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Cheat sheet:

Yanis Varoufakis

Everything you need to know about author, economist, politician and Antidote headliner Yanis Varoufakis

Georgia McKay

Yanis Varoufakis is one of the world’s most recognisable critics of the neoliberal world order. The economist, politician and author is a leading proponent of democratic socialism. As the controversial former Finance Minister of Greece, he is perhaps best known as the public face of the country’s defiant negotiations with European leaders during the European debt crisis in 2015. 

In September, he’ll join the line up of Antidote, speaking with former senator and Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens, Scott Ludlam. You can catch the talk on Stream. Before that, here are the essential things you need to know (and read) about Yanis Varoufakis.

A young Yanis interviewed on Australian television in 1993

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Academic career

Born in Athens in 1961, Varoufakis studied mathematics at the University of Essex before attaining a postgraduate degree in mathematical statistics at University of Birmingham and a PhD in economics at Essex. 

His academic career in economics began at the universities of Essex, East Anglia and Cambridge between 1982 and 1988. By his own admission, he spent most of the 1980s in debates at pubs, universities and town halls resisting Thatcherism, all the while lamenting the Left’s lack of charismatic leadership. 

Varoufakis later moved to Australia and taught at the University of Sydney until 2000. After acquiring Australian citizenship, he returned to Greece to teach at the University of Athens. He was an advisor to George Papandreou, the American-born Greek politician who served as Prime Minister of Greece from 2009 to 2011, and economist-in-residence for Valve before moving to the United States to teach at the University of Texas. Varoufakis published a number of texts on economics and game theory, such as The Global Minotaur, which examines the hidden imbalances in and causes of the global economic crisis.

Political career

In January 2015, Varoufakis was appointed Greek Minister of Finance following several years of financial crisis and severe austerity measures that brought the country to the brink of ruin. On his Continental Tour to secure a bailout, Varoufakis wielded a peculiar celebrity appeal. The New York Times said: 

“The Europeans eyed Varou­fakis as if his species had never swum in their lagoon. Epithets included “used-car salesman,” “hothead” and “nightclub bouncer,” and some wondered why he always had one hand in his pocket. They dwelled on his black leather jacket, his popped collar, the colors of his shirts, his shaved head. He was apparently a sex symbol, too… he had charisma.”

Varoufakis’ negotiating strategy relied on Europe ‘blinking first’ because of the risk of contagion. He assumed that the threat of a Grexit would have devastating consequences to the eurozone. However, he failed to reach an agreement with the European troika (European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund) leading to the 2015 bailout referendum. The referendum rejected the troika bailout terms, and the day afterwards Varoufakis resigned as Minister of Finance, four months into his political tenure. He voted against the third bailout package and in the ensuing September snap election, he did not stand for reelection.

In February 2016, he launched the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) and subsequently backed a Remain vote in the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum. In March 2018, he founded MeRA25, the "electoral wing" of DiEM25 in Greece. In the 2019 legislative election, MeRA25 was the sixth most voted-for party, amassing nine parliamentary seats, with Varoufakis himself returning to the Hellenic Parliament. In December 2018, Varoufakis launched the Progressive International with United States Senator Bernie Sanders.

Writing career

Varoufakis’ books include a memoir, Adults in the Room; And the Weak Suffer What They Must? covering the catastrophic mishandling of Europe since the financial crisis; and Talking To My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism. In his most recent book of speculative fiction, Another Now, Dispatches from an Alternative Present, he presents his radical and subversive vision of the good society, an alternative to capitalism. 

He credits his partner Danae Stratou (Greek installation artist and former adjunct professor of fine art) with compelling him to write a blueprint for how democratic socialism could work today: “From the week we first met, she has been telling me that my critique of capitalism meant nothing unless I could answer her pressing question: 'What’s the alternative? And precisely how would things – like money, companies and housing – work?'”

In a bid to incorporate different, often clashing, perspectives he conjures three complex characters whose dialogues narrate the story – each representing different parts of his thinking: a Marxist-feminist, a libertarian ex-banker and a maverick technologist. Through these characters we see the genesis of a world without commercial banks or stock markets, where companies are owned equally by all staff, basic income is guaranteed, global imbalances and climate change cancel each other out, and housing is socialised. 

Is a liberal socialism feasible? Can prosperity grow without costing the Earth? To hear Varoufakis hash out these ideas with his Australian contemporary Scott Ludlam, head to Antidote on 5 September. 

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