On the occasion of the publication of my ANOTHER NOW in Italian (Un Altro Presente), La Stampa put to me some quirky and irreverent questions. Just in case you wanted to read them, and my answers, in the English original, here they are. Have fun!
Marinetti and the Sex Pistols are milestones for Costa: is that true for you as well?
Marinetti’s Manifesto for the future made more sense to me when the Sex Pistols sang “there is no future” than before. It was this negation of Marinetti that proved more of a milestone for me.
Why are Italians and Greeks traditionally considered prone to “wheelin and dealin”?
Because “wheelin and dealin” was always the modus vivendi of pre-industrial, Mediterranean commerce. From the Phoenicians to the Greeks and the Romans, our common civilisation was built on bartering, trading, wheelin and dealin – while Northern Europeans specialised on conquest (from the Vikings to the Goths). It was only with the industrial revolution and capitalism that “wheelin and dealin” was contrasted against large-scale, technologically advanced manufacturing whose commodities dominated markets. Even the North-South divide within Italy is due to this transformation.
The Eurovision Song Contest is a model for assigning bonuses in the Other Present: how did this idea cross you mind? (Are you keen on kitsch musical events?)
I did not invent the idea. I saw it being practised in a flat-managed US corporation. They told me they borrowed the idea of each employ getting a number of ‘points’ that they could only award other employees (but not themselves) from Eurovision. Am I keen on Eurovision? Not in the slightest. But I do confess that, in the past, I have enjoyed skipping the dreadful songs and watching the scoring process!
The soviet model has been a failure. Does catalonian anarchosyndacalism offer the right path?
Yes, the soviet model failed. But it did succeed in certain ways and there are important lessons we can learn from it. Indeed, the Japanese postwar growth model borrowed heavily from soviet central planning (Gosplan) and owes much of its success (and several of its failures) to those ideas and practices it borrowed from Gosplan. Similarly with the Chinese model. However, the soviet, Japanese and Chinese experiences confirm – in different ways – that the Catalan anarchosyndicalists were absolutely right to fear at once (and equally) the power of the state’s bureaucracy, on the one hand, and the power of privately owned corporations, on the other hand. In ‘Another Now’, I tried to come up with a sketch of how firms could operate today, using today’s technological means, so as to allow production to combine freedom both from state power and from oligarchic corporate power.
In the best world capitalism is dead: do you think it’s really possible?
At the risk of raising too many eyebrows, I am of the firm view that capitalism is dying anyway – not in ‘another now’, but in this now. Let me explain: Capitalism, in all its forms (19th century competitive capitalism, early 20th century oligopoly capitalism, post-Bretton Woods financialised capitalism etc.), has two characteristics: it is driven by profits and it extracts value through markets. But, after 2008, and especially in the post-pandemic era, the economy is driven, not by profits but, by central bank money. Moreover, markets are steadily displaced by platforms (e.g., Amazon, Facebook etc.) that are digital fiefdoms. In short, a type of technofeudalism is already taking us over. If I am right, the question is not whether capitalism will die but what system will replace it: One that democratises work and play? Or one that allows a new cast of technofeudal lords to rule over everyone? In ‘Another Now’ I attempt to sketch a blueprint for the former.
Economic depression can be a breeding ground for political monsters: what is coming out of the pandemic? (Are you vaccinated?)
(Of course I am vaccinated – a fanatical supporter of vaccines as a public good) I have been warning since 2007 that deflation breeds political monsters, a prediction that was sadly realised as the post-2008 policies of ‘socialism for bankers and austerity for everyone else’ begat the Nationalist International (from Trump and Salvini to Modi and Bolsonaro) which, in turn, begat our post-democratic, post-capitalist present – a process that was accelerated by the pandemic. This is how the new regime, which I call technofeudalism, was born. It is the reality that we must now either submit to or, as I suggest, try to overthrow.
In your novel, poetry is “all we have to prevent our dreams turning into nightmares”: which are your favorite poets?
This is an impossible question. It is like being asked to mention my favourite piece of music or my favourite film. But since you are asking me, I will fall back on some ‘golden oldies’: Homer, Ovid, Shakespeare, Kavafi and T.S. Eliot.
The guide for a better society isn’t Marx anymore, but Star Trek’s Captain Picard?
