A game theorist leads Greece's challenge to the austerity doctrine imposed by Berlin. But do his theories make sense?by James Bone / February 19, 2015 / Leave a comment
When Yanis Varoufakis presented his latest book at Columbia University in 2011, sitting in a prime position in the front row was the Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne. The presence of a real-life rock star at a technical discussion of the postwar international system confirmed the Greek economist’s burgeoning celebrity status—and he himself seemed duly impressed. “In my book launch at Columbia tonight David Byrne was in the audience. And asked me to sign a copy,” Varoufakis tweeted. “Now I can die a happy person!”
We now know, of course, that his encounter with Byrne would not be the highlight of Varoufakis’s career. The Essex-educated University of Texas professor, a prolific blogger with a shaved head and muscular physique, won the highest number of preferences in the largest constituency in the Greek election on 25th January and took office as the continent’s most unconventional Finance Minister in the country’s new anti-austerity government, led by the leftist alliance Syriza. Camera-toting teenage girls crushed for a glimpse of him arriving for his first day of work at the ministry on his 1300 cc Yamaha motorbike. He then puzzled his European colleagues by touring capitals in an open-necked electric blue shirt and leather jacket. His casual style prompted Greece’s former Deputy Prime Minister, Theodoros Pangalos, to suggest Varoufakis needed to see a psychiatrist because he always had one hand in his pocket.
The Syriza victory in Greece represents more than just a populist uprising against five years of excruciating austerity. It poses an intellectual challenge to the entire creaking edifice of the eurozone. It asks the question—which is more bankrupt, the Greek economy or the eurozone response? The new government amounts, in many ways, to a “revolt of the academics” that has implications far beyond Greece. Varoufakis is the intellectual standard-bearer of a government that includes a remarkable number of professional academics. The Cabinet includes no fewer than six economists, a law professor, an international relations professor, a mathematician and an emeritus philosophy professor whose last book was on Baruch Spinoza and Ludwig Wittgenstein. For better or worse, it is probably the most educated Cabinet in Europe. As such, Greece under Syriza is a good test of William F Buckley Jr’s conservative maxim: “I’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University.”
It is easy…