard currency and nobody will want it. If you go to the greengrocer or the bakery, for instance, they might accept the dual currency at an exchange rate far lower than the official peg set by the government. The black market for euros will flourish and the economic catastrophe will be total and complete. The introduction of what will essentially be an IOU, or script, will not only completely destroy the Greek economy but it will also discredit the idea of a national, domestic currency in the eyes of the populace.

MN: Something which, of course, is not frequently discussed by analysts, journalists, and by the mass media in general is the difference between a dual or parallel currency on the one hand, and a national domestic currency on the other hand. What is the distinction and why is one better than the other?

DK: The differences are as follows. By definition, a parallel or dual currency means that there is a different currency in use for domestic transactions, from that which is used for external transactions. A national or domestic currency, on the other hand, is a currency that is issued by a nationalized central bank, such as the Bank of Greece, which would be completely state-owned. With a domestic currency, Greece would not be borrowing the currency that it will put into circulation, it will instead mint the currency itself. It is a wealth instrument, not a debt instrument. Furthermore, a national or domestic currency means that the state itself, because it mints its own currency, does not borrow it from any other central bank.

MN: Explain for us the steps which Greece could follow in order to undertake an orderly departure from the Eurozone and return to a true domestic currency. How could the various dangers that we keep hearing about, such as the risk of hyperinflation or a catastrophic devaluation of the new currency or a difficulty in importing goods, be averted?

DK: The political party which I am a part of, the United Popular Front, also known as EPAM, has described, in detail, 15 necessary steps which are required in order for a smooth transition to take place to a new national, domestic currency.

Every step in this process is absolutely necessary, and no steps can be skipped, as it will impact the entire transition to a domestic currency. The most important of these steps are as follows:

First, disputing the legality of the debt and declaring an immediate stoppage of payments.

Second, declaring the immediate cancelation of all of the memorandums and associated legislation which completely altered the legal and political status of the Greek state and imposed the troika-led occupation.

Third, departure from the European Union and the Eurozone.

Fourth, the imposition of a national, domestic currency.

Fifth, the nationalization of the Bank of Greece, the country’s central bank.

Sixth, the imposition of capital controls in order to prevent money from leaving the country.

Seventh, the liquidation of Greece’s four major banks, while these banks remain in operation.

Eighth, enacting measures to ensure that transactions are able to take place smoothly during the period of transition to the new currency.

Ninth, ensuring the adequate supply of goods in the marketplace.

Tenth, protecting consumers and vigorously policing the marketplace and the prices of goods.

Eleventh, immediately restoring wages and pensions to pre-memorandum levels.

Finally, implementation of “seisachtheia,” an ancient Greek precedent which refers to the forgiveness of the debts of households, as well as small- and medium-sized businesses.

MN: Let’s tackle these issues one at a time… How has Greece’s membership in the European Union since 1981 and in the Eurozone since 2002 impacted Greece’s productive and industrial capacity? And, as a second part to this question, is there any possibility of Greece’s agricultural or productive or industrial capacity increasing within the European Union and within the Eurozone?

DK: There is absolutely no chance of recovery for the Greek productive sector and Greek industry as long as the country remains within the European Union and the Eurozone, especially when harsh austerity and the memorandums are being imposed. How can industry recover when taxes and pension fund contributions surpass 60 percent of a corporation’s revenue? How can the Greek economy recover when its biggest industry, tourism, is saddled with the highest tax rate in the Mediterranean region? How can the Greek economy recover when there is so much bureaucracy and political uncertainty?

The end result of all of this is that Greece’s competitiveness has dropped to 86th place worldwide, despite all of the austerity measures, the memorandums, the economic “growth” which repeatedly has been promised, and the constant “fiscal adjustment” policies and “reforms” that have been enacted. Despite all of this, Greece now ranks lower in competitiveness than countries such as Namibia, Tajikistan, Albania, and Guatemala.

MN: You have spoken about the balance of goods and services in Greece and about Greece’s foreign currency reserves. What do these statistics show and what would they mean for Greece in terms of a potential departure from the Eurozone and the EU and return to a domestic currency?

DK: There is no possibility that there will be shortages of imported goods, and this is the case because Greece’s balance of goods and services, after so many years of economic depression and as a result of the internal devaluation that has taken place, is close to being balanced. In very simple terms, this means that Greece, from its exports, tourism, and shipping sectors earns all of the necessary foreign currency which it needs to pay for all of its imports. Therefore, it follows that there will be no shortage of imported goods.

In addition, according to the most recent figures available from the Bank of Greece from the third quarter of 2016, the central bank has in its reserves foreign currency totaling approximately 31.5 billion euros. At the same time, Greece’s banking system has, among its assets, a long-term foreign bond portfolio totaling 55.7 billion euro. Together, this totals almost 87 billion euros, which could be used as foreign currency reserves in the immediate aftermath of the departure from the Eurozone. Therefore, it is easy to understand that there is no chance of there being any shortages in the marketplace and that Greece’s needs would be met for several years to come.

MN: There is, of course, also the Greek public debt to contend with. Is this debt sustainable, to begin with? What would you propose regarding dealing with the debt, and what does international law and international legal precedent have to say, with regards to actions Greece could implement regarding its debt?

DK: Very much on purpose, the Greek people have been led to believe that an “unsustainable” debt is one which is very difficult to repay, but which can, at some point and after the enactment of very strict measures, be repaid. This is absolutely false! We have been led to believe this because, first of all, it has been necessary to maintain the hope that Greece, by enforcing these harsh austerity measures, will be able to repay its debt and will, as a result, accept these difficult measures.

In reality, an unsustainable debt is a debt which, no matter what a country does, cannot ever be repaid or even reduced, no matter how many measures are enforced. With mathematical certainty, such a debt will simply increase over time. This is the case in Greece. When Greece received its first so-called “bailout” the public debt was 122 percent of GDP. From 122 percent it increased to 129 percent, then 148 percent, then 170 percent, it has reached 177 percent, and is projected to increase to 188 percent and later 200 percent of GDP if we continue down this path!

The first loan agreement which Greece signed in 2010 and which, it should be stressed, was not ratified by the Greek Parliament, was a product of fraud and coercion. Articles 48 through 52 of the UN’s Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties allow for the cancelation of a treaty or agreement when it is a product of deceit or threats. This would permit Greece, with a written statement delivered to the UN General Assembly via the UN’s Secretary General, to announce to the international community that it is denouncing its illegal public debt.

In addition, the official report of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) which was published on its website on the 7th of March 2014, harshly criticizes the Greek government for its methodical and repeated violations of human rights, and specifically the individual, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of Greece’s people.

MN: In our previous interview, in January 2016, we spoke about the recapitalization of the Greek banking system which had just been completed. In what condition does the Greek banking sector find itself in today? Are we headed to yet another recapitalization, and what would such a development mean?

