Friday, December 9, 2016

That "Inhuman Logic Of The Market"

PM Alexis Tsipras had the TV world as his audience when he gave a eulogy at Fidel Castro's funeral services. Tsipras used this opportunity to denounce before the world the "inhuman logic of the market". And he added neoliberalism, too.

Nevermind that market and neoliberalism, as the latter is understood today, can be quite different things. In fact, one could argue that the original idea of neoliberalism, as developed from late 1930s onwards, is almost the opposite of that neoliberalism which, today, is being accused, often with good reason, as the cause of all economic evil. Neoliberalism came to life in the late 1930s as an attempt to find a Third Way between the conflicting philosophies of classical liberalism (complete laissez-faire) and socialism. In the decades that followed, the term neoliberal tended to object to the complete laissez-faire doctrine of classical liberalism, and promoted instead a market economy under the guidance and rules of a strong state, a model which came to be known as the social market economy (Ludwig Erhard).

As regards the market, Mr. Tsipras should be happy for it. Politically, if there hadn't been a free market for votes in Greece, Tsipras might never have become Prime Minister (on the other hand, the Castro's might not have remained in power if there had been a free market for votes in Cuba). Economically, the market begins with the street markets in Greece. There is no better way of seeing how a market works than spending a couple of hours at a Greek Λαϊκή. A wonderful experience of observing supply and demand in action. The more the forces of supply and demand, the forces of reasonable competition, are restrained, the more one becomes subject to arbitrary (and perhaps unfair) judgments of others (or, as one of the founders of the original neoliberalism would have said: subject to the coercion of others).

Having said all that, my point is still a different one here. Mr. Tsipras has been touring the capitals to persuade foreigners that Greece is a wonderful place to do business, a great place for foreign investors, perhaps even a nirwana for private enterprise. And here is my question:

Will denouncing the inhuman logic of the market be conducive to accomplishing this objective? Or perhaps not?


  1. Why are so fixed with leftist mantra since we all know that the inhumane policies of Berlin brought Tsipras to power?

    Do you think that by constantly pointing to his leftist nonsense that somehow you will cause him to be replaced?

    Replaced with what? The most incompetent party in Greek history full of the idiocies of the conservative right and one that would be an order taker for Berlin?

    Are you out of your mind?

    1. Mr Kleingut points to the contradictions between what Tsipras says and what he is supposed to strive for to lift his country from the dump she is in since 2010.
      So given such contradictions Tsipras is either an amoral, cynical talking head or a certified idiot.
      Your pick!

  2. Democracy and liberalism both contain much of value, but they’re not the same thing. They can be conjoined in a successful political order, but their marriage is not inevitable.

    The history of citizen self-government in the Greek city-states clarifies what democracy is – and what it does (and does not) deliver. Ancient Athens, like some other Greek city-states, was a democracy, not a liberal democracy. Ancient Athenians neither embraced human rights nor separated religion from coercive state authority. Liberalism is a moral ideal born of the 18th-century Enlightenment and centred on the value of individual autonomy. Liberalism offers reasons why rights should be regarded as universal, as inhering in each individual human being, and why a coercive state must be neutral in regard to religion. A political regime might be liberal but not democratic – the 19th century Austro-Hungarian empire, for example.

  3. If democracy is so important, meriting the marshalling of immense effort and resources, people ought to have some clear idea about what it is. At least some of the human misery in the past quarter-century of purported democracy-building efforts has resulted from the fact that the political class had no clear idea of the components of the liberal democracy package. If democracy is worth fighting for, it is important to grasp the basics.

    When scholars use the term democracy in a narrow sense, it is generally taken to mean simple ‘majority rule, full stop’, as opposed to the rule of law. For those who, like James Madison, the principal author of the US Constitution, fear the spectre of mob rule, democracy without liberalism risks majoritarian tyranny. Ancient Greek democracies show that imagining democracy as nothing more than majority rule is an error. Democracy, even democracy before it is liberal democracy, is actually more than majority rule.

    Reducing democracy to majoritarianism authorises elite rule. Plato, with his plan for ‘philosopher kings’, was an early proponent of such elitism. He believed that good government requires keeping most people away from active participation in politics. Plato’s goal in restricting government to a few was the promotion of virtue. The modern world also has influential political theorists, for example the late Ronald Dworkin, who urge that ordinary people must be kept at bay in the name of defending the liberal moral values of autonomy, rights, and distributive justice.

