“Can’t Pay, won’t pay!” From Dario Fo’s play to our contemporary Greek dystopia

El Pais asked me to write a piece on the ‘fiscal disobedience’ movement that seems to be shaping up in Greece. Here is what I wrote. (I shall post the Spanish version, off El Pais’ site, when available): 

“Can’t pay won’t pay”, was Dario Fo’s boisterous satirical play by which the playwright incited his audience to rethink their political responsibilities. During the past two years, here in Greece, a spontaneous implementation of Fo’s title has been taking place. It started on the nation’s highways when drivers refused to stop at the tollgates, demanding that they are allowed to drive on without paying the toll. Their defiance was fuelled by reports that a previous government had, effectively, sold the future stream of tolls to private investors utilising complex derivatives brokered by Goldman Sachs. The idea that so much money, to be paid by Greek drivers to the state in the years to come in order to maintain the roads, had been usurped by politicians and financiers stirred up the anger that led to these protests.

Then came a series of raids into people’s meagre savings by a state so panicked by its own bankruptcy that it lost all sense of propriety. Tax notices arrived in each household demanding of low income people to pay additional tax retrospectively; for no reason, without justification, and in a manner that any decent court would have  declared unlawful. And when, as a result of job losses and wage cuts, many people found it impossible to make these payments, what did this ‘socialist’ government come up with? The brilliant plan of taxing them again, this time through their electricity bill, essentially blackmailing families that unless they cough up they would have to cook using  coal fired stoves while their children did their homework by candlelight.

In this climate of a total collapse of the social contract between the government and the governed, citizens find it easy to declare that justice requires fiscal and civil disobedience. It does not begin as a political move. Non-payment is usually the result of a simple, sad inability to pay. But when the state reacts with aggression and unscrupulously, anger builds up which, spontaneously, takes the form of moral enthusiasm for defying a predator state. It will probably not help solve anything. But at the very least the disobedience which we are witnessing everywhere, from the nation’s schoolyards to the tollbooths, from the offices of the electrical company to the central square in front of Parliament, may well be the only recourse that citizens have to reclaiming part of their stolen dignity.

42 thoughts on ““Can’t Pay, won’t pay!” From Dario Fo’s play to our contemporary Greek dystopia

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  4. …and another thought on this ‘Patriot Act’ style attack on the remains of Irish democracy:

    Georg R. Baumann says:
    October 23, 2011 at 2:19 pm
    Scripted Realities – Another perspective on the referendum on inquiries by the Oireachtas

    I recently saw a very good piece of journalism that investigated a phenomenon that is about to conquer the TV landscapes worldwide. It was researched and produced by Anja Reschke the moderator of the political magazine Panorama that just recently celebrated their 50th year of broadcasting.

    In Ireland we do not have regular and focussed political magazines of such quality and in depth investigation, and in my opinion there is a great need to fill this gap in the Irish public broadcaster to establish such a culture of permanent and in depth reporting as performed by magazines like Panorama, Monitor, Frontal 24 and others. The closest we get in Ireland is Prime Time.

    The phenomenon described were scripted reality shows. These shows are presented as taken from real life, with real people and real circumstances, real situations, just that the camera is with them all the time. Independent media researchers clearly proved that a large percentage, close to 50 % if memory serves, of consumers were convinced what they saw to be a report, and as such depicting reality 1:1.

    De facto, the reality had been proven to be a different one.

    Casting people scout the cities in search for individual characters and present their portfolios to the producers in charge of these shows. One casting owner mentioned, older people, sick people, and people with disabilities to be blacklisted, of no interest at all.

    Extremely obese people from under educated backgrounds, living in socially difficult circumstances, unemployed, welfare recipients, red light district characters, brawlers, generally the lower segment of socially established people were the most attractive for their casting portfolios.

    The broadcaster make use of established film and journalism techniques to depict their shows as a report, hence actively engaging in manipulating public perception and opinion on relevant social and political issues. The format generally is by way of longer series. and quotes are very high.