DK: I would argue that the Greek banking system now finds itself in worse shape than in the beginning of 2016, if we take into consideration something which the mass media and most analysts typically neglect to tell us, namely, that the deferred tax accounts for 40 percent of the equity of Alpha Bank, 71 percent of the equity of the National Bank of Greece, 75 percent of the equity of Eurobank, and 58 percent of the equity of Piraeus Bank. This alone means that a new recapitalization is coming.

Moreover, another negative and indeed tragic aspect is that, from the beginning of this year, 1.5 to 1.7 billion euros’ worth of new high-risk loans have been added to the banking system. These loans include mortgages, consumer loans, and business loans, and 80 percent of these loans have been refinanced.

In addition, 2.7 million loans, totaling almost 100 billion euros, are at the risk of default, as payments towards those loans have not been made in over three months. This is a ticking time bomb for the financial system. While this is happening, the deposits of households and individual depositors in Greece have dipped below 100 billion euro for the first time since 2003!

It is therefore clear to me that we will soon see a new recapitalization of the Greek banking system, totaling 7 to 10 billion euros.

MN: How has the British economy performed ever since the referendum result in favor of Brexit this past summer, and how do you believe the British economy will perform if and when the process of exiting the European Union is completed? Do you believe the widely-held fears of adverse economic impacts will be proven to be correct, or do you believe the opposite will be true?

DK: Even though it is surely too soon to draw a definite conclusion, what we can say from now is that in contrast with the various “Cassandras” who foresaw the total collapse of the economy of Great Britain, what we are seeing is that the British economy grew by 0.6 percent in the final quarter of 2016, exceeding expectations.

In fact, the Bank of England once again revised upward its growth projections for the British economy for 2017, raising its projection from 1.4 percent of GDP, initially forecast in November 2016, to a growth rate of almost 2 percent of GDP. The higher projection is largely a result of increased consumer spending, which has occurred despite the fear mongering that the British public faced as a result of the Brexit vote.

Two additional aspects that are important and which should also be noted is the reduction of the public deficit by 400 million Pounds and the increase in average weekly wages of British workers by 2.8 percent on a year-to-year basis.

MN: The new president of the United States, Donald Trump, seems to have taken a position in favor of Brexit and against the Eurozone, displaying an evident preference for reaching bilateral trade agreements with individual countries, rather than large-scale trade deals with the Eurozone as a whole. On a domestic basis, Trump has promised the return of domestic jobs, of factories and corporations and businesses that have left the country. How do you view the economic policies and promises of the Trump administration and what would they mean for the European and global economies?

DK: The turn inward being undertaken by the United States will gradually lead to the repatriation of U.S. dollars. As a result, it is likely that countries whose national debt is in large part denominated in U.S. dollars, as is the case with Turkey, where 65 percent of its debt as a percentage of GDP is in dollars, as well as developing countries whose major public- and privately-owned industries have outstanding loans in U.S. dollars, will face increased difficulties from the upward pressures on the dollar in the international financial markets.

In addition to all of this, we need to take into consideration the ongoing trade battle between the United States and China, and the efforts of the United States to achieve energy autonomy, and in particular, the elimination of dependence on the OPEC nations. This means the replacement of approximately three million barrels of oil per day which are currently imported, replaced by domestic energy sources. It is easy to understand that this will hurt countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela in particular.

As for Trump’s domestic economic policy, the jury is still out. We will just have to wait and see.

MN: Well Mr. Karousos, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series, and for your thoughtful analysis.

DK: Thank you very much for having me.

Mar 102017
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart

mercouris2-300x201This week on Dialogos Radio, we will be featuring, as part of the Dialogos Interview Seriestwo special interviews!

First, we will have the opportunity to speak with journalist, analyst, and longtime lawyer in the Royal Court of the United Kingdom Alexander Mercouris, co-founder of TheDuran.com. Joining us from London, Mercouris will provide his insights for us on a number of current issues, including the latest actions of the Trump administration, the path towards Brexit in Great Britain, anti-Russia hysteria and the establishment media’s agenda, developments in the Ukraine and Syria, and a view on the Greek government’s latest deal with its creditors and what continued austerity means for Greece.bellows

This interview will be followed up by a special feature with young Greek spoken word artist Dylan Wolfram, who will speak to us about his latest spoken word release, titled “Bellows.” In addition to this interview, we will hear two cuts from Wolfram’s recent spoken word project.

Two great interviews, all this week exclusively on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series!

Nov 042016
 

By 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

Bystanders wait to be handed bags of oranges during a free distribution of fruit and vegetables as a protest by farmers and vendors over proposed pension reforms, in Athens on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Greece’s leftwing government is facing an escalating wave of protests over its proposed pension overhaul that has been demanded by bailout creditors. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Bystanders wait to be handed bags of oranges during a free distribution of fruit and vegetables as a protest by farmers and vendors over proposed pension reforms, in Athens on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Greece’s leftwing government is facing an escalating wave of protests over its proposed pension overhaul that has been demanded by bailout creditors. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS — This has been another eventful year in Greece. Almost one year after it turned its back on the July 2015 referendum result which rejected further austerity, the Syriza-led government has pushed forward a program of even harsher austerity, spending cuts, and privatizations.

Following the British vote to proceed with “Brexit,” or a departure from the European Union, fears that Greece might follow suit led Greece’s lenders to demand even more austerity measures from a country already mired in an economic depression.

In this interview, Dr. Jack Rasmus, a professor of economics and politics at St. Mary’s College of California, analyzes these issues and the many challenges facing the Greek and European economies today.

The author of such books as “Looting Greece” and “Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy,” Dr. Rasmus shares his insights into the consequences of austerity for Greece and other peripheral European economies, and presents his proposed solutions for an end to the crisis and austerity.

MintPress News (MPN): In September, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras gave his annual “state of the nation” address, where he boasted that the Greek economy has turned the corner, that unemployment is going down, that salaries will be increased, and that the country is returning to growth. Is this what Greece’s economic indicators actually show?

Protesters march to the Greek Parliament in Athens on Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012. Greece’s unions are holding their third general strike in six weeks to press dissenters in the country’s troubled coalition government not to back a major new austerity program that will doom Greeks to further hardship in a sixth year of recession. Two days of demonstrations are planned to start Tuesday, continuing until lawmakers vote late Wednesday on the bill to slash euro13.5 billion ($17.3 billion) from budget spending over two years. (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)

Protesters march to the Greek Parliament in Athens on Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012. Greece’s unions are holding their third general strike in six weeks to press dissenters in the country’s troubled coalition government not to back a major new austerity program that will doom Greeks to further hardship in a sixth year of recession. Two days of demonstrations are planned to start Tuesday, continuing until lawmakers vote late Wednesday on the bill to slash euro13.5 billion ($17.3 billion) from budget spending over two years. (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)

Dr. Jack Rasmus (JR): No, not quite. Greece’s debt is still the same as it was in 2011, roughly 180 percent of GDP. Unemployment has come down by only 3 to 4 percent, so instead of 27 percent, it’s about 23 to 24 percent. That’s depression-level unemployment. All the other indicators in the economy are flat or declining, so I don’t see anywhere that Greece is really “recovering,” and neither, really, is the entire eurozone economy. It’s been bouncing along the bottom.

