Yanis Varoufakis Early Life
Yanis Varoufakis was born on 24 March 1961 in Athens. He is a graduate of the Moraitis private school, which has nurtured many members of Greece’s political and economic elite. His father, 89-year-old Giorgos Varoufakis, is chairman of Halyvourgiki, a Greek industrial giant. This background of relative privilege did not prevent Mr Varoufakis from becoming a libertarian Marxist, who has said that “Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day”. After receiving his doctorate from the University of Essex he spent a couple of years teaching there and at the University of East Anglia. But Margaret Thatcher’s third election victory in 1987 proved too much to bear for Mr Varoufakis, who started to “plan his escape” from Britain.
His escape destination was not Greece, but Australia, where he taught economics at the University of Sydney. He finally returned to Athens in 2000, a decision he attributed to a combination of nostalgia and, again, an “abhorrence of the conservative turn of the land Down Under”.
In 2005 his ex-wife and young daughter Xenia moved permanently to Australia, leaving Mr Varoufakis “in a state of shock”. Shortly after, he met his second wife Danae Stratou, who he says saved him from “oblivion” and he has been with her every step of the way since.
Varoufakis has at times been branded a high-living radical. During his time as finance minister, he lived in a desirable part of Athens near the Acropolis, courtesy of his parents-in-law. Varoufakis loves talking about ancient Greece, in whose history and literature he was drilled at one of the city’s elite private day schools. As he reminisces about his father, still thriving in his mid-90s, he reveals an unexpected fact. It is common knowledge that, having endured prison as a suspected communist in the late 1940s, George Varoufakis became the right-hand person of a steel magnate. Less well known is his contribution to archaeology. Varoufakis senior pinpointed how the builders of the Parthenon used an iron-zinc alloy to stabilise the marble columns; they knew far more than some of the hapless would-be conservators of modern times. Varoufakis relishes his father’s discovery. “What a fantastic thing to find! The ancient iron rods lasted 2,000 years whereas the new ones, made of Birmingham steel, had rusted within two years.”
Varoufakis shares his father’s penchant for delving into the genius of the past and asking how a similar spirit might guide the future. He describes himself as a libertarian follower of Karl Marx, and he thinks the German philosopher would be fascinated by today’s technology and the way it could change society. He realised this, he says, when acting as a consultant on economics for Valve, a Seattle-based computer games firm, in 2012. He observed with fascination how a new capitalism was emerging, with democratic decision-making and spontaneous team-building.
“Because there was no hierarchy, everybody did their own thing. And you had to walk around and meet people and say ‘Will you tell me what you do, so I can see if I can work with you?’ ”
Yanis Varoufakis Biography and Profile
Yanis Varoufakis (Ioannis Georgiou “Yanis” Varoufakis), born 24 March 1961, a Greek economist, academic, philosopher and politician. He has been Secretary-General of MeRA25, a left-wing political party, since he founded it in 2018. A former member of Syriza, he served as Minister of Finance from January to July 2015 under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
In his own words, Yanis Varoufakis was “thrust onto the public scene by Europe’s inane handling of an inevitable crisis”. In January 2015 he was elected to Greece’s Parliament with the largest majority in the country and served as Greece’s Finance Minister (January to July 2015). During his term he experienced first hand the authoritarian inefficiency of the European Union’s institutions and had to negotiate with the Eurogroup, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Varoufakis resigned the finance ministry when he refused to sign a loan agreement that perpetuated Greece’s debt-deflationary cycle.
In February 2016 Varoufakis co-founded DiEM25, the Democracy in Europe Movement – Europe’s first transnational movement. In March 2018 DiEM25 founded MeRA25, its Greek political party. Led by Yanis Varoufakis, MeRA25 entered Parliament with nine MPs in the July 2019 General Election.
In 2012 Mr Varoufakis left Greece for the United States to teach at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, at the University of Texas at Austin. Mr Varoufakis has said his decision was partly dictated by death threats received for talking about the scandals of Greek banks, and partly by financial concerns, as he was on a modest university salary in Greece. In Texas, he won the hearts of the faculty and students alike.
“Yanis is where he is now because he got it right from the start,” said close friend and fellow University of Texas professor James Galbraith, who advised Greece in its last-ditch talks with creditors.
I was born in Athens back in the mists of 1961. Greece was, at the time, struggling to shed the post-civil war veil of totalitarianism. Alas, those hopes were dashed after a brief period of hope and promise. So, by the time I was six, in April of 1967, a military coup d’ etat plunged us all into the depths of a hideous neo-Nazi dictatorship. Those bleak days remain with me. They endowed me with a sense of what it means to be both unfree and, at once, convinced that the possibilities for progress and improvement are endless. The dictatorship collapsed when I was at junior high school. This meant that the enthusiasm and political renaissance that followed the junta’s collapse coincided with my coming of age. It was to prove a significant factor in the way that I resisted conversion to the ways of Anglo-saxon cynicism in the years to come.
When the time came to decide on my post-secondary education, around 1976, the prospect of another dictatorship had not been erased. Given that students were the first and foremost targets of the military and paramilitary forces, my parents determined that it was too risky for me to stay on in Greece and attend University there. So, off I went, in 1978, to study in Britain.
