Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s recent statement that “growth does not mean having Porsche Cayennes in the narrow streets of Greece” has made something of an impression and is now being bandied about all over the country. It would be hard to argue with another point that he recently made, saying that “growth existed when Greeks used their savings only to put their children through university,” and even harder to deny the need for a “frugal lifestyle,” as he called it.
The finance minister’s comments gain even more weight when we consider that his remarks are directed toward a section of SYRIZA voters who are indignant because they could not maintain their Cayennes, a percentage of voters that pushed SYRIZA to the top precisely because they had lost or did not want to lose the privileges of false prosperity.
This is the section of Greek society that was in part responsible for the demise of the country and is now “exchanging” its vote for the hope of a return to that “prosperous” past. They comprise broad masses that from the 1980s onward became intoxicated by that feeling of power that consumerism gave them.
No one told them what has so succinctly been pointed out by philosopher Panagiotis Kondylis in his book “The Causes of the Decline of Modern Greece.” Kondylis argues that the path to growth is the path of accumulation, intensive labor and at least temporary (or partial) deprivation. On the flip side, he said, the path to prosperity is the path of living off of and selling off the country, though in the short term only.
Unfortunately, despite the comments made by Varoufakis, this is not the message being sent out by SYRIZA, at least not in its early days in government. Because frugality and deprivation does not mean trading in your powerful motorcycle for a government car. Nor does it mean hiring people back in to the civil service without thought, tearing up, ignoring and abolishing everything that has been done before you – whether rightly or wrongly – simply because it has been tainted by the memorandum, and resorting to handouts and promises – all in a country that is bankrupt on many different fronts.
Arrogance and populism have many different faces. The need for “the rhetoric to be largely replaced by pragmatic solutions” (European Parliament President Martin Schulz, speaking to Kathimerini) is unyielding, and so is the economic reality – ignoring both only accelerates the catastrophe we are all hoping to avoid.