Aristotle, The Troika and Hubris

Democracy in chains (image © adeg 2009)

Aristotle defined hubris as shaming the victim, not because of anything that had happened to a person or might happen to a person, but merely for that person’s own gratification in the victim’s humiliation. In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride and arrogance.

The Troika (IMF, ECB and EC*) are guilty of it in both it’s ancient and modern meaning. Their intransigent stance has little or nothing to do with curing the long term problems that bedevil Greece (and Italy, Spain and Portugal) and much more to do with punishing the Greeks for daring to challenge the status quo. No-one with any modicum of intelligence (whatever else I think of them I acquit Merkel, Lagarde, Schäuble, Juncker and Draghi* of stupidity) can really believe that more austerity will do anything to solve the Greek crisis. Many well respected economists and even parts of the IMF itself are protesting ever more loudly at the absurdity and wrongness of continuing to administer poison to a dying patient but are resolutely ignored. The present situation has been brought about by the inequality of power and by the strong being unable to exercise restraint – being unable to resist pushing for that final total capitulation by the weak. Greece must be punished not because it will do them any good but to show them who rules. So the Greeks have been shown the naked power of the money and bankers.

Less than a month after being elected the Greek government was told in no uncertain terms that the will of its people as expressed at the ballot box was irrelevant. The Germans in the person of Schäuble indulged in some distasteful triumphalism; his comment “Being in government is a date with reality, and reality is often not as nice as a dream”, deserves to rank with “Let them eat cake”. The troika have not budged from this stance in all the months of negotiation.

Only a small fraction of the €240bn (£170bn) total bailout money received in 2010 and 2012 found its way into the government’s coffers to soften the blow of the 2008 financial crash and fund reform programmes. Most of the money went to the banks that lent Greece funds before the crash. Unlike most of Europe, which ran up large budget deficits to protect pensioners and welfare recipients, Athens was then forced to dramatically reduce its deficit by squeezing pensions and cutting the minimum wage. In January the social crisis that resulted from the collapse of the Greek economy prompted them to elect a government pledged to end austerity. For the Greeks there really is no alternative. The ‘TINA’ so beloved of neoliberal proponents of austerity was turned on its head and the gloves came off.

The Troika continue to threaten Greece by saying voting ‘No’ means a euro exit (and by implication an EU exit). That is blatant interference in the democratic process. Whatever the outcome of the present crisis whether Greece votes Yes and capitulates or whether it votes No and marches into the unknown is almost irrelevant against the fact that the leaders of Europe in conjunction with the IMF have destroyed its raison d’etre. In the aftermath of the Twentieth Century’s two wars that had wrenched Europe apart and led to untold misery for millions, leaders who were a diverse group but who held the same ideals: a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe, came together to lay the foundations of the European Union in the Treaty of Rome. The ideal of a Europe that created prosperity and stability for all its citizens has been subsumed to the demands of the market.

‘The Market’ and ‘Market Forces’ have come to be invested with the kind of superstitious reverence and belief in their omnipotent capability to solve and rule every aspect of life. This bears much more resemblance to Cargo Cults (the belief that various ritualistic acts will lead to a bestowing of material wealth) than any model of society based on enlightened, humane and consensual (democratic) beliefs. If we are indeed a union then the stronger economies should support the weak (as has always happened within Nation States where governments direct support to poorer areas for example in the UK extra development funds to the North East of England or the Welsh Valleys; though sadly I fear this may also be in danger from austerity fever). What we seem to be witnessing in 2015 is the opposite; the main beneficiaries of the wealth created by Europe pointing the finger of blame at the poor. Malthus* is alive and well and holds the consciences of our leaders in his grasp.

That said I believe the true crisis here is one of democracy not economics. Neoliberal ideology could not let a left wing government demonstrate a viable alternative to the social engineering of society through austerity. In Britain we start from a stronger base but we are the subject of the same wrenching apart of society through ever widening inequality and Malthusian attitudes to the ‘poor’. British exit from EU will not solve our problems but it might just solve Greece’s. There will be a lot of pain but at least there will be some hope of a better and fairer society whereas there is none on offer from the present zeitgeist of Europe. Not what I hoped when I voted enthusiastically for Britain to join Europe – betrayed is the word that sums up my attitude to EU now. How many hundreds of thousands of Europe’s citizens are, like me, sitting in their homes reading about or watching to the unfolding crisis and wondering how the ideals and the vision of those who founded the European project have been so fundamentally betrayed.

The events of this last week would on the surface seem to make Britain’s exit from Europe more likely but no doubt even if the British people were to express the desire to leave the Union their votes would count for nothing if multi national corporations, bankers and billionaire manipulators of politicians want us to remain in the EU. Freedom and democracy are linked as if the one predicates the other; as if freedom implies democracy and vice versa. The generally accepted definition of democracy up to now has been Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.” That is rapidly becoming the big lie of the twenty first century. The forms are preserved but the freedom to choose is ever more limited. How ironic that the nation credited with the invention of the democratic ideal is the one where its funeral rites are being held. Where the panegyric delivered by Merkel et al in praise of democracy trumpets this ideal as Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives except where this conflicts with the interests of banks and multi-national corporations.”

*International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission
*Agela Merkel German Chancellor, Christine Lagarde head of IMF, Wolfgang Schäuble German Finance Minister, Jean Claude Junker head of the EC and Mario Draghi head of ECB)
*Malthus – Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 – 1834) Malthus developed the theory of demand-supply mismatches that he called gluts. Discounted at the time, this theory foreshadowed later works of an admirer, John Maynard Keynes. He is however best remembered for the views expressed in his 1798 essay on population “That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and, that the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.” In it’s most extreme form – being kind to the poor is cruelty and it’s their own fault they are poor so only harshness will prompt them to work to lift themselves out of poverty.

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