This crisis is deeper than Economics

Posted on November 03, 2009, 7:14 pm
6 mins

It’s no news that the new government that came out of the recent elections has a very difficult task ahead, given the state of the economy, but also an underlying current of public dissatisfaction (some might call it desperation) with the system. The vast majority (upwards of 70%) of Greeks hold the two major political parties responsible for the mess the country is in. Scandals, corruption, inflation, and the high cost of living are all fueling the general dissatisfaction.

Even though about 1/3 of the people express no desire to make any sacrifices whatsoever, most Greeks realize that the immediate future doesn’t look bright and they know who will be called to bear the burden of getting the country on the right path. However, most people are rather pessimistic of the outcome. What’s more interesting, perhaps, is that Greece’s crisis runs deeper—and this can be a serious problem as the country tries to reach the higher levels other EU countries enjoy.

The majority (65%) are not happy with the political system as it has been operating. This is no surprise here, but there’s a general dissatisfaction of all institutions! This can be dangerous. At the very least, this alienation impedes progress and citizen engagement—both necessary elements for progressive change. What institutions have lost credibility with 94% of Greeks? Several polls have shown that the citizens don’t trust: the democratic system overall; the Church; the government; the police; the army; the media; the labor unions; even, the authorities that run the sports leagues! What’s left then?

Some 85% of the people believe that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. There’s a general sense that the system isn’t working to the benefit of the majority. The only notion that still gets high support is the country’s western orientation. Perhaps Europe still holds the promise (and the key) of a better tomorrow, and, perhaps, it will be the EU that will force the domestic government into fiscal prudence. Nevertheless, there are many steps that must be taken by the Greek government and the citizens if there’s going to be positive change.

Leadership is very important for it sets the tone (and the example) of governance. There’s got to be more transparency through “sunshine laws” that will increase accountability and the sense of honesty in governance. Cynicism is a long-held attitude by Greeks, often with good reason, but it’s time to drop notions like, “nothing can change,” or, “I can’t make any difference, therefore I don’t care.”

If the new government is realistic about serious change, it must break from the ways of the past, including the ways the father of the current prime minister governed during his long tenure in politics. The rhetoric should change too. Enough of appealing to the lowest common denominator or to the vanity of the voters! Enough of the “enemies of Greece” have prevented the populace from getting what it deserves.

More often than not, the enemies are domestic, and those special interests are many interest groups (consisting of the majority) in society that demand special treatment and benefits. It’s very difficult to stop the practice of patronage, because everybody wants a slice of the action as a payback for political support; but stopping it must be done. If the laws are applied fairly, if there’s transparency in government, if there’s accountability, it will be easier for the people to accept harsh measures to get the country on the road to recovery.

Otherwise, this will be another missed opportunity, and Greece cannot afford to fall further behind from its European partners. Besides, life is short, so it should not be wasted by lying in the sick bed because the bitter pill isn’t taken as needed. What’s been happening in the last generation is clearly unsustainable—the country has reached its limits in many areas, including the ability to borrow. A new course must be chartered as soon as possible. It has to come from an honest national dialogue among responsible adults who want to be treated as such and are not afraid to face reality & and their own demons.

PS. Obviously every country has its own uniqueness, but there can be a host of policy options and designed conditions that are available to almost every modern society. But, the key is selection and implementation. By examining successful cases we may learn something useful. Here’s the newest report on the Prosperity Index.

Some of the figures on the general attitude of Greeks towards their institutions were drawn from Το Βημα Online.

A self-described Athenian, works and lives in the NYC metropolitan area. Interested in the world of ideas, the human condition & history, and how public policy can foster a progressive culture of life.