As I said in my book “Systemic Fragility,” it’s a case of chronic stagnation. [The eurozone] might grow a little, 0.5 percent or 1 percent above GDP, mostly as a result of Germany’s growth, then it flattens out or goes below. Most of the periphery economies in Europe are stagnant or in a recession, as they have been for quite some time.

As far as raising wages, Greece cannot raise, at least in the public sector, any wages without the approval of the troika [Greece’s three major lenders: the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund]. It’s a real stretch to say that Greece is recovering. It’s kind of moving sideways, in the condition of still chronic economic depression.

MPN: One of the perceptions that has been prevalent in global public opinion with regard to the economic crisis in Greece is that the country has been “bailed out” with billions upon billions of euros in free money. Is this really the case, and where has the so-called “bailout” money to Greece actually gone?

JR: Countries don’t get bailed out. Governments, banks, businesses, and sometimes, though not so frequently, households get bailed out. So the question is, who got bailed out here, in the debt restructuring deals of 2010, 2012, 2015, and this past spring? The banks got bailed out several times. Foreign investors and speculators in Greek bonds and other securities clearly got bailed out in 2012. If you look at where the money has gone, there’s $400 billion in debt in Greece still, that they have to pay off, with an economy that is less than half that size, so it’s impossible.

Where has all this money gone? Recent studies by the European School of Management and Technology documenting the 2010 and 2012 bailouts indicate that 95 percent of all the loans to “bail out” the Greek government, which then bailed out the Greek banks — 95 percent of that went back to Northern Europe, mostly to the German and Northern European banks that had loaned so much money to Greece. [Bailout funds also went] to the troika, particularly the European Commission, that then distributed it to the banking system and investors in turn. The EC is the big player here, and to some extent the European Central Bank, and to a minor extent now the International Monetary Fund. So, 95 percent of all the money loaned to Greece went right back to [Europe] and less than 5 percent of that went back into the Greek economy. Greece has been subsidizing the financial system elsewhere in Europe.

A supporter of the communist-affiliated union PAME takes part in an anti-austerity rally in front of the parliament in Athens, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016.

A supporter of the communist-affiliated union PAME takes part in an anti-austerity rally in front of the parliament in Athens, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016.

MPN: What do you believe needs to be done about the Greek debt?

JR: You might ask what needs to be done about debt throughout the eurozone, because it’s not just Greece. Greece is perhaps the most serious case, but other places in the periphery of Europe are still heavily indebted. You cannot sustain, with austerity measures designed to pay the interest and principal on debt, a $400-plus billion debt based on an economy that’s less than $200 billion. Even the IMF has come to that conclusion and is maneuvering with the other troika members on that particular point.

Is [the debt] legitimate? Well, you have to understand the origins of this debt. It was originally private sector debt that was created as a result of the formation of the eurozone in 1999, the ECB as part of that creation, and other elements of the eurozone agreements, particularly the Lisbon Strategy that Germany adopted. Germany and other Northern European businesses and bankers pumped money and capital into the periphery, including Greece, from 2005 onward. Germany had a strong competitive advantage in exports, so a lot of the money and capital was pumped into the periphery, including Greece, in order to purchase German and other exports. So the money went in and circulated around, leaving a pile of private sector debt in Greece, Italy, and other places.

Then we had the crash of 2008-2009 and the debt could not be repaid, and the troika stepped in to [offer] the governments of Greece and other countries money in order to continue to bail out the private sector and enable the repayment of the private debt. So it starts out as private debt, because of this great imbalance in exports within the eurozone, and then that gets converted to government debt, and then the big crash of 2008-2009 adds even more debt, and then you have the recession of 2011-2013 in the eurozone and the 2012 bailout, which piled on more debt in order to pay the old debt, and then in 2015 the same thing. So the troika’s piling more debt on Greece in order for Greece to pay the previous debt, and that’s totally unsustainable. They’re going to have to expunge some of that debt.

Of course, the Germans, Wolfgang Schauble [the German finance minister] and the coalition in the north, does not want to allow that. And they don’t really want to change the eurozone, because the eurozone, while very imbalanced for the periphery, has benefited Germany significantly. [The Germans] dominate the finance ministers’ council in the EC and they dominate the ECB, and they’re just keeping the situation the way it is because it’s profitable for them.

Demonstrators hold a poster against the austerity policy of Germany prior to a special session of the parliament Bundestag on negotiations with Greece for a new bailout in Berlin, Germany, Friday, July 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Demonstrators hold a poster against the austerity policy of Germany prior to a special session of the parliament Bundestag on negotiations with Greece for a new bailout in Berlin, Germany, Friday, July 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

MPN: Why must Greek banks be nationalized, in your view?

JR: Look at the debt negotiations of 2010, 2012, and 2015. What happened was the ECB, which pretty much controls the Greek central bank — the ECB is just a council of central banks dominated by the Bundesbank [the German central bank] and its allies, so they have control — and what you saw in the negotiations is that in 2015, the ECB put the screws to the Greek economy, and Syriza collapsed and agreed each time the screws were tightened, bringing the economy to a halt. They couldn’t deal with the squeeze on the economy by the ECB. This brought the economy to a halt, squeezing it and of course not releasing loans that [the troika] had agreed to provide Greece under previous agreements. There was an economic squeeze that Syriza did not have a strategy to deal with, and eventually it capitulated.

You’ve got to nationalize, make the Greek central bank and the banking systems independent of the ECB. Gain control over your economy once again, and that is one of several key steps to prevent the squeeze every time you attempt to renegotiate the debt or restructure the debt. Without an independent, Greek, people-controlled banking system, the eurozone and the troika will squeeze and bring Greece to its knees every time. We’ve seen that three times. You’ve got to nationalize the banking system, including the central bank, or if you want to just leave the central bank as part of the ECB structure, go ahead, but create an independent central bank authority elsewhere in the Greek government.

In the U.S. during the Great Depression, the U.S. central bank had screwed up badly, and [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt took over and had his Treasury Department take over and run the economy. Greece would have to set up a parallel central bank in its finance sector, and isolate and bypass the influence of the ECB through the Greek central bank. You would have to create a parallel currency as part of this and impose serious controls on bank withdrawals and capital flows outside the country, which Syriza did not really do, because the ECB and the troika opposed it. When you have all the capital, bank withdrawals and capital flight is another way of squeezing the country economically.

FILE – In this Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 file photo, a man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras’ decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.

FILE – In this Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 file photo, a man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras’ decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.

MPN: The current government in Greece has been continuing a policy of massive privatizations of Greek public assets, with profitable airports and harbors having been privatized in the past year, in addition to the recent selloff of the Greek national railroad for a total of €45 million ($49 million). What are the short- and long-term impacts of the privatization of such public assets?

