It is often the moral and economic blindness of New York Times articles about the EU crisis that is most striking. The newest entry in this field is entitled "Now Europe Must Decide Whether to Make an Example of Greece." That is a chilling phrase most associated in our popular culture with a Consigliere and his Don deciding whether to order a mob "hit." It is, therefore, fitting (albeit over the top) as a criticism of the troika's economic, political, and propaganda war against the Greek people. Except that the article is actually another salvo in that war.
Let's start with the obvious -- except to the NYT. "Europe" isn't "decid[ing]" anything. The troika is making the decisions. More precisely, it is the CEOs of the elite German corporations and banks that direct the troika's policies that are making the decisions. The troika simply implements those decisions. The troika consists of the ECB, the IMF, and the European Commission. None of these three entities represents "Europe." None of them will hold a democratic referendum of the peoples of "Europe" to determine policies. Indeed, they are apoplectic that the Greek government dared to ask the people of Greece through a democratic process whether to give in to the troika's latest efforts to extort the Greek government to inflict ever more destructive and economically illiterate malpractice on the Greek people.
Second, the troika has been "mak[ing] an example of Greece" for at least five years. It extorted Greece to inflict the economic malpractice of austerity in response to a Great Recession. The result was just what economists warned -- Greece was forced, gratuitously, into worse-than-Great Depression levels of unemployment that persist today seven years after Lehman's collapse. In this process, the troika blocked a prior referendum proposed by Greece's Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou in late 2011 and forced him to resign for daring to propose democratic decision-making. Read the Guardian's risible account of the 2010 coup that the troika engineered in Greece for an unintended insight as to how the UK's "New Labour" Party has become an anti-labor party of austerity and "aspirational" hostility to efforts to contain the City of London's criminal culture.
Third, the troika and a host of heads of state that have caused grave harm to workers in their nations responded immediately to the election of the anti-austerity Syriza party in Greece in January 2015 by shouting their increased eagerness to "make an example of Greece" for daring to elect Syriza. The government of Spain, for example, is desperate for the troika to double-down and "make an example of Greece" by crushing its economy in order to stave off the newly created and surging Podemos anti-austerity party that won key municipal elections in Spain. Prominent German elected officials have made explicit their desire to force Syriza (and Greece) to fail because they oppose its politics.
The NYT article, as is the norm in the media, refers to Syriza as "the left-wing Greek government." As is also the norm for the media, it uses such labels only for Syriza. Members of other parties, who could aptly be described as "ultra-right wing" or "know nothings" on the subject of austerity have no modifiers attached. This is one of easiest "tells" that one is reading propaganda. I ask the obvious question of the author. Did you do this intentionally or was it the product of a bias you were unaware of and will now publicly correct?
The troika's greatest desire is what they perceive as the ideal "win-win" -- they discredit Syriza (and Podemos) by successfully extorting the Greek leaders to betray their anti-austerity campaign promises (and the Greek people) and instead inflict even more self-destructive increases in austerity on the Greek people. (The troika follows the same strategy in seeking to force Syriza to betray its campaign promises and the Greek people by pushing anti-labor measures designed to further reduce Greek wages -- cynically called "labor reforms" -- and demanding that Syriza sell Greek infrastructure and even islands to wealthy foreigners at fire sale prices.) The second "win" is that the Greek economy would then continue to be crushed because of the increased austerity and unsustainable debt. The people of Spain and other nations would learn from the example that the troika made of Greece that if they dared to support progressive parties the troika would target their economies for destruction. Of course, the troika's ideal "win-win" requires the Greek people to continue to lose even worse, but the troika is run by and for elite German and French bankers and CEOs, not the people of the eurozone.