    So, the actors in these shows are real people from the street, hence they provide the identification to the target viewing audience, a voyeurism of a special kind is nourished here on purpose. The actors are not actors, and their social and educational background allows for the producer to pay them a couple of hundred euros for each session, and press his demands of ‘what is written here has to be filmed!’

    The uncritical consumer is currently bombarded with these shows by private broadcasters, but in Germany the private broadcasters have to follow rules that are determined by laws. The report gave evidence how these rules are bended and circumvented for their purpose, quota, percentage viewers per time.

    The shows themselves are often depicting social miseries, circumstances of emotional and physical abuse, people on the edge, shouting and screaming abuse etc.

    Imagine a permanent window into the misery of people forced to live in despicable housings and circumstances such as Ballymun. Now please consider this, I just mention that place from memory long ago when I first came to Ireland many years ago, this may have changed, and it is by no means meant to be a derogative statement on the people that lived or might still live there, on the contrary!

    So cameras are following these people in their homes and film stage managed and scripted realities and are later cut, edited and broadcasted to pretend realities where there are none. One striking example was a show called ‘Under The Hammer’. A family in financial distress was forced to sell their home, the producer ticked them into believing that the broadcaster would take care for the auction event and advertisement, if they only allow to film it.

    The event was filmed and broadcasted, the house went for 250K to a bidder, and the family was filmed in close up, of course, very emotional scenes followed. A short while later, they learned that the whole event was scripted, there was no real bidder, no real auction, the house never sold, but the show left now doubt to the viewer that this was real.

    The manipulation of public perception and opinion has entered a new era. Shows like these are broadcasted every day, the numbers of viewers is high and increasing. Sleazy press speakers of the broadcasters are using language they were coached to use by an army of lawyers, circumventing exiting laws and regulations, this is no exception, it is the rule by now.

    x x x x

    Perhaps, you may be wondering why I write about this here.

    What you are presented with in the financial global heist since more than three years now from government in Ireland as well as from the European levels is exactly what I described above, scripted realities on purpose to bend and form public perception by means of rhetorical techniques, equally techniques of indoctrination, propaganda and last no least plain and simple lies.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/article/head-eurogroup-admits-lying-about-secret-greek-meeting-out-fears-market-collapse

    The actors are so called ‘politicians’ acting on the stage of public broadcasting, the script writers are banks, lobbies and vested interest groups that pull the strings behind the curtains since many years now.

    Sleazy characters, spineless and ruthless in their constant use of language they are coached to use on purpose to undermine basic democratic principle and laws for the benefit of special interests and not the public good or the wellbeing of the nation and it’s people.

    These people are presenting you a scripted show you are supposed to believe in as if it would be reality. What they are doing since three years is pretending to be in control, pretending to have solutions and plans to fill a bottomless pit that can’t be filled, pretending to be able to help countries such as Greece and Ireland, by using language such as BAIL OUT, which is used to deflect from the reality and facts. They are using all the tools at their disposal, from broadcasters to printed press to air their scripted shows and lies. The deception of the public never was any greater in that respect.

    The ‘There is no other way’ fraction has enabled billions of Euro to be handed to private banks and investors by stealing it from the tax payer and at the same time tightening the rope around our necks, killing the economy with austerity and continuously loading more debts onto taxpayers responsibility, and they enabled NAMA, enshrined it into the law. this never stopped, and they are following this script to the letter, stealing more until nothing is left, selling all assets and privatize it to large corporations, or sell banks to foreign banks, not the latest news on Canadian banks and Bank of Ireland in that respect.

    The very same people who sold us out to bankers and investors, who sold us out to the ECB-IMF-EU, who stole Ireland’s sovereignty, and continue their heist and implementation of fatalistic policies that destroyed social stability in Europe, by allowing bankers and private investors to unilaterally brake the social contract, they now even endanger peace in Europe…

    http://bondwatchireland.blogspot.com/

    -Explantion for Yanis’s blog readers, the above table show sthat November 2nd we are forced to pay out € 700,623,555 to Anglo irish bank bondholders. –

    For these people it is acceptable, regardless their faked concerns and scripted shows they air on TV, that a whole country like Greece is devastated by the thermonuclear bombs of financial fascists, the bankers, investors and politicos of our time who are the modern version of Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

    The very same people are now asking you to grant them even more powers, a carte blanch, Lisbon 2.0 style.