    However well-intentioned, the elitist approach to government is dangerous (as well as undemocratic) because moral commitment is not enough to guide the day-to-day behaviour of most people most of the time. Liberal morality alone cannot produce a stable social order based on free choices of self-interested individuals. In order to produce social stability, contemporary liberalism needs either democracy or autocracy as its political foundation.

    There are two ways to arrive at the core meaning of democracy. One is by looking back to the ancient Greek society that invented democracy. For them, it meant the power of an extensive body of citizens to do things: to make and execute public policy. But why should citizens of the 21st century care what a bunch of slave-owning men, who denied political participation rights to women and immigrants, thought democracy meant? The answer is that we still aspire to their basic concept of democracy.

    The word ‘democracy’ arose in the city-state of Athens, following the Athenian Revolution of 508 BCE. In that revolution, the people of Athens overthrew a foreign-backed political leader who exiled his opponents and tried to impose a repressive government staffed by cronies. In the aftermath of the revolution, the victorious Athenians recalled from exile Cleisthenes, their preferred leader. Cleisthenes realised it was not possible to simply return to rule by tyrants and narrow coalitions of aristocrats. The people of Athens would now be the collective author and guarantor of a new constitutional order. The revolution had brought the Athenian people on to the stage of history.

    The experimental system devised by Cleisthenes in conditions of crisis proved extraordinarily successful. With their new government in place, the Athenians rose to prominence in the Greek world. Newly enfranchised working-class citizens provided Athens with large and highly motivated armed forces. They voted to use fiscal windfalls for public purposes. Freed from fear that tyrants would seize the profits of their initiative, Athenians invested in their society. Arts and crafts flourished. Manufacturing and trade soared. Athens joined with its rival Sparta to defeat a massive invasion by the mighty Persian Empire, then built an Aegean empire, survived a catastrophic war with Sparta, and drove two centuries of Greek economic growth. The rise and vitality of classical Athenian democracy helped to lay the cultural groundwork for Western civilisation.

  4. 7 persistent trends undermine the country's standing

    In the last decade, economy and democracy in Greece seem to be interdependent, both conceptually and statistically: 25% unemployment, 25% drop in GDP, 25% decline in trust in institutions, 25% drop in election turnout. Over time, it is indeed observed that the greater the economic difficulties of households, the greater the aversion to the public sphere and the stronger the mistrust towards political parties. Citizens thereby turn to their family microcosm, individualism, or seek a way out.

    1. The 'Odyssey' of the youth. Since the beginning of the crisis, a new wave of youth migration has unfolded. The first findings of the Kapa Research/CHS survey on Greek people living abroad show that the term "foreign land" (ksenitia) is not as dramatized as it once was. Migration is now seen as an opportunity, not as a trauma: ‘home’ is where young people can work and live decently, where they want to be taxed, where they want to vote. Globalization may be the cause of their flight but they themselves are the globalization generation. The change of perceptions is clear, and as the traditional "country, religion, family" narrative is no longer defensible, the most appropriate image of Greece for those who migrated in recent years is described by a new narrative: "sea, family, Greek cuisine."

    2. The ‘Odyssey’ of pensioners. Living in one’s own house and having enough savings to live a decent life was traditionally the ideal way to retire. However, the European Commission’s Survey on Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), in which Kapa Research participates, shows that in recent years, the average household’s debt in most economically developed societies has increased, as has the number of elderly people with debts. Especially for Greece, a devastating combination persisted: the loose consumerism of past decades met with the rise of life expectancy, the dramatic decline in income, and with the weakening of the welfare state. Retirement is no longer a safe situation where the elderly can enjoy the fruits of their labor. On the contrary, it has turned into a rough phase of life where meeting obligations (debts, supporting unemployed family members, paying property taxes) tends to become a permanent daily struggle.

