During the thirties Edmund Wilson recalled his reaction to the stock market crash of 1929 as “not depressing but stimulating. One couldn’t help being exhilarated by the sudden unexpected collapse of that stupid, gigantic fraud.” I fear that we may be coming to a point when many people throughout the world share a similar thought.
It is difficult to accept that the capitalist system, of which we are all part, and on which we all depend for everything we need or desire, has deep irrationality and greed at its center, but this is the case. Usually we do not see it, but no one can miss it in the Greek events.
Greece’s economic problems are deep and long-standing. Certainly the Cold War, when it was caught in the cross hairs of two vile figures, Stalin and Truman, did not help, but the current situation could not be clearer. In the 2010 economic crisis the European Central Bank and the IMF “gave” Greece a huge bailout, in return for putting Greece very deeply into debt and winning what the bankers have the nerve to call “reforms,” — cutting of pensions, shutting down of public services, firing of teachers, and so forth. Only they didn’t give it to Greece. They gave it to Greece’s mostly German creditors, who laughed all the way to the banks, which were not far since they are all bankers. The predictable result was the Greek economy shrank ten percent more. Syriza came to power because the Greek people are desperate and their request was simple and rational: further loans and loan deferrals aimed at economic growth rather than “reform.” But the E.U. leaders could not allow Syriza even a whiff of success because it would reward “leftism,” “Marxism,” “populism” — all insults, bogey men, in our current Orwellian world.
The central bankers and the politicians that enable them are like the wizard of Oz. They claim to know what they are doing, but once you look behind the screen you see the extent to which it is spin. In truth they are hedgehogs who know only one thing: how a smaller and smaller number of people can get richer and richer. Any rationality that does not increase their wealth is irrational in their eyes.
Since Germany is so much the moving force behind the bankers, the Germans should remember the role that debt plays in their history. After World War One, when the victorious powers saddled them with reparations they were so bitter and resentful that they brought Hitler to power to undo the “Versailles Diktat.” That showed them! Since the U.S. runs the world financial system, its citizens might do well to remember how Black America was re-enslaved after the Civil War. Through the crop-lien system, the planters got to keep “their” land, and Afro-America every spring had to borrow money for seed, equipment and even food and — guess what — their harvest was never enough to repay the debt. They stayed in debt for a hundred years.
The current Greek problem is the result of the neo-liberal order, the creators of which never took on the causes of the Depression, which began in 2007. At root these are due to economic inequality, aka inadequate demand. Instead both the U.S. and the E.U. and more recently China created new credit, further indebting economies like Greece in order to enrich bank lenders. Greece is not the only country about to default — Ukraine and the territory of Puerto Rico are, and many other countries, such as Brazil and Turkey, are in perilous financial straits due to the recent policies. When the U.S. was founded, Alexander Hamilton said a debt is a blessing, but he forgot to add — to the rich.