  5. In Ireland we are asked to vote now on a referendum, mind you not iceland style, but Lisbon 2.0 style, to grant maximum powers to the house/houses and give them a carte blanche, an amendment to the constitution.

    http://www.referendum2011.ie/your-decision/referendum-on-inquiries-by-the-oireachtas

    This is what I have to say on the matter as posted on David McWilliams blog:

    Georg R. Baumann says:
    October 23, 2011 at 12:22 pm
    Referendum on inquiries by the Oireachtas

    NO!

    The public is fooled and tricked again in Lisbon 2.0 style. Information and public discussion is very late in the day and deceiving.

    This amendment transfers powers to politicos they should not have in that way under any circumstances.

    They are shooting from the hip and if you vote yes you are effectively granting a carte blanch to politicos.

    They are presenting you half the truth, and asking for your vote to give them a maximum of more powers but keep the specifics in the dark.

    The amendment would allow the Dáil and/or Seanad inquire into a matter which is “of general public importance”. The Dáil and/or the Seanad would decide whether or not a matter is of “general public importance”. The manner in which they would make this decision will be set out in legislation.

    You are presented with a carte blanche for more power to politicos. We witnessed the same with Lisbon 2.0 and see the results today.

    The Dáil and/or the Seanad would have the power to determine the appropriate balance between the rights of people involved in any such inquiry and the requirements of the public interest for the purpose of ensuring an effective inquiry. When doing so, they would be obliged to have “due regard” to the principles of fair procedures. These principles have been established by the Constitution and by the Courts over many years.

    This is not sufficient. On the contrary, it is totalitarian and transfers too much power into the houses.

    This means that the House or Houses would have discretion as to the procedures to be applied in any given case. The balance struck in any given case may have important implications for people affected by an inquiry. It is not possible to state definitively what role, if any, the courts would have in reviewing the procedures adopted by the Houses.

    Your main constitutional rights are diluted and attacked here. This is the Irish version of the ‘Patriot Act’ you are presented. Whether you can have a lawyer representing your case is entirely at the discretion of the house/houses.

    • The right to defend yourself against such allegations – this may include the right to give evidence, to call other people to give evidence on your behalf and the right to cross-examine witnesses. It may also extend to a right to be represented by a lawyer.

    The precise manner in which these rights must be applied depend on the particular context and may differ in particular cases.

    Conclusion & Opinion:

    This is the most sloppy constitutional change I can imagine, it is granting maximum powers, and leaving specifics to legislation not yet in place, hence it is a carte blanche for any existing or future house/houses in power.

    This is a very dangerous political project and can not be granted under any circumstances.

  6. The basic economic formula (Keynesian) is:

    C + I + G + X − M = Y(GDP)

    Or, a country’s GDP(Gross Domestic Product) is made up of C(consumption),I(investment),G(Government Spending) and the difference between Exports and Imports(X-M).

    So, the German plan for Greece is to increase her GDP (so that the debt becomes a lower percent of) with no consumption, no new investment, no government spending (severe cuts) and only do it through Exports/Imports?

    What type of morony is this? Have the Germans been to school? what are they talking about? The world is laughing at the so called German plan. What plan?

  7. +1 For you article Mr Varoufakis .

    We need extrovert support for very specific matters . Avoiding generalities .
    The mass media propaganda in foreign countries is at least as good as ours .
    It takes a lot of time and effort in order to squash stereotypes and misinformation .

    The worst thing is that extreme capitalism has destroyed elementary humane values , principles and ethics emanating from a nation’s culture and tradition for which it took hundreds of years to develop and are substituted by profit and competitiveness .

    My usual response is to refer to talks or work of great Men/Women spotlighting the universal humane values .

    Thus , one of my argument against racism , elitism and prejudice is :

    And one for Greeks :

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  9. This “haircut” (German inspired concept) never ceases to amaze.

