Greek austerity – a denial of basic human rights, penalty should be imprisonment

I have just finished reading a report published by the Transnational Institute (TNI), which is an “international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world”. The Report (published November 19, 2018) – Democracy Not For Sale – is harrowing, to say the least. We learn that in an advanced European nation with a glorious tradition and history an increasing number of people are being denial access to basic nutrition solely as a result of economic policy changes that have been imposed on it by outside agencies (European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF). The Report shows how the food supply has been negatively impacted by the austerity programs; how food prices have been forced up at the same time as incomes have been forced down, and how collective and cooperative arrangements have been destroyed by privatisation and deregulation impositions. The Report concludes that the Greek State and the Eurozone Member States violated the Greek people’s right to food as a result of the austerity measures required by three Memorandums of Understanding (2010, 2012 and 2015). In other words, the austerity packages imposed on Greece contravened international human rights law. Not one person has gone to prison as a result of this deliberate and calculated violation of human rights.

You can have various levels of commitment to this:

1. Full Report – 90 minutes reading time.

2. Executive Summary – 5 minutes reading time.

I recommend the full report because it is a very comprehensive statement of what has gone wrong with the Eurozone – from a grassroots perspective.

It does not present the usual critique that I make regularly – at the macroeconomic and monetary level.

It deals with our conception of human rights and basic human dignity.

It forces one to ask questions such as:

How many officials in the Troika, who are comfortably ensconced in their well-appointed offices in Brussels, Frankfurt, and Washington, who regularly drink fine wines and eat sumptuously at official gatherings, conferences, talk fests, who jet around the world and Europe as if there was no tomorrow, have gone hungry as a result of the policies they forced on Greece?

It is a real question.

My answer: not one of them.

I have been to European Commission functions. I have seen the massive food and wine excesses that are served up there to participants. It is a world that is far away from the realities that their mindless policies inflict on people in regions of Europe.

The TNI Report brings this home in stark relief.

Employment as a human right

Early on in my career I wrote about why an empirically based, experiential notion of human rights suggests that governments are violating the right to work by refusing to eliminate unemployment via appropriate use of fiscal deficits.

In several published pieces (some listed below), we argued that mass unemployment is not compatible with fundamental human rights in that unemployment denies those affected access to income and hence participation in markets, it reduces the opportunity for advancement and stigmatises those affected, and violates basic concepts of membership and citizenship.

Without the right to work, afflicted individuals are denied citizenship rights as surely as they were denied the right of free speech or the right to vote.

As long as employment is not considered to be a human right, a portion of the community will be excluded from the effective economic participation in the community

This work drew on a long tradition about the concept of work as a human right, which spans the ideological domain and can be traced back over the past 300 years.

The conclusions that we drew were:

  • There should be a right to work.
  • This right should be a statutory right.
  • The State should bear the responsibility for implementing this right.
  • Access to work should not be conditional.
  • The right to work and a full employment policy are inexorably linked.
  • A full employment program – the Job Guarantee – encompassing the right to work, can be implemented which also guarantees price stability.

Some of my published work on this topic:

J. Burgess and W.F. Mitchell (1998) ‘Unemployment, Human Rights and a Full Employment Policy in Australia’ Australian Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 4, Issue 2, 1998 – Download.

J. Burgess and W.F. Mitchell (1998) ‘Unemployment, Human Rights and a Full Employment Policy in Australia’, in Melinda Jones and Peter Kriesler (eds.), Globalisation, Human Rights and Civil Society, Prospect Press: Sydney – Download.

J. Burgess and W.F. Mitchell (1999) ‘Unemployment, Human Rights and a Full Employment Policy in Australia’, Centre of Full Employment and Equity Working Paper 99-03 – Download.

I summarised that body of work in this blog post – Employment as a human right (June 29, 2017).

We argued that work as a human right can be justified in a number of ways:

1. Labour income constitutes the major income source for the majority of individuals and households. Without income, ability to participate in a market economy is curtailed. This is why income support mechanisms developed for those who are unable to work (aged pensions, sickness benefits, etc).

2. Access to income also governs access to other rights, including minimum requirements of clothing, food and housing. In this regard, paid employment shares a direct relationship with food and water as a requisite for subsistence in many societies.

3. Having paid work enhances the choices available and the opportunities for advancements. The unemployed are often prevented from accessing credit, which limits their consumption possibilities.

4. While the choices of the unemployed are constrained by their lack of income, their exclusion goes beyond this. They are not accorded the status attached to employment and they make no contribution to market activity; the barometer of worth in a market economy.

The TNI Report focuses on all of these points but especially takes up the issues under Point 2 – access to other rights, including food.

The neoliberal dehumanisation process

One of the hallmarks of the neoliberal period has been to progressively dehumanise economic policy and its impacts.

In part, an undergraduate student of mainstream microeconomics falls into this pattern of thinking quite early.

They are confronted with infinitely-lived agents (yes, people) who roam around exercising free choice and are continually attaining ‘bliss points’ where they maximise their utility (satisfaction).

