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One way to be a media celeb is to be a lousy finance minister

This item at the EconLog blog caught my eye. It has the ring of truth about it:

And yet, good for him, this is exactly the outcome of his short time in Greek government. As a Minister, he has nothing to exhibit as success. But an intense countenance, an elaborately casual look, and his colourful prose makes him a perfect fit for the world of celebrities. I suppose this is another proof of the immense powers of “commodification” of global capitalism.

The author, Alberto Mingardi, is writing about the “cool dude” Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. The man’s rather strained form of Marxism will, so the author of the piece, hurt him not at all because his targets are, for different reasons, ones that aren’t particularly sympathetic, such as the German government, and Brussels.

The point, though, its that being a failed socialist finance minister isn’t enough to get that sort of media celeb status without other ingredients. After all, there are quite a few of such people and in some cases, such as former UK chancellor Gordon Brown, he is about as trendy as flared jeans; he has all the media appeal of steel reinforced concrete. The Greek chap has the looks and demeanour of an outsider, even if, in reality, he is as much a part of the Big Government class as the rest of them. He understood that people fall for all this bollocks about wearing leather jackets, riding a motorbike and not appearing to be A Suit.

And back in the UK, assuming that Jeremy Corbyn (not exactly the sort of name one associates with horny-handed coal miners or ship-builders) becomes leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and leads Labour into the sort of disaster widely foretold, he has a career as a media celeb sorted: the ageing geography-teacher schtick with the beard, loose jackets and references to Tony Benn.



24 comments to One way to be a media celeb is to be a lousy finance minister

  • Laird

    An interesting article. Varoufakis’ comparison of western capitalism to The Matrix (with Marx offering us the “red pill”) is an interesting one, even if completely antithetical to my understanding of the movie. And I rather liked this Varoufakis quote: “The Left’s historical duty, at this particular juncture, is to stabilise capitalism; to save European capitalism from itself and from the inane handlers of the Eurozone’s inevitable crisis.” Of course, the Eurozone doesn’t represent true “capitalism” in any sense I would recognize, but clearly its handlers are “inane” and it is deep in the throes of an “inevitable crisis” from which someone has to save it. Not that his bizarre ideas would fix anything, but if his remarkably brief tenure and abject failure as Finance Minister should eventually lead to Grexit and, ultimately, the disintegration of the failed Eurozone economic experiment, it won’t have all been for naught. And he will have achieved personal status approaching that of Keynes and Galbraith: worldwide secular fame as an economic genius without ever having once been right.

    But I don’t understand what the author means by the ” ‘commodification’ of global capitalism.” Can anyone help me there?

  • JohnW

    These lefties all have one thing in common – they are all perceived by their supporters as highly MORAL individuals.
    Thatcher put more money and capital into the NHS than any bleeding-heart lefty but she was not perceived as MORAL.
    Unless our perception of morality changes we will be doomed to implement the long term ambitions of the left no matter who we vote for.

  • Mr Ed

    But I don’t understand what the author means by the ” ‘commodification’ of global capitalism.” Can anyone help me there?


    I think that the wording is ‘infelicitous’ as it refers to the ‘commodification’ of things or people by global capitalism.

  • Laird

    Mr Ed, you may be right. But I still don’t understand what it means in the context of that paragraph. Perhaps I’m just being dense.

  • Watchman


    It means he is able to become a brand (something Russell Brand also achieved – but this is apparently not responsible for the name…). Not sure he is actually comidified in the sense that he can be traded though (although if his reputation allows him to sell books or something, I suppose an argument could be put in place).

  • JohnW

    Commodification is intended as a joke – he’s ironically referencing Marx because that half-wit subscribed to the labour theory of value in which labour [the alleged source of all wealth] is used and abused as a ‘commodity’ from which the greedy capitalist exacts the labourers ‘surplus value.’ LOL.

  • JohnW

    ‘Your comment is awaiting moderation,’ for 4hrs???

  • Laird

    Thanks, all. JohnW, you’re probably right. But if so it’s a pretty feeble joke, as it went right over my head and probably over the heads of 99% of everyone else who read it, too. Or maybe he simply was determined to use the word “commodification” somewhere, and this is where he shoehorned it in. Either way, fail (as the kids say).

    But the rest of the article is OK.

  • mike

    “He understood that people fall for all this bollocks about wearing leather jackets, riding a motorbike and not appearing to be A Suit.”

    Yeah but his motorbike is a Yamaha XJR, which is a 1300cc racing bike that he uses to potter about to work and back on 30-40mph roads. Clearly, the wanker’s choice.

  • Jacob

    He’s a celebrity because he’s a leftie, telling the media what they like to hear. Has nothing to do with success. As to “commodification” – seems it’s the currently fashionable curse word, and it’s obligatory, it opens the way to celebrity status. The exact meaning does not matter, it pushes the right emotional buttons. “Exact meaning” is such an old fashioned notion…

  • veryretired

    It is the ultimate “painful truth” that people get exactly what they deserve, if not in every individual case, then in the aggregate.

