Lifestyles of the Rich & Marxist: Varoufakis Style



Yanis_Varoufakis_Danae_Stratou_Paris_Match_Poverty_Collage_Greece
Mr. & Mrs. Varoufakis posed for Paris Match, amidst an unprecedented humanitarian Greek crisis.  Collage by Greek Reporter, photo of Mr and Mrs. Varoufakis by Paris Match.

If Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis were an investment banker, say from Deustche Bank or HSBC, or even Chancellor of the Exchequer, Twitter would not have exploded in a hot mess over why he agreed to pose with his wife for a glossy lifestyle spread in Paris Match. But he is not. He is a self-proclaimed “accidental Marxist” who by no accident other than indulging his penchant for the flamboyant, adds to the chorus of detractors worried he is but the latest in a long succession of Athenian politicians more concerned with advancing personal agendas than reversing the country’s pathological inability to arrest the vortex of near-permanent social and economic collapse.

It is a mistake to conclude Mr. Varoufakis’ latest PR misstep is merely a brocaded embellishment affixed to his and her motorcycle jackets. If you believe that, you are entirely missing the point. Lifestyle mavens and merchants of cool may indeed be focusing their lens on Greece’s “hottest new couple” but that is nothing more than big media feeding the insatiable appetite for affluenza-consumerist culture. Breathless headlines – “Look they even cook!” – designed to sell glossy magazines is not the issue at hand (although it certainly is an issue.) The real problem is that in Greece, once a certain level of celebrity or fortune is achieved, even the ardent socialist is transformed into an eager conformist seeking the adoration of precisely the audience he proclaims to detest.

Crystalized in the lifestyle spread of Mr. & Mrs. Varoufakis, is the Achilles heel of Greece, which remains the inability of the well-heeled to demonstrate any meaningful empathy with those outside their social class. Greeks who live in important places, surround themselves with important people and consider themselves important, become addicted to grasping for whatever they can get, no matter the consequence to society. The country’s history supports the premise that no matter how much the ruling classes manage to amass, it is never enough. The grotesque inequality afflicting our world is asymmetrically on display in Greece, where power and wealth in the hands of so few is used and abused against so many. This isn’t just measured in how the rich avoid paying taxes. It’s much deeper than that. It has become a way of life and a prevailing ethos among many Greek elites who even now, after everything the country has suffered, shows no sign of abating.

This isn’t about class warfare or crucifying the rich because they are rich. What Mr. Varoufakis did by posing for Paris Match is indicative of what happens to Greeks when they amass a certain level of power. They abandon the egalitarian principles they once proclaimed to champion once they rise to the top of the food chain.  It’s not natural Darwinism either. It is taught behavior and explains the cavernous schism in social values that chains Greece to a destiny of self-destruction and its concomitant consequences. A World Values Survey ranks Greece dead last in the world on how well parents teach trust and tolerance to children and it is particularly acute among the rich. In philanthropy too, Greece ranks 152 of 156 countries measured in terms of philanthropic engagement. It is ironic then that Mr. Varoufakis, himself a child of affluence, has painstakingly cultivated his personal brand on the premise that Greece is but a Hobbesian paradise of man against man while exhibiting precisely the lifestyle his political and economic rhetoric professes to disdain. The motorcycle may be cool but clearly, it is not indicative of some burning quest to live like average Greeks. As Sigmund Freud once wrote, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

FinMin Varoufakis needs to understand just how incompatible his self-aggrandizing is to his political success. It’s one thing coming from a conservative right-wing economist. Quite another from this leftist disciple of Karl Marx, more concerned with getting his way (and perhaps his share when he returns to academia and the lucrative lecture circuit post-Syriza). Prone to pedantic oratorical flourishes of ancient myths to express his modern dilemma, here’s one he should consider when next lecturing the EU in Brussels: Narcissus.

Like Narcissus, Varoufakis appears glamorous and smooth yet displays a disturbing degree of spiritual autism, further weakened by a tendency to view criticism as conspiratorial obstruction rather than thoughtful alternative. Varoufakis argues that the brashness of his plans seem so radical as to blind opponents with a rage preventing them from even considering the upside of his proposals. As he struggles to translate academic game theory into market practice, serving it al fresco on his terrace with a crisp white wine as his fellow citizens queue up at food pantries, and where famine is not some abstraction but a real threat for millions of Greeks, you have to wonder does NO ONE in Athens understand that personal hubris and the stagnation of corruption inflicted upon Greece throughout its entire modern history demands a new public AND private morality, launched from amidst the ruling class? If left unchecked or utterly ignored, it will destroy the nascent government’s efforts at meaningful reformation, or at the very least heroic redemption.

To think otherwise condemns Greece to a future where the ruling classes continue staring at their own image, only to drown their beautiful country in their ugly reflection.

*Eve Geroulis is a Senior Lecturer at Loyola University Chicago Quinlan School of Business and on Twitter.


7 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Varoufakis, we are not interested to your lifestyle. What we are interested more in actions and promises been said before and after the elections. What we want to see is for your government to eliminate corruption which is the main reason for this country’s bankruptcy and to bring prosperity to a shattered economy by all previous governments. What we want is to see “Justice” to capture Tax-evaders to pay their Dues and to stand trial for their financial crimes and that includes all past and present politicians and if you cannot to proceed then you should leave your position to someone with strong guts to stand and face the music from his opponents.

  2. I believe they call this – Hitting the nail on the head with a 10 pound hammer. Excellent and observation and I couldn’t agree more.

  3. Ms. Geroulis, as far as I know, Mr. Varoufakis proclaimed himself as being an “accidental economist and an “erratic Marxist”. You should check that.

  4. Varoufakis knows exactly what he’s doing. Greece loves him, and to continue to retain the confidence of the Greeks, he projects the image of how they want to feel, look and achieve, even as Europe looks on scolding. The world looks at any chance to jump down Greece’s throat and criticize, but to keep a stable government that can be effective, you have to stay in office, even if the rest of the world frowns.

  5. A great article! The reference to Narcissus is unfortunately so apt.
    Let’s hope Mr. Varoufakis will read it and think about it too. I am sure he is on a cloud with all the publicity he has received as the “rock star” fin min etc. but it’s time to come down off of that cloud, (as the Rolling Stones sing it) and to get back to work because Greece really needs him.

  6. Sour grapes……! Just because one is leftist does not mean you want to grovel in poverty.
    What’s the saying…… a prophet is not recognized in his own village?. This prophet however, is not recognized by the Brussels self-appointed elite who want to pull the strings of every economy in the EU – and as far as the elastic will stretch.