Yanis Varoufakis begins his account of his half year as Greece’s finance minister in the left populist Syriza government (Adults in the Room, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) with a description of a meeting with Larry Summers. According to Varoufakis, Summers explains that there are two types of politicians. There are those who are on the inside and play by the rules. They can just occasionally accomplish things by persuading others in the room to take their advice.
Then there is the other type of politician, those who don’t agree to the rules and will never get anywhere. Summers asks Varoufakis which type of politician he is.
As Varoufakis tells us he explained to Summers, he is the second type. He is committed to accomplishing something for his people, most immediately the people of Greece in the struggle to end mindless austerity, but ultimately the people of Europe and arguably the world, in an effort to fight against needlessly cruel economic policies. If this means breaking with the decorum of the elites, so be it.
There is no reason to question Varoufakis’ commitment. He left a comfortable life as an academic in Austin, Texas to take up what he certainly knew to be an incredibly difficult job as Greece’s finance minister in the middle of a financial crisis. The newly elected populist government was despised by most of the business and political establishment in Greece and across Europe. Only a person with a genuine commitment to the stated goals of the new government would take on this role. But reading his account, it is questionable whether the path he took was necessarily the best one for Greece and for Europe.
To give the basic story, at the start of 2015 Greece was being confronted by the joint power of the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F), collectively known as the “Troika”, who were insisting that Greece impose further spending cuts and tax increases even though the…