Yanis Varoufakis – Who Called Austerity "Fiscal Waterboarding" – Appointed Greek Finance Minister
Greece's new economic chapter begins as unrepetent bailout critic takes helm ahead of promised bailout re-negotiations–
As the Syriza Party took the helm of the Greek government in earnest on Tuesday, the Guardian newspaper described its selection of top cabinet ministers, announced by the new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, as "a formidable coterie of academics, human rights advocates, mavericks and visionaries."
Among the most discussed appointments to the more than 40-member cabinet was that of Yanis Varoufakis as Finance Minister. As both university professor and an outspoken public critic of the austerity-laden bailout program imposed from abroad, Varoufakis has been unrelenting in his insistence that painful cuts to social spending, tax avoidance by the rich, the privatization of key industries, and enormous debt payments should be supplanted by a new economic paradigm that will put the Greek people ahead of foreign creditors and elite interests.
Known for writing a daily blog and an influential Twitter feed which have both chronicled his critique of the Troika's assault on Greece, Varoufakis indicated on Tuesday that the leaders of the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission should not expect any erosions to his positions just because he will now be the chief negotiator with whom they must deal when it comes to debt restructuring and possible reforms to the bailout terms.
"The time to put up or shut up has, I have been told, arrived," he wrote on his blog early on Tuesday, just as the news broke regarding his new position in the government. "My plan is to defy such advice. To continue blogging here even though it is normally considered irresponsible for a Finance Minister to indulge in such crass forms of communication."
Meanwhile, in the international press, Varoufakis has been poked and prodded by the business pages—including Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, and others—over recent days in order to see what the man who once said the Eurozone was "like the Hotel California" and characterized austerity as "fiscal waterboarding" would do now that he's been given the keys to the Greek economy.
According to a profile in the Guardian:
John Maynard Keynes with a hint of Karl Marx is how one analyst described the self-proclaimed “accidental economist” who is now to become Greece’s finance minister and a key negotiator with its international creditors.
With a typically literary flourish, he celebrated his party’s victory by paraphrasing Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
“Greek democracy today chose to stop going gently into the night. Greek democracy resolved to rage against the dying of the light,” the Greek-Australian wrote on his blog.
In an interview with Channel 4's Paul Mason news just ahead of Sunday's elections, Varoufakis pledged that with Syriza in power—which they come to "reluctantly" and only in the name of public service, he said—the overall aim of their economic plan would be "to destroy the Greek oligarchy system" that played an outsized role in creating the current crisis.
"We are going to destroy," he said of the nation's wealthy elite, "the basis upon which they have built for decade after decade a system, a network that viciously sucks the energy and the economic power from everybody else in society."
According to a profile written by Peter Spence in The Telegraph, although Varoufakis is "obviously a man of the left," he is no "radical zealot" as some of his detractors on the right have described him. According to Spence:
Born in Athens in 1961, he moved to England to study mathematical economics at Essex. From there, he went on to earn his PhD in Mathematics and Statistics, taking university appointments at Cambridge, East Anglia, Sydney, and Glasgow.
He has since become a visiting professor at both of the University of Athens and the University of Texas. It is at the latter than he co-authored "A Modest Proposal for Resolving the Eurozone Crisis," along with prominent left-wing economist James Galbraith.
There is no question that Mr Varoufakis has an awareness of Greece’s precarious situation. Speaking to Bloomberg TV after Syriza’s win, he made it clear that there was "a deep sense ... of fear of what's coming ahead."
As Varoukis told Channel 4, the Syriza government has inherited a "poisoned chalice" from the elites of his own country and those abroad, both of whom have disregarded the needs of the Greek people.
Now, he says, he and his colleagues will do some of "the basic things" that others have not done. Asked what he would tell those sitting across from Syriza at the negotiating table in the weeks ahead, he answered: "It is time to speak the truth."
He said that Greece has no desire to leave the Eurozone, but said the EU must reform itself if it wants to survive. "You cannot have a monetary union," he said, "which pretends it can survive a major financial crisis simply by lending more money to the [weakest] countries on the condition they should shrink their economies."
As he explained to the BCC recently, "Europe in its infinite wisdom decided to deal with this bankruptcy by loading the largest loan in human history on the weakest of shoulders, the Greek taxpayer."
He added, "What we've been having ever since is a kind of fiscal waterboarding that have turned this nation into a debt colony."
Now that he's become the nation's Finance Minister, Varoufakis told the readers of his blog on Tuesday, "Naturally, my blog posts will become more infrequent and shorter. But I do hope they compensate with juicier views, comments and insights."
Let us hope.