JR: The short-term is that when you privatize them, under the aegis of the troika, if you sell below market prices, which a lot of these assets are being sold at, that’s profit on the sale for the investors who are buying up these assets. But once the assets are in private hands, where does the revenue go? Does it go back into Greece or does it go back into the pockets of the investors and the corporations and the banks outside Greece that are buying it up? Well, it goes out. It’s a form of capital flight. Money that is needed in Greece flows out of Greece.

This is a new form of financial imperialism, wealth extraction in other words, that is being structured and managed on a state-to-state basis. It’s not 19th century British imperialism where they set up a factory in India, paid them low wages, and brought the textiles back to London to re-sell at a higher price. It’s not that kind of production imperialism. This is financial imperialism imposed on Greece, and it’s a new form that’s emerging everywhere, where you indebt the country and then you force the country to engage in austerity in order to pay the principal and interest on the debt, and you extract the income from the country. Privatizations are another form of that.

You privatize public goods, you get them at fire-sale prices, and then the income flows from those assets flow back to the coffers of the private companies or the banks, outside of Greece.

The other consequence is when you privatize, they come in and they cut costs, which means they lay off people in mass numbers, they put a hold on wages, they get rid of benefits, and they do everything else to maximize their revenue.

Finally, longer term, it means that Greece has less control over its own economy if it can’t control its infrastructure and everything is owned by foreigners. Then you can’t influence it as much, and if you’re part of the eurozone, you’re legally prohibited from what you can do to make sure that these foreign-owned infrastructure companies are behaving in terms of the benefit for the public sector, for the rest of Greece.

MPN: You have argued in your book, “Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy,” that there are nine major trends which account for the economic troubles that are seen on a global scale. What are some of these trends?

JR: Everywhere, and particularly since 2008, we see central banks and monetary policy to be ascendant, and that means creating money, pumping it into the economy to bail out the financial systems, the financial institutions, the banks and the shadow banks, meaning speculators, hedge funds, private equity firms, asset management companies, and so forth. We’ve seen bailouts of tens of trillions of dollars since 2008. All of that liquidity injection into the economy has driven interest rates down to zero or even, in Europe and Japan and elsewhere, negative rates, and that fuels debt. With rates that cheap, corporations and businesses float new corporate bonds, and they use the money not to invest necessarily, they use it to buy back the stock and drive up the stock prices and pay out dividends, or they sit on it, they hoard it, or they send it to emerging markets. That’s a problem everywhere, and that’s the result of massive liquidity injections, which have really been escalating since the 1980s, when controls on international capital flows were eliminated everywhere.

After the 1970s, when the Bretton Woods system collapsed and central banks took over, the combination of those has led to the financialization of the global economy in the 21st century, where profits are far greater for investing and speculating in financial securities than they are in investing in real assets and real things that create real jobs and real income and real consumption. We’re becoming dependent on debt more and more. The economy is increasingly credit- and debt-driven, and that’s the result of this massive liquidity injection, and it also leads to a shift from real asset investment — investing in real things that create jobs that people need — toward financial asset investment. That means that real investment collapses over time and productivity collapses over time as well, and we see that happening everywhere.

That’s a major point that I argued about in my book, “Systemic Fragility,” this financialization of the global economy based on liquidity and debt and squeezing out. It’s diverting money and capital from real investment into financial speculation. What’s going on in Greece is a concrete expression of this, the reliance on financial means and financial manipulation. The periphery in the eurozone is at a great disadvantage to Germany and others, and they’re being manipulated financially. All the payments on interest and the debt flow back to the north. This is all flowing through the EC to the private sector, and it’s a nice constant money capital flow from interest payments and privatization and speculation on government bonds and securities and stocks in these countries as the volatility occurs.

It’s a reflection, in Greece, of what’s happening on a broader scale elsewhere in the global economy, and that’s why we haven’t seen much of a recovery in the global economy. Global trade is stagnant and real investment everywhere is drifting toward zero, productivity is negative almost everywhere, even in the U.S., and we’re seeing growth rates of barely 1 percent, 1.5 percent, at best, when it should be double that. We see these growing, non-performing bank loans, almost $2 trillion in Europe, the worst in Italy with about $400 billion. We see the same thing in Japan and in China. We’re becoming more systemically fragile financially because of this shift to financial speculation.

In this July 5, 2012 file photo President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi speaks during a news conference in Frankfurt, central Germany. (AP Photo/dapd, Mario Vedder, File)

In this July 5, 2012 file photo President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi speaks during a news conference in Frankfurt, central Germany. (AP Photo/dapd, Mario Vedder, File)

MintPress: What is your outlook for the eurozone economy and the difficulties that it is currently facing?

JR: The European banking system has never fully recovered from the 2008-2009 crash. The ECB is pumping money into the banking system in various ways, long-term refinancing options and all the bailout funds and qualitative easing and negative interest rates and so forth. They’re desperately pumping money into the banking system, but the banks aren’t really lending, at least to those businesses that would reinvest in real assets to create jobs. It’s far more profitable to make money now. Investors make more money from financial speculation than they do from investing long-term and expecting to get a return over 10 to 20 years for investment in a real company that creates real things.

We can see the strains now with the non-performing loans, in particular in Italy. Of course, we know the situation with the non-performing bank loans in Greece. Portugal is in bad shape as well in terms of non-performing loans, and now we see even institutions like [Germany’s] Deutsche Bank and others beginning to feel this strain, and the further impact on the European banking system of the “Brexit” [the departure of Great Britain from the European Union].

The problem is that the private banks are either hoarding the cash, they won’t invest in real growth, or they’re sending their money offshore to emerging markets, or they’re using it, as in the U.S., to buy back stock and pay out dividends and loaning money to companies to do just that. The global economy has changed dramatically in ways that make it much more fragile than ever before. A lot of debt has been building up everywhere: Over $50 trillion in additional debt has occurred since 2009, and when the next recession comes, how are they going to pay that debt?

When times are stable or growing, you can add debt without a great crisis emerging, but when you have a recession or a downturn that’s significant, where are you going to get the money capital to pay the principal and interest on the debt? Then you start seeing defaults and you start seeing financial asset price collapses going on, and now you’re back in 2008-2009. That’s the picture of the global economy.

A farmer tries to protect himself as he clashes with a riot policeman during an anti-government protest at central Syntagma square in Athens, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. Greek farmers protesting over planned tax and pension reforms demanded by the country’s bailout creditors have clashed outside parliament with police, who used tear gas to disperse them. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

A farmer tries to protect himself as he clashes with a riot policeman during an anti-government protest at central Syntagma square in Athens, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. Greek farmers protesting over planned tax and pension reforms demanded by the country’s bailout creditors have clashed outside parliament with police, who used tear gas to disperse them. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

MPN: What would be the steps for Greece to follow, in your view, in order to escape the spiral of economic depression and austerity?

