The New York Times is giving the Greek prime minister some glowing coverage today, highlighting his abilities to steer Greece through the debt crisis. From my perspective, the prime minister does, indeed, deserve praise for some of his political rhetoric and progressive thinking around sustainable development, education, and immigration. But his trust in neoliberal economics to transform Greece makes him no different from any self-interested capitalist. Still, what really bothers me in this article is the quote below, and how the Times not only fails to examine the premise on which it is based, but implicitly cites it as an example of the prime minister’s frankness and willingness to make difficult choices.
“It’s been painful,” he said of recent events. “Even unjust sometimes because there are parts of the society that have not been responsible for this crisis, but they are going to have to pay the consequences.”
Why is it acceptable to tolerate the injustice of having ordinary people pay for those who have enriched themselves through corruption, graft, and nepotism? The conventional thinking is that the Greek debt is so great that only by cutting public sector wages, pensions, and services can the government significantly reduce it. At the same time, the government is increasing the value-added tax on all goods — a regressive tax that disproportionally hurts low-income people. There have been no government proposals to increase taxes on the rich, and to tax property, luxury and non-essential goods, pollution, energy and water consumption in significant enough ways to undo the injustice.
And so what the Times is really doing here is providing ideological cover for the politics of social inequity. It’s only echoing the prime minister, who is saying that this is the best we can do.