In all this doom and gloom about the Greek situation it is very difficult to think of a message of hope, something that can offer a better, brighter future for Greece beyond the endless austerity of the Bailouts and the chaotic disintegration of Drachmageddon.
Where could a message of hope come from? It is my belief that accepting failure can lead -at long last- to a change of culture. This sounds a bit like Yoda speak, I agree, yet Greeks have not accepted that our culture, our economy, our political system has failed. And failed we have! I have spent a number of posts on this blog explaining the various ways in which Greece has failed. Let me just offer one anecdote that illustrates everything I tried to convey before.
In 1999 I was a student at the Athens Law School (on Erasmus exchange from the University of Essex where I studied for my degree). During the year I met a lot of “knites” Communist Party youth (like Tsipras used to be at some point). While we studied in a university where stray dogs slept in the lecture theatre, people plastered posters on the blackboard while the lecturer was giving a lecture, kids were selling roses and tissues during the class, we could not access the library without a letter from the lecturer AND where we all studied from the same (provided) texts, the knites were lecturing me on how unlucky I was to be studying in Essex, and that Greek Universities were the best in the world. It is this type of imbecility and wilful blindness that characterises the Greek view of themselves and the world.
Once we accept that we are to blame primarily for our troubles, then we can begin the culture shift that will allow us to belong to Europe. The Europeans do not hate us because we are so clever, have such great history and such nice beaches. Capitalism is rough, but resistance is futile (yes I said it, TINA – Thatcher will be smiling in her grave). We have no friends and no allies left to do pretty much anything, nevermind build a socialist utopia. But what do I mean by a change of culture? We need to start displaying solidarity with each other and get down to work. Work may be along capitalist lines, along the path drawn by the Germans etc, but this is the only way. Have no illusions, the drachma fantasies of Lafazanis and Lapavitsas will require even more work. What does this work entail? To stop trying to be ‘magkes’ (wise guys), to stop trying to game the system, to stop treating those who play by the rules as ‘koroida’ (shmucks).
How does a country with such illustrious legacy of cutting corners, faced with such an impossible mountain of adjustment measures even make a start at reforming? We have no choice but to take one day at a time, and at the danger of sounding like Nick Clegg (who?) we need to accept there are no left or right ideas, there are good and bad ideas. A good idea (from the right, but still good) is the idea of a regulatory guillotine (see here, no relation with the ™ version).
A significant part of the structural measures the lenders want to ‘impose’ on the Greek economy have to do with increasing competitiveness and productivity, and with improving employment. Yet every single measure is met with a wall of resistance from vested interests. Now, don’t get me wrong, vested interests may serve a purpose, they may protect hard won rights. My Union protects my vested interests as an academic. However, many ‘rights’ and interests are so rigid that are sinking the country in favour of small sectional interests. Tsipras even had to promise to liberalise gyms. Gyms you say? That’s right, gyms. In an economy so sclerotic as the Greek one we cannot even take advantage of the gifts nature has given us. We sell 60% of our olive oil to the Italians to package and sell to foreign supermarkets. This does not sound like a great idea.
What does sound like a good idea is to subject EVERY rule and regulation that has to do with services, goods and market access to a regulatory guillotine. The idea is to identify what each rule and every aspect of the bureaucracy is there for. Once the purpose is identified (if there is one) then an assessment will be made as to whether this rule is serving the interests of Greece’s progress. I am not taking the neoliberal view that all and every regulation is bad and ought to be done away with. What I am saying is that we should identify the interests behind the rules and make decisions as to whether their continued protection is in the interests of society as a whole. Should hairdressers be protected? If their continued protection (from competition) serves to maintain employment great, if not, protection should go.
You may argue that all these things were proposed before. Indeed Yorgos Papandreou came armed with a series of similar ideas and failed to implement them. Perhaps this was because PASOK is the big mama of sectional interests (they now defend the rights of farmers against the bailout laws). Still, we need some hope for the ‘modernisation’ (a Simitis concept you may say, but whatever) of the country.
Tsipras and Varoufakis gave hope but reaped havoc. Maybe we can give a chance to ideas in a different direction and see what happens.