The Greek "bailout" was a bailout of foreign EU banks, primarily French and German -- not the Greek government or people. That bailout of the eurozone's largest banks is funded by eurozone taxpayers. The muted reaction of the commercial markets to the Greek "No" vote is largely attributable to the fact that the bailout of French and German banks by eurozone taxpayers has been completed. The remaining loss exposure of the large eurozone banks on the loans they made seven or more years ago to Greek banks is tiny. The reason EU elected officials are so apoplectic to the Greek "No" vote is that the eurozone taxpayers are on the hook because they bailed out the (primarily) French and German banks. If the eurozone taxpayers suffer losses in the range of one hundred billion euros those taxpayers might turn on those EU elected officials who represent the interests of elite bankers at the expense of the peoples of the eurozone. The NYT article ignores all this and, without any analysis, treats the bailout as if it were a bailout of the Greek people.
The NYT, moreover, ignores this long history of the troika causing immense suffering to the Greek people by "making an example of the Greek." Instead, it spins the EU politicians as the victims of nasty attacks by Syriza.
The European creditors are exasperated by the Greek leaders, who cast aside many of the niceties of intra-European diplomacy in pursuing an aggressive negotiating style. (Hint: If you are negotiating with Germany seeking debt relief, bringing up Nazi war reparations, as Mr. Tsipras has, isn't the most effective idea).
Right, it isn't fair in a discussion of unsustainable debt to bring up history and evaluate what policies work. It isn't fair to note that if Germany had paid for the damage it did to Greece and the Greek people Greece would not be in this problem. It isn't fair to note that Germany was granted debt forgiveness -- even though its case for debt forgiveness was vastly weaker than Greece's case. It isn't "diplomatic" to criticize hypocrisy by German leaders because everyone knows that Germany's corporate elites control the EU and the ECB. Fortunately, Eduardo Porter shares my non-diplomatic approach to history in an article in the NYT about forgiving Germany's debt. It is diplomatic to simply accept German diktats. Alas Germany's leaders, so thin-skinned about criticism of their hypocrisy, so upset to be reminded of that hypocrisy, and encumbered by a native language that doesn't even have a word for their realpolitik policies.
(Yes, irony. Think French and entrepreneur.)
The NYT could have, in fairness, noted that long before Syriza was even created a wide-range of German politicians made a regular practice of demeaning the Greek people in terms that are so bigoted that they would be a scandal in the U.S. leading to widespread demands for the resignation of those officials if the same comments had been made here about Latinos or blacks. Think of dozens of Donald Trumps -- but in positions of great power -- and you will begin to understand Germany. One then must add the German media, which often competes to insult the Greek people.
From an American perspective, if you want to get a feel for how much of the German media treats the Greek people, think of Murdoch's increasingly embarrassing rag, the Wall Street Journal. It ran a column today explaining that the Greek people are congenitally lazy. The subtitle of the article is "A people who want wealth without work will have neither." This is the Ayn Rand trope common to all bigots. Blacks, Jews (Arbeit Macht Frei), Catholics, and innumerable other despised groups are all supposedly lazy by nature. The fact that this bigoted meme has never been true of any of these ethnic groups and is not true about non-wealthy Greeks is no barrier to haters. The WSJ does not even try to muster data to support its ethnic slur of the lazy Greeks.
In Germany, there are a half dozen major media outlets that rival Murdoch's WSJ in repeatedly attacking the supposed character defects of the Greek people. From the American perspective, one would think that elite German politicians and media would be the last people in all of Europe to renew a discourse based on the supposed inherent character defects of various ethnic groups. The great irony is that two nationalities that are often unfriendly rivals -- the Greeks and Turks -- share a common characteristic. They are the two nationalities that far too many Germans despise and rage against.
The only two groups of Europeans that European elites treat as socially acceptable targets for this form of racism (Europe has a long, nasty habit of treating nationality as a "race") are both anti-austerity groups -- the Scots and the Greeks. (These bigoted European elites do not consider Turks to be Europeans.) I have written in a prior column about the fact that even the once respectable Economist used an ethnic slur in its title against Scots to describe the success of the anti-austerity SNP in the recent election. It is inconceivable that the Economist would use the "N" word in a title to disparage black people, but many European elites think it is socially respectable to use crude slurs about the Greeks (and far too many Brits are addicted to using slurs about Celts)..