Monday, May 28, 2012

What Lagarde Meant?

One would have thought that anyone as powerful as Christine Lagarde, in her current position has the head of the International Monetary Fund, would know how to weigh her words when being interviewed. At the same time, I would argue that leftist Greek politicians, such as Evangelos Venizelos and Alexis Tsipras, realized that her words could be turned to their own advantage. Therefore, it seems appropriate to go back to the source to see whether or not Lagarde’s accusation of Greek tax-dodging actually constitutes, as Venizelos put it, an act of “insulting the Greek people.”

Fortunately, the source is available online. It is a page on the Web site for The Guardian. On that page we can read Decca Aitkenhead’s full account of her conversation with Lagarde, the context in which that accusation of tax-dodging emerged:
So when she studies the Greek balance sheet and demands measures she knows may mean women won't have access to a midwife when they give birth, and patients won't get life-saving drugs, and the elderly will die alone for lack of care – does she block all of that out and just look at the sums? 
"No, I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens." She breaks off for a pointedly meaningful pause, before leaning forward. 
"Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax."
Read the wrong way, Lagarde’s words would imply that all Greeks are “trying to escape tax;” but, if we reject the emotionalism of Venizelos and Tsipras in favor of more dispassionate logic (as that more famous Greek, Aristotle, tried to teach us to do), we see that she said no such thing. Rather, she was trying to emphasize that Greece has the same problem as any other developed nation, a 1% sector of the population with more wealth than the 99% can imagine and a determination not to pay their fair of taxes on that wealth. She was venting her frustration that, because of that tax-dodging 1% in Greece, the IMF cannot focus its attention on African countries where there is not enough wealth for there to be such a 1%.

Meanwhile, those Greeks who are feeling the real pain of austerity seem to be going after solutions of their own, which have nothing to do with protesting either in the streets or at the ballot box. The fact is that, when one looks at any of those Greek politicians through the eyes of the cameras of BBC World Service Television, they all look well-fed, whether their agenda it right, left, or centrist. As a result the very issue of political debate may have lost its meaning, or at least its relevance. More important, then, is today’s story by Katya Adler about local garden initiatives taking place on patches of arable land in the suburbs, where those who cannot afford to pay for food have the opportunity to grow it for themselves and their families. (Here in San Francisco, you do not have to go to the suburbs. These gardens have been cropping up, so to speak, on plots of land off of major city streets, in lots previously left to be abandoned.) Voltaire’s punch line about working the garden is a good one, but more important are those settings in which those in the 99% can find land to start a garden to work.

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