JR: Syriza made it clear, when it came into power, that it was not in favor of “Grexit” [a Greek departure from the eurozone], and it has always maintained that position. An unprepared, “we’re leaving the eurozone and the euro” kind of decision would cause a collapse of values, particularly among those who have investments in some savings in Greece. To some extent, Syriza was caught between a rock and a hard place here. They couldn’t or didn’t want to advocate an exit, and at least those who had investments didn’t want it because of the potential effect on their investments. The broader Greek populace thinks, still, that to be European you have to be in the eurozone. That’s a big mistake.

I think what Greece and Syriza should have done is to create a parallel currency and to take over its banking system. In other words, make the banking system truly independent, including the Greek central bank, and if that was not possible, bypass the Greek central bank and set up a central banking function in the finance ministry, as the U.S. has done at different times. Create a parallel currency, and policies and programs to get people to convert their euros into the parallel currency. Maybe declare that henceforth all taxes to the Greek government will be paid with the parallel currency, and that means that people would then trade in their euros for the parallel currency to pay their taxes.

Then tell the troika [the EC, the ECB, and the IMF — collectively, Greece’s lenders] that we’re going to pay you in your euros, but if we run out of euros here as a result of the conversion, well, tough luck, we don’t have a way of paying you, let’s negotiate a final deal where you expunge some of it and we pay you off and we go our separate ways. Of course, you would have to create significant capital flow controls, which has always been a problem every time there’s been a crisis; the money flows out of Greece. Take the economy out of the control of the troika without a formal exit.

That could have been done, but for some reason Syriza and its finance advisers either didn’t want to do that or didn’t know how to do that.

MPN: Arguments that have been heard against a parallel currency include the claim that the existence of two currencies would create a situation where there would be “haves” and “have nots” — between those who would hold a stronger, hard currency, compared to those holding a weaker, devalued currency. How do you respond to this?

JR: There are policies and approaches you can take that entice and require people to convert their euros into the new currency. That would raise the demand and therefore the value, the price of the new currency. If you just had the currency and you didn’t have this forced trade-in, then of course you would have “haves” and “have nots,” the new currency would collapse, and pretty soon no one would want to use it. But, for example, saying that taxes could only be paid with the new currency, would force people who had corporations and businesses and so forth to purchase the new currency with the euro. It would undermine the value of the euro in Greece and it would raise the value of the new currency in Greece as well. That might set off a parallel elsewhere in the eurozone with other countries thinking the same thing, which would undermine the value of the euro and put the squeeze on the troika for once. Greece never put the squeeze on the troika, it was just the opposite in all of these negotiations that occurred, they never really hurt the troika in negotiations, and that’s the only way you prevail in negotiations. You’ve got to make it unpleasant for the opposition. Syriza never did that, they played along and made concession after concession.

Syriza thought that their example would strike a spark elsewhere in Europe of other social democratic forces and governments. They thought that they would get the rest of the social democracies behind them and together they would reform the eurozone. That was a fiction, a fantasy thought on the part of Alexis Tsipras and others, but that was the core of their whole strategy. European social democracy is a dying force, and that’s why you see the growth on the fringes, both to the right and the left.

Tsipras and [former Greek finance minister] Yanis Varoufakis’ problem was that they thought they could get all these elements behind them and that together they would have enough weight to force Schauble and other finance ministers to make concessions. Well, Schauble and the other ministers, the “German faction,” as I call it, within the finance ministers’ council in the EC, remained dominant. At every step along the way, whenever Syriza and its few allies tried to make a compromise where some concessions were made to them, the German faction squelched it. We saw that, for example, at the very end, when [Greece held] the referendum in July 2015. Greece held the vote, and the vote said “go back and negotiate a better deal for us,” and what did Tsipras do? He totally caved in to the Schauble faction, and then the Schauble faction said, “The offer we made last week is now off the table, you’re going to have to accept an even worse one.” So they put the screws to Syriza, and Syriza looked to its allies in the EC, and they totally caved in as well. Things just got worse and worse until you had the final [austerity] agreement on August 20, 2015.

It was a step-by-step retreat from [Syriza’s election in] January 2015, because Syriza had the wrong strategy and was not engaged in certain necessary tactics. Of course, the troika itself had a lot of cards to play. It would have been an uphill fight for Syriza. The time where they might have been able to strike some concessions from the troika was 2012, but New Democracy [the center-right party in power at the time in Greece] was totally in the pocket of the troika, so that was impossible.

[This past spring], the IMF and the troika were worried about “Brexit” and what impact that might have on renewing “Grexit.” So they put the screws to Greece again, raised the debt even more, austerity even more, and I think another round of that is coming, because the IMF wants out of the troika deal. We’ll see what happens at the IMF meeting, but they haven’t endorsed even the 2015 agreement because they know it’s unsustainable. I think the IMF is maneuvering to have the EC to buy its portion of the debt, and once that happens, the EC will demand even more austerity from Greece.

President of France Francois Hollande, U.S. President Barack Obama, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) meeting at the G20 the G-20 leaders summit in Brisbane, Australia, Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014.

President of France Francois Hollande, U.S. President Barack Obama, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) meeting at the G20 the G-20 leaders summit in Brisbane, Australia, Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014.

MPN: In the event that a parallel currency is implemented and steps are taken to maintain or strengthen its value, could that be a prelude to a switch to a national, domestic currency?

JR: Yes. At some point, one currency will become dominant. You can’t have two equal currencies like that. Another advantage of the new currency is that it will start out at less value than the euro, and that will be used as the trading currency. That will stimulate Greek exports to elsewhere, outside the eurozone.

Part of the problem is that the periphery in Europe is so dependent on exports and imports to Germany and the north, that it can’t really engage in its own independent export strategy without cutting wages. Throughout Europe, you have what’s called “internal devaluation,” when you are stuck with a currency and someone else’s central bank, the ECB and the euro. You can’t really engage in independent monetary policy to stimulate your economy and you can’t engage in lowering your currency in order to gain some advantage in exports. You’re stuck, and only the most powerful country that’s most efficient and has the lowest costs is able to take advantage of global exports, and that’s Germany. The weaker economies of the periphery will always be at a disadvantage to Germany when it comes to trying to push their exports anywhere else outside the eurozone.

That’s the lesson. The lesson is that you’ve got a 1999 agreement in which you have this quasi-central bank, the ECB, and you have [the euro], and that arrangement significantly benefits the most efficient, low-cost producer, which is Germany, at the expense of the periphery. Until you have a true central bank and fiscal union to some extent, that will pump the money into the periphery to help it grow when it doesn’t, you will always have the situation you have in Europe right now.

Compare that to the U.S., where there’s a fiscal union, so that if certain states have economic problems … the federal government can pump money into those specific locations. If you don’t have a true federal government and fiscal union, you can’t do that, and if your central bank is dominated by the largest economy — Germany — even the monetary policy has no effect. And if it’s a single currency, it’s to the advantage of the stronger economy at the disadvantage of the weaker.

