Now that TieGate has thankfully ended, dynamic duo Alexis Tsipras and Yianis Varoufakis, fresh from unwittingly disparaging la cravate on their European roadshow, return to Athens to address the hopes of a nation they shoulder. World headlines may have strayed off message but the fanfare was an effervescent release for a nation that has borne media declarations of impending doom during seven long years of austerity. Rarely, if ever, have Greek politicians received rock star treatment. From Business Insider branding FinMin Varoufakis The Most Interesting Man in the World to the world’s leading economists decrying austerity in that paragon of radicalism, The Financial Times, Greeks are daring to consider that their politics might really, actually, finally be changing. Perhaps the most insightful headline came from La Repubblica, which wrote, “The style of Athens speaks volumes about Greece’s desire not to respect any convention.”
Nor should they.
Whether Messrs. Tsipras and Varoufakis wear a tie or not does not change the stubborn fact that Greece cannot sustain the debt burden its fledging government inherited. And pinning waxen wings to soaring rhetoric will only see it melt under the white-hot light of an EU apparatus demanding accountability. That should not come as a shock to anyone. What is surprising is that it took this long for Greeks to elect a government indicting the failed leadership of an entire political class. Greece has a storied history of leaders cowering to foreign power intervention. It runs deep.
The military has a term for what’s unfolding in Athens. Blowback. Economics too has a construct to explain it. Disaster Capitalism. As of January 25th Greece became its newest foil. If elections are indeed the laboratory of democracy then Greece is its petri plate. To decry neoliberal disaster capitalism is one thing. To work at reforming it is quite another.
In Greece, that task has begun in earnest.
Syriza’s manifesto rests on a troika of reforms. Renegotiate the terms of untenable EU debt; tackle the oligarchy that reduced Greece to a plutocratic paradise; restore dignity and social justice to the Greek nation. All three are the enemies of disaster capitalism that survives on debt, control in the hands of few and fear in the hearts of many. Their formula is not linear but neither is democracy. It is messy and chaordic, a living, breathing organism perpetually seeking new interpretations.
Perhaps the time has come to seriously scrutinize the unbridled ascent of neoliberalism as the pax economic treatise of our time. Many of Europe’s problems remain unresolved because capitalism remains too narrowly defined. Twentieth-century paradigms won’t solve twenty-first century problems but do reveal how the triumph of market economics has translated into a world of market societies. Revealing moral failures and profound imbalances in how human capital is considered, or in the case of Greece, utterly laid to waste. Confronting the narrow interpretation of Adam Smith is remaking it in his spirit, as he himself expanded upon the theories of the French Physiocrats that in turn changed the world forever.
To buoy this notion is Greece’s strangest new bedfellow, Britain’s Adam Smith Foundation that voiced its support for the government’s efforts. The zeitgeist of triumphalism has evolved to where we now face the profound uncertainty of what happens in a commoditized world of one-size-MUST-fit-all policies that are anachronistic at best, economic weapons at worst. This model, hinging on growth at all costs, may indeed be yielding to an end of history no growth future. Where the ‘er words’ of capitalism – newer, better, faster, cheaper – no longer reign as the ideal or universal economic model. Because we are learning all too painfully the consequences of a market(ing) ethos that spends billions of dollars, euros, pounds and yuan to confuse the goods of life with the good life.
Economics may be the reigning queen of the social sciences but she is also a cruel mistress Europe has failed to tame. As Alexis Tsipras attempts to build a new doctrine of democracy from the ashes of its birth, he might consider Thucydides, who asked:
When will there be justice in Athens? There will be justice in Athens when those who are not injured are as outraged as those who are.
The people of Greece elected a man who should remain steadfast in his effort to push for new approaches. Forty-one percent of Greeks stand a little taller today, renewed by a provocateur attempting to shatter the status quo. A man who drives his own car to parliament from his working-class neighborhood in Athens and forsakes a Pretorian Guard shielding him from the people. Because he IS the people. And together, they seek what this Greek election mandated and what cynics deem impossible. A new enlightenment that ends a disaster.
A principle as old as Greece itself.
*Eve Geroulis is a Senior Lecturer at Loyola University Chicago Quinlan School of Business and on Twitter.