Two events during October, one in Bristol and one in Brussels, give evidence that notwithstanding the capitulation of Greece’s Syriza to the Eurogroup’s shameless intransigence, anti-austerity economics is gaining ground in Europe in tandem with the gathering social movements across the continent. We went to film both events for Money Puzzles, our documentary-in-progress about money, debt and us. In some ways, Bristol’s New Economy Summit and the Citizens Assembly on Debt in Brussels were complementary, and in other ways contrasting. The former was centred on questions of money, and the theory and practice of green economics, including alternative currencies like the Bristol Pound. The focus of the latter was on questions of debt (the other side of the coin, so to speak) which neoliberal policies create at every level, from the household to sovereign states, with disastrous social effects.
Arriving in Buenos Aires the day after the Labour Party leadership election results were declared, I was impressed to discover that practically everyone I talked to during the ensuing week—whether economist, sociologist, journalist, workman or community activist—already knew Jeremy Corbyn’s name. My impression was that they also approved of his position that there is an alternative to the politics of austerity, which is something Argentina suffered in the closing years of last century and brought about the country’s economic collapse early in the new one. A couple mentioned the comment of Argentina’s ambassador in the UK that Corbyn is uno de ‘los nuestros’—’one of “ours”‘—in reference to the question of the Malvinas. ‘Is that really true?’ they asked me, and I told them he was no warmonger and advocated negotiation (like Tony Benn in 1982). This is for the future. Meanwhile there are others things to attend to, like the elections coming up in late October—about which I offer no comment: Argentine politics remain confusing and impenetrable even to Argentinians.
The next chapter: Argentina, or, What happens when a country can’t pay its debts?
During the six month stand-off between Athens and Brussels, which we documented in Greece on the Edge?, while European intransigence was driving Greece ever closer to default on its massive debt – a step which would inevitably entail exiting the euro – various commentators began asking whether Greece might have anything to learn, one way or the other, from the case of Argentina,* where the currency collapsed in December 2001, the banks put up shutters, the country got through five presidents in twelve days, and ended up (when the IMF withdrew its support) in a spectacular default.
There are big differences between the two countries, of course, but there are also strong similarities in the economic dilemma facing them. Continue reading
This film is a chapter from the forthcoming feature documentary, Money Puzzles, a film about money, debt and the fight against austerity. Money Puzzles is conceived as a follow up to the filmmakers’ award winning film, Secret City. Whereas Secret City investigated a crucial institutional structure that was invisible to most and shrouded in secrecy, Money Puzzles focuses on an everyday commodity the reality of which is hidden in plain sight.
Nowhere is the reality of debt money more evident than in Greece right now. The tussles over the so-called bailout shone a light upon the institutional structures that underpin money and its relations. Yet that light seems to have blinded journalists from the mainstream media and their political counterparts.
Since getting back from Athens, we’ve been hard at work editing the next episode of ‘Money Puzzles‘, our film project on money, debt and the fightback against austerity. To reflect the dire situation in Greece after the government, despite the overwhelming No vote in the referendum of July 5th, caved in to the masters of Europe, we’re calling this new episode ‘Greece, Europe, Undemocracy’. We define ‘undemocracy’ as ‘a condition found in democratic countries when democracy has been denied’ (see also ‘democratic deficit’)’. Like our previous filming forays, we shall release this as a free-standing short, to be later incorporated into the finished film. Continue reading
Athens, 20 July 2015
Two weeks after the referendum in which the Greek people delivered an overwhelming No to Austerity, one week after the Syriza government nonetheless accepted the terms dictated by Brussels, many people in Greece feel either betrayed or confused or both. I’m in Athens with Lee Salter to film an episode for our new film, Money Puzzles, and attend an international conference called, hopefully, Democracy Rising, where some of the best brains of the academic left from Europe and North America have been trying to grapple with the contradictions which these unexpected developments have now thrown up, and relate them to the broader canvas of the anti-capitalist social movements that have emerged in the last few years around the world. It is not an easy brief, in part because of a degree of disconnection between the academic language of many of the panellists and the political need for plain-speaking. This disconnect is also part of the political blockage of the left that we all need to learn to overcome. We need to speak simple truth not only to power but also each other.
The mood in Athens as Greece approaches the crunch.
Greece is being punished by the obstinate, pig-headed, anti-democratic plutocracy of the EU and the IMF for the crime of electing the wrong government, a government that opposes austerity as a misconceived and unworkable policy that creates unpayable debts and has indefensible consequences for the mass of the people. In May 2015, I went to Athens with the #DebtAction Group organised by Johnna Montgomerie of the Political Economic Research Centre (PERC) at Goldsmiths College, to meet activists, trade unionists, journalists and academics and gauge the mood at ground level as Greece approaches the crunch. The resulting film looks at the effects of five years of austerity on household debt, and visits the CommonsFest, a forum for alternative politics, while economist and Syriza MP Costas Lapavitsas explains why the euro has been such a disaster for Greece.
The thought can hardly be original, but visiting the Acropolis during a recent trip to Athens, I couldn’t help but see it as a symbol of the condition of Greece: under renovation, but work currently suspended. At the end of April, the liquidity crisis forced the government to stop payment on public works because the European funding they relied on has dried up. Greece is being punished by the obstinate, pig-headed, anti-democratic plutocracy of the EU and the IMF for the crime of electing the wrong government, a government that opposes austerity as an unworkable policy that creates unpayable debts and has indefensible consequences for the mass of the people. Continue reading