Exclusive Interview: Meet Alexis Tsipras, the Most Dangerous Man in Europe
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LP: What do you and your party, Syriza, want for Greece? How does this differ from the New Democracy party’s vision?
The conservative New Democracy party that now leads the government spent two years criticizing Greece’s loan agreement and the austerity policies that came with it. But then, it made a spectacular U-turn. The purpose of the U-turn was twofold: On the one hand, to enter government; at first without elections, by entering into a coalition government with the socialists that had been running the austerity agenda – and later, after an election in which it scored the worst percentage of the vote in its history, to lead a similar coalition.
The purpose of this New Democracy-led government, beyond restoring its politicians to power, was to function as a breaker against which popular discontent would crash, thus preventing, or postponing, the formation of a Syriza government. Very quickly, its work was done, and now, it is beyond its use-by date. Today, this government is implementing the worst, most disastrous policies that our country has seen in peacetime.
For our part, we are opposed to everlasting austerity as means for fiscal rebalancing on both pragmatic and ideological grounds. We consider democracy to be of inaliable political and cultural value. And for this reason we refuse to place it on the markets’ Procrustean bed. The subjugation of democratic process to the markets was the reason we have the crisis today and the cause of its perpetual reproduction. Based on such commonsense approaches to reality, and with no need for complex econometric models, we predicted from the outset, well before the IMF admitted to its predictive failures, that austerity-based policies would backfire and would fail by their own criteria and targets, let alone in terms of the interests of the vast majority of the Greek people.
For us, economic policy ought to be inextricably linked to social policy with a view to look after the social needs of people, of social justice, of intergenerational solidarity and of environmental balance.
Our first aim is to stop in its tracks the current policies that generate poverty, unemployment and insecurity. Our political plan is to effect alternative policies that will efficiently address the crisis and kickstart the economy by supporting the weak, creating new employment and supporting basic incomes. Greece’s reconstruction will come from a fresh developmental plan, one that is aimed at income redistribution, decent jobs and the enhancement of public goods.
LP: Why has austerity been so destructive, and what is the alternative?
AT: It is impossible to resolve a crisis by removing liquidity from a receding economy. On the contrary, contractionary policies worsen the crisis, and this has been proved beyond reasonable doubt in the case of Greece. Unemployment becomes self-reinforcing, small firms close down, the economy dies out. At the same time, the steady deterioration becomes a pretext for further cuts in pay and salaries, for the removal of workers’ rights and other social safety nets, and for the transfer of public assets to private hands. The remedy thus turns out to be far worse than the disease.
The crisis will be resolved only if there is a plan for reconstructing the economy’s productive engine from below. From the labor market and the welfare state, where wages and pensions must be supported, to small businesses that demand credit lines and access to investment funding. Instead of imposing increasing tax rates on the poor and those who simply can no longer pay, what we need is an increase in public investment. Instead of tax relief for the rich, we need a just tax system. Instead of pressing the economy in the service of bankers, we need a banking system that serves society at large, that supports development. Only in this way can the vicious cycle of austerity and recession be broken, so that the social economy begins functioning again.