Τετάρτη, 6 Ιουνίου 2012
marilena: Ancient Greek solution for debt crisis By Armand D...: What advice would the ancient Greeks provide to help modern Greeks with their current financial worries? 1. Debt, division and revolt. ...
What advice would the ancient Greeks provide to help modern Greeks with their current financial worries?
1. Debt, division and revolt. Here's the 6th Century BC news from Athens.
In the early 6th Century BC, the people of Athens were burdened with debt, social division and inequality, with poor farmers prepared to sell themselves into slavery just to feed their families.
Revolution was imminent, but the aristocrat Solon emerged as a just mediator between the interests of rich and poor. He abolished debt bondage, limited land ownership, and divided the citizen body into classes with different levels of wealth and corresponding financial obligations.
His measures, although attacked on all sides, were adopted and paved the way for the eventual creation of democracy.
Solon's success demonstrates that great statesmen must have the courage to implement unpopular compromises for the sake of justice and stability.
2. What happens next? The Delphic oracle
Ancient Delphi was the site of Apollo's oracle, believed to be inspired by the god to utter truths. Her utterances, however, were unintelligible and needed to be interpreted by priests, who generally turned them into ambiguous prophecies.
Email from the past? Not an ancient Greek laptop, but a writing tablet on a vase from 470 BC
In response to, say, "Should Greece leave the euro?" the oracle might have responded: "Greece should abandon the euro if the euro has abandoned Greece," leaving proponents and opponents of "Grexit" to squabble over what exactly that meant. It must have been something like listening to modern economists. At least the oracle had the excuse of inhaling the smoke of laurel leaves.
Wiser advice was to be found in the mottos inscribed on the face of Apollo's temple at Delphi, advocating moderation and self-knowledge: "Know yourself. Nothing in excess."
3. Nothing new under the sun: The sage Pythagoras
If modern Greeks feel overwhelmed by today's financial problems, they might take some comfort from remembering the world-weary advice from their ancestor Pythagoras that "everything comes round again, so nothing is completely new".
Pythagoras of Samos was a 6th Century BC mystic sage who believed that numbers are behind everything in the universe - and that cosmic events recur identically over a cycle of 10,800 years.
His doctrine was picked up by the biblical author of Ecclesiastes in the 3rd Century BC, whose phrase "There is nothing new under the sun" is repeated more than 20 times.
If you look at the picture at top of the story, the young man with a laptop on a Greek vase from 470 BC (in fact, a writing-tablet) seems to prove the proposition.
Worse things happen at sea: Homer's Odyssey shows the spirit of fortitude in adversity
4. Mind you, it could be worse… Odysseus and endurance
"Hold fast, my heart, you have endured worse suffering," Odysseus exhorts himself in Homer's Odyssey, from the 8th Century BC.
Having battled hostile elements and frightful monsters on his return home across the sea from Troy to his beloved Ithaka and wife Penelope, Odysseus here prevents himself from jeopardising a successful finale as a result of impatience.
The stirring message is that whatever the circumstances, one should recognise that things could be, and have been, even worse. Harder challenges have been faced and - with due intelligence and fortitude - overcome.
5. Are you sure that's right? Socrates and tireless inquiry
"The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being," said Socrates.
By cross-examining ordinary people, the philosopher aimed to get to the heart of complex questions such as "What is justice?" and "How should we live?" Often no clear answer emerged, but Socrates insisted that we keep on asking the questions.
Fellow Athenians were so offended by his scrutiny of their political and moral convictions that they voted to execute him in 399 BC, and thereby made him an eternal martyr to free thought and moral inquiry.
Socrates bequeathed to humanity a duty to keep on thinking with tireless integrity, even when - or particularly when - definite answers are unlikely to be found.
6. How did those jokers end up in charge? Aristophanes the comedian
The most brilliantly inventive of comic playwrights, Aristophanes was happy to mock contemporary Athenian politicians of every stripe. He was also the first to coin a word for "innovation".
His comedy Frogs of 405 BC, which featured the first representation of aerial warfare, contained heartfelt and unambiguous advice for his politically fickle fellow citizens: choose good leaders, or you will be stuck with bad ones.
7. Should we do the same as last time? Heraclitus the thinker
"You can't step into the same river twice" is one of the statements of Heraclitus, in the early 5th Century BC - his point being that the ceaseless flow of the water makes for a different river each time you step into it.
While change is constant, different things change at different rates. In an environment of ceaseless flux, it is important to identify stable markers and to hold fast to them.A sharp pupil pointed out "in that case you can't step into the same river once", since if everything is constantly in flux, so is the identity of the individual stepping into the water.
Bond markets, debt and bail-outs must feel like a similar challenge.
8. Tell me the worst, doctor. Hippocrates faces the facts
Western medicine goes back to Hippocrates, late 5th Century BC, and doctors still take the "Hippocratic oath". An extensive set of ancient medical observations details how patients fared when they were treated by means such as diet and exercise.
What is exceptional in ancient thinking about health and disease is the clear-sighted recognition that doctors must observe accurately and record truthfully - even when patients die in the process.
Magical or wishful thinking cannot bring a cure. Only honest, exhaustive, empirical observation can hope to reveal what works and what does not.
9. Seizing the opportunity: Cleisthenes and democracy
The ancient Greeks were strongly aware of the power of opportunity - in Greek, kairos. Seizing the moment - in oratory, athletics, or battle - was admired and viewed as an indication of skill.