    The issue is very simple. In order to appease Germany the EU decided last July for a 21% voluntary haircut.(focus on the voluntary part please)

    Now Germany wants more (say 50%-60%) haircut. But if it continues to be voluntary what’s the difference?

    Even under the 21% program Greece set a 90% participation condition. Such condition was never met.

    What makes you think that a higher haircut will be subscribed to? Isn’t it time we stop trying to humor German nonsense and get down to business?

    The business is “Find a Solution without counting on the Private Sector”.

    Forget about this childish games of punishing imaginary guilty parties in the public square for the amusement of the crowd.

    Concentrate on the basics and answer a simple question:

    What’s with this PSI nonsense?

    • writing off 50 to 60% of the Greek debt is no easy task. As you can imagine, most creditors are not too happy about that. It is only the insight into Greece’s inability to service the mountain of debt it has amassed and the apparent inability to collect enough taxes from its wealthy citizens that makes this default a thinkable “solution”. I assume you are Greek. So why are you grumpy when Germany as one of your major foreign creditor nations fights for 50 to 60% of your debt to be written-off?
      This is beyond me.
      The only thing you may say is that this should have been done earlier. But again, this is not an easy operation with a lot of risk assosciated with it (“among them moral hazard – how can we insist on Italy to service its debt when Greece just gets away with not servicing it)?

  10. But at the very least the disobedience which we are witnessing everywhere, from the nation’s schoolyards to the tollbooths, from the offices of the electrical company to the central square in front of Parliament, may well be the only recourse that citizens have to reclaiming part of their stolen dignity.

    There will be those immediately attacking legitimacy of civil disobedience, stirring fears and using a public perception that is indoctrinated since decades, centuries really, to obey to authorities at all costs.

    The social contract was broken unilaterally, was it not?

    Essential democratic functions, in every country in Europe, were undermined, refused or extinguished by the forces at play, to no small degree due to the overwhelming presence and influence of the European Peoples Party, EPP.

    It is not only the ethical right, in my opinion it is the ethical duty for citizens to disobey and stand up for their, their parents and grandparents, their children rights.

    The dishonesty of the political class in cahoots with Banks and vested interests is at the very core of European problems, and daily more people are waking up to these facts.

    The establishment in Brussels, so very wise in their own eyes, is trembling in their boots looking at Greece, and so they shall!

    In short, highway roberry on GS steroids… :) Love it!

  11. What I love is the idea that Greece might privatize the state lottery. Talk about a gamble! Private buyer owns the lottery, what’s to stop a municipality from starting its own lottery? Or, if the privatization expressly forbids that, someone could run the “numbers” game instead.

    • Privatisation of the lottery does not mean liberalisation. It means that the state loses the right to a large stream of future reveues for a ridiculously low price today.

    • Spain’s government announced at the start of 2011 that it would privatize the state lottery (alongside some airports). The prices at which they intended to do it were ridiculous (essentially saying “the market demands 6% from our bonds so we will prizatize the lottery at 15% implied yield”). Then this autumn they started the process of floating the lottery on the stock exchange (including an ad campaign for retail investors) and then cancelled it because of “market conditions”. Apparently what they’ll do now is securitise the future lottery income which amounts to the same firesale of a tax revenue stream. It’s a total travesty.

      Knowing that Greece was also privatizing its lottery, in their case explicitly in response to Troika demands, I wonder why Spain decided to do the same since economically it makes no sense.

  12. Selling future cash flows for some form of present value just creates a bond, a simple and effective way of monetizing projects that has been used to build toll roads for centuries, if not millennia. If I remember correctly, what infuriated the citizens was less the outrageous price being charged, but the fact that they were being forced to use the toll road to access their local community…a real form of highway robbery.

