My documentary for Channel 4: The Eurozone, the Ant and the Grasshopper

A Special Report commissioned by Channel 4 (UK), based on an earlier post in this blog entitled Never Bailed Out: Europe’s ants and grasshoppers revisited 

See also the piece I wrote for Channel 4’s website. And do not neglect to watch the full interview with Mr Robert Halver, Baader Bank’s Chief economist. It sheds plenty of light on what may be in the offing, at least in the mind of Frankfurt’s financiers. (Just scroll down on this page until you find the relevant video.)


  • Good work Yanis! How did you talk to those Germans in the Café? Hope you really had some time to feel the atmosphere. The interview with Mr Robert Halver is really revealing. At last one, who talks straight. Do you think Merkel thinks the same, but is just not saying it? He did really mean, there is a plan, didn’t he?
    Funny thing, many times, when you challenged his position he said, “politics seem to having decided ……” So is it also your impression, that they are not really sure in what they are doing. They have just decided to do so? Or was Halver just being politically correct and polite to you, escaping a controversial discussion?

  • Thank you, Yanis. A very, very important and also deeply human piece.



    PS: The English of Robert Halver is embarassing

  • You valiantly attempt to ‘recalibrate’ the Ants/Grasshoppers analogy. “We are all Ants” is your underlying message.However I’m afraid your model of German&Greek ants and G&G grasshoppers is papering over some crucial details.

    The German Ant painfully toils day and night in the factory, receives very low wages which he is brainwashed into saving, and cannot even think about spare time nor holidays. Worst of all, the fear of unemployment is ever-present in his Ant-life.

    The Greek Ant that finds himself in a Greek civil service position (e.g. regional government) spends his “working hours” socializing and coffee-drinking while his off-work time is spent doing more of the same. His not-insignificant salary (2-3 K euros) allows him to spend on holidays abroad, maintain a holiday home in Greece, as well as 3 cars and a small boat. Crucially, the job is guaranteed for life. This Ant has never even imagined unemployment.

    So they may both perhaps be Ants, cheated away from their true prosperity. But if I had the choice, I know which Ant I would like to be.

    • I do not recall interviewing a civil servant. I interviewed two shipyard workers who, between themselves have worked much harder than you and I (and who live and breathe the fear of unemployment) and an hourly paid cleaner…

    • You are misinformed about the salaries of civil servants. Very few ants or grasshoppers in the civil service have salaries over 2k a month. Those you find in the so called ΔΕΚΟ , the companies that the government holds which by using the power of the syndicates ( turning off the electricity for example) and the maxim “workers share in the profits” treat the companies as their own increasing their salaries way over civil service jobs.

      The problem with the civil service is not the few with high salaries, but the thousands of useless clerks etc, who, satisfied with a sinecure of 1k or less generate the enormous bureaucracy to justify their job, or come at 9 and leave at 13 hours protected by the lack of hierarchy and real management in the civil service since the 1980s, when power was given to the people. The only reason the civil service functions at all is because of the ants , they exist, who are the ones that cannot stop working and be lazy.

      In the private sector in Greece, the one that has now one million unemployed, people work hard, often in two jobs, more than 12 hours a day in order to have a reasonable income, often 50% smaller than the corresponding civil service one.

    • So you are implying that Greek civil servants were not Ants. This would put them squarely in the Grasshopper category, which undermines your “most of us are Ants north and south” point. There would seem to have been quite a big % of Greek grasshoppers then. Significantly greater than the % of bankers north and south, which are definitely Grasshoppers and we all universally condemn.

      There were and are plenty of hard working Greeks but also quite a large number of them in unproductive, parasitic jobs that do bear an uncanny resemblance to grasshoppers.

    • Try to desist oversimplification. Within the civil service there are plenty of ants struggling to serve against the machinations of the majority who are grasshoppers. Reform means empowering the ants within the civil service, not starting a fatwa against all civil servants. A little common sense please.

    • Dear Yiorgos
      i am an australian, and the same generalisations could be placed on our civil servants. My wife was one for 15 years and was as dissapointed in its futile bureaucracy as she was grateful for the lax management. Only the abundance of resources in the ground have kept us more interested in our cafe latte’s than ant like productivity.

