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REVIEW Yanis Varoufakis (2017) Adults in the Room

  • Yes, Varoufakis is conceited and enjoys himself to an unappetizing degree. He is also an intelligent analyst and, as Paul Stubbs jokingly observed, an inveterate taper of meetings – fortunately in this case to everyone’s benefit. This memoir is well-written and reads like whodunnit, even though the plot is laid out in advance and the villains are identified already on the first pages.

    For anyone who cares to know, Varoufakis lays out, in a jargon-free, accessible way, why the “rescue” programme for Greece in 2010 was in fact a bailout of French and German banks. Once this loan was “packaged” to French and German parliaments as being about “helping the Greeks” (*even though it was clear to everyone involved that Greece was insolvent and that burdening it with new debt was a bad idea), this locked in the Troika programme, making it politically impossible for Merkel, Hollande, the EC, the ECB or the IMF to go back on it or in any way admit that the programme was poorly designed.

    The detailed account of events that Varoufakis is able to recount as Greek Finance Minister reveal that key people in the so-called “institutions” knew this but were not about to do anything about it. His memoir could be summarized to say: Varoufakis unsuccessfully pushed for an economically rational but politically unfeasible solution. In his retelling of the story, we bear witness to the innumerable times he polishes, reshapes and presents his sophisticated economic analyses and proposals to Troika functionaries, as if their rationality will finally prevail. But it of course never does.

    The David-Goliath story Varoufakis recounts is fascinating in its contemporary flavour, granting us secret access to the inner halls of power – and in doing that confirming our intuitions that powerful elites often really are evil liars.

    The story I found more intriguing though is the trajectory of SYRIZA’s handling of the crisis. According to Varoufakis, he had agreed to become Finance Minister in SYRIZA’s government on the condition that in negotiating with the Troika Greece would be prepared to default (and hence leave the Eurozone). Though Grexit was a horrible prospect, in Varoufakis’ analysis it was the only “weapon of the week” that they could to bring to the table. Varoufakis tells us that Tsipras and SYRIZA top people in the government agreed with him on this strategy. However, as the story unfolds, we see them abandoning this strategy; even in spite of the referendum outcome in 2015 that said no to another loan agreement with the Troika. Instead of sticking with the plan, SYRIZA side-lined Varoufakis, and gave in to Troika. Why they did so is unanswered by Varoufakis, who remains a solo player throughout. Therefore we could say that, though his memoir sheds a bright light on the Troika, it leaves the SYRIZA government in a murky shadow.


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