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Oncoming crisis of legitimacy in Greece

A very important blog post from Athensby the BBC's Paul Mason (Economics editor, Newsnight):

The trouble started simply because, if you put a crowd of hundreds of thousands next to a parliament that has lost its economic sovereignty, and let that crowd be fringed by anarchists in black balaclavas, it simply will. ...

After about two hours of sporadic fighting at various entrances to the parliament [no kettling?], the police started to go into side-streets and do flanking movements, much as the anarchists and "indignatos" (Facebook-organised youth [Well, that's the narrative, but the narrative is wrong. Shocker!] who are not anarchists) were flanking them earlier in the day.

Fires were started - some little ones on street corners - a couple of big ones, bringing a shudder to the crowd who remember the death of three bank workers in a fire last year.

The wider crowd - of trade union members, old ladies, mothers, teachers, girls in midriff-revealing tops and blonde dread locks, old sailors with white stubble - just stands there, its eyes streaming, wiping its nose ["all walks of life" was critical in Egypt].

In the lulls there are mini confrontations between trade union groups and the black bloc. The former chant that they are provocateurs.

We've had the same division, or distinction, online here. Read the post for more detail; it's a constant.

There is a social crisis under way and I think it is different from the one our history books teach us to expect. It's not like the cracking of the state, or mass unrest, but simply that the Greek state - whose reach was never far into society - is beginning to lose its grip slightly on the actual functions a state should do.

It cannot decide its economic policy; it can't convince its own people of any good intent; the rule of law is imposed hard here - with the impounding of yachts bought through tax evasion - only to break down somewhere else, as people begin to pledge non-payment of bills for the privatised utilities.

Does any of this sound familiar?

It is not anarchy here, but - to use another Hellenic word - neither is there catharsis.

"[T]he old is dying and the new is struggling to be born." And now the nut grafs:

This is my third blog post in 24 hours [Oh, the humanity!] from here, and at the risk of repeating myself, I think the level of mismatch between perception and reality within the Eurozone is worrying. Because last year's protests were mainly leftist; and the strikes mainly token, a pattern of thinking has emerged that dismisses all Greek protest as essentially this.

But a new situation is emerging: Greek people I have spoken to are beginning to express things in terms of nation and sovereignty* - and this makes the Greek situation different, for now, to Ireland and Portugal.

While the centre right New Democracy would probably win any snap election, it is hard to find support for pro-austerity politics among ND's natural support base, the business class. Because austerity for them means getting hammered with a tax bill the like of which they have never dreamed, nor indeed paid.

And I will repeat the point about hostility to the media: it's not a problem for me and my colleagues to be hounded off demos as "representatives of big capital", "Zionists", "scum and police informers" etc. But to get this reaction from almost every demographic - from balaclava kids to pensioners - should be a warning sign to the policymaking elite. The "mainstream" - whether it's the media, politicians or business people - is beginning to seem illegitimate to large numbers of people.

As one old bloke put it to me, when I said: "Don't you want us to report what's happening to you?" - "No." [There are two sides to why the story isn't covered, then.]

He was quite calm and rational as he waved his hand in my face: "It's too late for that."

Does any of this seem familiar? If you're from the Madison, WI? Madrid? Cairo? Even Bangkok? Et cetera? It ought to seem familiar. It's the same.

NOTE * I think it's important to abandon the idea that our own elite, of either party, regards itself as having any duty of care for the American people. It's best to think of the sort of people who attend Davos as they are: A post-national and parasitical rentier class. Nothing our elite do is designed to "provide for the general welfare, " neither Obama nor his owners; any number of indicators show this, starting from permanently high DISemployment and ending with a post-Soviet-style drop in life expectancy. See, also, here.

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danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

That's been a very strong feeling of mine since the start of the year. By and large I'm done with traditional outlets. I'll read links that seem relevant, but at this point I'd rather spend my news consuming time going through my Twitter feed, seeing Yves' latest deconstruction/dismissal of what financial elites are laundering through favored outlets, and checking in a few places (including here!) for takes on the headlines & significant but neglected stories.

I'm largely ignoring trad. media. I'm done with it, and I'm not even sparing outrage for it any more. You go your way, I'll go mine. "Don't you want us to report what's happening to you?" "No"

malagodi's picture
Submitted by malagodi on

That's what I do. BTW, there's a great service called that produces a 'newspaper' from links in your Twitter feed. So the people I follow produce the content. Works great.