      I’m certain the party here will end shortly, the cost of living is ridiculous. Then Hellas will instruct us what to do.

      by the way, Yiannis, love your site, its making a lay person interested in the global financial/social deception.

  • Yanis,

    Pleaseeee….. once and for all. The meme repeated by that German in the documentary that Greece entered the EZ “by misrepresenting its finances…” is FALSE.
    While it might seem irrelevant in comparison with more pressing issues, it is a venomus cool-aid that is driving the “consensus” or “public opinion” that legitimizes the misguided policies rammed thru.
    Somebody has to stand up and put the lie to rest. If perceptions are changed, focus might be diverted at the true culprits.
    If a 40-year old woman says she’s 37…… ok you believe that, but don’t try to tell me she tricked you into believing she’s a teenagerand pretend to claim that you were duped.

  • Very good analogy I remember the TV program called Kung Fu “”David Carradine”” I cannot see the Greek people taking much more they need to take control of the Government and arrest all the corrupt politicians.

  • A big thanks, from the bottom of our hearts, for everything you are doing !!!

  • In a very clear way you have laid out the problem that has confounded the global conversation. It was so easy to fall back into the binary of the grasshopper and the ant. Falling into the myths and stereotypes came to easy and added to the muddled thinking. Is there a longer version?

    Thank you for this piece.

  • Listening to your proposals for saving the eurozone at the end of this nice video i just wonder did you ever had a strange feeling that such a monetary union between so unequal national economies cannot be saved?

    • Technically, it can be saved. The eurozone’s problem is not that it consists of disparate economies. So does the UK (e.g. compare and contrast the economies of Southern England and North Wales or Yorkshire). What the eurozone needs is a unified banking sector, some unification of public debt last but certainly not least a surplus recycling mechanism. Whether the political will exists to do what it would be necessary in another matter.

  • Hello Mr. Varoufakis!
    I do not really understand the interpretation of Mr. Christos Kavathas about the fate of life. According to him, we have a difficulty here in Greece to accept it….
    I am wandering when the crisis of 2008 hit some banks in US did they accept easily their fate? A fate that they caused. Their “strength” was saved and redempted thanks the poor.

    Thank you Mr. Varoufakis! Always a pleasure to share your thoughts with us!!

  • I was delighted to see Anthoula participating in your video and I sympathize with her struggles to make ends meet. I used to know her back in 2000 when I was working part-time for UoA. Please give her my best if/when you see her.

    And I wish you all the best on the other side of the ocean. I bet a lot of Greeks envy you, since hope is declining of our leaders’ (in Greece and the EU) ability to make the right decisions. As things get worse fast, a lot of us will wish we had the chance to leave these 2 years behind us and look to our (personal) future with hope.

  • Bravo and thanks Yanis. I can now easily share this with my friends.

  • Great Piece. However your example of Northern and Southern England to represent the EU is a little bit of a stretch IMO. Maybe in 20 or 50 years we can talk about Greeks and Germans having a shared identity but not in the next few months/years. Look at all the anti-German sentiments in the Greek press.

    • Some of my Scottish friends think their identity is close to us Greeks than to Londoners! Seriously now, the point I was making was that there is nothing fundamentally problematic with a currency union between quite different ‘economies’ (as long you have shock absorbing and surplus recycling mechanisms in it).

  • Great work with the documentary Yianis. But the interview with Mr Robert Halver, Baader Bank’s Chief economist is disturbing. He doesn’t sound like an economist to me, more like a gambler. What a dangerous mindset he is in. He actually thinks all will be well once Greece and Portugal are out of the Euro. When you push him further he then admits the ECB will step in and save everyone when things don’t turn out the way the Frankfurt banker is dreaming. Your Modest Proposal is a solution that is workable, sustainable and honest.
    Isn’t constitutionally impossible for Greece to exit the Eurozone voluntarily or otherwise?


  • Congrats, Yanis and keep up the good work!

    * * *

    Europe’s Deal: So Who Wins?

    “When we look through a different lens, a lens of political economy, we see what’s actually occurring.

    First, the real European economy is condemned to many years of austerity. That, in turn, means prolonged high unemployment, further weakening the bargaining power of wage earners vis-à-vis corporate capital. Europe’s economic elites also get new leverage to shrink Europe’s welfare state. Notably missing from the deal is any improvement in the regulation of finance, whose abuses caused the crisis in the first place.

