Why don’t they get it?

Whilst attending the World Conference of Science Journalists in Doha I fell ill with a cold and a fever. It was that terrible air-conditioning at the Conference Centre that did me in, and as a result I ended up spending a good time of my stay in my hotel room, in front of the television, watching events unfolding in Greece as the Parliament debated the new austerity measures.

During the last thirty years, the Greek political system – which includes every party in the Parliament, left right and centre – has created a bizarre, corrupt and quasi-socialist society in Greece, where small special-interest groups exercise disproportionate influence on the political process. Worse, at least two generations of young Greeks have been raised to believe it is their “right” to find secure and well-paid employment, low-cost but high-standard housing, free heath, etc. This childish illusion that somehow “money exists” was vividly, and ironically, articulated by the incumbent Prime Minister Mr. Papandreou during his election campaign. Mr. Papandreou believed that then, and he still believes now. How could he? Is he mad? No he is not. Read on.

The political system ofGreece, faced with a national catastrophe, has managed to turn the tables by cleverly manipulating Eurozone’s weaknesses. The new finance minister bragged to his European colleagues that “Greeceneeds Europe as much as Europe needs Greece”. Did they send him off with a kick up his fat butt? No sir. He was sent away with another 12 billion Euros of bailout money. This money, just like the previous one, will be used so that the minimum of change, or reform, takes place. Don’t bee fooled to imagine, or hope, that any of the laws passed in the Greek Parliament will be enacted. Apart from increasing taxes and lowering salaries things will remain the same.

Greece can only change if the Greek State and its crony statism are dismantled and reduced to the absolute minimum. Nothing less will have any significant effect. Alas, very few inGreeceget that, and even fewer support it. The political elite will not do it because this will mean the end of them. But the majority of the people cannot contemplate a free marketGreeceeither. As said, generations of young Greeks have been raised in the “Greek dream” of laidback and secure jobs in the public sector, long holidays and early retirements. If you can believe it, students at technical universities hated research because it created wealth! So they went and destroyed labs on a systematic basis. When you figure that out send me an email.

The masses of protestors who gather in Syntagma Square shout for everything except reform. In fact, they shout for all the blessings of Greek socialist utopia to return. For the bad dream to end and for every Greek to awake in the good old times. They want to pressure the government to make a deal with Greece’s creditors so that the huge debt is forgiven. So that Greece may start anew, i.e. to borrow money at low interest rates in order to feed its vast armies of public servants and thus grow an equally unbearable debt ten years down the line. They need not worry. Their government thinks the same way and is trying exactly that.

Greece will never change unless it bears the burden of default. The obvious problem with that is that all bets are off when government cannot pay salaries and bank runs make money disappear and prices soar. Given the political immaturity of Greeks and the lack of credible political alternatives it is not impossible to imagine anarchy, a failed state in the Med, a Somalia of  the Aegean.

Caught between Scylla and Charybde Greece could have benefited from visionary and truly reformist leadership at the helm of Pasok or New Democracy. Someone with the guts and intelligence to go against his/hers survival instincts; a self-destructive constructivist who would dear to bring down the statist monster that sucks every bit of creativity and talent that this country has. Short-lived hope: the current leadership of the two parties does not fit this description, not by a very long shot.

So what will happen? I am not a prophet but I know that one: nothing will be decided inAthens, neither inside nor outside the Parliament. As always, decisions forGreecewill be taken abroad.


  1. Peter

    George, a bit dark, but not far off the mark. I gather you are in favour of the privatizations and cuts in the public sector that are being prescribed as conditions of the bailouts, but you express little confidence in these being delivered. Your fears may be well-founded as Europe seems to be giving Greece these enormous handouts chiefly to ward off ‘contagion’ and not so much because of a determination to reform Greece. Once the threat of contagion has abated, will anyone be interested in pressing the reforms? And all that smoke and anger in Syntagma looked a bit like theatre [this will happen to you if you can’t pay your debts!] I have never really understood why the Greek public sector takes up so much of the economy and delivers so little. I watched the video ‘Debtocracy’ and it sought to blame everyone else for the situation, and went on about “odious debt” but Greece took the money and as one of the politicians said, “We all partied”.

    Peter in Sydney.

  2. George Zarkadakis

    Thanks for your comment Peter. There is a “social contract” between voters of Pasok and ND which stripulates that voters vote for the two parties while the two parties employ the voters and their offspring into the public sector by using other people’s money (e.g. the bonds’ money). That should explain why so many public employees doing so little, and absorbing so much. About “Debtocracy”: this is a typical product of Greek leftist thinking which, as always, misses reality by a huge margin. “Odious debt” in international relations means that the government that took the loans was (a) undemocratic, (b) used the loans to suppress its people. Neither happened in Greece. BTW Pangalos who said “we all partied” (“Μαζί τα φάγαμε”) was right.

  3. Panos

    A deep sigh comes out from deep inside my soul. We knew that we had these problems for a long while. Our hope was that with the crisis that was going to happen, that was writen on the wall. Our political class would be forces at last to make the structural changes that needed to be done. The lack of the drug of cheap finance would at last make them get serious. Unfortunately the same political class was so eroded and populated with people that just do not understand, had forgotten how to govern. They where brought up with the only skill they needed was a loud voice, spin, and the ability to spend money first of the European Union, money the we had to make ourselves competitive we only had a time limit to do that the time expired in 2010, we all knew that, we where the ones receiving the money because we where the poor ones, and when the newly liberated East joined that where poorer even than us, did we not get the message that it would finish? No These countries that lived under the outdated slogans that we still chant understood that they needed to be serious about their economies and they surpassed us in a short time. We still continued our wild excesses with the cheap debt that we grabbed because we where in the EU and our risk was wrongly considered that of the EU. And the party continued.

    But when the push came to shove and everything had changed. We still did not, wake up, and at last make the changes that needed to be done. Was that the last chance?

    So instead of us writing our own history, making ourselves the masters of our own destiny. To see our problems clearly, to take our actions with clarity, logic and long term understanding of the consequences. We are once more in our modern history just blaming others….The others…the others…The conspiracy theories that once where only just folklore in our cafes, fun stuff to hear from toothless old men…alarmingly this became the language of the leadership, not only the language as to avoid blame, a vast number of them believe this. Instead of taking responsibility and saying yes there is a problem and this is how we solve it now. They instead blamed the entire world, someone else, the ones that “manipulated” us. Not us. The most worrying thing of all was that the political class in a large part believe this!!! For many it was not even Demagogic that is the irony and extreem disappointment it was just plain ignorance. Yea sure, the irony is without realizing that is the biggest insult of all. If someone else did it to you, it means you, do not understand, are not capable, responsible, mature enough, to govern.

    The hope would have been to say, we are responsible, we need to change our society radically to be strong in the future and to control our destiny.

    One more chapter of our modern history is being written right now…

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