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Location: Germany

A proud member of the reality based commentosphere since 2000. You can find my two Eurocent mainly at liberal and centrist discussion threads, but also at some other surprising places. Also tweeting now, as user "graygoods".

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ranting about Greece

In his most recent blog post, Prof Yanis Varoufakis, actually one of the more thoughtful and reasonable experts in Greece, published a link to an interview (in fact, more of a round table debate) he gave to German weekly Stern. It wasn't so much what he said there, which was quite laid back for a Greek pundit, but rather what he didn't say and talk about which rubbed me the wrong way. Here's the (lengthy, sry!) response I posted in comments:

Excuse me pls for being very critical, Prof Varoufakis – I see you’re a well meaning guy, but this interview once again makes it obvious that you both shy away from taking an honest look at the Greek misery and from drawing painful conclusions. It’s not that the other pundits are much better, not at all, but you represented Greece in that round, and so the readers have to expect more first hand insights into the problems and possible solutions from you. Sadly, you didn’t really live up to that admittedly difficult task.

Firstly, you put virtually all the responsibility on Germany, ignoring the correct point by the others that this nation simply isn’t big enough to singlehandedly save the Eurozone. Then you emphasize that Merkel should lead, but not in an authoritarian way! You dream of a single leader who refrains from using his power? For heaven’s sake, what nonsense! How shall this work in reality, especially when it’s the rather anarchist Greeks who shall be led? They don’t even voluntarily do what their OWN government wants from them! Really, the other guys, who said there has to be a more concerted effort, made much more sense than you.

Secondly, you obviously see more money as the single way towards improvments, but say nothing about where this money shall come from. The others rightly pointed out that after overspending for so long, the Eurozone nations haven’t much leeway left for Keynesian stimuli, and that this crisis showed the market won’t tolerate more of the same anymore. You stayed totally mum on this argument, not a single idea from you about how to cope with this problem! Sorry, but this almost disqualifies you as a serious advicer. You simply can’t avoid presenting a solution for the financial side and still expect to be taken seriously. That’s like a mechanic calling a race car “repaired” that’s got brand new shocks and tires, but no engine installed. Sorry, but you won’t win any prices with this.

Lastly, and most importantly, you say virtually nothing about what the Greek government, and the Greek people, too, have to do now to contribute to the recovery. Your only point about that is that there should have been more resistance against the cuts. Well, that's spilled milk: Even if there had been any leverage to get a better deal (there wasn’t, that’s just wishful thinking), that’s yesterday’s issue. What matters now is to improve the competitiveness of the nation and to get rid of the countless roadblocks that prevent job creation and turn investors away. Once again, you point fingers at Germany, as if its Merkel’s and the Bundestag’s job to create better conditions in Greece! OMG, really, can’t you Greek people EVER accept responsibility for your own affairs and the reality that it’s YOU, not others, who have to do the hard work of reforming your country? You people largely created the problems (through your votes, false tolerance, and exploitation of the screwed up system), you know the problems best, and you’re in the very best position to solve them, too.

Even if you disagree with the argument that the Greeks collectively bear the responsibillity, you still have to accept the fact that it’s you all who are on the sinking liner Costa Grecia, and that of course your own actions will determine if you’ll sink or swim! Either you plug the leaks, while additional pumping is supplied by the surrounding Eurozone cruise ships, or you evacuate all crew and passengers and board MS Drachme instead. Sitting in the deck chairs, discussing the shipwreck, while waiting for other crews to make your ship afloat again isn’t an option, really! To simply ignore that the corrupt and inefficient administration has to be reformed, the economy revived, the judiciary improved, the legal system overhauled, the special interest groups and unions held responsible, etc etc etc is a luxury you can’t afford now. Time is running short, the first two years have been totally wasted, and the speed of the real modernisation efforts (instead of desperate measures like the property tax) is still too slow. But the Eurozone won’t cover the Greek deficit forever, there’s no political support for that. So, stop daydreaming and focus on what can be done, on all levels, national, regional, municipal, and by entrepreneurs and people forming cooperatives. Greeks faced an even more dire situation during and after the war, why should this generation not be able to master the challenges and create a better future?

Escuse me pls for my outbreak, but the hypocrissy with which many Greeks act in this drama really gets to my nerves. It’s always the others, most prominently Germany, who are to be blamed and who shall magically supply a brand new country for the people, but there’s almost no discussion about what the Greeks shall and have to do for the recovery themselves. With this attitude so obviously widespread, it’s rather understandable, imho, that many here in Germany see Greece as a hopeless case and a bottomless pit for rescue plan Euros. You are aware of the discussions in Germany about the Greek crisis, Prof Varoufakis, so you know that Germans are willing to help. But we want to see Hellas doing her own part in that. That the nation instead simply waits for orders from the troika (only to protest those, then), and puts the whole reponsibility on Germany, isn’t acceptable for us, sorry.

(Disclosure: I corrected some typos and improved some wordings, but there are no major differences to the original comment)

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Greek Referendum - Good or Bad?

