Earlier today, former Greek finance minister, economics professor and self-described “erratic Marxist” Yanis Varoufakis launched his long-awaited new political movement in Berlin, Germany. It calls itself “Democracy in Europe Movement“, aka Diem 25.
This is rather significant, and I get to why in a second.
But first I want to talk about why it looks like an utter failure. So here we have Yanis, the dissident finance minister superstar. He’s clearly one of the smartest people on the entire international political scene. He’s been interviewed more and given more talks in a shorter amount of time than anybody I can remember. Everybody wants to hear from him. He’s wrestled with the powers-that-are of Europe, all of them at the same time, and arguably won at least a draw (the referendum). He’s the sexiest man alive (or so I’m told), and the narrative he presents is clearly and obviously, so much more correct and right than any other narrative being told by his “opponents”. So people flock to him left and right.
He diagnoses that pretty much all problems in the EU today are consequences of the same root problem, that this root problem cannot be solved with an existing party, as his Syriza experience proved, or by a single country, and so he launches a new pan-European movement. Makes perfect sense.
And then you look at the new movement’s announcement, and its supporters when it is finally revealed today, and there is *nobody*. Well, sure, there are all sorts of people whose pictures are on the site, but there is nobody of any kind of political stature. I would have expected Oskar Lafontaine, for example, or a few ex-ministers or at least ex-parliamentarians from various EU countries. But there is nobody. It’s just a few academics, the usual freethinkers and a handful of artists. Nobody who is, or was, close to power. Nada.
So my first reaction today was: what an utter failure. He has the momentum, the story line, the appeal, and clearly a much better vision. And no followers. Just how in the world did he screw this one up so badly?
But after I calmed down, and pondered this a bit, the answer is obvious, and it is found right here in the Diem 25 Manifesto:
We, the peoples of Europe, have a duty to regain control over our Europe from unaccountable ‘technocrats’, complicit politicians and shadowy institutions.
He is not planning to enter the ring to compete with other parties and other visions. He is planning to abolish the ring, and the people and organizations that operate the ring. He’s asking the “people of Europe” to reclaim that ring and the operation of that ring, and the concession stands around the ring, and the ushers expecting tips, and the parking lots and their fees. Wrestle the system back from the Unaccountables, and remake it by and for the people.
He’s declaring war. Not on wrong economic policies, and bad treaties, or particular institutions. He considers all of them just different faces of the same enemy, and he’s declaring war on all of them together. Let that sink in for a second.
“Audacious” is far too mild a word. Or “insane” :-)
Interestingly, he is far from the only one who has diagnosed that the problem is systemic (where the problem == the current socio-political structure), and nothing will be substantially improved unless that structure is changed in a way that gets rid of the Unaccountables. And it is by no means limited to Europe. Here are some (American) examples:
- Larry Lessig, with his Mayday and Rootstrikers movements and his unsuccessful presidential run. He would declare “money in politics” as the root problem, but I’m sure he realizes that money cannot be taken out of politics without making many, many more changes, from lobbying rules to revolving doors between regulators and firms being regulated, to the role and governance of the central bank.
- The tea partiers and the political right. One of the (sometimes) stated objectives of reducing the size of government is to burn the pigsty down and start over, as small as possible with as little opportunity as possible for Unaccountables.
- Bernie Sanders and the political left. While he advocates for the opposite in terms of size and role of government, his key messsage is to throw the unelected bums out that enrich themselves at the cost of broader society, e.g. too-big-to-fail banks.
And so forth. Unlike Yanis, those guys still think the necessary changes can be made within the system. Personally, I don’t think there is an existence proof for that. Not even a hint of one — just look at the evolutionary trajectory over the past several decades, whether in Europe or in the US. So Yanis, logical thinker that he is, says, well, if it can’t be done within the system, but it needs to be done, we need to get rid of the system as-is. In particular of the people that have all those cozy jobs within the system as-is.
Now back to his supporters, or lack thereof. I imagine Yanis touring Europe, meetings lots of people who he knows are sympathetic to his cause: “Hi X.Y., I’m putting this new movement together that will declare war on the establishment, won’t you join me as a founding member?”
You can imagine what goes through the head of the person thus pitched: “wow, that’d be fun, and is exactly the right thing to do, but: am I mad? If I joined him, I would commit immediate, total, political, and perhaps economic suicide!” If you are an ex-minister, it will guarantee you will never again be a minister, or advise one. If you are a member of parliament, you will be certain that you won’t be for much longer. If you are a member of a party, they will kick you out. If you work for a large company, they will get rid of you faster than you can sign the Diem25 membership papers.
Why? Because you just declared war on them! Remember, Diem25 has declared war on the entire system, conservatives and liberals, industry and greens (isn’t it amazing how quickly they were assimilated into the system after they had grown so well outside of it for a while, e.g. in Germany), everybody!
So he has to do with professors (tenure! can do anything!), artists (weird political opinions increase the price of art, I think) and odd freethinkers (they weren’t part of the system in the first place). And that’s where he is.
Personally, I think chances are high that nothing will ever come out of it. No critical mass of supporters, no important endorsements, irrelevancy. This is in spite of how many people in the establishment actually agree with him.
But — and that’s why I’m writing this post — it is *sooo* important that somebody does this. He may fail. And the next guy trying if after them may fail, too, and so many other guys and gals after them. Perhaps the system can be sustainably reformed from the inside, and more power to those who would manage to do that. But chances are it can’t: one of the often-heard arguments against a Bernie Sanders presidency is that he would be unable to accomplish anything against the system, even as president (I agree with the assessment, but not that this should prevent him from running.) If it needs to be reformed, but it can’t be reformed from the inside, then our choices only are descending further into dystopia, collapse, or reform from the outside.
My hope is on reform from the outside. Go, Yanis!