Our March/April Issue Is Out!

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We sent our March/April 2016 issue to e-subscribers last week, and the print copies are now arriving in print subscribers’ mailboxes!  (Not a subscriber? We hope you’ll consider subscribing today–just click here.)  We’ve already posted three articles from the issue to the D&S website: Why Higher Ed Can’t Wait, by Biola Jeje and Belinda Rodriguez; John Miller’s take on Clinton and Sanders’ financial reform proposals; and (just posted today) David Bacon’s No Country for Old People.  Here is the issue’s note from the editors:

Bill of Indictment

How has contemporary capitalism failed, in the United States and around the world?

It has failed on sustainability. For decades now, there has been no sensible way to deny the looming catastrophe of climate change. Yet, only now are we taking the first steps to abandon “business as usual” and avert the worst.

It has failed on stability. The boom-and-bust cycle of capitalist economies has been adrenalized by the deregulation of finance. As Nina Eichacker shows in her study of Iceland’s financial collapse (p. 21), no country has the institutional capacity to cope with the instability inherent in a deregulated and “supercharged” financial system.

It has failed on security. Even wealthy countries fail to guarantee the basics in life—like housing, medical care, or education. As Gerald Friedman explains (p. 32), millions in the United States are still without access to health care, and millions more lack adequate coverage—even though universal care could be achieved at lesser cost than under the current system.

It has failed on dignity. In many countries, the young today face a bleak and uncertain future. Describing the disaster of unemployment in Greece today (p. 17), Evita Nolka quotes a young adult obviously tormented by “being deprived of the opportunity to work during the most productive years of your life.”
Just as the particulars of the indictment are clear, so are many of the possible responses. Friedman explains how a single-payer health insurance system could reduce waste and achieve universal coverage. Biola Jeje and Belinda Rodriguez describe the burgeoning movement, of which they are a part, for free higher education in the United States today (p. 5). David Bacon advocates a human-rights approach to economic security in old age (p. 26). John Miller describes proposals to rein in the financial system (p. 9). James Boyce shows that serious action on climate change would benefit the majority of people today, both in terms of health and wealth (p. 12).

If anything, though, the readiness of solutions to our most pressing problems only casts the current system in a more negative light. Nolka’s example of a shuttered Greek textile factory—its unemployed workers meticulous in caring for the machines—serves as a case in point. It would take so little to restart production and get them back to work, but the factory remains closed and they remain unemployed. The solutions are all around us, yet those in positions of power can’t put them into practice.

Or won’t.

Mike-Frank Epitropoulos on SYRIZA Victory

See also Mike-Frank Epitropoulos’s pre-election piece, A Second Demonstration Project for Greece. Patti Smith’s song People Have the Power has been adopted as SYRIZA’s anthem.  SYRIZA’s twitter feed posted another YouTube version of the song (as reported by the New York Times), but that version can’t be viewed in the United States.

Anti-Austerity SYRIZA Wins Big—Now the Clash with the Crisis

The left, anti-austerity SYRIZA party scored a decisive victory in the Greek elections on Sunday, with margins exceeding those of most polls.  This is the first time that a left party has won Greece’s national elections, and Europe’s and the world’s attention is focused on how SYRIZA will combat the economic and humanitarian crises that the country faces in the wake of Troika-imposed austerity programs.

SYRIZA is projected to have won 149 of the 150 seats needed to secure a parliamentary majority (with 36-37% of the vote).  Party officials have indicated a willingness to work with any democratic, left, or anti-austerity forces, and have joined with the center-right anti-austerity party the Independent Greeks (ANEL) to form a government, since SYRIZA did not secure an outright majority.

The out-going New Democracy (ND)-led coalition government of Antonis Samaras garnered 27-28%, while their partners in PASOK brought up the rear in seventh place with about 4.5%.

The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party left its mark as well, finishing third overall with just over 6%.

There is much discussion about how SYRIZA’s margin of victory exceeded expectations, including the notions of “hope” and “desperation” of large percentages of Greeks, especially the youth.  A subplot might well be that the unprecedented outside pressure and interference from some world leaders and financial sector institutions led to a backlash by the Greek citizens.

SYRIZA’s results represent a clear mandate, and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, made clear that the hard work for Greece starts tomorrow.  He made sure to put Greece’s elite and oligarchs on notice about changes that are likely to follow, including crackdowns on tax-evaders, increases in taxes on the higher strata, and a more active social state.

Tsipras also emphasized what any spectator of the celebrations of SYRIZA could see—a conspicuous presence of other left, anti-austerity parties from across Europe, including Spain’s, Podemos, and groups from Italy, Portugal, and other countries.  This is precisely the symbolic threat that the SYRIZA victory represents: the beginnings of networks of other anti-austerity, left groups connecting on an EU-level to fight the neo-liberal forces in the EU and the Troika.

Immediate reactions to SYRIZA’s victory, ranged from euphoric optimism and relief to cynicism and vicious attacks from other parliamentary parties.  Government hardliners of ND and PASOK warned that SYRIZA’s project would fail quickly because—they claim—“there is no alternative” to market discipline imposed by the financial sector.

But it’s clear that the Greek people did choose an alternative: democracy over the dictates of the markets. 

The Troika’s prescription of austerity and privatization was tragic for Greece, and the debt is insurmountable as it stands.  Now comes the hard work for SYRIZA and Greece.  It will require them to stick to their guns, to not succumb to mainstream pressure, and to keep the needs of the people at the fore.

Mike-Frank Epitropoulos teaches sociology and is the director of the Pitt in Greece and Pitt in Cyprus programs at the University of Pittsburgh.  He spent three years teaching in both private and public-sector higher education in Greece before returning to the United States in 2007.