With general elections scheduled for October 4, there is again much talk about “reform” and how the enlightened opposition, now straining at the leash to become government, will introduce a new era of “modern” politics, mindsets, and practices so that Greece may escape stagnation and malaise. None of this talk of course addresses the very root of social underdevelopment and parochial politics that keep this country captive, namely, the expectations, deeply entrenched within the majority of Greeks, of gaining a standard of living equal to that of developed countries without doing the work, and incurring the sacrifices, required for its attainment.
To put it rather bluntly, Greeks have come to expect that, ultimately, a higher authority (i.e. the state) will provide the better salaries and pensions; the well-organized health care system; brilliant free schools for all; and a perpetually growing pie available to all in healthy portions without the real wealth-generating locomotives that can provide and ensure such privileges. Nowhere in this narrative of a better tomorrow, luminous with a sense of cozy security, is there even a simple reference to the unforgiving and very real economics that underlie all human endeavor. In simple terms, modern Greeks are attached to a Dream that has no traction in the harsh realities that surround them.
Slamming Greek politicians for their unrealistic promises is again very much in vogue as the time of the ballot box approaches -- but we tend to forget that the audience does expect with a passion this re-affirmation of the Dream, directly or indirectly. With Greece up to its chin in economic trouble, rosy references by vacant politicians to untapped (but undefined and non-existent) “wealth” waiting to be pumped back into the system so that, miraculously, the blind will see again and the lame will get up and join the Marathon run, seem to be extremely popular. Again, rekindling the Dream (‘jobs for all courtesy of the government’) has a powerful impact on an electorate that, generally, refuses to accept that consumption in itself, without the steady productivity to sustain it, defines very little other than the certainty of bankruptcy.
In a country where 30-year olds, and even 40-year olds, continue to live with their parents in the old bedroom of their high school days; in a country where young Greeks, beginning at the cradle, are fed with re-assurances of Dad and Mom having the right “connections” so that junior may land a lucrative, preferably public sector, job before he turns twenty four; in a country where the opening of a dozen positions in the public sector or government-controlled corporations attracts thousands of breathless applications; in a country where members of parliament effectively run their own informal employment agencies out of their constituency offices to meet the insatiable demand for government “jobs;” in a country where the government is expected to pay for keeping bankrupt private enterprises, with no production left, “solvent” so that the “workers” continue to collect pay and benefits; in a country where private entrepreneurship and the idea of profit are demonized as Beelzebub’s ultimate curses; in a country where “privatization” means shifting hordes of useless non or under-performing labor to the public sector, against every basic rule of prudent economics, so that the “right to work” isn’t violated and public sector unions aren’t upset; and in a country where the government unabashedly robs the few who do work and produce in order to satisfy the many who don’t, room for rational talk about “reform” is severely restricted.
The upcoming elections, our politicians tell us on every given opportunity, are “crucial” because of the enormous challenges ahead. This is only partially true; the challenges part should be undeniably our number one concern; that the elections are “crucial” though can be debated since all the contestants, more or less, cling to the Dream, in one form or another, and none of them would even dare contemplate laying it out as it truly is. Indeed, even those candidates who assume the “sober” side, juxtaposed to the main opposition’s fluffy daydreaming, dare not utter one word about, for example, the need for massive layoffs in the public sector, the shrinking of government down to a bare minimum, and the complete opening of the market to competitive practices -- because they know that even the faintest reference to what might save a country like Greece from its worst self can be fatal for those uttering the words when the time of the ballot arrives.
And so, Greece and the Greeks will continue with their Dream, unfazed by the gathering storm, the warnings of wiser men, and the visible deep cracks of the edifice that originates back in the palace halls of King Otto. The turbaned roughs with the scimitars may be gone, but their cell-phone totting modern dandy equivalents have nothing new to offer away from a culture of parasitic existence, fed with somebody else’s money, and hostility to anything that might even remotely smack of real modernity, productivity, economic sense, and the willingness to put one’s shoulder to the wheel without the demand for instant gratification and a brand new SUV to boot.
A sorry condition to contemplate and one that may really never change.