"More can be done with social media and information technology to mobilize younger people. Bernie Sanders movement is an example"
Interview with Robert Howse, Loyd C. Nelson Professor of International Law at NYU Law School, United States
by Nikos Tzanetakis, Policy Coordinator @Bridging Europe
Professor Howse received his B.A. in philosophy and political science with high distinction, as well as an LL.B., with honours, from the University of Toronto, where he was co-editor in chief of the Faculty of Law Review. He also holds an LL.M. from the Harvard Law School.
He has been a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and visiting professor at Harvard Law School, Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Paris 1 (Pantheon-Sorbonne), Tsinghua University, and Osgoode Hall Law School in Canada and taught in the Academy of European Law, European University Institute, Florence. Professor Howse is also has been a member of the faculty of the World Trade Institute, Berne, Master’s in International Law and Economics Programme.
He is a frequent consultant or adviser to government agencies and international organizations such as the OECD, the World Bank, UNCTAD, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Law Commission of Canada and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He was a contributor to the American Law Institute WTO project. He is a co-founder and co-convener of the New York City Area Working Group on International Economic Law and serves on the American Bar Association Working Group on Investment Treaties.
Professor Howse serves on the editorial boards of the London Review of International Law, Transnational Legal Theory, The Journal of World Trade and Investment, among others. Professor Howse's article with Ruti Teitel "Beyond Compliance: Rethinking Why International Law Really Matters" was awarded the Global Policy Best Article Prize 2010 (shared with Joseph Stiglitz et al). Prior to pursuing legal studies, Howse held a variety of posts with the Canadian foreign ministry, including as a member of the Policy Planning Secretariat and a diplomat at the Canadian Embassy in Belgrade.
Howse is the author, co-author, or co-editor of numerous books, including Leo Strauss Man of Peace, Trade and Transitions; Economic Union, Social Justice, and Constitutional Reform; The Regulation of International Trade; Yugoslavia the Former and Future; The World Trading System; and The Federal Vision: Legitimacy and Levels of Governance in the EU and the U.S. He is also the co-translator of Alexander Kojève’s Outline for a Phenomenology of Right and the principal author of the interpretative commentary in that volume.
1. Greece is implementing a fiscal consolidation program, the third in a row since 2010. Do you believe that by the end of the program in August 2018, domestic economy would be in better or worse situation?
There are many factors that could effect the economy over that period. I share the view of economists such as Joseph Stiglitz that much of what Greece was asked to do by the institutions was simply irrational or perverse in terms of turning the economy around.
This being said there are already clear signs of normalization: bank deposits up, unemployment down somewhat, and so forth. The page has already been turned from a crisis economy and society to a weak but normal economy. This is not to minimize the suffering of those still feeling the effects of the crisis. With a modernized tax system and system of social protection and a serious anti-corruption initiative -NOT what is being imposed by the institutions but rather some of the reforms that Syriza has taken or will continue to try to take- the potential of sectors like tourism, ports/logistics and energy-related services (e.g. cooperation with Cyprus and Israel) may be realized.
What is important for now is that Syriza has brought needed political stability to Greece, albeit through governing with a rather bizarre partner on the right. Through the crisis not only was horrific hardship imposed on the Greek people by the institutions, but their political identity and self-determination was threatened. The ability to have a social contract that is good for economic growth depends on healthy politics: it seems to me that Tsipras understands this and quite intelligently he has embarked on an initiative of constitutional reform, re-examining Greece's political institutions and how they operate.
2. Do you consider Grexit as an option for the Greek economy to start heating up its engines or this would be an even more uncertain path to follow?
Yes, it is an option. In my writing at the height of the crisis I sided with Tsipras and his colleagues, not Varoufakis on this issue; a key consideration was that at that time the banks were essentially dysfunctional I had the impression, and I thought that a major transition like exiting the Euro and creating a new currency would depend upon public confidence in financial institutions and central banking.
An option short of Grexit would be default and a unilateral imposition of a haircut on Greece's official creditors. This might be quite stabilizing. A haircut on official creditors need not have the same consequences in creditworthiness etc as a default/haircut with respect to private creditors. The private credit markets might well see a substantial reduction of debt to official creditors as making Greece more likely to be able to repay private creditors, rather than a sign that it is a risky borrower.
