This note is written mainly for the benefit (if that is the appropriate term in this case) of all my friends abroad who know and care about Greece’s woes. The situation is and will be increasingly difficult, both now and after the election of June 17th. Matters are bound to come to a head the following day (uncannily ‘Waterloo Day’) when SYRIZA, the leading left-wing party, will be called to form a government in the likely case it wins. Yet even if it does not win, it will still play first fiddle in opposing the policies of reform that the new government introduces. Needless to add that such opposition will not manifest itself solely in Parliament, but mainly in the streets.
The strategy of SYRIZA has been to render the country ungovernable. It has advanced in this direction with impressive efficacy. Strikes, demonstrations, occupation of public places, violent confrontations with the police, arson and sabotage, have been the order of the day for months. To crown it all, new racist and extreme nationalist parties, the ‘Golden Dawn’ and the ‘Independent Greeks’ make their loud appearance, having snatched 17% of the vote in the last elections. The country has lost its head.
Greece has, moreover, succeeded in alienating sympathy for her, mainly by the gross incompetence, proven dishonesty and grotesque arrogance of its officials, both at high and low levels of authority. As if that were not enough, racism rears its ugly head in a country sunk in fiscal profligacy and rampant corruption, where rent-seeking and living off transfer payments are admitted as the norm, yet basking in myths of an alleged cultural superiority vis à vis its European neighbours and practically everyone else. The head of SYRIZA Alexis Tsipras has lately shown to be in line with this view by asserting that he perceives the Acropolis from his window, whereas Chancellor Merkel perceives the Reichstag.
In these circumstances, a great amount of people push credulity to its furthest limits. Reality recedes and myth takes over. Sovereign debt, they maintain, will not have to be paid, since it was not of our making. Some unidentifiable foreign interests have worked out this accursed ‘Memorandum’ and imposed it on us – so the myth goes – with the express purpose of ruining us and then buy us out on the cheap. This is one of the many conspiracy theories that eager far Left or far Right supporters readily adopt. Yet conspiracy theories are more widely accepted as they appeal to popular imagination and capture the minds of the gullible. Conspiracy theories possess a seemingly high explanatory power and are immunized against criticism, since the causes ascribed are by definition hidden. Above all, conspiracy theories explain nearly everything WITHOUT TAXING THE INTELLECT. This constitutes an enormous advantage compared to other explanations which require a lot of homework, that is, understanding the facts and use of reason to find solutions to problems.
In the mean time reality asserts itself. Facts are stubborn things, as Lenin used to say. More and more numerous Greeks may find escape in illusion – ‘the world is my dream’ – but facts are facts and no reform of the state means wallowing in oceans of debt, no investment and increasing anomie in society, while self-confidence leads us headlong to perdition like all the Gadarene swine rolled into one.
It is far from obvious that other countries will run to the rescue, since they got other fish to fry – namely Spain, possibly Italy, and the whole of the EU economy being at sixes and sevens. Greeks will have to go it alone, for once. One wonder if it is THE END. It will be certainly the end of many of our comforts, in including and especially our comforting myths. Many are so discomfited by this prospect that are ready to ‘write sorrow on the bosom of the earth’. Yet the forced landing after a long flight in the sky of make-belief can have salutary effects. Sanity prevails in the end, even at high cost. A passage from the classical work of a great economist will be particularly instructing in this matter:Suppose that some “primitive” man uses that most elementary of all machines, already appreciated by our gorilla cousins, a stick, and that this stick breaks in his hand. If he tries to remedy the damage by reciting a magic formula… in the expectation that if he repeats this exactly nine times the two fragments will unite again—then he is within the precincts of pre-rational thought. If he gropes for the best way to join the fragments or to procure another stick, he is being rational in our sense. Both attitudes are possible of course. But it stands to reason that in this and most other economic actions the failure of a magic formula to work will be much more obvious than could be any failure of a formula that was to make our man victorious in combat or lucky in love or to lift a load of guilt from his conscience. This is due to the inexorable definiteness and, in most cases, the quantitative character that distinguish the economic from other spheres of human action, perhaps also to the unemotional drabness of the unending rhythm of economic wants and satisfactions. Once hammered in, the rational habit spreads under the pedagogic influence of favorable experiences to the other spheres and there also opens eyes for that amazing thing, the Fact.”
– Joseph A. Schumpeter (1942, 1950) Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York: Harper p. 123.