Greece Just Hammered the First Nail in the Coffin of Milton Friedman’s Legacy

by Manuel Barcia
Professor of Latin American History, University of Leeds

Originally Posted at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk : 07/07/2015
Earlier this week Naomi Klein was asked in Twitter whether she thought that what we are seeing in Greece corresponds to the early stages of the Shock Doctrine she analyzed so well in her homonymous documentary of 2009. Klein meekly replied “early?” Klein’s reply, short and simple, went to the core of what we have been witnessing in Europe over the past few months, namely, a persistent offensive of the neoliberal camp against a small country whose people have decided to make a stand against their principles and economic recipes.

With the July 5 referendum the people of Greece spoke for the second time this year, and for the second time they threw their full support behind a government that has come to represent everything neoliberal economics stands against and fears. Not surprisingly, even after the Greeks’ vote, European politicians have continued to put the blame for what has just happened – initiating a democratic process – on Syriza and prime minister Alexis Tsipras. Before the final results of the referendum were known for sure, Martin Schulz, one of the EU sycophants, disconnected from reality as per usual, had the indecency to condemn the Greek popular vote, warning of even harsher times ahead.

That the EU has been rooting for a government change in Greece for months is no longer news for anyone. As a matter of fact, in the smearing and scaremongering that has been going on for the past week in across Europe there are discernible echoes of the destabilization campaign carried out against Salvador Allende in Chile back in 1973. The remarkable thing here is that Greeks voted NO in spite of their private TV channels and newspapers in almost complete agreement with those like Schulz who would inspire fear about the outcome of the referendum. And it is surprising they voted NO also in spite of the continuous blocking and concealing of important pieces of information like the IMF recommendations to the EU on debt write-downs and even the pro-NO demonstrations across their own country the past week.

What can only be described as a concerted, relentless campaign of intimidation and fear waged from Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin, warning Greek people of the dire consequences of an NO vote failed miserably. The distortion both in Greece and in the EU of what in essence was a pro- or anti-austerity referendum and the attempts to portray it as a vote for staying in the Euro or defaulting and adopting the Drachma were all utterly futile.

Greeks were able to see through the rubble and, in spite of all this, gave an unmistakable NO to the neoliberal austerity measures prescribed by their creditors. The morning after, their champion minister of Finance, Yianis Varoufakis took the high road and resigned from his position in the hope of giving his own team a better chance of carrying the voices and vote of their people to Brussels. In a wonderful parting shot, Varoufakis, confessed to be proud to wear the creditors’ loathing with pride.

In all truth Varoufakis had to go, not just because he had the courage to call those spreading fear among the Greek population terrorists just a few days ago, but because he lectured them and showed them off for the ignorant, subservient lackeys they are. Well, yeah, the man knows more economics than all of them put together, and that may have shown in their negotiations. The only economics Lagarde, Schulz, Dijssembloem, Juncker, Gabriel and Schauble know is the sparkling garbage that Friedman and Hayek put in their narrow, pro-capital, anti-people minds. They even attempted, unsuccessfully, to discredit him with low punches, like the “no adults in the room” jibe. They bullied him, they repeatedly criticized him, but at the end he got the best of them, and aw, that has to hurt.

The lack of touch with reality exhibited by these EU minions of capital is simply stupefying. Even the IMF has come around now, admitting mistakes and suggesting that a substantive debt restructuring and moratorium on payments can kick start Greece’s economy. Yet, both elected and unelected EU bosses refuse to look at reality in its face, and instead continue to wallow in their self-righteousness, and lack of solidarity. I wonder, now that their incompetence has been shown so clearly, will they be forced to resign by their paymasters too?

Neoliberalism’s chickens have come to roost in Europe; and Greece is not Venezuela or Honduras where the powers that be can easily engineer a coup d’état. Not that they haven’t thought about it, or even tried to force regime change in sneakier ways, but here, in Europe, things are done differently, at least for now. The free market and the de-regulated capitalism we have been subject to since Friedman and his Chicago boys took their first class seats in a flight to Santiago de Chile in the aftermath of Augusto Pinochet’s bloody coup, is starting to crack.

How Friedman’s disciples in the EU will react is all a matter of speculation now. It comes down to whether they can allow any sort of disobedience to the orders of their masters, those unnamed speculators that hide behind the euphemism of the markets. Remember that for the bailouts of 2010 and 2012 they had no objection in throwing more money into Greece’s bottomless pit so that they could pay debts – not for a much-needed kick-start of the Greek economy that would create the conditions to repay those debts in the long run, but to pay those same banks, in fact not even the actual debts but interest on the debt for the most part.

Ultimately, choosing to make an example out of Tsipras, Syriza and the Greek people they made a huge mistake that has put the very foundation of their economic doctrines on shaky grounds. Now, people across Europe will have seen the example set out by the Greeks, who in spite of being against the wall, chose to fight instead of bending on their knees when told to do so.

Suddenly, the creditors are confronted with a really difficult position they could have easily avoided by allowing some small and reasonable measures of relief to Syriza’s negotiators over the past six months. Their greed, nothing else but their greed, has set them on a path they would have liked to avoid. Now, they are confronted with accusations, not totally unfounded, of terrorism and tyranny. More importantly, they have to choose to preside over the break-up of the European project, and the possibility of a Grexit, or to back down and accept those same measures they rejected before, but now looking foolish, ignorant and weak to the rest of the peoples of Europe.

In either case they have shown their real colors to all of us. Democracy in Europe, as we knew it, is now defunct. That is one thing that we have learned for sure. To actually try to portray a democratic process of consultation as anti-democratic -as many of them even now are trying to do- reveals that EU can’t allow a new economic order that benefits people and not the conglomerates and banks they serve with such passionate ineptitude. Ironically, by confronting Greece in the hope of quashing any form of resistance, they have lost to the power of the people, and have just given ground in that struggle. Greece’s referendum is nothing but the first nail in the coffin of Milton Friedman’s legacy.

Follow Manuel Barcia on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mbarcia24

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