If you are starving, then you have freely chosen not to work, or have freely chosen not to stay at school long enough to get a high wage, or you have freely chosen to be promiscuous too early in life and have too many children and so on.

There are themes that stem from this – such as, young women who apparently f*ck their heads off to build up a fleet of kids so they can maximise their welfare payments – I am being serious here – this theme regularly emanates from conservative ranks in Australia as part of a campaign to deny single mothers pension access.

All of this free choice and bliss is disturbed by government or trade unions who oppress individuals by limiting these choices.

So minimum wages are oppressive. Decent working conditions are oppressive. Pension support is oppressive.

That is the sort of biases that are implicit and less so in a mainstream economics indoctrination at universities around the world.

It is no wonder these students exhibit sociopathological tendencies by the end of their programs.

I last wrote about that topic in this blog post – Economics curriculum is needed to work against selfishness and for altruism (September 19, 2018).

This dehumanisation of people and the rejection of concepts such as society – so that we just live in economies that have their own logic – has been fine-tuned under neoliberalism.

In this blog post (among others) – How to discuss Modern Monetary Theory (November 5, 2013) – I wrote about framing and the way neoliberalism advances this dehumanisation notion.

The neoliberal view that is constantly paraded in the media is one where the ‘economy’ is removed from us and is a moral arbiter, which recognises our endeavour and rewards us accordingly. Those who do not work hard and sacrifice for the ‘economy’ are deprived of such rewards.

Our success then is somehow independent of the success of the economy.

If poverty rates are rising, the construction is that the person is just not doing enough for the economy rather than the economy failing, in its current operations, to do enough for us.

We are to blame for our own failures. They arise because we don’t contribute enough. How can we expect to be rewarded for a sub-standard contribution to the success of the economy?

Progressives get sucked into this narrative and offer up “fairer” alternatives within, for example, the austerity debate.

Prior to the advent of neoliberalism, we clearly understood that systemic constraints impinge on the choices made by individuals in society and rendered them powerless.

The systemic constraints overpowered individual volition.

Mass unemployment occurs when there is deficient spending in the economy.

And individual who is rendered jobless as a result of that deficiency can do nothing about it because even if they say to a prospective employer that they will spend all their wages on that employer’s products, they will still not elicit a job offer.

This is because there is a system-wide deficiency in sales that can only be obviated by government intervening and increasing its net spending.

Fiscal policy has to be understood in that context.

A particular fiscal deficit, for example, is a meaningless goal.

The fiscal balance will be whatever it is – in relation to our goals and the functional relationship that net public spending has in relation to those goals.

Fiscal deficits are neither good nor bad and are required where the spending intentions of the non-government sector are insufficient to ensure full utilisation of available productive resources.

If employment is a human right and our goal is to maintain human rights, then the responsibility of the state is clear and the fiscal positions it takes is the means to fulfill that responsibility.

It is quite simple.

1. The Government is Us!

2. The government is our agent and like all agents we cede resources and discretion to it because we trust that it can create benefits for all of us that each on of us individually cannot achieve. We understand scale.

3. Governments invest in our immediate well-being by providing essential services without the need for profit.

4. Governments invest in the next generation’s well-being through building productive infrastructure such as education and urban structures that deliver services for decades.

5. We empower governments with unique characteristics so that it can pursue our interests without the constraints we face ourselves.

6. We understand that a deficit for us means we have to find funds to cover it, whereas a deficit for our agent, the currency-issuing government means it is funding our spending and saving choices.

7. A government deficit enhances our freedom because it boosts our income and allows us more options.

But if one adopts a position that government is somehow a dangerous and oppressive force that has to be limited by fiscal rules that are divorced from the attainment of goals that actually advance well-being and the maintenance of human rights then we start the slide down the slippery slope that the TNI Report summarises in great depth.

And before we know it, people are starving and the foundations of democracy start to crumble.

A person imbued with a love of humanity sees children going without food, whereas a Troika official celebrates the fact that the primary fiscal surplus is growing and Greece is finally playing by the rules that Brussels enforces (selectively nonetheless).

That is the essence of this dehumanisation process.

Fiscal aggregates become self-fulfilling goals irrespective of the human cost.

Justifications are given about the long-run benefits while a generation of teenagers move into adulthood alienated and poorly equipped for the responsibilities that that phase of life brings to all of us.

And it gets worse not better but we saw the indecency of Troika officials celebrating the end of the third Memorandum of Understanding they imposed on a weak Greek government that ignored the democratic will of the people to reject austerity in 2015 election and the subsequent referendum.

The Greek people voted to end austerity and what they received from their government was a harsher austerity.

The government, of course, was just the puppet. The strings were controlled from Brussels and beyond, serving the interests of capital rather than the Greek people.

The TNI Report

The specific focus of the TNI report is:

… the impacts of austerity in Greece on the right to food.

So it goes to the very essence of humanity – our ability to eat and survive.

It concludes that:

… the Greek State and the Eurozone Member States violated the Greek people’s right to food as a result of the austerity measures required by three Memorandums of Understanding (2010, 2012 and 2015). In other words, the austerity packages imposed on Greece contravened international human rights law.