    And, like the lady at the cocktail party, who found such a sentiment to be so cruel, it is the fundamental reflection of just how reality judges our beliefs, and actions, in an entirely ruthless manner.

    If an engineer built a bridge that seemed to hold up for a few months, even if it required constant tinkering and bracing to keep it from wobbling too much, but then simply collapsed, taking everyone on it down to a painful fate, that designer would be vilified and condemned, perhaps legally, and would suffer significant damage to any future career in bridge design.

    History, both long and short, is littered with collapsed states and devastated economies, and our current landscape contains several diseased trees with rotten fruit about to fall. Puerto Rico is just the latest example, to be followed by any number of others.

    The progressive social/economic model is teetering on the brink of collapse everywhere is has been tried, and, in every case, is loudly defended by it’s proponents as being glorious and eminently moral, while its critics are condemned as venal, immoral, and cruel.

    It is one of the seemingly incomprehensible paradoxes of humanity’s common experience that the very ideas that are heralded as the signposts on the road to an earthly heaven, instead, inevitably, lead to a Hades of hardship, starvation, and death.

    While, on the other hand, the cruel and immoral ideas of individual effort and free trade so routinely lead to social enrichment, personal enrichment, and the alleviation of poverty and want whenever and wherever they are tried.

    Being an optimist for the long term, even if I am somewhat pessimistic about some of the short term trends I see all around me, I am forever hopeful that this insidious moral inversion will be recognized more widely, and that people in their practical wisdom will move toward those ideas that promote life, and away from those that require endless human sacrifice to creep along until the eligible sacrifices run out, and they collapse.

    As Jonathon E says, “Even a plant turns toward the light.”

  • JohnK

    To be fair to Varoufakis,his Plan B of an emergency electronic currency based on the tax system was not a bad one, and would have helped smooth Greece’s path to a Grexit if that is what the Syriza government had wanted. Sadly, they did not.

  • Runcie Balspune

    According to the Grauniad, Gordo wasn’t doing too badly in his last year as an MP.

  • Rich Rostrom

    veryretired August 4, 2015 at 10:25 pm:

    If an engineer built a bridge that seemed to hold up for a few months… but then simply collapsed…

    But we know exactly how to build bridges that don’t wobble or collapse.

    No one knows exactly to build an economy that doesn’t wobble or collapse.

    And no economy in recent years has truly collapsed, like a fallen bridge. Even in Greece and Spain, most people still have jobs, factories and utilities still function.

  • veryretired

    Rich, don’t tell the people in Minnesota about how well we know how to build bridges.

    And it’s sure a good thing the economies of North Korea, and Cuba, and Somalia, and Zimbabwe, and Venezuela, haven’t collapsed.

    Why, if they had, like the economy of Ukraine a few decades ago, people might be suffering real hardship.

    Even starving.

    I’m certainly glad that never happened.

  • Paul Marks

    He is one of the people who goes on “Russia Today” (RT). Talking B.S. with Max Keiser.

    The latest rap (presented by some Australian “economist” on the Keiser show) is that it is impossible to balance the Greek budget – because Germany is running a surplus.

    “Economics shows that if some countries are running a surplus other countries must be run a deficit”.

    Yes they are that bad – they confuse a fiscal surplus with a TRADE surplus.

    They also push the nonsense about government deficit spending “stimulating the economy”.

  • Paul Marks

    Greece needs less government spending – not talk of “cuts” that do not really happen.

    It also needs to get rid of the regulations that have strangled the labour market and produced mass unemployment.

    It is not rocket science.

    But people like the “cool dude” are not going to deliver it.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – “Greece is not a Welfare State” is like “Greeks have big families – lots of babies”.

    It may have been true once – but it had not been true for decades.

    Sorry but “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is as about as accurate (these days) as “Zorba the Greek”.

  • Laird

    “No one knows exactly to build an economy that doesn’t wobble or collapse.”

    Silly comment. Of course we do. It rests on the foundations of free trade, individual freedom (including the possibility of failure) and minimal government intervention (i.e., economic distortions). Details beyond that are unimportant, as are the decorations on a bridge. It works wherever it’s tried, just as communism and socialism fail wherever they are tried. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that is being willfully obtuse, or worse.

  • Runcie Balspune

    “No one knows exactly to build an economy that doesn’t wobble or collapse.”

    A planned economy does not “wobble” or collapse, but then again, it is not really a free-market economy.

    The whole point of a prosperous economy is to have “wobbles” and occasional near-collapses, and if it is left alone, these events sort themselves out, the problem is not the wobble/collapse, it’s the fools who think this is undesirable and pledge to avert it.

  • JohnB

    Planned economies crash completely.
    Main thing, I think, is that we forget.
    The USSR and friends faded quite a while ago and there has been time for a whole brave new generation to be infected with the propaganda of the elites.
    And, by the way, I don’t like skinnies. Give me flared jeans any time.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, that’s an awfully radical statement, don’t you think? 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh. Well in that case … carry on! 😉