James Galbraith on ERT, the Fight for Greek Democracy and the Euro Crisis

On Wednesday 12th June James Galbraith and I addressed a crowd of 2500 in Thessaloniki. After having visited the ERT’s Thessaloniki headquarters, were we had the honour and privilege of talking to ERT employees and the crowd of people that had gathered in support of public media, we walked over to the Vellidio Expo Centre were we delivered our talks on the Crisis. The events of the day had stirred up a great deal of emotion both in the crowd and in our own hearts. Here is James Galbraith’s exquisite talk. (If you want to watch my address, which I am afraid it is in Greek, click here.)

18 thoughts on “James Galbraith on ERT, the Fight for Greek Democracy and the Euro Crisis

  1. Pingback: James Galbraith – How to Stop the Path of Economic and Social Destruction

  2. Pingback: James K. Galbraith: How to Stop the Path of Economic and Social Destruction

  3. Mr. Varoufakis,

    I’ve been following your public “interventions” since the beggining of the crisis and this blog for about a year (read all the posts even before that). Reason being that even though I count myself among the “pro memorandum” side (which is a gross oversimplification but so be it) I beleive that it’s required to be intimately familiar with the arguements of all sides if you can ever hope to approach a solution.

    There has never been a doubt in my mind that this is not a greek crisis. Granted, I knew nothing of the architecture of our common currency until we were hit but knowing about it now it is clear to me that you are right and that this has always been an accident waiting to happen. And my question to you is… So what? In your honest opinion, could Greece ever hope to keep going the way it did during the noughties? Is it not true that we have defaulted on our debt in our brief history as a nation state more times than any other nation? Is it a fantasy that the beast called “greek public sector” has been out of control for the past 35 years? That it cannot provide basic servises such as security, education, public transportation, healthcare etc? That it cannot collect taxes? Have you followed Panagiwtis Karkatsoulis’ public appearences in which he expains precisely what is wrong with it and why and how massive the required reform is? Does it really matter if ERT is running surpluses or deficits when it employs 2600(!)? When it bans you from appearing in it’s broadcasts, as you yourself have addmited was the case? Exaclty how well was ERT serving it’s purpose of objectively informing the public, thus contributing to a stable democracy?

    Suppose that you are right in your predictions (as you mostly have been so far) and the common currency collapses. Is this the public sector that you want by your side when facing the post euro, and possible post europe, era? And is it Tsipras you want at the helm? There is no doubt that Samaras and CO are utterly incapable of leading the country, but do you think that Tsipras and Lafazanis will be any better? And do not bother telling me that you are not advocating for people to vote for Sy.Ri.Za. You are lending them your descrete support and this is obvious to anyone that has eyes with which to see and ears with which to listen.

    At the end of the day, though I agree with your macroeconomic assesment of our current situation I regret to say that you offer little clarity in regards to what needs to be done. All domestic effort will be wasted unless a European solution is implemented you repeat like a mantra and I concur. But the flipside is that no matter how brilliant of a solution european leaders come up with, even if your modest proposal is implemented, Greece will not be a better country. And this should be the goal. I have no problem supporting a plan that abolishes austerity for a European solution to the crisis, as long as it also promotes all the much needed reforms in our country. But this is not what you advocate, this is not what ND or Pasok advocate, and this is definetely not what the new pasok, Syriza, advocates. And if I am to chose between them and Mr. Thomsen, I chose Mr. Thomsen without a shred of guilt. At least, thanks to the troika, we now know how many pensions the greek state is paying and to whom. It’s a start. A very slow and disappointing one, but a start nonetheless. Sadly between the 2 different versions of madness ( pro and against memorandum) there is precious little room for reformers. And this is the greatest tragedy of them all. For little does matter which side is right and which one is wrong. As far as Greece is concerned, both are depressingly irrelevant.

  4. There are a few gaps in your narrative Yanis at least for the layman in the audience (that’s me). Firstly, why is it a given that the Euro will eventually create the huge trade imbalances which will then lead to bubbles etc etc and eventually implosion. It obviously happened, but why was this so obvious to you a priori? I just don’t see why this is a steady state attractor, and not perhaps an equilibrium where capital investment from surplus to deficit countries eventually stabilises everything.

    Secondly, with regards to hard bargaining, red lines etc. What about Cyprus? If we take your current narrative at face value, the ECB/Surplus countries would have never been able to blackmail the Cypriot government. In fact what we saw was one entire week of limbo (thanks to their parliament) where from Tuesday onwards ELA was in fact cut. Ok banks were actually closed during that time, and in fact never properly reopened but all your arguments should hold right? I.e. the creation of a domino effect in the Eurozone with one banking system collapsing after the next etc etc That never happened and it looked like it never would. What’s different in the Greek case?


  5. Yiani, it is absolutely correct that exit now from the Euro will be painful. However It will be more painful to wait when Europe is disintegrated which is highly probable. Greece should have a plan for Euroexit either way. Threat for an exit from Euro and not from Europe can be used also as a tactical negotiations tool to bring Europeans to their senses for the wrong policies they follow.