    In fact, if all this sounds vaguely familiar, it is exactly the grand bargain that has been promoted for two decades by the likes of Peter G. Peterson, Robert Rubin, the members of the Bowles-Simpson Committee, and kindred millionaires who want an enforceable hammer to compel a balanced budget and shrink social spending. The only difference is that on the other side of the Atlantic, the euro crisis gave elites the leverage to pull off this deal.
    . . .
    In the meantime, financial elites have won a major victory. The pity is that the press has largely interpreted this in terms of saving the euro and calming capital markets rather than a question of who really benefits and who suffers. A very different strategy could have saved the euro, spared ordinary Europeans the pain of such extensive austerity, and reined in banks to prevent the next crisis from recurring. But that sort of policy change will first require a massive shift in political power.”

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
    —George Santayana


    In Greece, the financial elites of Europe have received agreement from the
    Greek government to another round of what some people are calling savage
    austerity measures, for example, lowering the minimum wage by 22 percent, a
    new round of privatizations, and cuts to pensions and many other social

    Now joining us to discuss all of this: Michael Hudson.

    So, Michael, what should we be learning from what’s going on in Greece?

    HUDSON: We should be learning what the European bankers are learning, which
    is that a great experiment is being conducted. For the last five years in
    Latvia, the neoliberals have lowered wages by about thirty percent. The
    basic premise of today’s model builders is: you don’t know how far you can
    lower wages and pensions until people begin to press back. Well, in Latvia
    they still haven’t begun to press back when they’ve lowered by thirty
    percent. Now they’re moving towards Greece on the way to Spain and Portugal
    and Italy, and they’re trying to figure out how much can wages be lowered,
    how much can an economy be drained until there is unrelenting pressure from
    the afflicted population.

    The EU and the banks have appointed a bank lobbyist, who is euphemistically
    called a “technocrat”, to be in political charge of Greece. His job is to
    see how much labor renumeration can be squeezed out. The neoliberals realize
    that the left in Europe is completely fragmented and does not have a defense
    against neoliberal policies. However, lowering wages shrinks an economy.
    When you’re cutting the budget deficit, you’re reducing the amount of money
    that comes into the economy to promote demand. So in effect what the EU is
    doing is bleeding economies, very much like a medieval doctor would bleed
    blood, believing that the loss restores health.

    The only response that the Greek people have, as they are not represented by
    “their” government, is to tear the economy apart so that nothing is left for
    the creditors. The PASOK and the socialist party that bought into the
    austerity program now have an eight percent approval rating in Greece.
    That’s even lower than Obama, the greatest fraud in American political

    The Greek people are saying: look, when the premier said that they were
    going to have a referendum for whether we want to cut back wages in order to
    pay the bankers, the first thing Angela Merkel said was, you cannot have a
    referendum. We’re going to suspend democracy, we’re going to impose a
    dictator on you, and we’re going to tell you what to do.

    Under international law, if there is no democratic commitment to the debt,
    the debt taken on is null and void. Therefore, the European Union has had
    its lawyers say, okay, we’re going to get the agreement of the Greek
    congress. Well, the Greek people can say, look, you can come down with bags
    of money and you can buy all the parliament members that you want to approve
    the deal, but as soon as there is an election, we’re going to throw them
    out, because they are not acting on our behalf.

    JAY: Is not one of the big objectives here privatization? Will the Greek
    government have to sell everything off? Apparently they’re talking now about
    selling airports and seaports.

    HUDSON: Yes and also the water systems, the sewer systems, real estate, the
    islands. The debt crisis is being used to create a grab bag for private
    interests to take ownership over the Greek public sector. And bankers and
    people who have a plan usually do much better in a crisis than people who
    don’t have a plan. So this indeed seems to be it. Finance today achieves
    what military invasion used to do in times past. So the new mode of warfare
    is financial, not military. It’s much cheaper and it’s much safer for the
    country doing the attack.

    To enforce privatization is why yesterday [February 14] the European Union
    said, wait a minute, we’re not even going to lend you the money to pay our
    own banks that have bought your bonds, unless you spell out exactly what
    you’re going to privatize and commit to it now. And this is a sticking
    point. In the past, the Greeks have made promises, and thank heaven they
    haven’t privatized, because once they begin to sell things off, there’s
    going to be a real squeeze and even more of an opposition. So you’re right.
    The bailout is a property grab.

