Monday, June 11, 2012

SBS on Greece: Disappointing.


Suppose you expected an informed, impartial view from an experienced and highly awarded journalist, with five Walkley awards in his belt, one who works for a media outlet with a reputation for objectivity.

Well, if those were your expectations, you, like me, must be very disappointed with last Tuesday's SBS Dateline Greece in Crisis Special Report (June 5), presented by Mark Davis.

For one, the SBS team clearly did not bother to do their homework. As a long-time viewer, at first I tried to make up excuses for them: it's a complex, emotional subject; mainstream economists don't help...

But there's a point when the excuses wear thin. One thing is to be wrong, another is to editorialize in favour of one side of the dispute against the other.

This Special Report is not just disappointing, is outrageously partisan, and obviously so.

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So, let's do just part of what the SBS team should have done: let's begin from the beginning.

The problem with Greece started when its public sector took too many loans from European bankers. This much is widely known and appears to be the extent of SBS' fact-finding.

To that they added a conclusion: therefore, come what may, you're morally bound to pay your debt. Case closed.

This and no other is what Davis personally said and I quote verbatim: "If you borrow money you pay it back, as the premise, as the basis."

Let's get off our high horse for a moment, and ask ourselves: Who's this generic "you" Davis keeps mentioning?

Since the end of the colonels' era in 1974, either PASOK or New Democracy (ND) ruled in Greece.

This is the 300-seat Greek parliament composition since 1996:

       ND   PASOK  Others
1996   108  162     30
2000   126  157     17
2004   165  117     18
2007   152  102     46
2009    91  160     49
2012   108   41    151
(source)

In the table above, "others" are the small parties, including Syriza and the Communist Party.

Maybe it's just me, but from the table, I conclude that (1) PASOK and ND took turns in government and (2) controlled parliament during their periods in office. To me, they seem good candidates to be Davis' "you".

For instance, Costas Simitis (PASOK) was Prime Minister in 2000, when Greece gained its Eurozone membership.

Kostas Karamanlis (ND), Simitis' successor, was elected PM in 2004. His government was forced to audit the notorious cooked-Eurostatistics: the statistics presented by the Simitis government and used to justify Greece's admission to the Eurozone were "unreliable".

(Incidentally, Davis' report fails to mention this fact).

I'll leave the reader decide if PASOK/ND is the "you" deserving the blame; but I sure know something: one can't possibly blame this fiasco on the "others".

But this precisely is what a representative of PASOK, George Papaconstantinou, claimed in a previous SBS TV show on the Greek crisis (May 22):
"So nobody is outside this, nobody is innocent to the crime. Of course politicians bear the biggest burden, and of course they will be punished for this, as they are being punished."
Leaving aside the punishment references (was any Greek politician actually punished?), isn't it a bit rich to trace responsibility back to some generic collective "everybody", considering that there are elements pointing to his own party?

The bogeyman Davis sets out to expose, the "extreme", "hard" left, had no power to stop the "moderate" ND/PASOK from fucking things up. Just like they couldn't stop them from imposing their "moderate" Troika-backed austerity.

In fairness, not even the psychopathic extreme right Golden Dawn can be blamed for this. And the slightly less psychopathic extreme right LAOS' involvement is limited to supporting Lucas Papademos, the PM imposed by the Troika and also supported by PASOK and ND.

(The fact of LAOS' involvement with ND and PASOK is also conspicuously absent in Davis' report. It's interesting how SBS leaves out these details.).

This is the one thing all the so-called "extremists" have in common: they may be guilty of all the crimes ND and PASOK may want to accuse them, except this one. Contrary to what Papaconstantinou claimed, the excessive borrowing is a "centrist", "moderate" crime.

But the theory of indiscriminate collective guilt is not particular to ND and PASOK. It is behind Davis' question: his "you" is every Greek. From the children who had no voice and even those not yet born, but who are already sentenced to misery; to the wealthy Greeks who evaded taxes, and last year were buying real estate in the UK as if there was no tomorrow, each and every one of them is equally guilty: you took a loan, you pay for it.

This is when "moderate" politicians and "impartial" journalists discover the virtues of equality.

But, in fact, I do believe ordinary Greeks have some responsibility in this fiasco: they kept ND/PASOK in power since 1974. They can kick them out now.

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I could remind the SBS team that in a genuine fiscal union, surplus member states often subsidize deficit member states. As a matter of fact, and without going much deeper, this happens in Australia. But, never fear, I am willing to help the SBS team by doing part of the research they couldn't do: see here and here for the US (incidentally, note that conservative, fiscally responsible states receive much of the fiscal transfers largely from liberal, fiscally spendthrift states).

Or I could explain that German taxpayers are not subsidizing those profligate Greeks, but their own reckless bankers.

Neither will I go further into reminding the SBS team that Tsipras, rightly or wrongly, has promised to do what's in their power to keep Greece in the Eurozone and that this is in the public record. It is the Troika, Frau Merkel, ND/PASOK and now SBS that insist in tying Greece's membership to the austerity measures that make it impossible for Greece to repay the debt.

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