How Germany defeated Syriza — and reasserted its hegemony over the eurozone
It looks like a deal between Greece and eurozone elites has finally been reached — and it is a horrendous one. Greece's Syriza government has utterly capitulated, agreeing to a tremendous new austerity package with no debt restructuring whatsoever; huge cuts to pensions and worker protections ("labor liberalization"); and selling off €50 billion in unspecified government assets to pay off debt.
The deal doesn't even guarantee funding — only after these conditions are met can a new loan package be negotiated. The Financial Times calls it "the most intrusive economic supervision program ever mounted in the EU. "
Even to a hardened cynic, the "bargain" is nothing short of staggering in its awfulness. The eyes of even the most sober market analysts are practically bugging out of their heads at the sheer viciousness of it. (To give you a small idea of how badly Syriza caved to Germany and other European powers: The Institution for Growth, which will apparently take possession of the Greek government assets, is part of a fund called KfW, whose chairman is none other than German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.) If the Greek parliament passes the proposal, Greece will have effectively ceded economic sovereignty to eurozone elites.
None of the underlying economic issues have been improved — on the contrary, they will all be made much worse. This means the crisis is certain to recur at some point. The only silver lining is that the true nature of the eurozone has been revealed to all: It is an empire based on force, not the physical kind, but economic. Bend to Germany's will, or see your economy destroyed.
It's worth taking a step back to remember how we got here. Before 2008, capital flowed from the eurozone core to the periphery, chasing higher yields. Normally this would be moderated by exchange rate adjustments and monetary policy, but in a common currency the first is impossible and the second was set for the core's needs only. Hot money flowed south, sparking inflationary overheating in the periphery and building up price imbalances. When the crisis came, the lack of exchange rate adjustments and monetary policy once again proved fateful, and cash-strapped nations could not finance fiscal stimulus.
After the crisis, the eurozone should have stepped in with stimulus and debt restructuring to restore employment and growth, as the U.S. did with the Recovery Act of 2009. As Steve Randy Waldman writes, "What was required was a Europe-wide solution to a European problem." Instead, economic elites talked themselves into thinking the problem was one-sided, and demanded massive austerity in return for loans to avoid default. The result in many countries has been brutal recession, in some cases rivaling that of the Great Depression.
Before the crisis, Greece was dishonest about its finances and made many bad decisions. But the roots of Greece's problems are inherent eurozone defects, not shady accounting. Spain is much more scrupulous and had almost no budget deficit before 2008, and has done nearly as bad as Greece has.
Syriza was elected in January on a promise to end austerity, but the party has been totally outmaneuvered. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras apparently did not think euro exit was possible, and rumors are that his party made no contingency plans to introduce a replacement currency.
In a riveting interview, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis explains why. He says that eurozone elites were never negotiating in good faith. Instead they were stringing the Greeks along with pointless busywork (given this bargain, an easy thing to believe). He lost all faith in talks, and after the huge victory in the July 5 referendum, he proposed an aggressive scheme in line with what economist JW Mason has suggested: the introduction of euro-denominated IOUs to ease the liquidity crisis; a unilateral partial default; and greater autonomy for Greece's central bank from the European Central Bank.
Unfortunately, it was untested policy territory, and Tsipras chickened out. Bereft of support, Varoufakis resigned. With no backup plan, Syriza had no leverage, and so had to take whatever German Chancellor Angela Merkel was dishing out — in this case, an economic shotgun to both kneecaps.
It's an open question whether Tsipras will be able to get this turd through the Greek parliament, and odds are good it will shatter the majority coalition, requiring new elections.
As Wolfgang Münchau points out, at least the deal brings some needed clarity to events. The eurozone is now openly "run in the interests of Germany, held together by the threat of absolute destitution for those who challenge the prevailing order."
The lessons for those radicals who would challenge Germany, such as Spain's Podemos, are clear. Any nation that won't docilely submit to economic bleeding will receive no quarter. Self-serving claptrap about the rebels' fecklessness will be quickly constructed and propagated.
Unemployment in Spain is 24 percent. In Portugal it is 13 percent. In Italy it is 12 percent — a country where there has been virtually no productivity growth since the introduction of the euro in 1999. Should a radical party want to break German hegemony, it would do well to learn from the failures of Syriza. It may sound foolish to risk everything on an aggressive grab for economic sovereignty — but if these countries want their problems fixed in years, rather than in decades, there may be no other option.