The eurozone economy is structured to emphasize the growth of the strongest economies at the expense of the weaker, and that’s not going to change. It’s built into the eurozone. You cannot create a currency union and a customs union without a true banking union and fiscal union. More and more countries in the eurozone are beginning to come to that conclusion, but it was foreordained. Economists knew this from the beginning, and that’s the tragedy. Greece has tied its tail to the eurozone, dominated by Germany, and it can never get out of this situation as long as Germany dominates the institutions, which it does, because the whole arrangement is great for Germany.

A protesters carries a protest sign during a rally prior to the opening of the new European Central Bank (ECB) headquarter in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, March 18, 2015. At least four police cars were set alight and two officers injured Wednesday as authorities confronted violent anti-austerity protesters ahead of the inauguration ceremony for the European Central Bank’s new headquarters (AP Photo/dpa, Arne Dedert)

A protesters carries a protest sign during a rally prior to the opening of the new European Central Bank (ECB) headquarter in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, March 18, 2015. At least four police cars were set alight and two officers injured Wednesday as authorities confronted violent anti-austerity protesters ahead of the inauguration ceremony for the European Central Bank’s new headquarters (AP Photo/dpa, Arne Dedert)

MPN: Tell us about your most recent book, “Looting Greece.”

JR: It’s really a case study of the consequences of financialization and globalization and integration. I argue that there is this phenomenon of the smaller economies being tied into the larger economies through free trade agreements, which lead to currency unions, which lead to banking unions, and then you’ve got a situation like Greece and the euro periphery and the problems associated with that.

The book also takes a historical look at the origins of the Greek debt, that starts in 1999 with the [creation of the] eurozone, the adoption of the euro by Greece in 2002 and the consequences of that, how the debt developed, first in the private sector because of German export domination and then conversion of the private debt in 2008-2009 to the public debt, and then the collapse of 2008-2009, which added to the government debt. Then you had the 2012 agreement where the private sector was bailed out, and that added more debt, and then 2015 and so forth. All this is described in detail in the early chapters, and then most of the book is a step-by-step look at the negotiations between Syriza and the troika, from [Syriza’s January 2015 election] through the spring of 2016, and what were the strategic and tactical errors of Syriza and the strategic and tactical moves by the troika which enabled it to prevail.

At the end, [the book discusses] how this is a form of a new emerging financial and wealth extraction from smaller economies by the larger economies, because of the globalization and integration arrangement that exists, the emergence of financial extraction and financial exploitation, and how central banks are feeding that all. This will lead to my next book, which is about global central banks and the problems they’ve created as we move to another crisis, which I think is coming in the next five years.

Demonstrators dressed as clowns pass by a burning police car Wednesday, March 18, 2015 in Frankfurt, Germany. Blockupy activists try to blockade the new headquarters of the ECB to protest against government austerity and capitalism. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Demonstrators dressed as clowns pass by a burning police car Wednesday, March 18, 2015 in Frankfurt, Germany. Blockupy activists try to blockade the new headquarters of the ECB to protest against government austerity and capitalism. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

 

 

May 312016
 

By Mihalis Nevradakis99GetSmart

commentaryoftheweek-300x220

Greece’s supposedly “leftist” government of so-called “hope” and “change” did it again! It saved Greece once more! Greece can continue living the European nightmare…excuse me, dream, can remain part of the vaunted “European family” and the Eurozone, and the government once again successfully completed “tough” negotiations with its so-called European “Partners,” with a capital P, as Greece’s deferential journalistic class tends to refer to them.

Let’s take a look at this new “success story” of Greece’s government of “hope” and “change.” It is a success story so big that Greece’s already insane value-added tax of 23% will be bumped up to 24% on June 1st. It is a success story so great that the unified property tax which SYRIZA, at one time, called unconstitutional and illegal and which at one time was said to be “temporary,” will now be raised and made permanent. It is a success story so tremendous that Greece’s already paltry pension and social security payments will be slashed further, despite government lies and propaganda to the contrary. Home foreclosures and auctions will resume, without anything but the flimsiest of temporary protections for the poorest homeowners. These foreclosures and auctions will take place electronically instead of in a courthouse, under cover of darkness and without warning. In the meantime, new privatizations are coming, alongside the development of a new super-fund of sorts which will manage essentially all of Greece’s publicly-owned assets and prepare them to be sold off, at bargain basement prices. And unlike most of the people of Greece, the foreign investors who will be snatching up these assets know very well how valuable a land Greece is.

Of course, all of these privatizations, foreclosures, auctions, as well as the bundling and selling of both prime and subprime loans—where have we heard that before?–will be permitted without any transfer tax or any other taxes being levied. Because when we talk about tax evasion, we are supposed to only talk about the “bad,” “lazy,” “spendthrift” Greeks, but never the “good,” “civilized” foreign saviors in suits. And of course, this was agreed to following those aforementioned “tough” negotiations between the Greek government of “hope” and “change” and the lenders. This result had also been predicted, months in advance, by economist, analyst, and member of Greece’s United Popular Front Dimitris Karousos, but was of course ignored by the international media and of course by the trashy, biased English-language editions of Greece’s media outlets.

So what if people’s homes are foreclosed and thousands of households are thrown out onto the streets? So what if heating oil and gas, already insanely taxed, are taxed some more, along with basic goods and staples through direct and indirect taxation? Who cares if the self-employed and small- and mid-sized businesses will be absolutely slaughtered as a result of these new measures that were voted into law and the avalanche of taxes that they will face? Who cares if there is now zero chance of the minimum wage to be restored to the still-low pre-crisis levels, which at one time the SYRIZA government of supposed “hope” and “change” had promised? And of course, all of this does not even take into account the automatic cuts that will be implemented if Greece does not meet the strict fiscal targets imposed by its so-called saviors. Who cares about all of this? We are talking about a success story here! Of course, though, it’s a success story for the lenders—but not for Greece or for the Greek people. But, the European dream is what everyone wanted, right? So here it is, enjoy it!

And since we are talking about what is surely such a huge, unprecedented success, that must explain why the otherwise “revolutionary” and “radical” and “non gullible” and oh so clever Greek people did not take to the streets. After all, Greece remained in Europe, remained in the Euro, people still have cheese from Holland for their sandwiches (if they can afford the 24% tax, that is), so everything is A-OK, right? That must explain why Greece’s notaries called off their strike protesting the new insurance and pension bill, as soon as that very bill was passed, allowing home foreclosures and auctions to resume. That must also explain why Greece’s lawyers, with their own protracted strike, have inconvenienced ordinary Greek people whose cases have, in some cases, been postponed for years—instead of using their legal knowledge to mobilize the population and protest austerity both old and new.

Ah, but I forgot. We had the usual round of stale, old 3 and 4 and 24 hour so-called “work stoppages,” which of course left enough time for Greece’s “labor leaders”–quotations absolutely necessary—to hit up their favorite tavernas to wine and dine. Work stoppages which have been going on for decades and decades and which not once have made the slightest bit of impact other than inconveniencing people’s lives, which might very well be their real objective, instead of any actual change. For instance, we had the workers on the Athens Metro declare a work stoppage beginning at 9 pm on the night the new measures were to be voted into law. This was enough to discourage many people from coming out to protest, not knowing if they’d have a way to return home. With a low turnout of protesters assured, the work stoppage was then lifted at the last minute, just in time for the usual mass exodus from Syntagma Square once the usual dog-and-pony show between the paid agent provocateurs and the riot police which SYRIZA was at one time going to abolish, was underway.

