Athens University economist Yanis Varoufakis:

LEIGH SALES: Just to go back to Greece specifically, the politicians in Greece couldn’t even agree on the terms of a televised debate during the election campaign. How are they going to compromise on measures to fix the Greek economy?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: They cannot fix the Greek economy. The Greek economy is finished. The Greek economy is in a great, great depression. The growing social economy is in its long, long winter of discontent. There is no power, no force within the Greek economy, with Greek society that can avert – it’s like – imagine if we were in Ohio in 1931 and we were to ask: what can Ohio politicians do to get Ohio out of the Great Depression? The answer is nothing.

LEIGH SALES: So what then happens to Greece?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It depends on what happens in the eurozone. Just like what happened in Ohio depended of the rise of President Roosevelt and the New Deal, unless we have a new deal for Europe, Greece is not going to get a chance. Now it doesn’t mean that if Europe fix itself, Greece will fix itself. It’s a necessary condition that the eurozone finds a rational plan for itself. It’s not a sufficient condition. Europe may fix itself and Greece, being so flimsy and malignant, may still have huge problems and never recover. But until and unless the eurozone finds a rational plan for stopping this train wreck throughout the European Union, throughout the eurozone, Greece has no chance at all.

LEIGH SALES: I read some statistics today that seven out of 10 Greeks want to emigrate. How would you describe the national mood there?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: This is a our Great Depression. Not only in an economic sense, but also in a psychological sense. Greeks are in a catatonic state. One moment, in a state of rage, another, this is a typical case of manic depression. There are no prospects. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. There are sacrifices, but nobody gets a feeling that these are sacrifices that take the form of some kind of investment in turning the corner. This is the problem when you are stuck in a eurozone which is really badly designed, which is collapsing and which does not give opportunities to its flimsier parts to escape through some kind of redemptive crisis.

Lord have mercy. I cannot imagine the emotional and psychological pain that the Greek people are bearing. The key thing here, it seems to me, is the sense that there is no reason to hope. People can be persuaded to sacrifice if they can be convinced that it will lead to something better. But Varoufakis says that the Greeks see no opportunity for “redemptive sacrifice.”

It is hard to imagine how I would be thinking if I were a Greek now. One can argue about how and why it got to this point, and the extent to which the Greeks made their own bed of nails, but what is that supposed to mean to the Greek father and mother who woke up this morning as paupers, terrified of the future?

We know where this sort of thing leads. A desperate Germany of the 1920s and 1930s showed us.

It is helpful, if that is the word, to think about what it would be like in the US if we were in this kind of desperate shape — as we were in the Great Depression. So few of us today can even imagine it. My father was born during the Depression. When he talks about what they lived through, they sound like really interesting stories, but only stories. That is a failure of imagination on my part, I know, but, I think, an understandable one. The experience of Depression-era Americans is so far from the experience of most Americans living today that it’s hard to empathize, however much we’d like to.

Does anybody know if there are charitable relief efforts underway to feed hungry and suffering Greeks? I never imagined that in my lifetime I would see the day when one could ask a question about a European country, but here we are.

[Photo credit: Dimitris_k/]