My initial urge was to study physics but I soon came to the conclusion that the lingua franca of political discourse was economics. Thus, I enrolled at the University of Essex to study the dismal science. However, within weeks of lectures I was aghast at the content of my textbooks and the inane musings of my lecturers. Quite clearly economics was only interested in putting together simplistic mathematical models. Worse still, the mathematics utilised were third rate and, consequently, the economic thinking that emanated from it was atrocious. In short shrift I changed my enrolment from the economics to the mathematics school, thinking that if I am going to be reading mathematics I might as well read proper mathematics.
After graduating from Essex, I moved to the University of Birmingham where I read toward an MSc in Mathematical Statistics. By that stage I was convinced that my escape from economics had been clean and irreversible. How deluded that conviction was! While looking for a thesis topic, I stumbled upon a piece of econometrics (a statistical test of some economic model of industrial disputes) that angered me so much with its methodological sloppiness (which was hidden behind a certain mathematical sophistication) that I set out to demolish it. That was the trap and I fell right into it! From that moment onwards, a series of anti-economic treatises followed, a Phd in… Economics and, naturally, a career in exclusively Economics Departments, in every one of which I enjoyed debunking that which my colleagues considered to be legitimate ‘science’. At the price, that is, of a life which can only be compared to that of an atheist theologian ensconced in a Middle Ages monastery.
Between 1982 and 1988 I taught at the University of Essex, the University of East Anglia and the University of Cambridge. My break from Britain occurred in 1987 on the night of Mrs Thatcher’s third election victory. It was too much to bear. Soon I started planning my escape, which took a little more than a year to organise. The question was: Where do I escape to? Continental Europe was closed to non-native academics, at that time, and Greece awaited with open arms – to enlist me into its conscript army. No, thanks, I thought to myself. Even Thatcherism is preferable. My break came shortly after when, out of the blue, I was invited to take up a lectureship at the University of Sydney. And so the die was cast. From 1988 to 2000 I lived and worked in Sydney, with short stints at the University of Glasgow (and an even shorter one at the Université Catholique de Louvain).
In 2000 a combination of nostalgia and abhorrence of the conservative turn of the land Down Under (under the government of that awful little man, John Howard) led me to return to Greece. So I ended up teaching political economics at the University of Athens. Besides surviving life in a country that is very tough on those who are not used to working in an institutional setting where everything needs to be created from scratch, I feel a sense of accomplishment from having set up an innovative, progressive, pluralist, international Doctoral Program in Economics, also known as UADPhilEcon (one that, tragically, did not survive Greece’s collapsed after 2010).
For whatever awful stories one tells about Greek universities (most of which, by the way, are accurate) one fact remains: The better students in Greece, and the better amongst of my colleagues, were intellectually and ethically head-and-shoulders above the majority of the better students, and colleagues, elsewhere. They provided all the compensation I needed in order never to regret my return to Greece back in 2000 (even the three months I spent in the Greek army!).
calamity to restored hope
Life took a nasty turn, personally, well before the global economic crisis of 2008 and Greece’s implosion in 2009. The year was 2005. In that August my extremely young daughter, Xenia, was taken away by… Australia. For reasons that I now recognise as legitimate, her mother decided to take Xenia to Sydney and make a home for her there, permanently. Xenia’s loss left me in a state of shock (she has been living since then in Sydney, thus guaranteeing the longevity of my relationship with Sydney).
As luck would have it, a few months later, I was saved from near oblivion by Danae Stratou with whom, ever since, we have been sharing life, work and a myriad of projects. An artistic-cum-political project called CUT- 7 dividing lines brought us together. That project evolved into another one called The Globalising Wall. The latest project to come out of this fortunate (for us) union is called www.vitalspace.org. Above all else, we are having fun doing the things that matter (to us). Moreover, as the years go by, and Xenia grows into an autonomous person, the pieces of my life that were so violently separated in 2005 are coming together.
Crisis and its personal impact
From the early 2000s, my dear friend and colleague Joseph Halevi and I were alerted to the unsustainability of the ‘global arrangements’ underpinning the global economy’s so called ‘Great Moderation’. Similarly, we were in deep doubt about the sustainability of the Eurozone. We felt that, underneath the surface, the tectonic plates were on the move, ready to repay financialised capitalism’s exorbitant hubris with an almighty crash. We wrote a couple of relevant articles but were, naturally, more or less ignored. For my part, I began a campaign in Greece warning of the tsunami that was to come; a crisis that would leave Greece in tatters and put Europe on a path toward disintegration. My warnings fell on deaf, and mocking, ears. Naturally.
Undaunted, Joseph and I started work on a book that would capture our views on the dead end facing the second phase of post-war capitalism and its connection to another dead end: that of economic theory. However, the Crash of 2008 intervened and the book had to be re-written again, with the assistance of friend and Athens University colleague Nicholas Theocarakis.
