Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Greek. 'Libertarian-Marxist,' Finance Minister in Profile

FT reports:
Mr Varoufakis, who was born in Athens in 1961 to a middle-class family and went to an exclusive private school, is an economist whose enthusiasms extend from Thai food to English literature. After Syriza’s election victory he borrowed from the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas for his blog: “Greek democracy today chose to stop going gently into the night. Greek democracy resolved to rage against the dying of the light.”

The minister’s father served time on Makronisos, an island used as a government-run prison camp for the political re-education of Greeks who had fought on the communist side in the 1946-49 civil war. Despite his radical past, the father became head of Greece’s biggest steel producer. Mr Varoufakis’s mother was an ardent feminist active in the Women’s Union of Greece, founded by members of Pasok, the socialist party, to promote gender equality.

The young Mr Varoufakis was inspired to study economics after he met Andreas Papandreou, an economist who founded Pasok and became Greece’s first socialist prime minister. Mr Varoufakis studied in the UK at Essex university, a hotbed of radical thought in the 1980s. He lectured at Essex and Cambridge before emigrating to Australia in 1988.

A popular lecturer at Sydney university, he had his own slot on a local television show serving the Greek diaspora, on which he promoted his critical opinions on how the conservative government of John Howard, the then prime minister, was running the economy. He also acquired Australian citizenship.

Mr Varoufakis was invited back to Greece in 2000 to teach economic theory at Athens university by Yannis Stournaras, a professor who is now the country’s central bank governor. “Yanis was an exciting new addition . . . He made an important contribution, among other things, to our expertise on game theory,” says Mr Stournaras.

This expertise came in useful in the US, where in 2012 Mr Varoufakis was appointed economist-in-residence at Valve, an online gaming company. He emerged as a leading commentator on Greece’s financial crisis after he launched a blog, “Thoughts for the post-2008 world”. He rarely pulls his punches. After one post-election television interview, he wrote: “As a fan of the BBC, I must say I was appalled by the depths of inaccuracy in the reporting underpinning this interview (not to mention the presenter’s considerable rudeness). Still . . . it was fun!”

He is married to Danae Stratou, an installation artist and his second wife, with whom he is often seen at fashion-able bars in the upmarket Kolonaki district of Athens.

Mr Varoufakis has variously described himself as a “decent second-rate economist” and a “libertarian Marxist”. He sits with Syriza legislators in parliament but is not a party member. As long as he enjoys Mr Tsipras’s confidence this may not matter much but, if ever he angers Syriza’s ultra-leftist faction, his lack of party membership might turn into a weakness and see him ejected from the government...

History, he believes, is on his side. Speaking to the Financial Times in London, he put on his most charming smile and cited a lesson from Ancient Greece: “Sometimes the larger, powerful democracies undermined themselves by crushing the smaller ones.”

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