    JAY: There does seem to be some kind of different approach between Wall
    Street and the Europeans. Some Wall Street representatives actually say, no
    to the austerity measures. Why the mixed message?

    HUDSON: There are two reasons. Number one, from the very beginning, from the
    last century, America has already had in the private sector what was in the
    public domain in Europe. Europe had its power companies, electric and gas
    systems in the public domain. America privatized them, but as regulated
    public utilities. The public utilities were regulated as to how much bond
    and equity they could get, what their rate of return would be. Europe has no
    body of law to regulate the prices or rent extraction the public utilities
    can charge, because they’d always had these in the public domain, just like
    the Soviet Union had no regulated private system. In Europe there’s much
    more property and public assets to grab than were available in the United
    States. There is no regulatory body in Europe, because in the past, power,
    sewer, water and other public utilities were supplied either at cost or at
    subsidized rates to make the economy more competitive.

    The idea in Europe is not only that you cut wages by thirty percent, but
    also prices can be raised for access to water, sewers, transportation,
    everything else. The rise in price means higher profits for the private
    interests who privatize Greece’s public sector.

    The result in Greece will probably be the same as it was in Iceland, Latvia,
    and other countries. There’s going to be a large emigration of working-age
    labor. And the result will, of course, be to make the economy much less

    In this morning’s newspaper it turned out that Greece’s GDP fell at a seven
    percent annual rate, not the five percent expected, as usual the newspaper
    said, to everyone’s surprise, the situation is worse than projected. Well,
    of course it wasn’t really to our surprise, because we know that when you’re
    strangling an economy, of course it can’t cope very well. And they’re
    strangling the Greek economy.

    Greece is being used as a laboratory experiment to determine the results
    when labor is squeezed very hard. It’s like trying to feed a horse less and
    less and see whether it’s really going to be more efficient until it keels
    over dead.

    [I believe Professor Hudson meant to add that some on Wall Street are
    worried that harsh austerity measures will result in Greece defaulting, thus
    exposing US financial institutions, such as Goldman Sachs, to having to make
    good on the swaps that guarantee Greek public debt.]

    JAY: Large-scale unemployment is always a good threat against the employed
    within a country, the more you can beat up Greece and Spain, Portugal, the
    more you can threaten the working class of France and Germany, where I guess
    the big targets eventually will be.

    HUDSON: Well, if that happens, there’s going to be a renewed nationalism
    that’s going to break the common market apart. There will be a sudden
    realization that when Europe united, the whole idea of unity was to prevent
    another European war. But now with unity under neoliberal bank rules, the
    implication is class war.

    If the EU is merely a mechanism for war of the rich against the poor, a
    number of countries are going to say NO to Europe, just as the Icelanders
    have voted not to join Europe, just as other countries that had planned to
    join Europe, all the way to Turkey at the other end, are saying, wait a
    minute, if that’s the Europe that’s coming, an oligarchic Europe whose
    program is austerity and shrinkage, why on earth would we want to join?

    The EU is proving that it works for private banks, but not for its citizens.

  • Banks rule the world and they want their money back . They will not risk another Lehman event by letting greece default . They are just trying to figure out a way to kick out the weaker nations without damaging their banking system . They will kick the can until they figure out a way to do it .

    The crisis is also a gift from heaven for them as it gets countries to to weaken its labour laws , slash wages and social welfare . The media are playing along by painting Greece as deserving of its fate .

    John Howard tried this in Australia with ‘ workchoices ‘ . he did not even wait for a
    recession , he just did it in a boom.

    The Irish are playing along . They actually think that banking debt is the peoples debt;

    • Banks may think they rule the world, the way some climatologists think they can rule the climate. There are models and models and predictions are made. But as with our weather, when they predict long term global warming and we get global cooling short term, it is the deaths from cold that matter and not the predictions.

      Both weather and economy are perfect examples of chaotic systems, and the bankers tend to forget that when they are riding the tsunami, and are completely surprised when a backlash gets them. A chaotic system means that there are many inputs influencing the output; cause and effect are so distributed that only astrologers should make definite long shot predictions.