It provides great detail in the ways the enforced austerity impacted on:

1. Food producers.

2. Consumers.

3. The concepts of voice and participation in political decision-making – that is, democracy.

You can examine the detailed findings yourselves if interested. By way of summary:

1. “Austerity measures increased rural poverty and food insecurity – An estimated 38.9 % of rural citizens in Greece in 2017 are at risk of poverty” – this was driven by massively rising unemployment in rural areas (from “7% in 2008 to 25% in 2013”) and the commensurate drop in incomes.

2. “food prices increasing at faster rates than prices in the Eurozone during the crisis, despite the sharp fall in domestic incomes and labour costs”.

3. “Overall the crisis prompted a noticeable change in consumption patterns with the substitution of higher cost food items with more inexpensive foods.”

4. “Austerity measures impacted particularly severely on small-scale food producers and traders” – this was because of higher taxes on farmers and their inputs, the abolition of farm support schemes, privatisation of cooperative markets and farming cooperatives.

5. “A steady fall in domestic agricultural production and an increasing reliance on food imports that led to a negative food trade balance” – the three MOUs “accelerated these trends” by privileging “certain sectors of capital such as large (trans)national supermarket chains” over small-scale producers and cooperatives.

6. “The Greek government’s social safety net was insufficient to prevent food insecurity and poverty”.

7. “The right to food has been violated in Greece” – a range of austerity measures (rising taxes, cuts to social security, cuts to minimum wages, etc) have deprived the Greek people of adequate food access, as well as contravening “other economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to work, housing and health.”

8. “Accountability for violations of the right to food rests both with the Greek government and the Eurozone Member States, with the latter arguably taking a greater share of the responsibility” – so there is no ambiguity here.

There were no “human rights assessments” conducted when the bailout MOUs were designed and imposed.

The Troika knew that their austerity measures would directly impact on food access and deprive a significant portion of the population of such access while driving them into poverty and neglect.

There is no ambiguity here.

The TNI Report implicates:

1. The Greek government – who were just lackeys to the Troika and deserve condemnation for their treason.

2. Eurozone Member States – who participated in the lending schemes under the MOUs.

3. The IMF.

4. The ECB.

The Report concludes that:

… its findings are relevant internationally. Greece is not an exception. Many other countries, in and outside of Europe, find themselves in similar situations, forced to implement austerity-driven, technocratic policies which lead to violations of economic, social and cultural rights including the fundamental right to food.

If you have read the Report in detail, you will surely conclude that this is an indictment of the neoliberal approach and the Eurozone in particular.

It beggars belief that technocrats, securely sitting in Brussels can destroy a whole nation in this way and then cheer because the fiscal surplus is rising.

But macroeconomic constraints have to be understood

A particular point that the Report touches on is worth considering in more detail.

Apart from the impacts of the austerity of food access and who is responsible for that austerity, the Report considers what they term:

Community-led popular responses provide real solutions and point to the emergence of a new food politics

They detail

I have written about these sort of community-based developments before under the guise of social entrepreneurship, although I would not want to lump the responses of the Greek people in this instance under that heading.

Please read my blog post – Social entrepreneurship … another neo-liberal denial (November 11, 2009) – for a discussion about the way neoliberalism distorts community action.

While the Greek initiatives documented in the TNI Report may not neatly fit into the ‘social entrepreneurship’ tag (and I don’t fit them into it), the point is that these type of movements share similar weaknesses.

The TNI Report writes:

In the face of Troika-enforced government policies undermining food sovereignty – and a failure to adequately ameliorate its impacts – a range of grassroots community initiatives have emerged to help secure people’s access to food.

These efforts have led to a framework being developed called the “Social Solidarity Economy (SSE)” with a massive rise in the number of “social enterprises … registered” between 2013 and 2016.

These enterprises range from:

… solidarity kitchens, food cooperatives, ‘No intermediaries’ markets, food self-sufficiency collectives and networks, Community-supported agriculture (CSA) schemes, as well as a range of other agricultural cooperatives, alternative farm models, and producers’ ventures.

So the Solidarity Economy aims to subvert the austerity via “popular resistance” combined with “a new, transformative, just food system” and is “challenging the structural power of the corporate agribusiness sector and advancing popular alternatives”.

Which on the face of it sounds progressive and worthwhile. And it probably is.

But the problem is that as an overall solution to the ravages of austerity – these individual, small-scale efforts are relatively limited.

This takes us back to the concept of macroeconomic constraints – the systemic constraints I mentioned earlier in this blog post.

The Social Entrepreneurship movement emerged in the 1990s as the unemployment rose and welfare systems came under attack from the neoliberal ideas that permeated Western governments.

A series of “solution packages” or separate policy agendas, begin with individualistic explanations for unemployment and accept the litany of myths about the fiscal capacity of governments (‘run out of money’ narratives) used to justify the damaging changes in the conduct of macroeconomic policy.

Full employment as we had known it was abandoned as a policy goal.

These ‘false agendas’ abstract from the real causes of the phenomena in focus.

By failing to ask the correct questions, these ‘solution packages’ then appear, on first blush, to have (undeserved) plausibility.