We of course also had the journalists’ strike as well, which of course just coincidentally happened to fall in the days of final debate before the new measures were to be voted upon by Parliament. Of course, the truth here is that even if there was no strike, there would still have been no actual journalism taking place from these so-called journalists and the media outlets they work for. But just try explaining that to grandma and grandpa in the village and to Greece’s suburban neoliberal class, who still actually think they are being informed by the newscasts that they watch.

All of this is okay though, because there is hope! There is light at the end of the tunnel! We have the “savior” Yanis Varoufakis with his stylish pink t-shirts and his so-called “guerilla interviews,” that is, when he isn’t making “spontaneous” (quotations again necessary) appearances at the protests taking place in France or signing autographs in Spain. The same “heroic” Varoufakis who said that the Greek debt would be repaid in perpetuity, who pillaged the Greek public sector’s cash reserves to pay that debt to the IMF, who imposed capital controls, and who agreed to more austerity and who voted for Greece’s corrupt pro-austerity president Prokopis Pavlopoulos. This same “heroic” Varoufakis is now touting the catastrophic idea of a parallel or dual currency system for Greece as a “solution” while millions of minions lap up his every word. He is joined by the “heroic” Zoe Konstantopoulou, who also knew how to vote “yes to everything” when she was part of the SYRIZA government last year and who continued publicly supporting the government even after it sold out the referendum result of July 5th. She, too, is touting the catastrophic parallel or dual currency solution for Greece, as are fascists such as the far-right Giorgos Karatzaferis and “Sir” (quotations necessary once more) Basil Markezinis, son of a junta prime minister, both of whom have been resurrected from the political graveyard recently.

So since Greece has been saved, has remained in Europe and the vaunted Eurozone, and since there are even more “saviors” in the pipeline who will continue to save Greece well into the future, why bother protesting? The couch is nice and comfortable, is it not? And it’s easier to let the television do the thinking for you, lest you hurt your head. The same television which includes public broadcaster ERT, which is now paying private, oligarch-owned network provider DIGEA to transmit its signal digitally. A company owned by the same oligarchs that the oh so leftist SYRIZA government claims it is going to take down. The same government which will supposedly take down these oligarchs by auctioning off a limited number of television licenses to the highest bidder and the deepest pockets, while Greece’s smaller, independent local television stations are dying off, unable to afford to pay DIGEA exorbitant amounts to carry their signal. This is the same government which, unconstitutionally and in violation of European law, has shut down Greece’s National Radio-Television Committee, leaving the broadcasting landscape entirely unregulated. This is the government which claims it is restoring order to the airwaves, and there are still people who slurp up this propaganda.

Of course, television in Greece knows all about telling people horror stories from countries like Venezuela while telling people that the so-called “leftist” Alexis Tsipras wants to turn Greece just like Venezuela. What they won’t say, of course, is that Venezuela is the victim of both international economic warfare through the sharp decline in oil prices, as well as a victim of its own domestic oligarchs and cartels, who are hoarding goods to create severe market shortages in order to undermine the country’s government. What the media in Greece are also not saying is that many of these horror stories also exist in Greece today as well, in a country that is supposedly being “bailed out” and “saved” day after day by its so-called European friends and partners. What these media outlets in Greece know how to say is that Portugal, Ireland, and Cyprus are supposed “success stories” for concluding their own memorandum agreements. What is not said is that the end of the memorandum agreements has not meant the end of harsh austerity, the end of record numbers of home foreclosures and evictions, or the end of mass migration out of these countries.

And while all of this is happening, I hear many in Greece moaning and groaning about why we can’t be more like the French, who we are told are out on the streets in massive numbers to protest their own anti-labor bills. However, few people, if any, think to ask…how were these supposedly spontaneous demonstrations actually organized, with blogs and websites and hashtags and public assemblies? We saw the savior of not just Greece but apparently the whole world Yanis Varoufakis speak to the protesters in France. Who invited him? Who assured his security? Who paid for his travel and lodging? How did this speech get organized in the first place, logistically and otherwise? And how did these supposedly spontaneous demonstrations spontaneously, as we are supposed to believe, spread to 55 cities in Greece and dozens more in Europe, all on the same day and at the same time? Are we supposed to believe that after such a long period of inactivity and hibernation that everyone suddenly decided that they had enough? And in the meantime, what people in Greece are blissfully unaware of is that while they are whining about their own inactivity, the rest of the world mistakenly believes that it the Greeks who are the ones fighting back, while they are the ones staying inactive! Doesn’t anybody have even the slightest curiosity as to how these perceptions are developed and maintained, and by who?

The answer is that no, most people do not question such things. Instead, in Greece, they run off to again vote for criminals and professional liars like those in SYRIZA, while others, through their abstention from the polls, essentially legitimize the victors in this electoral process instead of giving their votes to the dozens of smaller parties and movements which are struggling to exist. Those same people might participate in yet another lame 3 or 4 hour work stoppage, or by maybe taking a walk down to the center of Athens to “protest” by standing around and drinking beer, before running home to catch Greece’s talking heads on TV again. That’s Greece and that’s the majority of the Greek populace today.

Mar 302016
 

By Mihalis Nevradakis99GetSmart

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Dear listeners and friends,

UnknownThis week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature an interview with Despina Kreatsoulas of the Politismos Museum, an online museum of Greek history and culture. Kreatsoulas will speak to us about the idea behind creating an online museum, about the museum’s features and exhibits, and the future plans of the museum. 

Also this week, we will feature our commentary of the weeksegment, discussing issues pertaining to freedom and independence.

All this and more, this week exclusively on Dialogos Radio! For more details, the full Dialogos Radio broadcast schedule, our podcast, our on-demand archives, our articles and written work, and our online radio station Dialogos Radio 24/7, visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6154.

Best,
Dialogos Radio & Media
 
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Αγαπητοί ακροατές και φίλοι,
 
Αυτή την εβδομάδα στο «Διάλογος», παρουσιάζουμε συνέντευξη με τον Θάνο Χίνη, από το διαδικτυακό μουσείο «Πολιτισμός». Θα μας μιλήσει για το μουσείο και για την ιδέα ίδρυσης ενός μουσείου στο διαδίκτυο, για τα εκθέματα που παρουσιάζονται και που ενδέχεται να παρουσιαστούν, και για τα μελλοντικά σχέδια του μουσείου. 
 
Επίσης θα παρουσιάσουμε τον καθιερωμένο μας σχολιασμό, όπου θα μιλήσουμε για θέματα που αφορούν την ελευθερία, την ανεξαρτησία, και την εθνική κυριαρχία.
 
