Monday, 22 June 2015

June 18 – Economics for dummies

(an old jetty at Perama)

I am proud of most of the Greeks. Proud, because they are the first Europeans who have chosen change: they voted for Alexis Tsipras, who tries as long as he can not to bend his head to the European dictatorship and to the banks. He also dared to install a flamboyant minister of Economic Affairs: Yanis Varoufakis, who made a show, not only with his unorthodox style of clothing and behaviour, but also with his ideas about economics.

I am not a journalist, nor a scientist, a politician and not at all an economist. Nowadays when reading about banking business you need to have some knowledge of all those complicated processes, otherwise you cannot understand it. It is no wonder that most of the people have no idea how we landed in a crisis and for that reason believe without questioning everybody who seems to know, like the media.

According to Yanis Varoufakis (not only a minister but also a professor in economics) economy is no exact science but a philosophy. He explains that in a little book addressed to his daughter and for nitwits like me: Μιλώντας στην κόρη μου για την οικονομία (The book was recently published in Dutch: De economie zoals uitgelegd aan zijn dochter). After reading it, my thoughts were confirmed: the banks are the biggest criminals of our time and politicians have forgotten that one of the roles of a government is to protect the money of the people.

The text is clear and describes how we ended up in today's predatory economy, where banks and big industrials make bigger and bigger profits at the expenses of the people who become more and more poor. Varoufakis explains the complicated matters with examples from the history of England, like the introduction of sheep rearing which made the farmworkers lose their jobs and thus caused the first huge changes, and later on the industrial revolution. He even speaks about movies like The Matrix, Blade Runner and Star Trek, to make everything more explicit.
The beautiful novel Harvest from the English writer Jim Crace just received the prestigious prize of IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It tells about the extinction of a village of farmworkers, because wool will bring more money.

I am not sure if here on Lesvos many farmworkers lost their jobs when sheep were on the rise in the Lesvorian landscape. It is a fact that the island used to produce far more agrarian products like tobacco, cotton, pulses, wheat and grapes (Lesvos once was famous for its wines). Sheep and goats still dominate the meadows and mountain slopes, but are no longer kept for their wool (that is now disposed of in deserted places), but rather their milk is used to make cheese.

The industrial revolution on Lesvos was marked by the introduction of steam presses that streamlined the production of olive oil and by steamships that speeded and cheapened transportation. And so around 1900 Lesvos was a pretty prosperous island, also having at the Gulf of Yera the biggest tanneries of the region. The now dilapidated buildings (eg. in Perama) still are an impressive sight.

After centuries of Ottoman rule in 1922 Lesvos returned to being Greek, but that destroyed the industry. This had nothing to do with economics, but with politics. Some agrarian activity like tobacco and resin remained, but olive oil and cheese became then the main export products, with ouzo in third place as an export

After the Second World War the western countries of Europe developed quickly. Not Greece however. This country first had to face a civil war and later the colonels took power. Not really a climate for investment. The colonels lost power in 1974 and left Greece as an impoverished country.

For Greece joining Europe meant hope, and when they did, Europe offered so many cheap loans, that for a moment the Greeks felt like living in paradise. We now know what an enormous price the country now has to pay for it, because even not half a century after the Greeks finally gained their freedom, the country again is on the brink of a steep abyss.

And maybe this is also true for the whole of Europe, which now shows more and more signs of failure: daily it becomes more clear that politicians act according to what the big industrials and banks want. For instance permission has just been given to the big dangerous wolf Monsanto to operate in Europe. This industrial giant, famous for its chemical pesticides and Agent Orange, buys patents of vegetables (and tries to take over the wine industry in France).
After Monsanto gets what it wants, in a few years you can forget about your choriatiki (Greek salad) because you will only get Monsato salads. They will have patented all the tomatoes and paprika. On Lesvos most people have a little vegetable garden where they grow their own food and in many restaurants you also get those homegrown vegetables. Most of the tourists love Greek tomatoes, because in the summer months they get so much sunlight. But if Monsanto will rule the markets, we will be left with only manipulated tomatoes who will taste the same in the whole of Europe and who knows, it might even become forbidden to grow other vegetables and even eat other than those of Monsanto.

When you see how Europe holds a knife to the throat of one of his members, how it tries to discharge the problem of refugees to three of its members and do nothing to reform the banking system, it is clear: Europe has failed. No politician ever learned a lesson from how Iceland dealed with its bankruptcy, no leader of government seems to think that refugees also may contribute to a solution of the European crisis and nobody dares to stop the money makers. In my eyes west-Europeans look more and more like the machines in The Matrix, like Varoufakis mentioned in his book: they obediently agree with all new laws, just squirm a bit, but nobody dares to take action.

That is why it is good that - whatever happens next - Greece opposed Europe and its money wolfs. The New Europe - just like democracy - will be born in Greece. And when you want to learn more about our turbulent world, Yanis Varoufakis ideas are a real must for a first economy lesson.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2015

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