I'm not a fan of the referendum, but that's mainly because Europe can't really afford now to let two months pass before the rescue plan (including the haircut) gets an up or down vote by the people. Two months of uncertainty creates too much damage to the economy in Greece and the EU. The stock markets, the investors and the financial sector need a clear roadmap now, January is very far away.

However, Papandreou has a very good case regarding governance, national responsibility and democracy. No real democrat can steadfastly oppose a vote by the people on a matter of national importance! Democracy is about political participation of the people, after all, it's about decisions on the future of the nation. It's NOT about the power of the parties in the first place, that's just a means to reach that goal. So, when the opposition sees a referendum as a "democratic deviation" and an "ideological terrorization", they have to explain this very questionable view of the nature of democracy!

This vote by the people can create more clarity in the minds, too. After all that time of widespread criticism, culminating in violent unrest, it's high time that every citizen makes up his/her mind about the issues. You can't responsibly say "Oxi!" (Greek for "no") to every reform plan and criticize all changes, but refuse to present any alternatives, that's hypocritical. Since people don't trust the politicians to make the right decisions (as is obvious from all the polls), they have to take the responsibility into their own hands! To shout "blackmail" now is simply ridiculous. THIS is the time for every good citizen to show responsibility and participate in making a very important decision for the nation! Only demagogues who have their own selfish interests in mind will oppose this based on alleged concerns about democracy.

So, if your primary concern is to advance democracy, you have to support this move. After all the polarization, it will finally result in the people being alerted that they have not only rights, but patriotic duties, too, most importantly responsibility for the future of Greece. Hopefully, this will result in more support for the painful but necessary reforms. As the Greek senior citizen Dionysia Aggelopolou stated towards reporters of news agency Reuters: ”Let us decide whether it is good or bad. I’ve been through worse, tough times, war. Do we really want to go back to those days?”

Update: According to recent news reports, the referendum will probably be held on December 4th. That's only a month away, so I think that's reasonable. Imho the EU/IMF should respect this and support the Greek government with one billion euros from the rescue tranche in order to prevent the nation from defaulting before the vote. As I see it, that would also be a positive signal to the Greek people, showing them that the Troika is standing by the rescue deal if the referendum supports that.

(This posting is based on a comment posted at AthensNews.gr)

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tweeting Me Softly

Just stumbled upon this, a song lyric I rewrote as a surprise for a tweep I had a crush on. Maybe good that we broke up, since I am a lousy singer and there's already enough disharmonic noise in the world! :D Well, dear reader, if you're a better singer than I am, feel free to use these words:

Soothing my pain with your fingers
healing my wounds with your words
teasing me softly with your tweets
teasing me softly with your tweets
telling my whole life
with your words
teasing me softly
with your tweets

I saw you wrote some good tweets
I saw you had a style
and so I came to follow
and watch for a while

and there you were that cute cat
a stranger to my eyes
Soothing my pain with your fingers
healing my wounds with your words
teasing me softly with your tweets
teasing me softly with your tweets
telling my whole life
with your words
teasing me softly
with your tweets

I felt all flushed with fever
embarassed by the crowd
I felt you found my replies
and read each one out loud
I feared that you would finish
but you just kept right on

Soothing my pain with your fingers
healing my wounds with your words
teasing me softly with your tweets
teasing me softly with your tweets
telling my whole life
with your words
teasing me softly
with your tweets

you wrote as if you knew me
In all my darkness fair
and then you looked right through me
as if i wasn't there
and you just kept on writing
writing clear and strong

Soothing my pain with your fingers
healing my wounds with your words
teasing me softly with your tweets
teasing me softly with your tweets
telling my whole life
with your words
teasing me softly
with your tweets

Soothing my pain with your fingers
yes you were healing my wounds with your words
teasing me softly
with your tweets
petting me softly
with your tweets
telling my whole life
with your words
treating me softly
with your love


Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Shorty Awards Interview

No, I don't run in any category in the Shorty Awards! There's already an abundance of folks who are much more worthy of these honors. But I had fun answering the questions of the interview, so I put it up here (the effing blog desperately needs a new entry anyway). Maybe someone among my few, but inspiring followers is interested in my view of the Twitterverse. Ok, here are the 34 questions and answers:

