For those unfamiliar with Europe's unique take on macro-economic theory, here is a primer that attempts to explain Greek government's dilemma in dealing with its creditors; But let us put the problem in its context through the use of an extract from the end of George Orwell's 1984; O'Brien, Winston Smith's torturer and now mentor lectures him on the relationship between numbers and political reality;
“Do you remember,” he went on, “writing in your diary, ‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four’?”
“Yes,” said Winston.
O’Brien held up his left hand, its back toward Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended. “How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?”
“And if the Party says that it is not four but five—then how many?
The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out an over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.
“How many fingers, Winston?”
The needle went up to sixty. “How many fingers, Winston?”...
“Five! Five! Fivel”
“No, Winston, that is no use. You are lying. You still think there are four. How many fingers, please?”
“Four! Five! Four! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!”
In essence these are the two choices that Greece's newly elected Syriza administration is being offered by the Troika (as it is known locally) made up of the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Either Athens tells its creditors that with the current terms and conditions the debt load is unsustainable and that any chance of paying back in full the 317 billion euros borrowed since the first bailout deal in 2010 is, in practical terms, impossible. In which case Greeks face the possibility of being unable to access further credit and so goes bankrupt with who knows what consequences for the national economy.
Alternatively Syriza accepts the current status quo, caves into creditors demands knowing that the terms and conditions imposed are impossible to meet in the long term and in the meantime is forced to impose yet more crippling austerity measures which have gutted the economic base.
More and more serious analysts, economists and observers consider the nation's debt cannot ever be repaid yet the Troika and many of the top EU players continue to insist there can be no serious renegotiation of the debt and certainly no debt relief. Thus Europe, like O'Brien in 1984 has created an insane dilemma in which the protagonist has not only to submit no matter what logic and common sense dictate but also truly believe that this madness trumps reality.
If Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufaki fails to pull off a Kobayashi Maru style game changer and resets the parameters of the debate as now set down then whatever Syriza chooses, their fate will be the fate of Winston Smith in 1984 and the people of Greece, like Smith will be made to suffer for believing that financial reality is more important than ideology,
Let us leave Orwell with the last word(s).
“You are a slow learner, Winston,” said O’Brien gently.
“How can I help it?” he blubbered. “How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”