One such false agenda is the so-called ‘new model’ of welfare provision, popularly called Social Entrepreneurship (SE), which emerged in the 1990s.

UBI is another one of these false agendas.

SE was promoted heavily in the UK by New Labour under its ‘end of ideology’ Third Way agenda – where the claim was that class distrinctions such as Left and Right had become meaningless.

It was claimed that the Third Way approach took the best of both into a soft heart, hard head agenda – that is, be kind but impose the market on social problems.

The problem was that SE is infused with neo-liberal constructs and reinforces the abandonment of sound macroeconomic policy and the persistence of high unemployment and rising levels of underemployment.

So we saw a range of institutions (welfare providers, churches, etc) start pursuing ‘businesses’ as a way to make profits, to fund welfare support as governments cut back and/or made it harder for individuals to receive such support.

In ignoring these facts, movements such as SE adopt a characterisation of unemployment, albeit somewhat blurred, that is hard to distinguish from the mainstream claim that individuals make maximising choices and unemployment must reflect a preference for leisure over work – as noted above.

Further, the proponents of SE suggest that governments no longer have the fiscal capacity to deal with social problems and must seek fiscal rectitude to avoid insolvency.

In that environment, individuals have to be empowered with appropriate market-based incentives to look after themselves.

The failure of the SE movement to construct mass unemployment in macroeconomic terms – an inadequacy of spending – represents is its first false premise.

SE highlights local schemes or initiatives, but fails to understand that in a constrained macroeconomy the scale of job creation required is beyond the capacity of local schemes.

Please read my blog post – Social entrepreneurship … another neo-liberal denial (November 11, 2009) – for further discussion.

The point is that while many SE initiatives may produce beneficial outcomes at the local level they can never be sufficient to combat a system-wide constraint on spending imposed by a cautious non-government sector combined with an austerity-prone government.

By failing to address the constraint on aggregate spending that fiscal austerity creates and/or worsens and the implications of this for the state of the labour market, movements such as Social Entrepreneurship ignore the main game.

While individual community endeavour might produce 100 jobs here and there … which are good and necessary … in advanced countries … millions of jobs are needed.

More are needed again in developing countries.

Small-scale entrepreneurial ventures cannot ease a macroeconomic constraint on aggregate demand coming from an inadequate sized fiscal deficit.

Now the problem in Greece is a version of this.

The concept of a Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) is all well and good – and I am not decrying its motivation at all.

It comes out of the desperation of hunger and a lack of hope and reflects the goodwill that people have for each other when they embrace collective action.

All robust societies should be built on that sort of collective will and solidarity.

But to think it will be able to avert the massive constraint on the economy imposed by the fiscal austerity is a pipe dream.


The situation in Greece as conveyed in this Report tells us that the Troika have adopted a sociopathological approach to humanity and economic policy.

There simply is no justification for well-fed and well-paid technocrats to use their financial might to destroy the viability of a nation and the fabric of its society in the name of a fiscal target!

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2018 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 48 Comments

  1. Dear Bill I have shared this with a few people in our local Labour Party here in Shropshire. A big debate is going on here about Brexit of course. A common attitude is ‘I know that the EU is a neo-liberal horror but I’m scared of leaving under a Tory government of any stripe let alone the Rees-Mogg type’. The strengths of your arguments, which I first heard in Brighton in 2017 (and was surprised by at the time!), are great but even I worry about the absolute need for a Labour government (even a John McDonnell one) here before even some of the advantages of being free of the EU are realised. Just to let you know really.
    John H

  2. “The unemployed are often prevented from accessing credit, which limits their consumption possibilities.”

    Sadly it’s worse than that because the unemployed are not so prevented – they are are only prevented from accessing cheap credit. I have seen an offer from an outfit that provides loans to pretty much anybody – even recently discharged bankrupts – at an interest rate of 583% (APR). It isn’t really interest, it is a hedge against the likelihood of defaults. The firm is quite a large company and as far as I can see they have no shortage of applicants.

  3. A very interesting take on how the EU, ECB, and IMF operate.
    Someone ought to take this case to the World Court.
    Buy, I would bet that the WC would rule in favor of the EU, ECB, and IMF, and against the Greek people.
    Human rights only apply when it is your friends or you who are being screwed.
    Everyone knows that.

  4. Nigel H.,
    In my opinion any bank or lending agency that uses force or threats to collect debts is just a loan shark.
    This means the Troika is a loan shark and should be treated by everyone as such.
    It is a good thing I’m not President. I might order air strikes and drone assassinations of such people where ever they are hiding. Even in Brussels. But, probably not.

  5. Bill

    A fantastic but very sad post. I wait for the day you can point to some government doing the right thing for once. Actually there is an interesting project there, some sort of ranking/index of all the states in the world based on MMT criteria (past and present) in terms of fiscal space and so on. If you know of something would love to see it. If not, if Warren wants to pay for it, I will do it under your supervision!

    I note you give reading times for the TNI report, perhaps you may wish to give reading times for your own posts!


    By World Court do you mean the UN’s ICJ? Or maybe this is a case for The Council of Europe’s EHRC? Greeks should use the TNI report as evidence and take the ECB etc. to that court?