      I think they are kicking the can further down the road hoping for a deus ex machina to save them, because deep down they must know they will not be able to figure it out ( if they really know their maths).

  • Yanis, I’m curious, do you have any indication that Richard Halver was not just voicing his personal opinion or recommendation (regarding “Plan A”)? I realize he’s on the media a lot recently, but the bank he’s working for doesn’t even have a page in the German Wikipedia (unlike all the major banks here). Did you get the impression that other Frankfurt bankers shared his prediction?

    Marc (Germany)

  • Thank you for the documentary. Very helpful to put faces and names of ‘normal’ Europeans to this crisis. Although I cannot say that I believe your plan is workable (not ‘wrong’, but workable) across all of the three steps, I find your sentiment most constructive and, again, helpful. The direction you are proposing is certainly the right one.

    It is beyond me how you managed to keep a straight face while talking (rather, listening) to this Frankfurt “Banker,” who is basically a mere mouthpiece for some investment bank, and who gets air time on German TV on daily market up-and-down’s, but, clearly, has no real, deeper understanding of what is going on. Neither does he have any serious theories to offer nor any suggestions on a way forward, well none of his own making anyway. I stopped watching that particular interview 4 minutes in. One can only stomach so much.

  • You have to hand it to the Germans when it comes to Grand Hypocrisy. Read this “dispassionate” analysis for the rise of the Greek Left, as if Frau Dracula had nothing to do with it.

    It just happened folks and some “good German journalists” are the first to bring it to your attention completely sanitized from any plausible culpability. You see, the industrious journalists just happened to be in Athens and felt compelled to report on this new trend of worrisome behavior which of course has absolutely nothing to do with cumulative German errors and omissions. Absolutely nothing to do, folks. The shit just happens and the all seeing eye of Germania Horribilis is there to report it (as hard working journalists do, that is):,1518,816598,00.html

  • Dear Yanis

    I would really like to see Mr. Halver’s reaction (after his answer that Germany’s
    primary goal is to sustain the eurozone complex) to a question suggesting just a
    piece of the Modest Proposal, such as wouldn’t be cheaper therefore more effιcient
    to restructure public dept using ECB for instance, instead of forcing it to print trillions
    of euros that would lead to inflation?

    I know you are too kind to alter an interview to confrontation and I ‘m not expecting
    Mr. Halver to acknowledge such thing, after all the Modest Proposal as a whole stands
    opposite the bankers interests that employing him, but, although sad, it is crucial for
    all the other people in Europe and German people as well, to recognise, as you
    succesfully have spotted early at the storming of the crisis at our neighborhood,
    that German politics, at least those that are in charge at the moment, are reluctant
    to take decisions in order to let Germany lead the Eurozone in safer waters, rather than
    giving orders.

    Since Germany, at this era, is unwilling to join its future with the rest of the Europe,
    the only weak hope seems to be trying to awaken German people, revealing this issue
    to all its dimensions to the German public opinion via German social democrats and
    green party.
    Maybe what I ‘m proposing is just how to fight windmills, especially if German media
    beat Greek ones in lack of quality and revealing journalism, seeing Bild is easy to
    suppose so, but since you have recent feedback, at some extent, from Germany,
    do you estimate there is a chance that there could be significant voices to influence
    and lead to a change of course?
    It seems difficult and more likely is to have a change at France first, but this might
    not just be enough, but I would be glad to have your comment on the above.

    Don’t get me wrong, following you I know that you choose to stay at your academic
    post, using the privilege to talk from an independent position, insisting to comment
    only on the economic decisions taken and trying to influence as many more as
    possible, by not drawing dividing lines among political parties. But lets be plain,
    here we have a political matter since we have conflicts of interests that influence
    the decisions taken and that ‘s why I “challenge” you to take further action,
    [starting by commenting on my naive concerns over here.. 🙂 ] knowing that we are
    thousands of people, in our country at least, that we need a reliable voice like yours
    to represent us on the decision making institutions, so I hope you would seriously
    consider such a prospect.

    Finally, I would like to ask you an estimation, struggling to stay optimistic, if there is any
    chance that Berlin won’t listen at the end to Frankfurts view over Greece and Portugal,
    hoping they haven’t decided yet, and use the expensively bougth time το launch a
    programm directed to help growth. Since it doesn’t seem to be ready to take combined,
    strong and solid actions, is there a chance that such fragments can keep us on the
    surface (and what amount of money would be needed, although it seems unlikely to
    been given), or are we already down the drain?

