“Can ‘people over profits’ become a reality in Greece?”

This is the full transcript of my podcast interview with John Milios; it appeared earlier this week in Jacobin. John is a prominent figure within Syriza; he was the party’s chief economic advisor until earlier this year and is also a member of the party’s central committee, one of the 109 who signed a letter last week opposing the new memorandum.

Here, he discusses Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision to hold the July 5 referendum, the anti-austerity course not taken by Syriza, and how the slogan “people over profits” can become a concrete reality in Greece.

Michal Rozworski: What is the situation one week after the memorandum was agreed to and two weeks after the referendum?

John Milios: When the referendum was proclaimed, we saw an election campaign that had class and social characteristics. There were two “Greeces” fighting each other. On one side, you had roughly the poor, wage-earners, the unemployed, and the small entrepreneurs, while on the other you had the capitalists, the managerial class, the higher ranks of the state, and so on agitating for Yes.

Ultimately, a broad coalition of the social majority saw the referendum as a chance to express their commitment not to continue with austerity and neoliberalism. All this happened in a situation of fear and terror arising due to the European Central Bank’s choice to not extend Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to the Greek banks. A lot of people saw this as a scare tactic and started withdrawing money. Ultimately, it led to a bank holiday. (more…)

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JW Mason on business not investing, still disgorging the cash

This week’s podcast is a bit more economics-focused than usual but gets at the heart of what’s going on in the global economy where interest rates are near, at, or even below zero, but where investment, growth, wages and employment continue to suffer. My one guest, who joins me for a feature-length interview, is J. W. Mason. J. W. teaches economics at John Jay College, City University of New York, blogs at The Slack Wire and is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. It’s for the Roosevelt Institute that he wrote a recent working paper, “Disgorge the Cash: The Disconnect between Corporate Borrowing and Investment”, that is the subject of our conversation. In short, the paper traces how, as a result of the shareholder revolution, firms today invest far less, even when borrowing conditions are better than ever, serving instead largely as ATMs for owners happily pumping out cash. This shift has big implications not only for economic policy, but for our understanding of today’s capitalism.

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Creditors enabling rapprochement within Syriza?

I’m starting to cautiously think that the Varoufakis and Lapavitsas “approaches” to the crisis might end up not too far away from each other even though the strategic direction they have advocated is very different. The situation, especially after today’s hardening of the creditors’ stance at the Eurogroup, may simply force it. The other option is that this is the intense posturing phase just before a bridging agreement, in which case the following would be less applicable for the time being. Like Paul Krugman, however, I’m inclined to think that the EU is serious in possibly forcing a crisis — with creditors and “Northerners” having the upper hand in the camp facing Greece.

In fact, reading Lapavitsas and Flassbeck’s very recent e-book on the European crisis (recommended), I’m struck with how much of the structural analysis of the causes of the crisis the authors share with Varoufakis. Both use Keynes to similar effect; both have Marx in the background. Both ascribe the debt crisis to current account imbalances across the EU driven largely by wage repression in Germany. Of course, this is not to collapse the two approaches. Crucially, they draw very different conclusions in terms of what the analysis of the causes of the crisis mean for political possibilities.

wpid-wp-1424137430154.jpegBut look at how things are playing out. I think Varoufakis is honest when he says he doesn’t have a complex, game-theory-based bargaining strategy. It was a smart strategic choice on the part of Syriza to place him at the helm of the negotiations simply in order to have the EU force the issue in the face of this “naive” goodwill — one that, let us hope, will nevertheless not accept further austerity. The one thing Varoufakis isn’t saying is that behind “I don’t have a Plan B” lies the fact that the creditors may simply force a Plan B.

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Yanis Varoufakis on the Greek elections plus the state of the left in Poland

 

I’ve been visiting family in Poland for the past few weeks so, fittingly, this week’s podcast deals with the situation of the left at two opposite ends of the European periphery: Greece and Poland. My first guest is Yanis Varoufakis, professor of economics at the University of Athens and candidate for SYRIZA in this Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Syriza is the main Greek left party and is poised to take the most votes, potentially even form a parliamentary majority, on Sunday. Yanis spoke with me about Greece’s economy on the eve of the elections and Syriza’s economic program.

My second guest is Jakub Dymek, Polish academic, journalist and editor. Jakub is, among other things, the Polish correspondent for Dissent Magazine and a member of the editorial collective of Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critique), the major journal of Poland’s “New Left”. Unlike its Greek counterpart, Poland’s electoral left is currently at its lowest point since the post-Communist transition. I spoke with Jakub to get a sense of this electoral decline, the situation of left social movements and the future prospects of Poland’s left.

Very briefly, I say that Greece and Poland are at the opposite ends of the European periphery for two reasons. First, Greece has undergone years of recession and brutal austerity in response to the global crisis of 2007/8; Poland, on the other hand, has managed to grow through the crisis, at least according to the major economic measures. Greece and Poland are also opposed when it comes to the fortunes of the electoral left. It is in Greece that the left has may well take government this Sunday or at least become the largest force in parliament, whereas in Poland the electoral left is currently virtually non-existent. Looking at these two lefts and the political economic conditions that led to their different fortunes makes for a fruitful juxtaposition.

