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23 October 2017

Yanis Varoufakis Q&A: “My despondencies have become a source of energy“

The economist talks “Stairway to Heaven”, game theory, and how to make good predictions.

By New Statesman

Yanis Varoufakis is an economist and academic and was the Greek minister of finance during the 2015 government debt crisis. He likes blogging and motorbikes.

What’s your earliest memory?

The first time I flew in a passenger plane. I must have been about four and I was very impressed and very scared by it.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was Aris Velouchiotis, who was the leader of the partisans during the Nazi occupation, a kind of Greek Che Guevara, who was never sullied by history because he died in battle during the civil war. He was never given the opportunity to disgrace himself like many others. My adult hero is Noam Chomsky, because he combines a sterling academic contribution with a lifelong commitment to progressive causes and fighting the good fight, against what I call “the deep establishment”.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

The Circle by Dave Eggers, which scared me a little. It reminded me how complacent I was becoming about the big tech companies.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Oh, that’s easy: somewhere between Berlin and Moscow in the 1920s.

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What political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

I’ll play it safe. Let’s say Martin Luther King.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Game theory – but if I’m not allowed that it would have to be either the early era of Formula One or Star Trek.

Who would paint your portrait?

Georges Braque, the cubist.

What’s your theme tune?

“Stairway to Heaven”.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

It was from a statistics professor at Birmingham University, where I did my Master’s in mathematical statistics: “Give them a prediction of what will happen or when it will happen, but never both at the same time, because you’ll end up with egg on your face.” I’ve always followed that.

What’s currently bugging you?

The European Union and the complete, spectacular, colossal failure to have the necessary debate. We have a systemic crisis and no one is systematically talking about it.

What single thing would make your life better?

Star Trek again: a beam-me-up machine, so that I can travel around without having to enter aeroplanes.

When were you happiest?

Now. A general coalescence of different harmonies: my personal life, my writing career. I participate in a European political movement that gives me incredible satisfaction. My despondencies have become a source of energy and stimulation, rather than of existential angst.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I would love to have been a musician or a film director, if I had the talent to do it. I deeply believe in freedom from the market, not freedom of the market.

Are we all doomed?

Yes, we are all going to die. But the human species should exploit its potential for the hell of it, and make sure it leaves the planet in as pristine a condition as possible. 

Yanis Varoufakis’s new book, “Talking to My Daughter About the Economy”, is published by Bodley Head

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This article appears in the 18 Oct 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Russia’s century of revolutions