And Lambert, what a great article. Thanks.

Roman Berry's picture
Submitted by Roman Berry on

(I)t's important to abandon the idea that our own elite, of either party, regards itself as having any duty of care for the American people. It's best to think of the sort of people who attend Davos as they are: A post-national and parasitical rentier class, or shills for them. Nothing they do is designed to "provide for the general welfare..."

Exactly right, and bears repeating everywhere until people begin to grasp the implications of it. These charts posted at Business Insider may be of use in driving those implications home.

Submitted by lefttown on

You wrote an insightful piece, full of passion.
I don't read or listen to traditional media. Like the old Greek, I don't want to read what they report, anymore. They only serve to distract and propagandize, and like he said: "It's too late for that."

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

The media critique aside,* the real issue why they are in the streets is the crisis of legitimacy of the state. That is the critical point, the media, as usual, is a sideshow.**

The people are losing faith that their government either can or will act in their interest. The problem is that when Greece (and the other nations in the Eurozone) abandonded their own currency for a collective currency with other nations, they ceded a significant portion of the sovereignty and legitimacy of their governmnet to the larger whole. That may or may not be a good thing, depending on whether the larger whole can/will be responsive to their people's needs. But while this is certainly a crisis of legitimacy in the government of Greece, it is more so a crisis of legitimacy of the EU, and that isn't lost on the BBC journalist.

There were and are still a lot of damn good arguments for Greece and other countries to join the Eurozone, and for the existence of the EU and Euro in the first place. Open borders, common passport, decreased barriers to trade, decreased militarization, increased ability to compete against the US (and China, and Russia) politically and economically. None of those are small things. But when the EU leaders took on this goal of unifying Europe, they also took on the task of legitimately addressing the needs of all of the peoples whose governments ceded legitimacy and sovereignty. Right now, they are failing badly, engaged in parochial concerns and unable to provide the leadership to assist countries/areas like Greece, Portugal and Ireland who are going through bad economic times.

My question is, is there really resentment in the people of other EU countries about "bailing out" countries like Greece? Or is that manufactured outrage by the banks and rich financial institutions of Germany, France, etc.?

* and of course it is ironic to be using big media reports to discredit big media, but what's wrong with applying critical thinking?

** and if federal taxes have nothing to do with federal spending, as MMT professes, then when common people figure this out we are going to have one hell of a "Crisis of Legitimacy" here in the United States!

Submitted by lambert on

Money is created for a public purpose, and taxes have nothing to do with it. Bernanke says it; Greenspan says it; we've seen the conjuring trick done, right before our eyes, and yet we still cannot see it.

So, one (populist) response to that is to say "There's your problem! The solution to what the evil banksters are doing is sound money." And then we get the balanced budget amendment, and everything else that, in fact, will reinforce the rentiers, quelle surprise.

Another (populist) response is mine: Money is indeed created by the state, and for a public purpose; the real questions are where is the state, and who is the public. See under the bailouts for my answer. There's a reason the 2012 campaign season is starting so early, eh?

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

I think in the previous thread you were careful to differentiate a system of evaluating the phenomenon of money, taxation, etc., from the results we desire in a political/economic system.

I agree with you entirely on the response, but disagree with the way you phrase "we have MMT right now". Just as I would object to someone saying "we have relativity, or evolution, or quantum theory right now". Those theories are morally neutral, as is MMT. They more accurately describe reality, just as MMT does.

The problem is that the vast, vast majority of people don't understand (and despite considering myself fairly well-informed, I admit I didn't really understand myself until yesterday), that taxes don't pay for spending. At least not on a federal level in the US. So all the arguments of both right and left regarding "I don't want m my taxes to pay for *insert in blank*" whether it is wars in Afghanistan, "government waste", "welfare queens" or whatever, are based on a faulty premise. THere is no tie-in there whatsoever.

I honestly think that once people understand that, as I actually think they inevitably will, that all hell is going to break loose. This is a totally disruptive concept, and I don't think that is fully understood yet.

Submitted by lambert on

The elite understand very well that "taxes don't pay for spending." That's why they were able to award themselves $14 trillion in bailout money. Now, if you define the bailouts at "public purpose" -- as the elites do, which is the real problem -- then indeed "we have MMT."