Understanding what's really going on in Greece is key to understanding austerity measures worldwide, and this article by Michael Hudson is the clearest explanation I've seen yet. (If you haven't been following it, leftists are rooting for Greece to default, just like Iceland did, to stop banker demands for governments to cover their losses for their reckless and even criminal activities.)
Go read the whole thing:
My friend David Kelley likes to cite Molly Ivins’ quip: “It’s hard to convince people that you are killing them for their own good.” The EU’s attempt to do this didn’t succeed in Iceland. And like the Icelanders, the Greek protesters have had their fill of neoliberal learned ignorance that austerity, unemployment and shrinking markets are the path to prosperity, not deeper poverty. So we must ask what motivates central banks to promote tunnel-visioned managers who follow the orders and logic of a system that imposes needless suffering and waste —all to pursue the banal obsession that banks must not lose money?
One must conclude that the EU’s new central planners (isn’t that what Hayek said was the Road to Serfdom?) are acting as class warriors by demanding that all losses are to be suffered by economies imposing debt deflation and permitting creditors to grab assets —as if this won’t make the problem worse. This ECB hard line is backed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner, evidently so that U.S. institutions not lose their bets on derivative plays they have written up.
This is a repeat of Mr. Geithner’s intervention to prevent Irish debt alleviation. The result is that we enter absurdist territory when the ECB and Treasury insist on “voluntary renegotiation” on the ground that some banks may have taken an AIG-type gamble in offering default insurance or bets that would make it lose so much money that yet another bailout would be necessary. It is as if financial gambling is economically necessary, not part of Las Vegas.
Why should this matter a drachma to the Greeks? It is an intra-European bank regulatory problem. Yet to sidestep it, the ECB is telling Greece to sell off its water and sewer rights, ports, islands and other infrastructure.
This veers on financial theater of the absurd. Of course some special interest always benefits from systemic absurdity, banal as it may be. Financial markets already have priced in the expectation that Greece will default in the end. It is only a question of when. Banks are using the time to take as much as they can and pass the losses onto the ECB, EU and IMF —“public” institutions that have more leverage than private creditors. So bankers become the sponsors of absurdity —and of the junk economics spouted so unthinkingly by the enforcers, cheerleaders for the banality of evil. It doesn’t really matter if their names are Trichet, Geithner or Papandreou. They are just kindred lumps on the vampire squid of creditor claims.
The Greek crowds demonstrating before Parliament in Syntagma Square are providing their counterpart to “Arab Spring.” But what really can they do, short of violence —as long as the police and military side with the government that itself is siding with foreign creditors?
The most effective tactic is to demand a national referendum on whether to accept the ECB’s terms for austerity, tax increases, public spending cutbacks and selloffs. This is how Iceland’s President stopped his country’s Social Democratic leadership from committing the economy to ruinous (and legally unnecessary) payments to Gordon Brown’s Labour Party demands and those of the Dutch for the Icesave and even the Kaupthing bailouts.