    What an irony will be, seeing Europe do later what it should do at the beggining of this
    two years, due to the pressure of Italy’s or Spain’s falling, having already thrown out
    just two countries of insignificant size.

    PS. I hope that you excuse me first because I ‘m asking you things that can be answered
    only by assumptions (your fault, you ‘ve proved everytime your accurate perception)
    and secondly that I ‘ve started to post a short comment and I ended up sending you
    a letter of request from you to take wider initiatives. It ‘s not my place to do so and
    this eventually is not even to post, since its out of topic, but the only thing that is
    worthsaving is a thank you and strong support from lots of people to all your efforts
    and just a suggestion that you can help even more, if your willing tο serve public
    interests from elected posts.

  • Congratulations Yanis for your work. Keep it up please!

    I’d like to mention 2 things I found really astonishing in that documentary:
    – The conservative ideology which that rich Greek guy (Mr. Kavvathas is its name I think) that you interviewed, about strong people succeed and weak becoming poor. Its clearly coming from his staying in the US where that dominant narrative was that rich people are rich because the are successful and poor are poor because they don’t work hard or are not smart enough. I urge him to return now to the US, and see how people there have changed their minds. He might feel strange if someone there call him a member of the 1% that has destroyed the country.
    – The stunning acknowledgement of that German banker that to prevent the EZ banking sector from collapsing after Greece and Portugal go out of the EZ the ECB has to print trillions of money! That guy is just a banker and he is talking about trillions of money that don’t belong to him. The money that the ECB prints is everyone’s money!

    • Simple and straight. My namesake Varoufakis is one of the few voices of reason in today’s Europe that rips its flesh off itself.

      It is sad to see European nations fall into the same trap of populism as 70-80 years ago. It is still an easy game to play for those who have the power and access to the media. This time it is dirtier, sleeker and better prepared than what old masters like Goebbels were doing.

      The Internet, which was hailed as the tool for freedom and objective information is flooded with bad information and hate mongering. What a pity.

  • Thank you for the good article and documentary. I wouldn’t be surprised if german banks betted on greek default or wished it. And it is obvious that this type from Baader Bank (with his terrible english) outrageously counts on limitless public support for the banks if Greece fails. But he’s just an analyst from a minor bank. And these folks mostly talk crap. Don’t you remember analysts recommendig to buy shares from dubious dotcom startups even the day before that bubble bursted? Same applies for 2007 or 2008. Either they are complete fools or they lie …

  • [Anthoula’s] monthly salary of 850 euros is now 600 and falling.

    And yet, Yanni, an illegal immigrant will be willing to do Anthoula’s job for a lot less. 🙁

    Have I ever mentioned the time, two summers ago, I saw only Chinese labourers working in a warehouse in Sparta? Why? Were all the Greeks in Sparta fully employed — or were the Greeks unwilling to work for slave wages?

    Of course, the neo-liberal goons will suggest that this is good for competiion. Who knows? Maybe even the slave employer Foxconn will one day open a slave plant in Greece. The question is, will Greeks, out of economic despair, be willing to accept such “employment”?

    Illegal, unplanned immigration is not a “net positive” — especially for small countries such as Greece.

  • Great documentary. It helps to breake some personal stereotypes about Greece and Europe’s crise formed by journalists.

    However, I wonder where all money have gone that Greece’ goverment extensively borrowed after joining to Euro till global crisis struck? Did it just spent for social welfare programes (higher pensions, broader base for social payoffs and etc.) that country could not afford due low tax collection (just 30 perc. of GDP while spending 50 perc. of GDP according my country finance minister)? Maybe there were huge spendings on Olympic games or on useless infrastructure objects?

    Also, who are those grasshoppers to blame in Greece? Politics? But they (different parties) are elected by democratically by Greece people. Maybe I am jumping into new stereotype but it seems that people willingly accepted the idea that life can be built on the debt like in USA?

  • You mentioned in your ITV report that the price of basic goods sky rocketed upon the introduction of Euro in Greece. How much was that attributed to the euro and how much was that attributed to shop owners looking to cash in on the public’s confusion regarding the exchange rates at the time?

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