Can these new Greek gods (minus the ties) conjure energy from thin air?
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Over the past couple of months the story keeping many people on the edge of their seats has been the ongoing dilemma of Greece's detested debt burden, its Great Depression-worthy 25% contraction of its economy, and its voluntary or even forced withdrawal from the eurozone -- the fabled "Grexit."
For about five years now, heavy austerity policies (cutbacks in government spending) have contributed to what is being described by some as a "humanitarian crisis." As per stated in the conditions of 240 billion in loans that Greece has received over these years, the Greek government has had to significantly cut back on expenditures, which has included laid-off government workers, reduced pensions, a gutted minimum wage, and the selling of state institutions. Partially as a result of this, general unemployment is a bit above 25% while youth unemployment is at nearly 60%; suicide rates are up by 35%; rates of divorce, depression, children suffering from malnutrition, children suffering from physical and emotional abuse, and hospitals lacking basic equipment and medicines are all up; infant mortality has increased 43%; and married women are begging brothels to let them work, but who are then turned away because, well, it's apparently illegal to sell oneself for sex if one is already betrothed.
Nonetheless, and to the acclaim of many alternative-media outlets, late-January saw the stunning election-win of what is called a far-left political party, Syriza. The prime mandate on which it was voted in on by the Greek electorate was to reverse the five-year policy of austerity and to essentially tell its Troika creditors (the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) to shove it where the sun don't shine.
With Syriza promising to repeal all the aforementioned discomforts, accolades came pouring in, possibly the most astoundingly hyperbolic drivel coming from the online magazine Truthdig.
No, ticking a different box on a ballot while changing nothing about the way you live your life changes absolutely nothing.
Exhibit #2: "[W]hat the European elites perhaps fear most is a successful left-wing government in Greece."
Painting this as a left-wing versus right-wing issue is about as ridiculous as it gets. That should be made obvious as I continue.
Exhibit #3: "Opposing austerity means nothing more than bringing back the mainstream policies of mid-20th century industrial societies... (which remain in place in Northern European countries),... but that represents an existential threat to the logic of neoliberalism and must be drowned in the bath."
Long story short, and elaborated upon in a moment, wrong again. Industrial civilization is coming to an end.
And finally, exhibit #4: "Syriza's appeal... is about more than just alleviating the crisis -- it's about a common-sense vision for a better, fairer society that goes beyond Europe's progressive social democracies of the second half of the 20th century. And herein lies the tremendous promise of this moment: Out of crisis, an empowered left may be born that not only takes on neoliberalism, but also raises the specter of something truly worth fighting for, the most humane and egalitarian technological societies yet."
Now please don't get me wrong -- I'm not a fan of neoliberalism in the slightest. But with that out of the way, let me just say then that paralleling the energy of actual slaves that allowed some Europeans to live lives of privileged comfort in the 19th century and prior, what the "progressive social democracies of the second half of the 20th century" were based on was the latest energy of slaves. Or in other words, on fossil fuels. No fossil fuels, no "mid-20th century industrial societies."
In other words, what's going on isn't just another juvenile left-versus-right debate-class game. Because the fact of the matter is that thanks to peak oil we've now entered the early stages of a world that is smacking up against the limits to growth. Simply put, since the world's supply of conventional oil (that under the ground and deserts) peaked in 2005, and since conventional plus unconventional supplies of oil (the former plus tar sands, fracking, and deep sea oil) are all about to peak as well, the world simply doesn't have the energy required to power the continuation of economic growth. With growth slowing down in some places and even reversing into contraction, this means that there is less economic activity to create revenues to pay off debts. Greece just happens to be one of the first losers in this game of musical chairs, also known as triage from modernity and the industrial economy. Why might Greece be a deindustrializing vanguard?
First off, and unlike a "Northern European country" such as Norway, Greece doesn't have abundant supplies of oil to power its modern industrial economy, nor to sell on the open market to pay for imports (or to pay off debts). Secondly, unlike Japan (which has barely any domestic supplies of fossil fuels either), exports of baklava don't quite bring in the revenue that Hondas and Nintendos do, and being part of the eurozone, Greece can't print out yen (or euros in its case) to paper over all its problems and convey the illusion of solvency.
(That being said, Norway and Japan will soon enough be losing out in the musical-chairs game as well: crashing oil prices are already hitting some in Norway hard and are a sign of things to come; and when the world can no longer afford high-tech Japanese toys, Japan is going to be in a world of pain which no yen sorcery will be able to paper over and which will make the Greek situation look like a case of the chickenpox.)
Unfortunately, and as all appearances indicate, Syriza is under just as much of a mass delusion as Truthdig is. As Greek finance minister (and former academic on game theory) Yanis Varoufakis stated in a New York Times opinion piece before Syriza's election win, he wants to "bring back growth," to "table our proposals for regrowing Greece," and that there will be "[n]o more loans -- not until we have a credible plan for growing the economy in order to repay those loans [and] help the middle class get back on its feet."
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