Marx would have loved Picard! Consider Star Trek: The Next Generation episode 25 of Season 1 (The Neutral Zone) where Picard is chatting with a 20th century businessman (just unfrozen) who cannot wrap his mind around the news that, in the 24th century, technology has allowed humans to do without money, private property, poverty etc. Picard explains further that, with needs and wants satisfied by replicator technology, private profit became meaningless and people’s motivation has become not to accumulate but to improve themselves. To which the smart businessman replies: “You got it all wrong Captain. It was never about possessions or money. It was always about power.” To which Picard replies: “Power was always an illusion”. Had he been able to watch this, Karl Marx would have stood up to salute and applaud Picard!
A character of your novel explains that happiness is in ourselves, and never lies “elsewhere.” It looks like an almost spiritual, mystical, religious call to an inner search. Are you interested in spirituality, besides politics?
Of course. I am a libertarian Marxist because of my spiritual materialism. Where others see contradiction, I see a dialectical blending of opposites into something splendid that makes life worth living.
What is happiness for you?
A state of bliss that can only be attained if you are not trying to attain it. A state that you may, if lucky, find yourself in as a byproduct of leading a life of creativity and virtue. Not dissimilar to doing good – which you can only genuinely do if you are doing it for no reason, for the hell of it.
Better being always in disagreement (as Iris) rather than building the perfect society?
Since no society can be perfect (thankfully!), constantly disagreeing with our circumstances is a prerequisite for both the good life and the good society.
In the epilogue, one of the main characters leaves on a motorbike. Judging from some photos, it seems like you also use the motorbike. What does it mean for you?
Joy! Seriously, I am now 60. But to this day, every time I get on my motorcycle to drive away, which is all the time, I feel the same thrill, the same smile forming on my face, as I did when I was 16.
Hephaestus’s myth warns us: will technology be humanity’s downfall? Are Luddites right?
Technology is, as we all know, both a blessing and a curse. And here is its beauty: It forces us to be responsible for the great powers we unleash by inventing them. As for the Luddites, they are the most misunderstood movement. They were never against technology. They were against the use of technology by the owners of the machines against the majority of the workers. We need to recover their agenda: to turn machines into our slaves, not vice versa.
When you were a minister, the infamous markets trembled at every move you made. Did you feel guilt, satisfaction or indifference for the ensuing instability?
This is not true. International markets were rather calm during my tenure. By the time I became minister, the troika had already cynically transferred Greece’s debt from the silly private bankers (who had stupidly lent mountains of money to our corrupt state) onto the shoulders of European taxpayers. That why the international markets were mostly calm in 2015. What happened in 2015 is that Berlin, the ECB and the troika engineered a bank run in Greece, paving the ground for bank closures, so as to crush a government which said no to yet another credit card. When they succeeded, following my resignation, another credit card was given. And then another. And now, during the pandemic, another via the ECB. The result? Greece and the Greeks are more bankrupt today than ever, our bankruptcy costs Europeans more than ever, but no one talks about it. Omertà!
Have you ever bought shares (maybe feeling guilty like Costa)?
No, I have not. But my Australian pension fund has been buying shares, with my pension contributions, whether I consented or not!
What is the most important book you’ve ever read?
Which book made you dream as a child?
Jules Vernes’ The Mysterious Island
Which books are on your bedside?
Iris Murdoch’s The Prince
And which works had the deepest influence on your political thinking?
Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts
Is there a mistake you made as a minister that you wouldn’t make again?
Working hard in favour of a four month ‘cooling down’ period to give our negotiations with the troika a chance to reach a viable agreement. I should have, instead, pulled the plug from Day 1.
Do you think that Greece has recovered from its crisis?
Are you serious? In 2010 we were declared (correctly) bankrupt because our national income had fallen from €220 to €200 billion, while the state’s debt had risen to €295 billion. Today our national income is less than €170 and the national debt €360!
Debt is one of capitalism cardinal sin. Did you ever get into debt? (credit card, loans, etc.)
Of course. I lived most of my life, as a student and later a lecturer, immersed in debt. I have first-hand experience of its burden.
What do you do in order to relax and empty your mind?
I play the piano. I find it wondrous how doing so very quickly makes me forget who I am, where I am, everything. I am forever grateful to it for allowing me to exit my ‘ego’, my circumstances.
Will you ever give up your engagement in politics?
No, never. I breathe as, what Aristotle called, a political animal.
Democracy was born in your Greece, where it showed its greatness and its limits. The tragic destiny of the righteous, wise Phōkíōn shows that the people aren’t always able to act with fairness and choose what’s best for them… What do you think about it?
This is correct. And that’s what why we need democracy. Democrats are people who have the decency to know that none of us have the answers and, therefore, that we must crowdsource the answers – even the questions!
Why did you opt for an almost sci-fi form in writing a political novel?
Because sci-fi is the archaeology of our present.
For the La Stampa site, please click here.