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Varoufakis, Yanis

Entry updated 31 July 2023. Tagged: Author.

(1961-    ) Greek economist, politician and professor, holder of an Australian passport from 2000, formerly the Greek Minister of Finance and co-author of the polemic A Modest Proposal for Resolving the Euro Crisis (2010) – see Jonathan Swift. As an academic, he acquired postgraduate degrees in mathematical statistics and economics at British universities, and taught in Australia, Greece, the UK and the USA before entering politics; it is hence unsurprising that some of his books are written and published first in English, while others appear first in Greek, while Varoufakis is often credited as the co-translator of his own originals. Some of his early works flirted with Futures Studies, particularly The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy (2011), which, in his own words, served to "highlight the manner in which really-existing capitalism is marketed as a utopian science fiction", entirely divorced from reality. Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe's Deep Establishment (2017), was adapted by the Greek director Costa Gavras into the docudrama Enílikoi stin aíthousa ["Adults in the Room"] (2019).

Much of Varoufakis's work can be seen as an engagement with the work of Karl Marx (1818-1883) as if it were a foundational text in an Economics sub-genre of science fiction: that Marx himself offers a stinging critique of capitalist society, but no actual alternative. "I still believe," said Varoufakis in his 2019 Taylor lecture at Oxford University, "we face a stark choice between (A) science fictions that are being deployed to maintain a clinically deceased Dystopia and (B) science fictions that can help a realistic Utopia be born."

In Milóntas stin kóri mou gia tin oikonomía ["Talking to My Daughter About the Economy"] (2014; trans Jacob Moe and Yanis Varoufakis as Talking to My Daughter: A Brief History of Capitalism 2017), he first speculated about the effects of a HALPEVAM (Heuristic Algorithmic Pleasure & Experiential Value Maximizer), a machine that offers to construct a Pocket Universe that will be truly ideal for the convictions and desires of any individual, with the expectation that any wise user would refuse to enter a realm in which they, and reality itself, is a slave to their passions. He would return to the concept in Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present (2020), in which a malfunctioning HALVEPAM machine presents glimpses of a Parallel World that diverges from our own during the global financial crisis of 2008. In doing so, Varoufakis is able to cleave closely to the concerns and interests of his viewpoint characters in their interrogating of their parallel selves, rather than reveal details of the entire world outside his own specialism (compare Jeffrey Lewis).

Another Now charts the history of the other world's economy from the victory of Thatcherism in the 1980s to a point in 2036, sixteen years beyond its date of publication, outlining historical moments of profound change, but rejecting the fork-in-the-road crisis of the Jonbar Point as a self-motivated illusion, instead as Varoufakis argued in interviews: "we miss pivotal moments every day, every hour, every instant." It is a work, like Curtis Sittenfeld's Rodham (2020), deeply enmeshed in the political concerns of its time, but where Sittenfeld regards her era through a Feminist lens, Varoufakis outlines his ideas for a way in which modern Technology could be used to democratize the supply of Money, such as, for example, a cunning scheme to crowd-source compensation for citizens prepared to delay paying their bills as a form of payment strike. "Capitalism and science fiction share one thing," he writes. "They trade in future assets using fictitious currency. Even if these tools are still in the realm of science fiction, they are still our best defence."

Varoufakis advocates universal basic income (which he calls universal basic dividend), paid monthly into citizen's bank accounts, the abolition of income tax and sales taxes, and their replacement with a 5% levy on business and real estate. Workers annually vote in a company popularity contest, proportionally dividing out profits among the work-force on the basis of the percentage of their company votes. International transactions are conducted in a new, digital currency unit called the Kosmos, which itself charges a levy if national exports exceed imports. The money thus generated is invested in green initiatives in the Third World.

His touchstones with the Conversation of SF (see SF Megatext) are plain to see, and derive almost wholly from visual media. He directly references Moon (2009) directed by Duncan Jones as a metaphor of the proletarianization of labour, and The Matrix (1999), for which his HALVEPAM machine is intended as a diametrical opposite. His neo-Luddites, monkey-wrenchers dedicated to disrupting the capitalist system, derive their name from the title of the film Blade Runner (1982) – presumably, the satirical nature of the depiction of similar figures in Fight Club: A Novel (1996) by Chuck Palahniuk made them less attractive as a literary reference. Inevitably, he has a note of praise for "The Neutral Zone" (1988), an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which a twentieth-century banker is awoken from cryogenic stasis (see Cryonics; Sleeper Awakes), and must come to terms with what Varoufakis calls "twenty-fourth century abundance-communism."

As is common with Mainstream Writers of SF, Varoufakis focuses on the ideas in his proposal, rather than the integral accidents likely to arise through human error, favouritism, nepotism, corruption or disagreement over control. A glib comparison of one of his voting schemes to the Eurovision Song Contest seems oddly earnest, particularly considering that Eurovision voting is notoriously partisan. Varoufakis suggests fixing this issue with a transparent voting system, as if that itself would not generate new issues. Such tensions would be sure to challenge the working of his well-meaning system, as surely as Isaac Asimov conceived of his Laws of Robotics with the expressed intention of finding holes to pick in them. However, while Varoufakis does often nod towards sf as a tool for thinking, his work also draw upon a far older Greek tradition, of Mythological parables, but also of argument over the possibilities of potential worlds and systems, as in Plato, whom Varoufakis regards as "one of the greatest enemies of democracy." [JonC]

see also: Shulamith Firestone; China Miéville; Prediction.

Ioannis Georgiou Varoufakis

born Athens, Greece: 24 March 1961

works (selected)


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