The Crash of 2008 and the subsequent metamorphoses of the crisis (in Europe and in the world at large) seem to have energised me no end. My The Global Minotaur came out, as a result, together with a stream of commentary on the crisis and its significance. When Greece became clearly insolvent, I came out in the Greek media telling it as it was. Because I had previously had a good relationship with the then Greek PM, George Papandreou, and had served as one of his (many) advisors (until December 2006 when I resigned), my view that Greece could not avoid default come-what-may stung the then socialist government. For two years I kept arguing that it was an Assault on Reason to deal with a deep insolvency (of both the public and the private sectors) by means of the largest loan in human history that came with strings attached and that, at the same time, demanded a major reduction of the national income from which the old and the new loans would have to be repaid (for this is what the austerity drive meant).
My determination to calling a spade a spade, and telling the world (and our European partners) the truth that Greece had gone bankrupt, was met with the charge of High Treason from the powers-that-be and, at once, with admiration from an increasing band of supporters. In other words, I was faced with a nightmare scenario. You see, there is nothing that I loathe more, dear reader, that an encounter with people who will reject what I say before I say it or, equally, who will believe what I say before I have said it.
As the latest Greek drama unfolded, from one traumatic phase to the next, I increasingly felt that the quality of the debate was sinking into a mire. A new cleptocracy was being founded on (and funded by) the ‘bailout’ funds whose political agents (governing politicians, bankers and the media funded by them) were claiming that the ‘bailout’ had ‘saved’ Greece. On the other side of politics, desperation, anger and a number of conspiracy theories were all the rage.
Soon after Greece’s implosion, three developments came into play: First, everything that I had worked to create at the University of Athens collapsed (both undergraduate and postgraduate programs). Secondly, my salary shrank (which is of heightened pertinence given my obligations to Xenia who lives in a country whose currency was on the up and up at the time my salary was shrinking). Thirdly, the death threats to members of my family that followed my insistence to discuss publically the Greek bankers’ latest scandals. Taken together, these three factors meant that the time had come to move out of Greece once again.
Thus, since 2012, Danae and I are living in the United States – where I teach at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, at the University of Texas at Austin. With our antennae constantly trained toward the homeland we left behind. Temporarily we hope.
- ‘From contagion to incoherence: Toward a model of the unfolding Eurozone crisis’, Contributions to Political Economy, 32, 51-71 – 2013
- ‘Game Theory: Can it unify the social sciences?‘, Organisational Studies, 29, 1255-77 – 2008
- ‘Capitalism according to Evolutionary Game Theory: On the impossibility of a sufficiently evolutionary model of historical change’, Science and Society, 72, 63-94 – 2008
- ‘Toward A Theory of Solidarity‘, Erkenntnis, 59, 157-188 (with C. Arnsperger) – 2003
- ‘Against Equality’, Science and Society, 4, 448-72 – 2002/3
- ‘Some experimental results on discrimination, co-operation and perceptions of fairness’, The Economic Journal, 112, 678-702 (with S. Hargreaves-Heap) – 2002
- ‘Bargaining and Strikes: from an equilibrium to an evolutionary framework‘, Labour Economics, 3, 385-98 – 1996
- ‘Modern and Postmodern Challenges to Game Theory‘, Erkenntnis, 38,371-404 – 1993
Varoufakis read mathematics and economics at the Universities of Essex and Birmingham and subsequently taught economics at the Universities of East Anglia, Cambridge, Sydney, Glasgow, Texas and Athens where he still holds a Chair in Political Economy and Economic Theory. He is also Honorary Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sydney, Honoris Causa Professor of Law, Economics and Finance at the University of Torino, Visiting Professor of Political Economy at King’s College, London, and Doctor of the University Honoris Causa at University of Sussex.
Yanis Varoufakis Books
Yanis Varoufakis is the author of a number of best-selling books, including:
- My English language books include (click on the titles for more): And the weak suffer what they must The Weak Suffer What They Must? Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic Future, New York: Nation Books, 2016.
- The Global Minotaur: America, the True Causes of the Financial Crisis and the Future of the World Economy (also available in German, Greek, Czech, Italian, Spanish, French, Serbian, and Finnish), London: Zed Books, 2011, 2nd edition 2013.
- Economic Indeterminacy: A personal encounter with the economists’ peculiar nemesis, London and New York: Routledge, 2013.
- Modern Political Economics: Making sense of the post-2008 world (with Joseph Halevi and Nicholas Theocarakis), London and New York: Routledge, 2011.
- Game Theory: A critical textGame Theory: A critical text (with Shaun Hargreaves-Heap) (also available in Japanese), London and New York: Routledge, 2004.
- Foundations of Economics: A beginner’s companion (also available in Mandarin), London and New York: Routledge, 1998.
- Rational Conflict, Oxford: Blackwell,1991.
- The Globalising Wall, 2007.
Yanis Varoufakis Family
Spouse: Danae Stratou. In 2005 his ex-wife and young daughter Xenia moved permanently to Australia, leaving Mr Varoufakis “in a state of shock”. Shortly after, he met his second wife Danae Stratou, who he says saved him from “oblivion” and he has been with her every step of the way since.
Yanis Varoufakis Biography and Profile (Yanis Varoufakis)