Today’s article is about the Greek Financial crisis. But wait! Don’t click that Back button. I promise it will be interesting and will hopefully provide some thought-provoking perspectives on the important and consequential shenanigans unfolding there.
If you are like me, and despite your best efforts to avoid knowing anything about this, you have still absorbed a fairly strong narrative from our media. It probably goes something like this:
Greeks spent like drunken sailors and lived way beyond their means. They committed rampant tax evasion while overpaid public employees suckled from the public teat. Throngs of retirees lounged blissfully on Aegean beaches while enjoying their lavish pensions. The Greeks bankrupted their nation through greed and incompetence and now more responsible nations and major financial institutions have to bail them out to prevent their economic contagion from infecting the European Union and beyond.
That narrative sounds familiar doesn’t it? It sounds a lot like the narrative that many of us were led to believe about the 2008 mortgage crisis here in America. That meme was that greedy and irresponsible home buyers bought houses way beyond their means and lived the good life until their mortgages became due. When they defaulted, those poor lending institutions were the ones to suffer as they struggled to absorb massive foreclosures.
I know that was the common meme because many, many people voiced it at the time. It was also clearly, flatly wrong. Sure, it had an element of truth. All good lies and cover stories do. But all of us should understand by now that those homeowners were the victims of predatory lending practices and irresponsible financial speculation by large financial institutions (summary here). Yet the homeowners were the ones to suffer most profoundly as a consequence.
In the same way, the current meme about the Greek financial crisis may have elements of truth, but those half-truths conceal even bigger lies and malfeasance at the international institutional level. But how can we know the real truth? When trying to understand complex issues we cannot all be experts. So we have to find experts we trust. In my experience, you are best served by looking for a relatively independent expert with a track record of being right. These are usually not the big names. Big names tend to repeat the half-truths that serve big interests far too often. After all, they have way too much to lose if they don’t stay mostly in line with the corporate message.
In cases like this I most trust a more independent expert like Naomi Klein. She wrote a landmark book called “The Shock Doctrine” (found here) which meticulously detailed “crises” just like this one that have been exploited or even manufactured by large financial interests over the last 50 years. You can see an excellent synopsis of her research and analysis here along with a summary of some countries where similar “disaster economics” have been applied.
Naomi sees the current Greek crisis as yet one more example of the “Shock Doctrine” being applied to force Greece into crippling austerity measures (see here). The goal of this shock campaign is to force them to sell off fossil and mining resources, as well as any other pillageable assets, for pennies on the drachma. Think of these banking institutions as lions that pick a weak prey and run it down until it collapses to be devoured flesh and bone, leaving a carcass. Greece is the most recent prey that these predators have pulled out of the pack of nations.
Even if you agree that the lions are on the hunt to feast upon the financial problems in Greece, you may still believe that greedy and irresponsible Greeks are nevertheless guilty of making themselves vulnerable in the first place. Perhaps a weak and feeble antelope deserves no sympathy if it is culled from the herd. Maybe the lions are performing an important and essential function in a jungle of economic Darwinism.
But a very credible CNN article (found here) disputes this blame-the-victim mentality. It points out a number of things that those big news sources who repeat the meme fail to mention. For one thing, the article points out that the meme of “rampant tax evasion” is deeply misleading.
“In Greece the culprit has been rampant tax evasion by corporations owing millions in taxes and self-employed professionals who can hide their earnings, unlike salaried employees and pensioners. Under international pressure to balance its budget, the outgoing Greek government axed salaries and pensions and slapped new taxes on the bulk of citizens who were not tax-delinquent. “
We see the very same thing happening with tax “minimization” by corporations and the ultra-wealthy here in the United States, do we not? And as in our own financial crises, it was the insatiable greed of wealthy people and corporations that drove this crisis in Greece, not the greed and indolence of ordinary Greeks as it is portrayed. And just as the media propagated this “blame-the-homeowners” meme in America, they conveniently fail to specify that it is largely wealthy interests who are guilty of tax “minimization” in Greece. Also as in America, it is the regular Greeks who end up footing the bill and paying the price for the avarice of the rich.
How many times will we believe the memes spread through mainstream media? How often will we allow powerless ordinary people to be scapegoated for crises created by the same financial institutions holding all the power? How many more countries must fall to these big financial institutions before we finally begin to see them for the ravenous predators they are?