    • Dear Jerry, You know that I know what a bond is. It is one thing to sell a future stream of toll revenues to build a road and it is quite another to sell it in order to collect a sum that is used for shady purposes while locking in high tolls for existing and future road users. The ‘won’t pay the tolls’ movement was formed in reaction to the news that the tolls local residents pay to maintain access to their homes/workplaces (as you described it) (A) increased well above inflation as a result of a prior commitment to Golddman Sachs’ client, (B) was never made public (thus failing all transparency criteria) and (C) would not contribute a penny to road maintenance. In short, highway roberry on GS steroids…

  13. Those who refuse or can’t pay the new property tax through their electricity bill, not only will their electricity be cut off, but the tax bill will be transferred to the income tax offices who will then begin proceedings to confiscate any income and/or the property itself. What’s a poor citizen to do then?

    • No, but every functinal and functioning society requires that citizens feel that the taxes imposed upon them are imposed fairly, that part of them will be used to provide relevant services, and are decided upon through a transparent process to which they contribute, at least indicrectly through their elected representatives. None of that applied to the recent increases in Greek tolls, to coin one example.

  14. Problem with Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay is that those who Can’t Pay, Do Pay, will end up paying even more to make up for the shortfall caused by those that refuse to cough up. The strikers, occupiers, stone-throwers, tax ‘rebels’ and so on bear a heavy responsibility for Greece’s current state. They are a sign not of dignified citizens but immature citizens, who refuse to take responsibility or offer credible alternatives. The idea that it’s the politicians and Goldman Sachs that have done for Greece is populist demagoguery. It’s an entire system – in which 90 percent of Greeks have been implicated – that has done for Greece.

    • As I wrote in my piece, the Can’t Pay Won’t Pay movement offers no solution. But nor does the attitude that we ought to be paying up and keeping quite. The Crash of 2008 ought to have taught not just Greeks but Americans, the Brits, the Germans, everyone, that we have all been accessories to a system that does not work. However, to argue that the solution is to apply the very same doctrine which got us here is somewhat curious. As for Greece itself, let me remind you that even in 2008 our poverty rate was already higher than the rest of the eurozone – with 23% of Greeks under the Greek poverty line and 41% under the Danish poverty line (which is not irrelevant since prices in Greece were higher than in Denmark – for similar items/services). Thus, by definition, it cannot be true that 90% of Greeks were doing well from the pre-crisis now-broken system. And since you are sensitive to the distributive justice of paying the bill of the crisis, let me suggest that the poor are, yet again, those who are paying through the nose.

    • I would not advocate passive acceptance of government policies; but I wish Greeks tried some new forms of action – actions that aren’t anti-social, violent but, in fact, because they tend to be both of these, alienate the general population and let the government and state off the hook. This is 2011, not 1917.

      Saying 90% of Greeks were implicated in the failed system may be an exaggeration, but it serves to make a point, which is that the Greek crisis is not about good Greek victims on the one side and bad domestic and foreign elites on the other. Where were the Greeks saying ‘no, I can’t accept that salary/pension boost, that public sector job’ because the underlying state of the economy doesn’t merit such largesse? Or Greeks saying ‘yes, I mustn’t avoid my taxes, not accept or pay that bribe’ because this is not compatible with a mature civil society?

      The fact that the Greek economic model was so flawed and still kept large portions of the population in poverty shows how deluded Greeks had become. Papandreou went into the last election declaring ‘the money exists’ and Greeks happily returned him to power with a good majority. Too many Greeks – whether this is 40%, 50% or 90% is not important for the argument – had done well out of the corrupt and unsustainable system and they are as much to blame for the depth of the crisis affecting Greece and for Greece’s inability to escape from it, as Merkel, Goldman Sachs and Poul Thomsen. I just cannot accept the narrative that it’s the politicians and the ‘plutocracy’ that ran up the debt, not the people. The politicians and the ‘plutocracy’ may have sold the people a lie about easy money, but the people – a very large proportion of it – wanted to believe it, did believe it and became a party to it.

    • “The fact that the Greek economic model was so flawed and still kept large portions of the population in poverty shows how deluded Greeks had become.” Correct. But does this statement not apply also, in its entirety, to the US? To the UK? To Italy? To Spain? Even to Germany (whose poverty rate is rising fast at a time if declining unemployment)? Thus, my controversial conviction: There is no such thing as a Greek Crisis. This is a global crisis resembling a large iceberg – with Greece being the top part, the one protruding and visible. This is not an attempt to deny responsibility. It is merely an attempt to recognise the magnitude of our world’s shared troubles.