    I would not be surprised if there is already some activity of that nature already in Greece. Anybody know?

  6. There’s one slight problem with the idea that the EZ authorities are imposing harsh punishment on Greeks, which is that the Greeks themselves want to stay in the EZ. God knows why.

  7. These trends can become much worse: the “water barons” are now seeking to purchase as much of the water resource worldwide as they can, with the aim of making water a commodity that is only available to those able to purchase it. They are viewing water as the new oil, without appreciating any difference between the two. While they are only slowly starving the unemployed and working poor now… UN decree’s about human rights don’t seem to hold much sway, when it comes to preventing this.

    I’m very certain I am not alone in thinking, that government is not my “agent”, at this time. It may be representative, but it certainly doesn’t represent me and hasn’t for quite some time.

  8. We must regain our ability to imagine the sublime if we are to understand the more mundane steps to be taken toward it. The beauty and power of MMT, especially as Bill develops it, opens our eyes to the possibilities of the JG, environmental restoration, universal health care, free higher education, oppressive debt relief, etc.–all currently (and maddeningly) within our theoretical grasp. As we continue to realize the immense (though not unlimited) scope of agency that MMT reveals and to fight for the humane policies and programs it makes possible, it might also help if we fought to free ourselves from enervating dystopian thought (around us and in us) by a mountaintop vision of the sublime destination toward which we work. While fighting for Civil Rights battle-by-battle, MLK found strength, courage, and perseverance in big picture thinking. While fighting for MMT, so can we. Here’s but one view mountaintop view:

  9. “How many officials in the Troika, […] who regularly drink fine wines and eat sumptuously at official gatherings, conferences, talk fests, who jet around the world and Europe as if there was no tomorrow, have gone hungry as a result of the policies they forced on Greece?

    More damning, how many members of the radical populist extremist Syriza? Because no one should have expected anything else from the Troika members.

    Nigel: “[The unemployed] are are only prevented from accessing cheap credit.”

    If only there was something about that in that 2000 year old book people claim to follow religiously…

  10. Until I began understanding neoliberalism and MMT, I thought social entrepreneurship, benefit corporations, and non-profits like community development corporations with “triple bottom lines” were state-of-the-art ideas for delivering affordable housing, which was my field of specialization. From Reagan’s presidency onward, government efforts were starved and disparaged in the US. “Hybrid” organizations including public-purpose financial institutions were the way forward, many of us progressives believed.

    I now think your analysis is far superior. For example, the cost of housing in a tight market is far beyond the means of states or localities to address, despite highly professional efforts by social entrepreneurs, development credit unions, and NGOs. Year after year they toil at the margins of a never-ending problem.

    Re-conceiving and exploiting the capacity and responsibility of the sovereign national government is the way to go.

    Thank you, Bill.

  11. I think similar arguments could apply even here in NZ. The standard of nutrition for poor families in NZ is shocking. Food prices are so high that families subsist on cheap white bread, instant noodles, pasta and budget cola. Sugar in its various forms. And we see the results of this in our rising metabolic disease, amputations, lives cut short from Type 2 diabetes. Our kids are not in a healthy state with large percentages obese and overweight. Families simply can’t afford the $300 odd dollars a week it costs to put protein and vegetables on the table each night and in everyone’s lunchbox. I know a single parent family of five a few doors down the road feeding itself on less than $100 per week. And this in a land of plenty. Time to get a yellow vest.

  12. Dear Bill, Greece is nothing compared to the poorest country in EU, Bulgaria.
    I would like to read blog about Bulgaria sometime. 🙂

  13. @cs
    “I think similar arguments could apply even here in NZ.”

    CS, this is shocking.
    A New Zealand Labour government running budget surpluses while families sleep in cars and garages.
    The Salvation Army can’t keep-up with the demand for food parcels.
    Not the New Zealand I knew 40 years ago. Very shameful 🙁

  14. William – I know. It is shocking. Food parcel use is crazy. My supposedly middle-class professional friends who have had to turn to them on occasion shocks me too. As is charity-funded school provision of food and clothing in NZ.
    I hate how now private charities are the sole source of dignity for poor families. Private charity is well-meaning but often capricious and lacks universality and this kind of support should be the duty of the state.
    But somehow this state of affairs has become normalised.

  15. These basic rights are not mentioned in any Constitution. There are calls for the ‘pursuit of happiness’ but it’s very vague.
    Obviously constitutions were written by the wealthy for the wealthy, and only lip service attention to rights and duties of the government occurred for the majority of the population. They need to be spelled out, such that for example, profit oriented corporations cannot take over basic rights, which with regard to healthcare, they do, for example.
    Right now only the ballot box can help and it is too compromised to achieve change.

  16. Can someone (preferably Bill) explain what Ralph Musgrave is still allowed to post responses on this blog? What does a person need to do in order to get banned?

  17. Dear GreekStav (at 2018/12/07 at 9:04 am)

    I try not to ban people outright although I have done a few times when they get very offensive. With respect to the person mentioned I do monitor the input carefully and typically disagree with it. And on occasions, I delete his input (as I do other comments if I just don’t wish for them to see the light of day).

