Greece is in revolt. Not surprisingly, though, the protests there are being totally misrepresented in the mainstream media. Much attention in the U.S. press has focused on the spectacle of the riots and on the three tragic deaths in a bank in Athens. Cogent analysis of the underlying crisis has been hard to find.
This relatively neutral sounding article in The Guardian is typical. The article describes the sovereign debt crisis in Greece as a product of the fact that the Greek government relies on foreign loans in order to balance its debt. In a thinly veiled racist reference that’s typical of these sorts of crises (remember the rhetoric about lack of fiscal discipline during the Asian crash in the late 1990s?), the article cites Greece’s unusually generous welfare state and its problem with tax evasion as an important ingredient in the current economic debacle.
To its credit, the article does also cite the role of U.S.- and U.K.-based credit ratings agencies, which recently downgraded the government’s debt to “junk” status, making it virtually impossible for the government to borrow any more money. There’s mounting anger in Greece and the rest of continental Europe towards the decisive role such dubious “Anglo-Saxon” ratings agencies – which, after all, gave gold stars to the banks that were pushing dangerous mortgage-based derivatives to the hilt – are playing in stoking the crisis.
Little mention is made, in this or any of the other articles in the mainstream press, of the underlying crisis of capitalism. There are no discussions, for instance, of the role of speculative capital flowing from banks in northern Europe and the U.S. into the (again thinly veiled racially demarcated) PIGS: Portugal, Ireland/Italy, Greece, and Spain. No analysis can be found of the underlying crisis of overaccumulation that produces such inflows and wrenching withdrawals of speculative capital. And nowhere can one find defiant rejections of the shifting of this burden onto the backs of the Greek working- and middle-classes.
Ironic, really, given the fact that exactly the same thing is happening now – although to a lesser degree – throughout the rest of the global North. Here in NYC, for example, Mayor Bloomberg has just announced a budget in which 11,000 teachers are going to be fired in anticipation of draconian cuts in the state budget. 1,000 employees of the Metropolitan Transit Authority are going to be fired. These cuts are a gut punch to average New Yorkers. They’re also totally short-sighted since they are going to make it harder than ever to get the economy moving again.
Where to turn for adequate analysis of the crisis? David Harvey has just published an incredibly (and characteristically) lucid new book called The Enigma of Capital. He’s been out on the lecture circuit recently to promote the book, and some of his public presentations are now available online. Check out the talk below. Listen until the end, because Harvey discusses not just the roots of the crisis but also the solutions: we need to take public control of the economy in order to avoid the kind of destructive gyrations that we’ve been seeing with increasing frequency since the dawn of the neoliberal era, and, as recent posts of mine have I hope underlined, in order to forestall climate chaos.