    • Absolutely correct.

      One other thing to remember; when the people, at whatever level in society are told, by their government, that they can have the job, the money etc. etc.; on what basis can they argue that the information coming from government is wrong? All of us were bought up to believe in the honesty of authority; when in fact, we have now learned that is not true.

      It is the realisation of the untruths that today drives the debate.

    • Dear Yanis
      I’ve been to both Athens and Copenhagen in the last few Years. You suggest cost of living in Greece is higher than in Denmark.
      I have never seen any statistics to support that – and also my personal impression as a visitor was the opposite. Have a look at this study, please:

      http://www.ubs.com/2/e/medlib/wmr/pdf/Preise_Loehne_2011_e.pdf

      On page 4, you can find both Copenhagen and Athens. I’d suggest using the right column (“incl rent”) as that is what really matters when you live there.
      According to this study, cost of living in Copenhagen is about 1.5 times that of Athens.

      Greece is a less wealthy country than Denmark and prices are a lot lower in Athens than in Copenhagen. 

      So I think applying the Danish poverty line to Greece in order to assess the social situation is a bit misleading.

    • I do believe that actually, some 90% or so of the Greek population did benefit from the pre-crisis debt-bubble system in Greece.
      Some directly (by e.g. receiving higher salaries or getting jobs that were not strictly necessary) through the Greek state, ultimately financed by a growing debt burden.
      Others indirectly, because those who benefitted directly passed a part of their wealth on to others – when you are wealthier, you may more often have a nice evening dinner out, go to the hairdressers, have your house re-decorated, take a taxi home, have another nice weekend break by the sea, etc).
      Impossible to say what the exact percentage was – but for sure the majority benefitted – most of then without being aware of it.

      The tragic of the Greek situation is that until 2007, the country as a whole seemed to get richer and richer, catching up quickly with e.g. Germany and France.

      What’s only become apparent now is that to a large extent, this wealth was caused by increasing debt that fuelled the domestic economy. The ideal outcome would have been a “soft landing” by significantly reducing new debt while the economy was still growing (e.g. 2004/2005) while at the same time implementing a tax-collection structure that works. But nobody wanted to end the party as this would have slowed growth and upset the rich who would have had to pay taxes.
      I remember seeing strange scenes of street riots even before 2007, so there must have been a strong sense of entitlement which did not encourage politicians to say inconvenient truths.
      So they kept spending what they did not have right till the end. Which brought us to where we are now.
      There is no easy way out of this.
      Most likely, Greece’s debt will be significantly reduced. Which I think is good because now, unlike 2004 or so, it is really too late. But this can’t carry on with the rest of Europe financing it. The deficit has to be brought under control – and quickly.
      Would have been better to do this when times were good. But unfortunately, it did not happen then. So it has to take place now.
      Here’s something on Germany that I find interesting. What are your thoughts?

      http://kantooseconomics.com/2011/04/03/is-germany-competitive-is-norway/

    • What you are describing it apt. My point is that the same description is even more relevant to the global economy than it is to Greece. From 1980 to 2008 world growth was built on a bubble. Including recent German manufacturing growth. Now that the bubble has burst, the world is staring into the abyss. And Greece is nothing more than a metaphor of this global predicament. In particular, your idea that the way out is via de-leveraging is founded on a radical error: A person or a firm can and should de-leverage when in debt. When a whole economy tries to do it, especially when embedded in a wider macro-economy that is also in a recessionary spiral, the result is more, not less, debt-to-GDP. The downward spiral is then accelerated and only scorched earth awaits at the other end.

    • @ Steve

      While everyone has responsibility for what is happenning ,just saying it is not quiet just either.

      The system is not against Greece. The system is against countries. And now Greece.

      Those that are in the know ,are always to blame more. The problem is you can not always know who ,what ,why ,how.