In many cases, such temporary innovation, born of the moment, will be more enduring, especially if successive innovators build on its principles.
When the tyrants of Athens were deposed at the end of the 6th Century, the leading citizen Cleisthenes needed to think up a constitution that would cut across existing structures of power and allegiance.
He devised with amazing rapidity a system of elective government in which all the citizens (the Greek word "demos" means "the people") had a single vote - the world's first democracy.
The oracle at Delphi: Always ambiguous enough to be right afterwards, rather like modern economists
10. Big problem, long bath: Archimedes the inventor
Asked to measure whether a crown was made of pure gold, the Sicilian Greek Archimedes (3rd Century BC) puzzled over a solution.
The story goes that when he eventually took a bath and saw the water rising as he stepped in, it struck him that an object's volume could be measured by the water it displaced - and when weighed, their relative density could be calculated.
He was so excited by his discovery that he jumped out of the bath and ran naked through Syracuse shouting "Eureka!" - Greek for "I've got it!"
Finding the solution to a knotty problem requires hard thinking, but the answer often comes only when you switch off - and take a bath.
Armand D'Angour is a lecturer in classics at the University of Oxford and author of The Greeks and the New: Novelty in Ancient Greek Imagination and Experience and the forthcoming Eureka: Seven Principles of Innovation from Ancient Greece.
Δευτέρα, 4 Ιουνίου 2012
A few days ago the Head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, had the audacity to suggest that instead of resisting the neo-liberal austerity measures prescribed by her organization, in agreement with the EU and the European Central Bank, Greek citizens should focus on paying their taxes. Lagarde did not stop there. She later went on to add that she had more sympathy for ‘little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education’ than for the tax-avoiding Greeks.
Now, it takes some nerve for someone like Lagarde to make such an outlandish statement. In my eyes, there is so much wrong about her view of the world and suggestions to improve it, that perhaps in a short piece like this one can only begin to unravel the mysterious and deluded inner world where I feel the Head of the IMF lives.
For starters it seems to me that Lagarde has resorted to the most insulting national stereotypes to dismiss the authentic suffering of the Greek people. Perhaps in her surreal world full of pink unicorns and fairies where everything – well, everything but Niger’s little kids— is perfect, the austerity measures imposed upon the Greeks are nothing but a blessing. Perhaps Lagarde believes that a nation that in her twisted understanding of the Euro crisis failed to control its budget and debts deserves to be punished. Who knows, perhaps she actually thinks that Greeks never paid taxes and that even now they don’t.
The reality, the harsh reality away from Lagarde’s fairy tales, is that taxes in Greece have increased tenfold over the past two years. And this has been accompanied by an evisceration of state services. At the moment even having access to basic prescription drugs is difficult — a situation that is likely to get worse in coming months since Greece has not been able to make payments to some major medical companies that supply the country’s drugs for the past 14 months. At the same time, electricity, water, and VAT bills have gone up significantly, while income tax has rocketed.
Lagarde’s strategy of dismissing one problem (the Greek crisis) by invoking another one (the plights of Niger’s children), both of which are to a large extent a result of the sort of “free”market capitalism that the IMF has so enthusiastically embraced and promoted, is shameless and sickening, and disguises common underlying problems. In the make-believe world that Lagarde inhabits, globalization produces only wealth; poverty, whether in Greece or Niger, is determined by local factors.
As for her concern about Niger’s children — ‘I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens’ — she can only be kidding, really. I had the privilege to visit the Republic of Niger last July, when an acute famine threatened the eastern part of the country. An estimated 800,000 children under the age of five were at risk of starving to death.
The crisis was tackled by the combined effort of a group of charities, including Save the Children and Oxfam, and by the then recently elected government of Mahamadou Issoufou, whose efforts went largely unnoticed by the international community. And the IMF? That IMF whose director worries so much about the children of Niger was nowhere to be seen. More worryingly, although the worst of the crisis seems to be over, there are still around 300,000 children in Niger today at risk of starvation. I would really like to know what Ms Lagarde has done, or plans to do about this problem, other than “worrying” about it.
Maybe she could listen to her own advice to the Greeks about paying their taxes? After all, she has a tax-free salary of 298,926 pounds a year. Maybe that would not solve much, but it would at least allow her to lead by example. I am no economist, but I guess that a figure of at least 30,000 pounds a year could well sort out the education of a few of those kids in Niger, who she always has ‘in her mind’.
Perhaps more importantly, she should think carefully before arrogantly playing politics with the suffering of the good men and women of Greece and Niger, two countries that have become poorer as Ms Lagarde and her employers get richer. What her callous attempt at playing off Greece against Niger actually reveals is that the brutal neoliberal policies promoted by the IMF are concerned only with generating private profits, and will do nothing to protect citizens, whether in Greece or Niger.
A few years ago ‘fortress Europe’ was criticized for erecting trade and immigration barriers that would consolidate the wealth of European citizens while maintaining global inequalities. The EU response to the global financial crisis, however, gives the lie to the notion that even the protection of European citizens was ever on the agenda. The only fortress MsLagarde and her employers are interested in is the one being erected around private capital.
independentTagged in: Christine, Eurozone crisis, greece, imf, Lagarde
marilena: The facts are clear. This cruel austerity experime...: While the human cost of economic stupidity is all too visible, the world 's leaders are paralysed by their dogma A woman receives a...
While the human cost of economic stupidity is all too visible, theworld's leaders are paralysed by their dogma