    But it is a slippery slope starting to ban someone. What decision rule would you propose whereby a person is silenced forever?

    best wishes

  18. I have often pointed out the extent of the suffering of the greek people in forums here in Germany to no avail. The fact that the sadistic Troika measures does nothing to improve Greece’s situation is not entirely lost on them, but there is a consolidated belief in the necessity of “atonement” for the past sin of “living beyond ones’s means”.

    The German cult of and self-depreciation before authority (of course there are German words for those: Obrigkeitshörigkeit und Untertanengeist) has found its new objects of adulation in their very own Merkel (her popularity skyrocketed once she announced she´d step back) and wise men of the EU. I urge any interested readers to get their hands on Heinrichs Mann’s “Der Untertan” (translated into English under the titles “Man of Straw”, “The Patrioteer”, and “The Loyal Subject”). It offers an interesting look into the antebellum German society and sheds a light on the aspects that led Germany to into the coming world wars.

    Since the authority has spoken and decreed, that the Greek suffering is not a problem, but just and necessary, there will be no concessions out of Germany. The only interest the German have in the Greek humanitarian crisis is that it stays off the media. I know he is not necessarily an adept of MMT (and probably is as lost as his other european collegues in that regard), but one thing I appreciated of G. Varoufakis is his (ultimately unsuccessful) fight to include “adressing the humanitarian crisis” in the (I believe) second MoU in those exact words. Of course, the troika did their thing an supressed such a statement, since “there can’t be a humanitarian crisis in Europe, therefore there is none”.

    I’m ashamed to admit that the revolts in France are the piece of news that has given me the most hope in months, since I would normally consider violence unacceptable. However, I’m willing to be morally flexible and consider it self defence against the faceless enemy of industry and finance captains, neoliberal corporatist stooges and the sucker enablers that is legion.

  19. It occurs to me that this sort of ideological market idiocy compounded the suffering in Bengal during the British Raj and Ireland 1845-1849.

  20. Hermann, I have read it. It was some time ago, but it disturbed me. Then I lived in Germany for a few months and saw some of it for real, as it were. I did meet those who were not authority-freaks, as it were, but I was never able to tell how serious they were.

  21. Hermann, have you ever read Mark Twain’s essay, The Awful German Language? It is hilarious. I first came across it when I was in Germany. By ‘awful’, he means the grammar.

  22. @larry:
    “…have you ever read Mark Twain’s essay, The Awful German Language?”

    I have 🙂

    I learnt German in school and then when I moved here for University. Therefore I can’t refrain from citing Twain’s essay whenever someone (mostly quite rightly) corrects my german:

    “My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it.”

    Although I think he was overly optimistic regarding those thirty years.


  23. Nigel & Paulo, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago under another topic, there is a strong case for the “historical” Jesus to have been a Rabbi dedicated to bring back the ancient concept of the “jubilee year” or “year of the lord”. In such a year outstanding debts were forgiven to avoid permanent debt peonage and the exploitation of common people by the era’s loan sharks. You can read a lot about it in Prof. Michael Hudson’s homepage for free. I belive it’s ok to link to the page since it’s not commercial (to my knowledge):

    Even without such knowledge, it takes a very twisted logic to find anything resembling christian values in modern neoliberal vulture-capitalism. The now (sawdly disgraced) Al Franken offered an excellent take on the subject in his animated comic “Supply Side Jesus”. I won’t link to YouTube, but it is very easy to find there. Here’s one of my favorite exchanges in the strip:

    – “Should we not feed the lepers, Supply-Side Jesus?”
    – “No, Thomas. That would just make them lazy.”
    – “Then shouldn’t you at least heal them?”
    – “No, James. Leprosy is a matter of personal responsibility. If people knew I was healing the lepers, there would be no incentive to avoid leprosy.”

    I think it was supposed to be satire before it became reality.

  24. eg says:

    “It occurs to me that this sort of ideological market idiocy compounded the suffering in Bengal during the British Raj and Ireland 1845-1849”.

    Much the same thought had occurred to me, only in connection with the Irish famine in the early 18th century.

    That made Jonathan Swift so indignant that he wrote his pamphlet “A Modest Proposal” in response. For those unfamiliar with it his “modest proposal” was that the Irish peasants should assuage their hunger by eating their infants, and it produced the effect that Swift had aimed for – outrage (and shame) on the part of the English public and a tardy attempt by the government to do something concrete about relieving the suffering.

    I wonder if a similarly “modest proposal” relating to Greece would, if published in the international media (including the so-called social (more like anti-social IMO) media, would elicit the same shamed response in today’s besotted-with-the-market world.

    What makes me doubt that ?

  25. “But it is a slippery slope starting to ban someone. What decision rule would you propose whereby a person is silenced forever?

    best wishes

    What a wholly admirable attitude!

    Bill, you are an example to us all, but especially to the likes of Richard Murphy and Yves Smith (and doubtless numerous other equally arrogant offenders could be named of whose behaviour I have no personal experience). If only such an enlightened approach could pervade the entire blogoshere the world might be a better place.

