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posted on 06 August 2016

Is It Ethical To Criticize That Which You Have Not Read?

by Yanis Varoufakis

Galbraith's letter to Kathimerini: Let's talk about academic-journalistic ethics, shall we?

Athens daily Kathimerini published a letter signed by 23 'US-educated Greeks' sent to the University of Texas' President denouncing James K. Galbraith (a long-standing professor there, pictured below) for having helped me design a "monetary cum military coup d'etat".

At least that was their description of my Plan X - a preliminary contingency plan to counter the European Central Bank's Plan Z, with which Greece is being threatened continually since 2012 - see the Financial Times report here.

Once more, the victims of the troika's six-year-old coup d'etat, which has pushed the Greek people into a vortex of Depression and Insolvency, are being portrayed as coup plotters.

The purpose of this campaign, in which Kathimerini has played an energetic role, is to vilify anyone who resisted the troika, who did her or his duty to defend Greece's democracy, and who continues to argue that the only way to end Greece's crisis is to oppose the troika.

What is new here, with the letter of the 23, is a new violation - this time of the most basic of academic principles: "Never criticise a text that you have not read!"

As Galbraith demonstrates in his response to Kathimerini (see below), the 23 'US-educated Greeks' based their denunciation letter on misinformation peddled by, amongst others, Kathimerini - e.g. the preposterous allegation that Plan X included a plot to arrest the Governor of the Bank of Greece. Here is the Galbraith response:

To the editor of Kathimerini:

I understand that you have published the letter to the President of The University of Texas at Austin from twenty-three self-styled "US-educated Greeks."

The authors state that their knowledge of my work comes from "interviews with the Greek press and extended excerpts from the Greek version of his book." Since the authors are US-educated and the book was published in English, let me ask: shouldn't they have read the actual book?

Had they done so, they would have found that the allegations they make are factually false.

The letter refers to a memorandum I helped to prepare for the finance minister in 2015, which it describes as a "contingency plan." I prefer the term "preliminary plan." The work of a small team cannot fully prepare for such a dramatic event.

It was indeed "contingent." The contingency was that the European Central Bank might revoke the Emergency Liquidity Assistance then supporting the operations of Greek banks. This would have triggered a forced exit of Greece from the euro against the will of the government. The threat had been delivered by the president of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, in late January. There were also suggestions by Wolfgang Schäuble, the German Finance Minister, that Greece might take a "holiday" from the euro.

The memorandum was prepared at the request of the Prime Minister as he has stated on several occasions. As I wrote already a year ago, "at no time was the working group engaged in advocating exit or any policy choice. The job was strictly to study the operational issues that would arise if Greece were forced to issue scrip or if were forced out of the euro." The Prime Minister and the government received the work and made their decisions.

The letter describes the preliminary plan as a "monetary cum military coup d'etat," and claims that it would have involved "mobilizing the Greek armed forces to suppress possible civil disorder." This is false. We did not suggest using the military inappropriately or outside the Constitution. The only use of the word "mobilization" in my book refers to thecivil service.

The authors claim that we recommended the "arrest" of the governor of the Central Bank. We said no such thing.

Finally, the authors claim that I "regret" that Greece did not exit the euro in 2015. My personal feelings are irrelevant, but this claim is false. As reported by Kathimerini on July 6, 2016, "we were preparing for a scenario that everyone hoped to avoid."

The letter concludes that "academic freedom must be consistent with ethical conduct and fundamental democratic norms." Here we agree. One of the norms of ethical conduct is to refrain from false and defamatory accusations, based partly on inflammatory and evidently unreliable press reports.

James K. Galbraith

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