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Let Greece’s Example Guide the Way

Justin Wedes Jul 7, 2015

The results of Sunday’s referendum in Greece are in: by a decisive margin, the Greek people have rejected the European Central Bank (ECB) and IMF’s bailout offer. They have collectively done the hard math that pro-austerity political elites and their technocratic minions said was too complicated to leave to the straightforward machinery of real democracy: the vote. With the will of the people (at least those who voted) now registered, Greece’s leaders will have the leverage they need to really stand up to the ECB and the IMF and get some real concessions.

The math that the people of Greece were asked to do isn’t really that hard at all, despite a million attempts by corporate mainstream media to obfuscate and confuse it in order to convince the world that no single Greek actually knows what they’re voting about.  The math is actually quite simple: more loans up front leads to more cutbacks later (aka “austerity”). It’s what people in my ‘hood of Detroit call the overlay for the underplay.

This is Greece’s pivotal moment, the inflection point in the curve of popular opinion against austerity politics. Just as Ireland did during last year’s uprising against water privatization, the Greeks have reached the logical conclusion of the ECB/IMF agenda, and it’s totally illogical: you cannot grow an economy by shrinking its social safety net and depriving 99% of its people of basic human necessities in the name of fiscal responsibility. That it took a country-wide referendum in order to draw this line in the sand may be the saving grace of popular democracy against global financial capitalism. That will depend upon how Greece’s leftist government translate the will of the people into the negotiations ahead.

This may all seem like a million miles away from home for the U.S., but it couldn’t be closer. Last week, Puerto Rico’s governor admitted that the island cannot pay its debt obligations. And last year, Detroit underwent the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country’s history. Hundreds of cities and townships across the country face serious financial hardships, and are just one step away from their own Greece moment. (This is not because of, as the conservative NY Post claims, big government spending and pensions – austerity politics is squarely to blame.) Greece’s stand is the logical next step in a global anti-austerity movement that traces back to the 2008 financial collapse, the Arab Spring, Indignados and Occupy movements spurred by it, and the surging global populist and pro-democracy electoral victories that have emerged from these movements: Spain’s Podemos party, Greece’s Syriza and right here at home an insurgent independent socialist Bernie Sanders gaining ground on the establishment Democratic Party’s Hillary Clinton. This is grassroots politics, in action.

The consequences of the Greek referendum will be global: they will certainly draw concessions from global banks and pro-austerity governments, and even propel forward initiatives like Jubilee USA’s work at the United Nations to establish a global bankruptcy framework for countries and colonial commonwealths like Greece, Cyprus, Puerto Rico and many others to seek and obtain serious debt relief where paying back illegitimate or over-burdensome debts would end in violations of basic human rights, like the right to water in Detroit.

Will there be turbulence in the markets: almost certainly. Businesses, especially in today’s fast-paced global economy, crave political stability and predictability – the opposite of what real democracy can provide in times like these. Yet, the business world should look to the example of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the years after the great Depression of 1929: the only way to grow economies during economic downtimes is through direct government spending to spur job growth and productivity. In the 20th century, this was aided by a booming war-time economy that created effectively full employment by the early 1940’s. In the 21st century, we can create full employment by more peaceful means: fixing decaying infrastructure, investing in new green technology that will facilitate high-speed public transit, universal healthcare and free higher education.

Let’s let Greece’s example guide the way: in order to build the positive agenda we need for sustainable economic growth, we must first say clearly OXI! to austerity.

This article originally appeared at justinwedes.com.

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