Για περισσότερες πληροφορίες σχετικά με την μετάδοση, το πρόγραμμα μεταδόσεων, το podcast μας, το αρχείο εκπομπών μας, την αρθρογραφία μας, και το διαδικτυακό μας ραδιόφωνο Διάλογος Radio 24/7, μπείτε στο http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6158.
 
Φιλικά,
Διάλογος Radio & Media
Mar 172016
 

By Mihalis Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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Dear listeners and friends, 

antti1-1-300x170This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature a highly interesting and exclusive interview with Antti Pesonen of the Independence Party of Finland. The Independence Party advocates the departure of Finland from the Eurozone and from the European Union and is against Finland joining NATO, and in this week’s interview, Pesonen will discuss the party, its history and its platform, the dire impacts of Eurozone and European Union membership for Finland, the economic crisis that is now impacting the country, the network of European political parties and movements which are against the European Union and the euro, and about other current issues facing Greece and Europe.
 
Also this week, we will feature our commentary of the weeksegment, where we will discuss Zoe Konstantopoulou and her forthcoming political movement. All this, plus some great Greek music, this week only on Dialogos Radio!
 
For more information, our full broadcast schedule, plus our podcasts, archives, articles and written work, Dialogos Radio 24/7 and more, visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6102.
 
Best,
Dialogos Radio & Media
 
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Αγαπητοί ακροατές και φίλοι,
 
Αυτή την εβδομάδα στο «Διάλογος», παρουσιάζουμε μια εξαιρετικά ενδιαφέρουσα και αποκλειστική συνέντευξη με τον Άντι Πεσονέν, πρώην επικεφαλής του Φινλανδικού Κόμματος της Ανεξαρτησίας. Το Κόμμα της Ανεξαρτησίας υποστηρίζει την έξοδο της Φινλανδίας από την Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση και την Ευρωζώνη και είναι αντίθετο στην ένταξη της χώρας στο ΝΑΤΟ, και στην συνέντευξη που θα παρουσιάσουμε, ο κ. Πεσονέν θα μας μιλήσει για το κόμμα, για το πως ιδρύθηκε και για τις θέσεις του, για τις δυσμενείς επιπτώσεις από την συμμετοχή της Φινλανδίας στην Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση και στην Ευρωζώνη, για την οικονομική κρίση που πλήττει πλέον την χώρα, για το δίκτυο Ευρωπαϊκών κινημάτων που είναι εναντίων του ευρώ και της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης, και για την τρέχουσα επικαιρότητα στην Ελλάδα και την Ευρώπη.
 
Επίσης αυτή την εβδομάδα θα παρουσιάσουμε τον καθιερωμένο μας σχολιασμό, όπου θα μιλήσουμε για την Ζωή Κωνσταντοπούλου και το επερχόμενο πολιτικό σχήμα της. Όλα αυτά και πολλά άλλα, αυτή την εβδομάδα αποκλειστικά στο «Διάλογος»!
 
Για περισσότερες πληροφορίες, το πλήρες πρόγραμμα μεταδόσεων μας, το αρχείο εκπομπών και συνεντεύξεων μας, την αρθρογραφία μας, και το διαδικτυακό μας ραδιόφωνο Διάλογος Radio 24/7, μπείτε στο http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6097.
 
Φιλικά,
Διάλογος Radio & Media
Mar 022016
 

By Mihalis Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Dear listeners and friends,
paulcraigroberts2-300x180This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature an exclusive interview with author, columnist, former Wall Street Journal editor, and former undersecretary of the United States Treasury Paul Craig Roberts.

Dr. Roberts will share with us his thoughts and analysis of the economic situation in Greece and his views regarding a potential “grexit,” while also speaking to us about neoliberal economic policies on a global scale, geopolitical developments in the Middle East and Russia, United States foreign policy, and the upcoming presidential elections in the United States. This is a highly relevant and timely interview that you will not want to miss!

In addition to this interview, we will feature our commentary of the week segment, plus some great Greek music!

Tune in this week all across Dialogos Radio’s global broadcast network. For more details and our full broadcast schedule, visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6020.

Best,

Dialogos Radio & Media

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Αγαπητοί ακροατές και φίλοι,

Αυτή την εβδομάδα στην εκπομπή μας, θα παρουσιάσουμε αποκλειστική συνέντευξη με τον συγγραφέα, αρθρογράφο, οικονομολόγο, πρώην συντάκτη της εφημερίδας Wall Street Journal και πρώην υφυπουργό οικονομικών των Ηνωμένων Πολιτειών Paul Craig Roberts.

Ο κ. Roberts θα μας προσφέρει την δική του ανάλυση για την τρέχουσα οικονομική και πολιτική κατάσταση στην Ελλάδα, τις απόψεις του για την παραμονή ή μη της Ελλάδας στην Ευρωζώνη και στην Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση, ενώ επίσης θα μας μιλήσει για την εξάπλωση του νεοφιλελευθερισμού και τις επιπτώσεις του σε παγκόσμια κλίμακα, για την εξωτερική πολιτική των Ηνωμένων Πολιτειών και του ΝΑΤΟ και την εμπλοκή τους στην περιοχή της Μέσης Ανατολής και της Ρωσίας, και για τις επερχόμενες προεδρικές εκλογές των ΗΠΑ. Αυτή είναι μία ιδιαίτερα ενδιαφέρουσα και επίκαιρη συνέντευξη που δεν θα θέλετε να χάσετε!

Επίσης, μην χάσετε και αυτή την εβδομάδα τον καθιερωμένο μας σχολιασμό, για την επικείμενη τηλεοπτική αδειοδότηση που έχει προαναγγείλει η κυβέρνηση του ΣΥΡΙΖΑ.

Συντονιστείτε αυτή την εβδομάδα σε όλο το παγκόσμιο δίκτυο του «Διάλογος». Για περισσότερες πληροφορίες και το πλήρες πρόγραμμα μεταδόσεων μας, μπείτε στην ιστοσελίδα http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6023.

Φιλικά,

Διάλογος Radio & Media

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Feb 172016
 

By Mihalis Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature an exclusive interview with prominent international lawyer and University of Illinois professor of international law Francis Boyle. Boyle was part of the team of lawyers who charged George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld and other members of the United States and United Kingdom governments with war crimes and torture in an international court, resulting in their conviction in absentia on these charges.

In this week’s interview, Boyle will discuss the aftermath of this case and conviction, the foreign policy of the United States and NATO and its impacts in the Middle East and elsewhere, the upcoming presidential election in the United States, other issues pertaining to international law and human rights, while Boyle also shares with us his analysis on Greece’s national debt and its memorandum agreements with the so-called troika, and what international law has to say about these issues.

In addition this week, we will air a special feature with music written and performed by Greek and international artists, in solidarity with the refugees fleeing the Middle East and the Greek people in the Aegean islands who have helped the incoming refugees. This music will be accompanied by soundbites from the artists themselves, discussing their inspiration in producing this new music. Plus, we will air our commentary of the week segment.

Tune in for all this and more, this week exclusively on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series! @ http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6002