Published in 2017 by Vintage (Penguin Random House UK)
244 pages plus Afterword, Acknowledgements, Appendix, References, and Notes.
Naturally I had heard of Yanis Varoufakis through his ill-starred negotiations with the EU on behalf of the Greek nation. His image as a motorcyclist in black leathers has remained lodged in my mind (I’m not sure where from) along with his vaguely Marxist credentials, so when I saw this book in our local bookshop I was intrigued – this is the man who has fenced with the sharp end of the EU and I decided that he might have something worth saying.
I underestimated him badly – he is a realist with a well researched and powerful message that should resonate throughout the EU and the world – so please sit up and pay attention!
The title, given his brush with fame as the Greek Finance Minister, needs no explanation. What does need explanation is the muted reaction of the rest of the world to the appalling austerity that was meted out to the Greek people. If the EU was not created with solidarity of the membership in mind, then what was its founding ethos, and what is it today?
The book is published by an English publishing house. In fact, it quickly becomes apparent that in many ways Yanis is culturally as English as we are, having been sent to school in England after the Greek civil war, and cutting his political teeth on our industrial unrest in the Thatcher years.
Like all real students, he insists on thinking for himself. Understanding that the EU was not working, he set out to analyse the historical background and to see for himself how we came to where we are today. He has the happy knack of couching events in the clearest of English idiom, taking his reader from the Great Depression, through the two world wars into American hegemony and German reunification, explaining exactly how the economics of the post-war period influenced American, British and European monetary politics to ultimately bring him face to face with the EU ‘Troika’ in 2015.
You don’t need to be an economist to follow this, although it does help to have some economic understanding. According to the endorsements, you can take it from Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Economics prize-winner) that his economics by and large stands up.
The analysis is authoritative and readable. His understanding of the political motivations and interactions may or may not be precise history but one is left in little doubt about the authenticity (supported by many references) of his arguments. His narrative dissects in depth the motivations, attitudes, and human strengths and weaknesses of the politicians that interacted over time to create the EU of today, with all its ivory tower mentalities and economic and monetary ignorance laid out for inspection. This heroic undertaking is accomplished with aplomb.
But what of the EU’s ethos? Ethos may be less easy to pin down than historical events, but he makes a convincing case nontheless. Whilst the EU seemed to offer hope to those Eastern Europeans suddenly freed from the Soviet regime, it was bent on subverting individual national identities within the welcoming embrace of another Soviet of undemocratic supranational government.
Like all good Soviets with no democratic institutions that command respect, the EU has become relevant to those who live in the real world only for the restrictions that it forces onto them and for the incompetences that it assumes for its own. He demonstrates how one of the most pernicious of these incompetences is the lack of economic and monetary understanding; this being eclipsed only by the blind faith that insists that more EU rules and regulations must bring improvement. His success is to compel the understanding that upon these two incompetences hang the devastation wrought by the EU, and that until these incompetences are overcome the future of the EU nations and indeed of the world economy itself is gloomy indeed.
This is not at all gloomy reading however. Good entertainment is provided by the terrific euphemisms conjured to illustrate the political and economic deviations as they are unmasked through the pages. I won’t spoil your enjoyment by quoting here – suffice it to say that you won’t be short of amusement on the way through.
I started to read this book out of mild interest and by the time I had finished I understood that unless the EU is torn down or somehow reformed it may actually be set to destroy the economic future of generations, maybe world-wide. Tearing it down would create huge problems and reform is anathema to the leadership, so what to do? Yanis has given us an excellent head-start by writing this book and enabling the understanding of the problem in all its hideous intractability and guaranteed failure. He proposes some short-term measures that would enable the EU to side-step the worst of its current predicament without violating its rule-book (they are EU-technical and I am not competent to comment) but I’m not holding my breath that any miscreant will pay attention.
Who is this book for? I would say that anybody could read it and gain from it, that they will be entertained by it, and that it is absolutely required reading for anyone with a political economic or monetary interest or brief – especially including the EU panjandrums (fat chance!).
I was never a fan of the EU and I have always been convinced that the UK should leave, but I now wonder whether that will be sufficient to secure our peace and prosperity. The EU will still be there, destroying European culture and cohesion, and dragging down global prosperity for as long as it takes either to understand its own economic and monetary failings, or to collapse with all the disturbances that may entail.
There is still a mountain to climb – we in UKIP need to set about it.
(NB I have no financial interest in Penguin Random House)