There are many positives and negatives in the Syriza victory.
The most obvious positive in the Syriza result is that especially in a young and fragile democracy, it’s good for the established politicians to be kicked out once in a while, without prompting a military coup, just to show the next lot that it can happen.
It’s also compelling that the Troika struck the wrong deal, and Syriza’s craziness, if it is real, might give them the credibility to extract one that is better for Greece and the Eurozone as a whole.
But there are some negatives.
First is the demonstration that promising the Moon works. Syriza’s promises, so far as they are intelligible, are not affordable. But no-one cared about that, or no-one understood.
This strategy was adopted by the SNP. And it worked for them too. They didn’t win the independence referendum itself. But they decisively changed their own political power, the constitution, and may yet win independence in the longer term. What lesson does that teach future politicians who contemplate explaining things as they really are and really could be?
Another negative is the industry of drawing false lessons from Greece.
George Osborne draws the lesson: we need more austerity ourselves, or we will end up like Greece too. For a month or two after the May 2010 election, there was some justification for thinking this. But never since.
The left draws the lesson: Syriza have rejected austerity, we need to do it too, and can. Well, there’s austerity and austerity. The electorate was choosing back in 2010 between two plans that were pretty similar relative to the sharp contraction enforced on Greece by the Troika and their financial crisis. In the end, the Coalition reneged on its deficit reduction plan and, with the assistance of the BoE, inflation was allowed to cruise more than 3 percentage points above target. Rejecting austerity and an associated 25% cut in GDP doesn’t contribute much to forming an opinion about what the UK government should have done. That’s like using an argument against famine to lobby against a slight trimming of one’s calorie intake.
The left also draws the lesson: you see what capitalism and neoliberals do? Let’s dump the lot. But Greece represents not a failure of market economics, but instead a failure to construct a market economy, and a failure to construct a functioning public or ‘socialist’ sector alongside it. And it’s almost utopian to hope that the state failure that poisoned markets and allowed the public sector to deliver so little for what taxes were collected, is going to be fixed by that same state.
Another negative: the suggestion in some press commentary, that Syriza’s victory is one for democracy [fine thus far] and that if they don’t get what they want, that is democracy being thwarted. Well, no. If they don’t get what they want, it’s because leaders of other democracies calculate that giving more money to Greece would not be popular with their own electorates.
And one more: Syriza’s harking back to reparations for World War 2. This is bound up with an attempt to make a case that debt relief is moral. I believe it is, on the grounds that the debt was in part the fault of reckless Northern bank lending. But going back to past grievances. Where does that end? This is is a nationalist ploy that stirs up separatism that makes fiscal union (of the kind that would have avoided this mess) impossible.