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Doug Henwood on US economics and politics

 

This week, it’s my great pleasure to present a feature interview with Doug Henwood — economic analyst, author of books including Wall Street and host of the wonderful Behind the News radio show and podcast that inspired this show. Doug always introduces his show by saying his guests will be “taking a look at worlds of economics and politics.” Today, I’ve turned the tables and asked him to take up this very task for the present-day US. The result is a wide-ranging interview on everything from the sluggish economic recovery to Obamacare, the changing character of elites, why Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be president all the way to prospects for a renewed American left.

Remember that you can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, just follow this link.

And finally, I’ve started to standardize my segments into roughly 30-minute lengths, so if you’re interested in syndicating the show on local, community or campus radio, get in touch.

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Updating the Global Slump with David McNally

Today I’m happy to present another in a series of feature interviews with outstanding Canadian political economists. In this segment my guest is David McNally — noted academic, activist and author. David is professor at York University and active in a number of grassroots organizations and movements in the Toronto area, including the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly. He is the author of numerous books, including his most recent Deutscher-prize winning Monsters of the Market and Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance, published in 2010. I caught up with David to get an update on what has happened to the themes in global political economy he explored in this latter book.

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In and out of crisis with Sam Gindin

Today’s podcast is a feature interview with fellow political economist Sam Gindin. I interrogate Sam about the political economy of the present: the exit from the 2007 crisis, the role of states, austerity, the place of finance and the possibilities of resistance.

Sam Gindin is a left political economist with a long career. He was the longtime Research Director of the CAW and later held the Packer Visiting Chair in Social Justice at York University. Most recently, Sam authored The Making of Global Capitalism with Leo Panitch, a book that has gone on to win prestigious awards and spark important debates.

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QE: Furthering the habit of privatizing gains and socializing losses

“Privatizing gains and socializing losses” could be the motto for the neoliberal era. Alongside this and “there is no alternative”, few slogans better capture the ideology that has been so successfully diffused throughout the world over the past several decades.

Five years after latest financial crisis, this motto rings true as ever. To say that the losses stemming from the crisis were large is a heroic understatement; indeed, not only were they humongous, their exact size remains a tad fuzzy. Meanwhile, across the world in the aftermath of the crisis, stock markets have rebounded, wealth and income inequalities have grown and corporations and financial institutions have returned to making healthy profits. At the same time, many countries have seen both employment and median incomes either stagnate or fall.

In short, once again, losses were socialized, while gains privatized. Prominent among the means employed by governments to ensure that this be the case were various kinds of asset purchase programs. First, in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, came actions that transferred toxic financial assets into public hands either through direct buybacks (as in the US TARP program) or temporary nationalization/bailout. Since these short-term, more explicit socializations of private loss came to an end, the policy of quantitative easing (QE), through which central banks purchase vast amounts of long-term debt from financial markets, has been their implicit continuation. Unlike the earlier programs, QE is aimed instead at the other end of the equation, privatized gains. (more…)

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Transformations in profit and possibilities of resistance: A reply to Sam Gindin

Several weeks ago, I published a series of blog posts on profitability and investment in Canada since the financial crisis of 2007-8. These were republished as a single long article on Socialist Project and given the title, “Canada’s Profitability and Stagnation Puzzle”.  Since them, Sam Gindin has published a reply to my piece, “Puzzle or Misreading? Stagnation, Austerity and Left Politics”. Gindin challenges me on a number of fronts, most generally for misreading the current predicament in terms of a static formula that treats all capitalist crises ahistorically. This critique has ramifications for how Gindin sees not only my empirical account of present trends, but also my theoretical background and thoughts on strategies for resistance and alternatives.

Despite what appear to be many points of dispute, I think Gindin and I actually agree on a great many things, both in terms of the diagnosis of the current crisis and strategies for overcoming it. There are quibbles about statistics and wording, and I want to deal with a couple of these here, but I think we share much on broader theoretical and strategic matters. I want to primarily focus on the agreements behind our recent Socialist Project-facilitated interaction. (more…)

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Austerity and the profitability puzzle: government gives profits a helping hand

This is the third and final post in what has become a three-part series on the puzzle of high profitability and low investment in the Canadian economy. In the first part, I looked at some data that shows the existence of the puzzle and explored a few of the factors that could be behind it. The follow-up post outlined broadly Keynesian and Marxian solutions aimed at raising investment: the former based on stimulating demand, the latter on eliminating overcapacity and increasing the relative profitability of productive capital. Here, I want to continue the thoughts that concluded the second part, namely that the Harper government’s preferred response to the puzzle has been neither demand stimulation nor industrial policy. Instead, it has been austerity – a strategy by no means accidental, but in fact designed to support the status quo of high profitability and low investment.

Austerity is not an isolated Canadian phenomenon nor is it a new one. The neoliberal era that began sometime in the 1970s has seen austerity in one form or another applied worldwide. Economic crises have especially provided governments with excuses to institute or continue austerity policies that would not have been difficult to institute otherwise. While Canada did not experience the latest economic crisis to the same extent as a number of other countries, it has seen a more moderate version of many of the same trends – such as slower growth and lower employment. The crisis was large enough to allow the Harper government to continue and deepen a tentative austerity regime. While Canada has not pursued austerity programs as spectacular as some, for example the UK or Spain, the Conservative government has, nevertheless, succeeded in substantially reducing the size of government, small cut by small cut. While Canadian austerity policies predate the crisis, the crisis has only helped to entrench them and further orient them towards propping up profitability.

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