FILMS FOR ACTION
FILMS FOR ACTION NEEDS YOUR HELP
We don't run on ads. We run on donations. Please help us by committing $5 a month.

Greece is the Latest Battleground in the Financial Elite’s War on Democracy

From laissez-faire economics in 18th-century India to neoliberalism in today’s Europe the subordination of human welfare to power is a brutal tradition
By George Monbiot / monbiot.com
Jul 9, 2015
7

The assault on Greece is just the latest episode in a long history of shutting down choice on behalf of the financial elite.

Greece might be financially bankrupt; the troika is politically bankrupt. Those who persecute this nation wield illegitimate, undemocratic powers: powers of the kind now afflicting us all.

Consider the International Monetary Fund. The distribution of power here was perfectly stitched up: IMF decisions require an 85% majority, and the US holds 17% of the votes. It’s controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and the other means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.

The same programme is imposed regardless of circumstance: every country the IMF colonises must place the control of inflation ahead of other economic objectives; immediately remove its barriers to trade and the flow of capital; liberalise its banking system; reduce government spending on everything except debt repayments; and privatise the assets which can be sold to foreign investors.

Using the threat of its self-fulfilling prophecy (it warns the financial markets that countries which don’t submit to its demands are doomed), it has forced governments to abandon their progressive policies. Almost single-handedly, it engineered the 1997 Asian financial crisis: by forcing governments to remove their capital controls, it opened currencies to attack by financial speculators. Only countries such as Malaysia and China, which refused to cave in, escaped the crisis.

Consider the European Central Bank. Like most other central banks, it enjoys “political independence”. This does not mean that it is free from politics; only that it is free from democracy. It is ruled instead by the financial sector, whose interests it is constitutionally obliged to champion, through its inflation target of around 2%. Ever mindful of where power lies, it has exceeded this mandate, inflicting deflation and epic unemployment on poorer members of the eurozone.

The Maastricht treaty, establishing the European Union and the euro, was built on a lethal delusion: a belief that the ECB could provide the only common economic governance that monetary union required. It arose from an extreme version of market fundamentalism: if inflation was kept low, its authors imagined, the magic of the markets would resolve all other social and economic problems, making politics redundant. Those sober, suited, serious people, who now pronounce themselves the only adults in the room, turn out to be demented utopian fantasists, votaries of a fanatical economic cult.

All this is but a recent chapter in the long tradition of subordinating human welfare to financial power. The austerity now imposed on Greece, brutal as it is, is mild by comparison to earlier versions. Take, for example, the Irish and Indian famines, both exacerbated (in the second case caused) by the doctrine then known as laissez-faire, but which we now know as market fundamentalism or neoliberalism.

In Ireland’s case, one eighth of the population was killed – one could almost say murdered – in the late 1840s, partly by the British refusal to distribute food, to prohibit the export of grain or to provide effective poor relief. Such policies offended the holy doctrine that nothing should stay the invisible hand

When drought struck India in 1877 and 1878, the British imperial government insisted on exporting record amounts of grain, precipitating a famine that killed millions. The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited “at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices.” The only relief permitted was forced work in labour camps, in which less food was provided than to the inmates of Buchenwald. Monthly mortality in these camps in 1877 was equivalent to an annual rate of 94%.

As Karl Polanyi argued in The Great Transformation, the gold standard – the self-regulating system at the heart of laissez-faire economics – prevented governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries from raising public spending or stimulating employment. It obliged them to keep the majority poor, while the rich enjoyed a gilded age. Few means of containing public discontent were available, other than sucking wealth from the colonies and promoting aggressive nationalism. This was one of the factors that contributed to the First World War. The resumption of the gold standard by many nations after the war exacerbated the Great Depression, preventing central banks from increasing the money supply and funding deficits. You might have hoped that European governments would remember the results.