    The issue here is complete lack of Greek National sovereignty and lack of leadership. I am afraid that your suggestions will fall in deaf ears again no matter which party is in government. What you suggest is to let the Greek people to stay on board of the sinking ship Europe, waiting for the the food stamps to arrive to be used at the supermarket with the empty shelves by those who manage to get onshore.

    Nevertheless I enjoyed your speech anyway.

    Stathis Papanicolaou,
    Seattle WA

    • Goodness, a person who makes sense!!! Yes, I have been saying that Greece should have a plan to get back on its own two feet as a self-respecting sovereign nation and homeland of Greeks for some time now. A plan for Grexit was a prerequisite for any negotiations with the EU from the start! As Eliza Vozenberg stated when she rejected the Papademos PSI restructuring, Greek governments never even tried to negotiate anything seriously. Yanis Varoufakis correctly points out that they just act spasmodically to keep the bailout money flowing, without even considering the long terms consequences of their actions. Such is the Greek political elite – cowardly, incompetent and hopeless. It takes an elite to destroy a country!

  6. Yanis: Was ERT losing money or not because it is said that there were lavish salaries based on political favoritism and ERT was a serious offender in the deficits. I am curious to learn the facts!

    • No, it had a surplus. Salaries were not high, except for the chosen few. The greatest sin of ERT was that it did not utilise efficiently its available resources in producing high quality programming. Some programs were very good but most were indifferent and the news stories were stale an too respectful of the government agenda.

    • Thanks, Yanis! .

      It is unfortunate but probably deliberate politics that the debate now is soley centered on ERT. A point that I want to make is that most of the private stations are losing big money and they are often subsidized indirectly through questionable bank loans whereas by normal, rational credit criteria they would not be eligible. I suppose that you would call this another sign of the Kleptocracy in Greece. The most revealing aspect of Greek media I saw from US Embassy wiki lead documents, where the US embassy staff made a rather insightful and accurate analysis of Greek media, coming to the conclusion that it was a Truman Show situation holding everyone hostage.

      Consider jpw poorly informed is the average Greek citicizen about the Eurozone crisis, debt deflation, etc.

  7. Mr. Varoufaki, I wonder how come you find all the moves of this government wrong? As long I remember you were a consultant of G.Papandreou. Why didn’t you give the right advices to him in order to overcome the crisis? I watched you from the beginning, being negative to all european decisions and I believe you play the role that Americans want you to play or English. About the ERT what would you do If you were Prime Minister? Keeping it open and spend our money to pay all these assholes? Somebody has to break this spoiled public sector of Greece. At the beginning of crisis if they had set the higher salary for employees in all public sector to 3000 euros and If they had change the way of calculating the pensions depending of the money each one has given to the social security for the years of work, and generally If they had made brave cuts of all the expenses, I still may had my job now. The private sector has been crushed, even the unemployed people pay taxes, to pay the guys in ERT and in many other organizations with great amount of money. WE don’t want ERT or DEI or Skaramaga shipyards etc. if they don’t make profits, is better to sell them all. First of all ERT was illegal to charge us money with DEI bills and at the same time to have ads. BBC If you know doesn’t have any advert on its program. And finally, austerity is a must for a country that has bankrupted, there is not other way. The solutions you have always proposed have to do with Germany spreading money in Europe…, yeh yeh right ! nice economic model you have. I believe that after your consultancy to GAP, you shouldn’t give us any advice.
    Thank you


    • And I think that nothing is less impressive than uninformed criticism. 1. It is well known that I resigned in 2006 from being GAP’s adviser exacty because my advice was never heeded. 2. I was an ardent critic of his government. 3. I have never advocated that the solution to the Euro Crisis is that Germany spends more on us peripherals – in fact I have been arguing that its bailout guarantees are being wasted. 4. Some public utilities MUST lose money – e.g. public transport, the Opera, art museums; the reason being that they provide a public good that would not be provided otherwise on the basis of commercial demand and supply (with social benefits that cannot be counted in euros and cents). 5. ERT was not losing money and its electricity based fee was very low. In short, you may disagree with me, even dislike me. But do make an effort to argue against me on the basis of fact, not fiction.

    • Well, well, well… Typical boilerplate rants from a Randroid troll. You said:

      “WE don’t want ERT or DEI or Skaramaga shipyards etc. if they don’t make profits, is better to sell them all.”

      Schools don’t make profits either (in your “honour”, I am using the exact grammar you use). Let’s close them. Hospitals don’t make profits either. Let’s close them.

      Has it ever occurred to you that a country needs its “loss-making” (as is the myth you Randroids, who are also closeted admirers of William Edward Hickman – google him – , keep spreading) infrastructure to enable its citizens to make profits and contribute to the state’s profits through taxation?

      Then again, that would take an IQ that would be at least in the high double-digits, and Randroids’ IQs are in the smallish range of US womens’ shoe sizes (i.e. not higher than 8).

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