- Game Over: The Inside Story of the Greek Crisis by George Papaconstantinou
In 2009, Greece was hit by a devastating sovereign debt crisis that forced the country to seek help from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The agreement (also known widely as the memorandum) signed in May 2010 provided an emergency loan to the country in exchange for deep austerity measures that included sharp tax increases, deep salary and pension cuts, and reductions in government spending. This drew enormous attention by the news media and the scholarly community. A plethora of publications have identified and analyzed the causes and consequences of the Greek crisis. More recently, works from insiders (or people with close connections to insiders) have made their appearance, aiming to provide the reader with more intimate and eyewitness perspectives of what went wrong and how Greece came to the brink of economic catastrophe and exit from the eurozone, a phenomenon known as Grexit.
Among the recent publications is Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice, the work of American economist James K. Galbraith, who served as unofficial advisor to Yanis Varoufakis, finance minister in the first SYRIZA cabinet (January to July 2015). In this collection of speeches and essays, Galbraith counsels the leftist government to abandon the euro and return to the national currency, the drachma. Another book in this line is And the Weak Must Suffer What They Must? by the mercurial former finance minister himself. Like some others, Varoufakis attempts to make the case that the severity of the memorandum with the so-called troika (Central European Bank, the EU, and the IMF) would not solve the country’s financial problems and, instead, would lead to chronic economic decay and impoverishment. Varoufakis has promised a sequel, scheduled to [End Page 149] come out in 2017, in which he intends to recount his battles with the IMF and hopefully offer the reasoning behind his advocacy of the so-called Plan B—withdrawal from the eurozone.
But among the insiders’ accounts that deserve the most attention is the memoir of former finance minister George Papaconstantinou. As finance minister (October 2009 to June 2011) in George A. Papandreou’s government, the Western-educated economist was the point man during the turbulent period that led to the first of three memoranda. Most memoirs or autobiographies tend to be self-serving and sketch a composite that puts the author in a favorable light; and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Papaconstantinou’s book is no different. However, irrespective of what one thinks of the wisdom of his actions, no one can deny the fact that he found himself in a most difficult situation, but instead of avoiding responsibility he took drastic and unpopular measures. As a result, in the space of less than two years, Papaconstantinou became, in his own words, persona non grata in his country. He was accused of and tried for, but found not guilty of, purging the so-called Lagarde list (a list of Greeks maintaining questionable accounts in European banks given to him by French politician Christine Lagarde). Although his political career is irreparably damaged, not many experts would disagree that his decisions were unavoidable and almost certainly spared Greece from declaring bankruptcy. Nevertheless, the former minister recognizes that the suffering Greeks view him not as “the man that took harsh but necessary decisions that avoided the worst possible outcome (default), [but] the architect of the hated memorandum, [and] a traitor to the country.”
As the reader navigates though the myriad details as well as the different players and personalities involved in the Greek drama, three key factors emerge as having played pivotal roles in bringing about the crisis and hampering the country’s inability to climb out of it. First, Papaconstantinou asserts that Greek governments and the country’s administrative apparatus have been less than responsible custodians of the nation’s economy. Excessive partisanship, aversion to consensus and cooperation, unbridled patronage politics and nepotism, unrealistic promises, gross inefficiency and mismanagement...