We have to get beyond the myth that default necessarily means Grexit. This being said, Joseph Stiglitz in his recent book, the Euro, outlines a Grexit transition strategy that deserves to be studied carefully. US President Donald Trump has tweeted his support for Grexit, and while it is hard to know how seriously to take that statement, it is possible that it could translate into support of the US Treasury, which might make a big difference to how destabilizing or risky the transition to Grexit might be. If the US Treasury could backstop a new Greek currency that might be enormously important.
Tsipras is a committed European and so are many citizens of Greece-despite the behaviour toward them of the "official" face of Europe. Grexit does not mean leaving the EU; it just means leaving the Eurozone. Other EU members have their own currencies, Sweden for example. The UK never joined the Eurozone. There is simply no legal mechanism for pushing Greece out of the EU, even if it defaults or chooses Grexit. Even in the case of Hungary, which is arguably in violation of the membership criteria with respect to human rights, there is not a serious discussion about the possibility of actual expulsion.
3. IMF has repeatedly admitted that its policy mix has failed in Greece. Nonetheless, it is still pushing for additional austerity measures to step in as financial contributor to the Greek bailout. What is your opinion on that?
We have to ask why is the IMF doing that, since as you say the Fund's own internal evaluation of its policies and actions towards Greece is devastating.
My sense is that Schaeuble and the individual running the Greece file in the Fund, Poul Thomsen, are trying basically to put Tsipras and Syriza in an impossible place politically. Either a new crisis of enormous proportions will bring down the government if it doesn't comply with the extra demands, or if it does comply, popular dissatisfaction with further austerity and the resentment that Tsipras caved will lead to Syriza being thrown out of power. I think they operate from an illusion that if they can get rid of the current government everything will go fine with the Greek debt situation. And so like a pinning move on a chess board, the idea is that if Tsipras moves one way he is in check and if he moves the other way, also in check. So that is how they think they can get to checkmate.
One way out would be to go to another referendum, this time with a carefully crafted question and a well-run campaign, which puts the options of default/haircut as well as actual Grexit on the ballot.
4. Since 2011, and according to Eurostat, Eurozone's average growth is standing below 2%. According to your opinion, why Eurozone leaders do not alter their policy model to boost growth and investments, therefore tackling unemployment and poverty?
Because Germany is a hegemon in Europe and the current strategy works for Germany, at least how the German government views its interests. This said, things would be even worse if the ECB, which has at least some independence from Germany, had not taken a more Keynsian approach (QE, etc.).
5. How you interpret the surge of populist, far-right political movements across the Europe? Is this a temporary phenomenon or it tends to build solid foundations and take permanent dimensions?
This is what you get when the social contract breaks down, when you fray or dismantle the social welfare state. The wisdom of those who had the experience of the war and what made Europe a breeding ground for fascism and who designed the original social welfare state to prevent that is lost on the current generation of EU elite operators, schooled in neoliberal economic doctrine (as well as noted above Germany going back to national interest MachtPolitik without regard for the community good). And when you do not pay attention to distribution, neglecting some important parts of the population (e.g. rural, less-educated, etc.) who mind it harder to see opportunities in the new environment so shaped by globalization and rapid change in technology and social and economic structures.
But there is some good news: While I have not done a rigorous scholarly study of the data, my strong impression is that younger people are much less likely to buy into right-wing populism. Whether it is Trump or Brexit, the extent to which the support drops with the age of the citizen is truly staggering.
Traditional social democratic parties in Europe, I think here of France, have not been very good at exciting or mobilizing young people; there is what I would call a rather closed elite dominated at the highest level by older men, and it is often associated with cronyism and corruption. Now we see, fortunately, organized challenges to that either from the center/center-left (i.e. Macron in France) or indeed Syriza in Greece. Still as I have suggested to some friends in Syriza, more can be done with social media, information technology, etc. to mobilize younger people, who as I say the data indicate tend to be progressive: the Bernie Sanders movement is an example. What was done was amazing, even if it happened too late for Sanders to win in 2016.