    Some hopes!

  26. Larry and Hermann,

    I have memories of reading that brilliant essay by Twain that still bring a smile to my face after many years-so thanks for that. His desription of his tussle with the separable verb is absolutely hilarious and always induces fits of laughter as does his elaboration of the wild filed of meanings associated with the word ‘Zug.’

    I studies German as a ‘nebenfach’ as part of my degree but never spent enough time in the country to develop fluency.

    There is some very funny use of German polysyllabic words in ‘A Conneticut Yankee at The Court of King Arthur’ printed in Gothic script.

  27. Good for you, Hemann, on dealing with officious correctors. Having said that, I am a member of the tedious apostrophe and comma police. For good reasons, I would claim, I love the Oxford comma. Bill quite clearly does not, for which his intelligibility suffers in those relevant contexts, I would argue.

    Simon, it was so long ago that I read Connecticutt Yankee that I never noticed those polysyllabic words or didn’t understand them.

  28. @ Simon:
    “I studies German as a ‘nebenfach’ as part of my degree but never spent enough time in the country to develop fluency.”

    I say it’s a good thing. I have come to terms with my investments in the german language being a rather dire case of falling for the sunk cost fallacy.

    I feel absolutely out of depth in discussing such matters. Suffice it to say that I sometimes cringe at my use of both apostrophes and commas when I re-read my posts.

  29. Hermann-how is your German knowledge a ‘sunk cost fallacy’? I assume you now live in Germany so continuing to develop it would not be pointless -unless you’d rather be doing something else and feel you need to carry on regardless?

  30. @ Greekstav,

    What problem do you have with Ralph’s question? Is it just the way it is posed?

    Or do you think Greece’s only option for economic salvation is to remain in the EZ? When the IMF itself, one of the creditors, remarked that the Greek bailouts were unsustainable.

  31. Chris: The premise of Ralph’s question below isn’t or wasn’t entirely true.

    [Ralph:There’s one slight problem with the idea that the EZ authorities are imposing harsh punishment on Greeks, which is that the Greeks themselves want to stay in the EZ. God knows why.]

    Yes, the Greek government sadly decided to stay in the EZ and the people of Greece sadly re-elected it. But at the time of and a few months before the referendum polls (Gallup International and others) showed that majorities rationally wanted to leave the Euro and that the Greeks were the most anti-Euro population in the EU. And while the referendum question was not explicitly on that, it was sold in the Greek media as being a referendum on the Euro, so it is reasonable to take it as one – and 61% voted “No” (Oxi, Leave).

  32. Hermann et al: Here’s Mark Twain on the recent revolts in France:

    There were two ‘Reigns of Terror’, if we could but remember and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passions, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon a thousand persons, the other upon a hundred million; but our shudders are all for the horrors of the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heartbreak? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief terror that we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror – that unspeakable bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.

    From: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

  33. Responding to John Higson:

    I agree absolutely.
    Maybe this isn’t the best blog-post on which to add this comment (perhaps I should have picked a Brexit-focussed one), but I’ve been wanting to say this for a while.

    Bill Mitchell keeps pointing out some of the dreadful things the European Union does, but…

    1. Many of those things apply only to the Euro currency, so their effect on the United Kingdom is only indirect.

    2. The current and foreseeable Tory (Conservative) government, freed of E.U. constraints, would be even worse than the E.U., in many of the same ways. Leaving the E.U. under this government would be a case of “Out of the frying pan, into the fire.”

    At present in the U.K. it is only thanks to E.U. rules (and courts) that things are not worse than they are, in areas such as working hours, trades union rights, consumer rights, other issues of fairness and human rights, air pollution in cities, other environmental and pollution issues, data protection and privacy, and I could go on at length.

    The Tories, even more than the E.U. as a whole, would eagerly sign away the country’s sovereignty in trade deals similar to CETA and TTIP, giving the projected future profits of foreign companies legal privilege over the well-being of the country’s inhabitants and democratic choices.

    There have been many articles written about the likely post-Brexit Tory-driven “race to the bottom” with low tax and minimal regulation to attract predatory companies, leading to a country where even if “the economy” is doing well, the bulk of the citizenry are suffering.

    Also, if there are border checks between the U.K. (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) and the Republic of Ireland (an E.U. member state) then the Northern Ireland violence/terrorism will probably start up again (both there and on mainland Britain). Without such border controls, I’m not sure whether the U.K. can get the important benefits of independence from the E.U… maybe, maybe not.

    Bill tends to write about:
    A: How bad the E.U. is
    B: The low sociopolitical likelihood of improving the E.U.’s institutions and policies.
    C: The positive opportunities for a country that leaves the E.U.

    but tends to ignore

    D: How good or bad the current national government is.
    E: How likely or unlikely it is to improve.

    In any choice between staying and going, “Here is bad” is not (on its own) a valid reason to go: you have to look at where you might go and judge whether it’s better or worse.

    My conclusion for the U.K. is that at present staying in the E.U. is not as bad as leaving.

