Whatever the outcome of the Greek story, this is a great moment for democracy from the country that gave us the word some 2,500 years ago.

The politicians and analysts who moan about Greece and the Greeks, not least, I am afraid, the Germans, remind me of one of Groucho Marx's great lines in Horse Feathers: "Whatever it is, I'm against it!"

The Greeks have suffered enough in the name of orthodox finance. And - irony of ironies - the most punitive people chastising them come from Germany, a nation that was helped to recover after the Second World War by the generosity of the Marshall Plan and the (1953) London Agreement on debt forgiveness.

This is not to belittle the formidable success of Germany's own efforts after the war but that Allied assistance was a necessary condition for revival.

Groucho Marx
Politicians and analysts who moan about Greece remind me of Groucho Marx's great line: "Whatever it is, I'm against it!"Public domain

The Greek electorate have spoken up, resoundingly. And they have spoken for many others who are tired of policies of needless and counter-productive austerity.

When I hear German politicians grumbling about the cost to the German taxpayer of helping Greece, I wonder whether they realise, or are prepared to acknowledge, that most of the "bail out" money has been channelled not to the Greek population but to the banks - many of them German - who nearly destroyed the international financial system with their reckless lending in the run up to what the the managing director of the International Monetary Fund called the great recession.

In Greece's case, with unemployment at 25% and a sensational, damaging and ultimately pointless austerity programme, it turned in to another great depression.

One of the unfortunate events of recent years was the forced resignation - through his own fault - of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Christine Lagarde's predecessor at the IMF.

Lagarde is a lawyer, as indeed seem to be most of the pre-Keynesian economists advising German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They have taken a far too legalistic approach to the crisis and have seemed unaware of the first law of macro-economics: when economies are in a hole, they should not be forced to dig deeper.

Strauss-Kahn had an impressive grasp of economic reality, and I find it difficult to believe he would have gone along with the sado-monetarism and fiscal flagellation meted out to Greece by the so-called Troika of the IMF, the Brussels Commission, and the European Central Bank.

More quantitative easing

Talking of the ECB, one must sympathise with Mario Draghi, who has had a devil of a job working on his benighted institution in order to bring it round, five years too late, to injecting massive amounts of credit into the system under the heading of that ridiculous piece of jargon known as "quantitative easing".

Alexis Tsipras
Head of radical leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras waves while leaving the party headquarters after winning the elections in Athens, 25 January, 2015Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis

Draghi has also spoken out several times against the repressive fiscal policies that have been forced on Greece and other countries. Unfortunately, he is not responsible for the fiscal policies of the eurozone.

Now, your correspondent did not get where he is today by making predictions as to whether Greece can remain in the eurozone. But I did once ask a very senior Greek diplomat why, despite all the pain, they were determined to stick with Europe and he replied with a one-word quip: "Turkey!"

With Greece, as with so many other European nations, one cannot ignore the deep-seated feelings induced by history. Having joined the EU, Greece was so desperate to consolidate its European heritage that it took on the enormous task of subscribing to eurozone membership.

Nobody knows how things are going to work out henceforth. What is already evident is that the scare stories about the Syriza Party's economic agenda were far fetched, indeed hysterical, as was apparent to anybody who listened to the reasoned approach of Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister of the new government, during the prime spot on BBC's Today Programme.

Let us hope the Greek vote becomes a wake-up call for the economic policy Establishment of Europe and that they abandon their fetish about budget deficits, and accept growth-oriented policies point the way out of the current malaise.

This is important if we are to stem the rise of very nasty extreme right-wing movements that are reviving horrible memories of events in the 1930s.


William Keegan is a journalist and academic who is the senior economics commentator at The Observer.