      As for the rest (most citizens) ,you forget that we all focus to the reality in front of us. When we are born into a system were a specific play is reproduced (Plato’s cave) ,even the most responsible of us can not see the truth if something doesn’t catch his attention. It is not that easy. And that is why ,usually ,something happens first that gets people out of their comfort zones ,before they start thinking more.

      The system doesn’t work for the majority ,but exactly because after so many years people get used to it ,people become the batteries of it (Matrix).

      And so the system works perfectly for some that are in a position to look at the system ,without being part of it. The same applies to them though. They are the chldren of those in the know and they are born and educated for power plays. (Not quiet their fault then?)

      At the end who is to blame more or less? Those that started the whole thing? The rest? Did they know what they were doing?

      This is an opportunity and while we all hope that something better will be done by the majority ,the system is what it is.

      We can only use basic moral principles to frame situations. So whatever the case ,whoever is to blame ,regardless the complexity of the system ,wear your “religious” mask for a while and think that the only true “system” is first and foremost ,true communication.

      Tha name of the game maybe was ,but in time surely became “Perception Manipulation”.

      Noone has to think of it as an absolute conspiracy.
      It happens. It advanced. Time to Die.

    • I wouldn’t suggest that the wool being pulled over the eyes of the Greek people was the responsibility of Greeks as individuals; clearly, it was a failure of Greek civil society – media, political parties, trade unions, universities and so on. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that civil society was not so much responsible for the failure to keep in check the state and the government, but in many instances colluded with the state and even usurped the state for its own narrow ends. The example of trade unions taking over state enterprises – Hellenic Railways, for example – and using them not for the benefit of the economy, which became warped, or the (long-suffering) Greek public, abused and exploited by these monopolies – but for the parochial advantages that could be extracted for small groups of privileged workers.

      And if I’m right that Greek civil society and the way that Greeks have become accustomed to doing politics – including strikes, demonstrations, occupations, the whole narrative of ‘revolution’ – is as much to blame for the Greek crisis as the troika, international capitalism, etc, – then this suggests that the way out of the crisis will require that Greeks reimagine the way they behave in society, including, in my view, going back to my dismay at Yannis’ article, finding other, more creative ways to fight the government than Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay and all the rest. In other words, Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay is not a sign of the good society to come, but a sign of the bad old society desperately clinging to life.

    • Dear Yanis
      I agree that deleveraging – especially if done in a chaotic / not well thought through fashion – could easily lead to a downward spiral.

      However, as you say, 1980 – 2007 saw a significant increase in debt (overall, in terms of the state, private households, non-financial as well as financial enterprises).

      That clearly boosted growth. But it was unfortunately unsustainable. You can only increase the debt to GDP ratio from e.g. 60% to 120% once. Afterwards, you could simply try to carry on until the whole system crashes (like now in Greece). Or – I would say more sensibly – you could try to gently deleverage the economy to a more moderate level.

      Do I understand you correctly in that you would suggest avoiding the painful deleveraging by simply adding more debt? Where would that end – 220% of GDP – or why not aim for 400% of GDP to boost the economy even more?

      That would strike me as unhealthy. If anything, it seems to me that there is too much debt in the system. So adding more may help short-term but would make our problems bigger long-term, don’t you think?
      So I believe we have to deleverage – in a hopefully well thought through and organized way so not the whole world economy has to go through what Greece is suffering now.

    • See my upcoming post: Fixing Europe’s Impossible Algebra. No, I am not suggesting more debt. I am proposing debt management that allows debt to shrink gradually and in concert with a rational plan.

  15. Let me tell you my story.

    After deducting insurance and my house mortgage I am left with €500 for bills and food for a family of 4. I don’t complain. I am think I am better off than many other people. I quit smoking, eat more beans and now I go to work with my bicycle.

    But now the electricity bill tax will be €2700 as I live in a rather large house in the country. How on earth do they expect me to cough-off almost 6 months of a low available income. I tried to sell the house way below the “objective” price but to no avail..

    They put in a position to choose between paying extra emergency taxes or buying milk for my children and guess what I am going to choose.

    I can’t pay, I won’t pay

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