    3. The decline of trust in institutions. The degree of confidence in the institutions that compose a modern democracy has literally collapsed in Greece. Today, citizens perceive the Greek state as "non-state", as they see a severe deficit in political representation (parties, parliament, government), an ineffective public sector, corruption in public life, and a non-positive outlook for the economy. This deficiency is only offset by the assumption that the country has a rich cultural tradition, capable military, and an esteemed police force, while the rise of confidence in private enterprise is not so much a reward for the business elite but rather a transmission of people’s last hope to entrepreneurship. The Greece of 2016 resembles the region’s former Eastern countries of early 2000’s.


  5. 7 persistent trends undermine the country's standing


    4. Governments without grace periods. The governing parties of the crisis begin the race from low grounds. Past vote shares of the magnitude of 45% are now inaccessible, while the 35% of the vote that SYRIZA achieved took place in circumstances of record-high abstention. Political time is dense, party identification is weak, and party vote is primarily an act of punishment for the previous government; all these are conditions that limit government grace periods. The stock of political capital accumulated before each party’s rise to power – mostly through excessive promises – is spent almost immediately, since the electorate is educated to expect immediate and easy solutions to chronic and difficult problems. The responsibility of the Media, in this respect, is central. Seeking ad sales and viewership for their economic survival, they promote loud and extreme criticism, which then becomes rampant through online social networks. Such criticism is thereafter adopted by the corresponding main opposition party resulting in a vicious cycle of cynicism, populism, and unfulfilled promises.

    5. Anti-Europeanism - Euroscepticism. The mandate for Europeanization of the country ceased to be dominant for the middle and lower class. The perceived stance of the European Union during the Greek crisis has dulled the attraction of Europe as a pole of democracy and prosperity. The country follows the general anti-globalization movement and the shift to conservatism displayed in most Western societies. Greek society leans decisively towards isolationism.

    6. The "60-40" division. 6 out of 10 people still believe that there is a way out of the crisis other than the bailout program, while 4 out of 10 believe that there is no alternative. The July 2015 referendum revealed and validated this division (61.3% - 38.7%). The same pattern was documented in the last three national elections where the main “YES” parties – New Democracy, PASOK-DIMAR, To Potami – gathered 38.5% in the 2014 EU elections, 39.1% in January 2015, and 38.5% in September 2015. Despite the subsequent turn of the strongest proponent of the anti-bailout majority movement, this correlation does not seem to have changed: only 2% of “NO” voters indicate that they would change their referendum vote, while the “YES” parties still cannot exceed 40% in voting intention.

    7. Abstention: The 2012 national elections documented the first wave of electoral abstention. However, the parliament vote that ratified the third bailout program in 2015 (also voted for by the pro-Europe opposition) crushed any remaining illusions about the country’s return to some "lost paradise". As the flags of the two rival camps ("anti-bailout" and "remain in Europe”) faded, the stakes lowered, and participation in the September 2015 elections fell to 56%. To many citizens, the belief that their vote does not affect the country’s economic policy renders electoral participation as a futile process. The deficit in representation (parties and leaders) and in alternative policy solutions, in combination with a consumer basket of only 30-50 Euros, warn of an anomaly in the function of the country’s party system: there is a possible scenario that in the next national elections participation falls below the psychological barrier of 50%, thereby giving it a character similar to the "Orban referendum" in Hungary, an election of limited legitimacy.

  6. 7 persistent trends - (continued)

    The superficial debate between political parties – full of divisive accounts of the past – betrays lack of vision and does not inspire. Greek society is not interested in this kind of rhetoric, as it is essentially immersed in dead-ends and afraid for its future. In order for the political system to regenerate, more ‘tomorrow’ and less ‘yesterday’ is needed. A first step would be for parties to end their self-admiration: how will a society that struggles to come out of a crisis be inspired when its political leaders brag about their leadership in public movements, on the one hand, and in voting intention polls, on the other?
    While society remains trapped in its microcosm of tough family realities, leaders enjoy their own microcosms of illusion of grandeur. This gap incites other types of forces – not necessarily political – to occupy the public sphere.

    Alexis Routzounis
    Political Research Director
    Kapa Research

  7. More funny quotes for Tsipras from the commandante:
    The universities are available only to those who share my revolutionary beliefs.
    I find capitalism repugnant. It is filthy, gross alienating----because it causes competition.
    I think a man should not live beyond the age when he begins to deteriorate, when the flame that lighted the brightest moment of his life has weakened.
    Truly a man with a sense of humor.

    1. Where do you get these quotes from? What context? What year?