What's your best tweet?
Always the next one.
What are six things you could never do without?
oxygen, water, proteins, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins.
How do you use Twitter in your professional life?
I don't. It would ruin all the fun.
What's your favorite Twitter app?
Everything's better than the Twitter webinterface.
Twitter or Facebook?
What was the funniest trend you've seen?
Laughed so hard that I forgot it.
What feature should Twitter add?
Who do you wish had a Twitter feed but doesn't?
Hmm, Martin Sheen?
What are some words or phrases you refuse to shorten for brevity?
Is there someone you want to follow you who doesn't already? If so, who?
Yes. But I won't be begging.
Have you ever unfollowed someone? Who and why?
Don't be so effing curious, or else I'll unfollow u!
Why should we vote for you?
You shouldn't. If elected I won't serve!
Terms you wish would start trending on Twitter right now?
Primary Obama
What's the most interesting connection you've made through Twitter?
2 my inner Tweep.
Hashtag you created that you wish everyone used?
How do you make your tweets unique?
By adding typos.
What inspires you to tweet?
Ever get called out for tweeting too much?
And you?
140 characters of advice for a new user?
B bold. B original. B funny. And do everything possible 2 keep it short! Because otherwise the damn 140 char limit will cut u off in mid-sen
How long can you go without a tweet?
At least for 13 days, prolly more.
What question are we not asking here that we should?
U're already asking too many questions! 'nuff now.
How do you imagine Twitter changing?
Prolly will get worse. Twitter staff is incompetent.
Who do you admire most for his or her use of Twitter?
Who is the funniest person on Twitter that you follow?
What is one of the biggest misconceptions of Twitter?
That someone is actually reading this stuff.
Why should people follow you?
Indeed. Why should they?
Can you name some one-of-a-kind Twitter accounts that you follow?
How do you decide what to tweet?
I'm not a decider! I simply put my hands on the keyboard. And then my subconsciousness takes over.
Why'd you start tweeting?
Why not?
Has Twitter changed your life? If yes, how?
One more excuse to avoid doing serious stuff.
What do you wish people would do more of on Twitter?
Fall in love.
How will the world change in the next year?
4 worse.
What are some big Twitter faux pas?
Faux news.
What will the world be like 10 years from now?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A VAT for the US? A very bad idea!

Somewhat surprisingly, Paul Krugman has been stomping for the "value added tax" (VAT) recently, as an allegedly better way of reducing the deficit. But among left leaning economists, there shouldn't be any argument about the negative impact of this national sales tax on the low and middle income households. The only VAT liberals should like is Vat69, really! And the history of the VAT in Europe, where it became the main source of income for many governments, and resulted in rising inequality and lower domestic demand, isn't especially inspiring. So, WHY, for heaven's sake, does a good guy like Krugman support THAT?

The Prof now, finally, came up with explanations for his stance:

There’s a lot of backlash against the new Rivlin-Domenici proposal for suggesting a significant VAT — and people are right, sales taxes are regressive taxes. But while I haven’t had time to evaluate the whole thing, the sales tax itself isn’t a killing point in my view.
Why? Because we know that countries with strong social safety nets generally rely a lot on consumption taxes:
More generally, it does seem that countries with strong welfare states have less progressive tax systems than those with weak safety nets; see this, from the Luxembourg Income Study (pdf).
All of which says that if I can trade a somewhat regressive VAT for guarantees of decent retirement and universal health care, I’ll take it.

Well, color me unconvinced. I've never been a fan of the "millions of flies can't be wrong" kind of argument, imho the discussion should always center on the pros and cons, and that a certain misguided policy is widely used still doesn't make it more reasonable. In the case of the VAT, imho the negative side vastly outweighs the positive one, and Krugman fails to weigh this honestly.

Firstly, he totally underestimates the danger. Once you open the box of Pandorra, it's impossible to get the beast back into it. Not a single European government, no matter how far left, managed to do it. And the beast will only become bigger and bigger over time, as experience shows. With serious consequences on domestic demand, which Krugman doesn't mention at all.

Secondly, imho the REAL reason why the VAT is used by so many nations all around the world is that it's so CONVENIENT for politicians! The small percentages (at first) added to sales don't look like a big deal to the voters, but they flush VAST amounts of money into the coffins of the treasury. And it's even easier to raise the percentage by one point, instead of trying other, more difficult and controversial, measures to get a deficit under control. Consequentially, the VAT only goes up and up and up.

And lastly, as even Krugman points out, the VAT only is tolerable for the low and middle class incomes if it's counterbalanced by a strong social net. But how likely is it that a VAT for the US will be coupled with such measures to reduce the impact on the poorer half of the population? Imho that's just wishful thinking! And that's why I think Krugman is irresponsible with his lightheaded, not really thought through (he admits that) stomping for the VAT. This will most probably result in the US combining policies that are the worst of both worlds, more taxes for the lower 90% of incomes without any compensation for the hardship! That's madness, and Krugman should be ashamed of advocating such a dangerous "solution" to the US deficit problems in such a frivolous manner.

Even more so since his own prefered paper, the NYT, recently showed that it's possible to put the US finances on a solid footing again by simply going back to the Clinton era taxes and cutting some other budget points, without hurting the vast majority of US households. Everybody who recently played with the interactive "fix the budget" feature should have noticed that actually it's very easy to close the gap until 2015, and get the 2030 outlook into reasonable (=controllable) regions. Without any VAT involved! So, really, why should anyone, especially a good guy like Krugman, advocate yet another new tax that will hurt the lower and middle class incomes now? I don't get it.

(Based on comments at Brad DeLong's blog)

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Three sentences that are worth remembering

As voiced in a posting at the A-Blog recently. Ladies and Gentlemen, here's John Aravosis:

The President is supposed to help further your ideals, not take the place of them. So it's not disloyal to try to hold the President accountable to his promises. In fact, I'd argue that you're being disloyal to yourself, to your own principles, and to the entire reason you got into politics in the first place, when you don't.

These are important sentences, a necessary reminder to distinguish between the means and the goals! People should print these and put them into a frame on their wall. Kudos to John!