    If the U.K. population’s attitude, sentiment, way of seeing things etc. changes, and the population brings in a better government (and seems likely to keep things better for a long time), then leaving the E.U. may become worthwhile.

    Even then, it should be done in an orderly fashion, with proper planning and preparation before leaving, including setting up any new customs buildings, recruiting officials and so on. The disruption would be significant even in the best case, but it can be minimised.

  34. It’s pleasant to read an anti-Brexit case expounded, for once, without rancour and without impugning the motives of those who take the opposite position. Despite that I feel impelled to make an (equally temperate, I hope) rejoinder.

    1. “In any choice between staying and going, ‘Here is bad’ is not (on its own) a valid reason to go: you have to look at where you might go and judge whether it’s better or worse. My conclusion for the U.K. is that at present staying in the E.U. is not as bad as leaving”.
    But, but … Parliament voted by a significant majority that that question was to be decided by the outcome of the referendum and both main parties bound themselves to implement the voters’ decision.
    Your conclusion carries the implication that you repudiate the referendum result, in which case, what then? another referendum “to decide again” – and another after that (ditto) … and so on, ad infinitum?
    2, Even were that not the case, to say that it is “staying is not as bad as leaving” is not really comparing like with like. “Leaving” is acting, now; “staying” is paralysis, for the foreseeable future, which might turn out to be quite a long time seeing that 39 years (IIRC) elapsed between the first and second referenda on that question).
    3. The “dreadful things” the EU does may mainly as you say be confined in their immediate effects to the EZ but that’s hardly the main point, which is that the behaviour is morally indefensible (heinous in fact) and not to be countenanced.
    4. The bigger question is what causes the EU to behave in such a fashion? I think Bill’s argument boils down to:- “because it can”. That goes to the heart of the moral (and political) vacuum at the core of the EU, deriving from the total mismatch between power and responsibility which Maastricht introduced. In other words it’s now hard-wired into the EU’s institutional functioning.

    I’ll confine myself to those points – at least to be going on with.

  35. John Doyle says:
    “These basic rights are not mentioned in any Constitution.”
    Um now, that is not how things work.
    All EU (not just, this is not EU specific, but is an EU requirement) countries are signatories to, incorporate this into their domestic law, under the final adjudication and remedies of the ECHR. This includes Right to Life and Right to Liberty and other rights which imply rights to food, which is the specific argument made in the TNI report.

  36. I know there are treaties of one sort or another that deal with rights etc. and maybe they can influence the Constitutions[?]. But the wording in the Constitutions I have seen do not oblige the government to take care of all citizens such that specific duties or obligations neo liberals like to privatise are excluded. I’m not sure how to word it as that’s for those whose business is understanding and interpreting the constitution. I think the Constitution has to have it itself.

  37. John Doyle

    Methinks you are focusing too much on how the constitution of just one country works and generalizing from there?

    I have explained the constitutional affects of signing up the ECHR regardless of any individual state’s constitution, written or otherwise.

  38. Responding to John Higson and N

    I agree that is why I prefer a soft Lexit. Efta/EEA will be an improvement over staying without the dangers of our own neoliberal governments doing even worse. From the the position of Efta/EEA we will have done most of the hard work. Still in the SM and bilaterals to agree over fishing and agriculture etc. but the EU would not have such a one sided deal. We may then decide to leave the EEA at a later date, or try and reform it with Efta inc Switzerland. A successful exit would have given power to other EU members to force reform, knowing there is a safe exit strategy. We have not only failed ourselves, we have failed Europe.

  39. Are you saying the ECHR overrides the constitution/s? I doubt it myself as a government signing a treaty is different from a 2/3popular majority required to amend a constitution. So if push comes to shove, who wins out?

  40. HermannTheGerman have you seen this ‘different take’ on Germany and the two world wars?
    Conjuring Hitler. How Britain and America. Made the Third Reich. Guido Giacomo Preparata. Pluto Press.

  41. John Doyle

    It is not a question of “overriding” a constitution. A democratically elected government of a state has incorporated the ECHR into their domestic law. That does mean that other domestic laws (new and old) can be held up to the scrutiny of the ECHR on a case by case basis. If another democratically elected government, not in the EU, does not like this, they can leave the convention and repeal that domestic law. Being in the EU, is, by treaty, part of the constitution of that state, so they cannot leave unless they leave the EU.

    Anyway this is all moot, since the argument here is over EU member states and them alone. They are all part of the ECHR and so the TNI argument applies.

  42. John Doyle

    There is no ” 2/3popular majority required to amend a constitution” as a general statement. It varies from state to state. The UK requires only an absolute voting majority to change it constitution as in the Brexit vote.

  43. Well Martin, it is 2/3 in Australia, plus a majority of states. I didn’t think the UK has a written constitution.
    Prince Charles said it has an unwritten one, but maybe England and the UK differ[?]

  44. My point is that even the constitutions do not coerce . “The pursuit of happiness” It’s just a wish. Constitutions are frequently redone. In Latin America there have been since 1830 something like 150 different constitutions, so they are not up with the Crown as definitive representatives of the population.
    It’s just a pity as it might have nipped neo-liberalism in the bud.

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