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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 2/28/15

Showdown in Athens

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Varoufakis: "OK. Let us be careful with the words. What does the Memorandum mean? ... Let me remind you of what it comprises. It comprises the logic of continuous domestic [or internal] devaluation, of huge primary surpluses in an economy that does not have a real credit system, where investments are negative, and at the same time where we have a series of measures that empower this recession. This is the MoU. It is the automation, the a-politicization, and the subjection to the crisis." ("The juicy interview of Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis," Greek Analyst)

Varoufakis appears to be saying that, in his view, the new agreement constitutes a rejection of the memorandum and, thus, is a de facto repudiation of austerity. The question is whether Varoufakis is stretching the facts to give himself greater latitude to relieve Greece's humanitarian crisis and to put Greece back on a sound path to growth. While those are worthy goals, they are not likely to win the Eurogroup's support. Check out this excerpt from a letter from the IMF to Dijsselbloem concerning the vagueness of Varoufakis's reform package:

"In quite a few areas, however, including perhaps the most important ones, the letter is not conveying clear assurances that the Government intends to undertake the reforms envisaged in the Memorandum on Economic and Financial Policies. We note in particular that there are neither clear commitments to design the envisaged comprehensive pension and VAT policy reforms, nor unequivocal undertakings to continue already-agreed policies for opening up closed sectors, for administrative reforms, for privatization, and for labor market reforms. As you know, we consider such commitments and undertakings to be critical for Greece's ability to meet the basic objectives of its Fund-supported program, which is why these are the areas subject to most of the structural benchmarks agreed with the Fund." (Excerpt IMF letter posted at Naked capitalism)

Repeat: "We consider such commitments and undertakings to be critical for Greece's ability to meet the basic objectives of its Fund-supported program." In other words, Greece should not expect to get its loan extension unless it follows the troika's explicit orders on pensions, VAT (sales taxes), government cutbacks, privatization and labor market reforms.

So, what is Varoufakis's approach to these benchmarks?

Let's take a look at pension reform. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Chatterley on Tuesday, Chatterley asked Varoufakis point blank, "So you're ruling out pension cuts?"

Varoufakis: "Of course over the next four months there will be no such thing." (CNBC)

How about raising the VAT tax?

Same thing. And in the interview on REAL FM Varoufakis covered the other policies that the troika sees as "critical." Listen to this exchange:

Hatzinikolaou: "My fundamental question about the e-mail is whether or not it entails layoffs in the public sector ... if it entails pension reductions ... if it entails wage reductions?"

Varoufakis: "I will answer to all these questions, since these are very specific questions, and it is best that we speak forthrightly. My answer to all of these questions is NO, in NO WAY."

Let's summarize: No pension cuts, no higher VAT taxes, no lower wages for public workers, and no layoffs. While I admire what Varoufakis is suggesting, I can't figure out how he's going to convince the troika to give him more money. Apparently, he thinks that streamlining the government and aggressively pursuing tax cheats will do the trick. Or maybe he has something else up his sleeve, like ignoring the terms of the agreement long enough to generate growth in the economy, lower unemployment, and create an improved environment for foreign investment. He might think that that will force the troika to acknowledge that austerity has failed and that pro-growth Keynesian strategies actually produce positive results. Of course, that's just a guess on my part. It's impossible to know for sure.

Here's more of the interview with CNBC:

Varoufakis: "The reason why we have this 4 month period is to re-establish bonds of trust between us and our European partners as well as the IMF in order to build a new, we call it, contract between us and our partners so as to put an end to this spiral, the debt inflationary spiral; reform Greece; and make sure that CNBC doesn't care about Greece anymore, because we don't want to be in the headlines for all the wrong reasons." ("CNBC Exclusive Interview: Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis," CNBC)

The "bonds of trust" are going to put to the test if Varoufakis doesn't comply with the troika's diktats, that's for sure.

Varoufakis assumes that the troika doesn't understand the impact of its belt-tightening policies. He seems to think that the punishment that's being inflicted on Greece is just the unfortunate byproduct of debt reduction policy and not a deliberate attempt to crush the unions, roll back progressive reforms, decimate the welfare state, and reduce the country to a condition of "permanent colonial dependency."

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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.

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