Today, equivalents to the gold standard – inflexible commitments to austerity – abound. In December 2011, the European Council agreed a new fiscal compact, imposing on all members of the eurozone a rule that “government budgets shall be balanced or in surplus”. This rule, which had to be transcribed into national law, would “contain an automatic correction mechanism that shall be triggered in the event of deviation.” This helps to explain the seignorial horror with which the troika’s unelected technocrats have greeted the resurgence of democracy in Greece. Hadn’t they ensured that choice was illegal? Such diktats mean that the only possible democratic outcome in Europe is now the collapse of the euro: like it or not, all else is slow-burning tyranny.

This is hard for those of us on the left to admit, but Margaret Thatcher saved the UK from this despotism. European monetary union, she predicted, would ensure that the poorer countries must not be bailed out, “which would devastate their inefficient economies.”

But only, it seems, for her party to supplant it with a homegrown tyranny. George Osborne’s proposed legal commitment to a budgetary surplus exceeds that of the eurozone rule. Labour’s promised budget responsibility lock, though milder, had a similar intent. In all cases, governments deny themselves the possibility of change. In other words, they pledge to thwart democracy.

So it has been for the past two centuries, with the exception of the 30-year Keynesian respite. The crushing of political choice is not a side effect of this utopian belief system but a necessary component. Neoliberalism is inherently incompatible with democracy, as people will always rebel against the austerity and fiscal tyranny it prescribes. Something has to give, and it must be the people. This is the true road to serfdom: disinventing democracy on behalf of the elite.

Trending Videos
Education
Deep Reads - Get Cozy and Dig in
Short Films
Featured Documentaries

Films For Action is a library for people who want to change the world.

Founded in 2006, our mission is to provide citizens with the knowledge and perspectives essential to creating a more beautiful, just, sustainable, and democratic society.

  • To dive in, click the Explore button above. You can filter by subject and category at the same time, and sort by newest, most viewed and top-rated.
  • Help us keep the quality of the site high by rating content 1-5 stars.
  • Add videos to our library! Half of our best content was added by members.
  • Have a question or suggestion? Feel free to get in touch.
  • Want to support us and watch some great films in the process? Our $5/mo Patrons get access to 15 of our favorite documentaries.

 

Why join Films For Action?

Goal: To rapidly transition to a just, ecologically sustainable, holistic way of living as fast as possible.

We believe the first step to achieve this goal should be an information delivery network that can amplify the impacts of all our efforts 1000 fold. 

Although Films For Action is centered around film - its true objective is the transformation of the world. This means moving away from the unsustainable paradigm we have now to a regenerative paradigm, as fast as humanly possible.  

Film is the medium of delivery -- the catalyst, the metabolizing agent to speed up, amplify and multiply the effects of every transition movement on the planet. And of course, "transition" contains it all - social justice, ecological regeneration, true democracy, egalitarian economics, universal empathy, less cultural insanity and more happiness and well-being.

All of these movements need a media ecosystem that supports this transition, rather than the media we have today which marginalizes it, ignores it, sanitizes it, suppresses it, or actively fights it. There is certainly good coverage across many different news outlets, and the quality and depth varies, but in terms of volume, the good stuff is easily lost in the deluge of superficial concerns.

Watch any network TV channel for 24 hours or read the newspaper for a week, and you will see what we mean. The dominant narratives which drive the national debate and become "common knowledge" is more often superficial, focused on symptoms rather than root causes, and reinforces the conventional "two sides" within the status quo. The lies and spin promoted by figures in power become well known, while voices that challenge and expand the range of debate rarely get heard. But most importantly, the level of repetition and volume of coverage is what counts. What gets covered day after day, and what gets covered once and is forgotten, or not covered at all? That's why we need a media movement that's dedicated to elevating the voices that aren't getting heard. We need media alternatives that make social change its primary focus. That's why Films For Action exists.

Ultimately, we're just one star in this growing constellation of new media, but we aim to do our part by cultivating the best video library dedicated to transition online, and we hope you'll join us