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There’s always something to howl about

Everything the ancient Greeks warned us about democracy has come true in modern Greece — and right here in River City as well

Mark Steyn in Macleans:

Traditionally, a bank is a means by which old people with capital lend to young people with ideas. But the advanced democracies with their mountains of sovereign debt are in effect old people who’ve blown through their capital and are all out of ideas looking for young people flush enough to bail them out. And the idea that it might be time for the spendthrift geezers to change their ways butts up against their indestructible moral vanity. Last year, President Sarkozy said that the G20 summit provided “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give capitalism a conscience.” European capitalism may have a conscience. It’s not clear it has a pulse. And, actually, when you’re burning Greek bank clerks to death in defence of your benefits, your “conscience” isn’t much in evidence, either.

Let us take it as read that Greece is an outlier. As waggish officials in Brussels and Strasbourg will tell you, it only snuck into the EU due to some sort of clerical error. It’s a cesspit of sloth and corruption even by Mediterranean standards. On my last brief visit, Athens was a visibly decrepit dump: a town with a handful of splendid ancient ruins surrounded by a multitude of hideous graffiti-covered contemporary ruins. If you were going to cut one “advanced” social democracy loose and watch it plunge into the abyss pour encourager les autres, it would be hard to devise a better candidate than Greece.

And yet and yet . . . riot-wracked Athens isn’t that much of an outlier. Greece’s 2010 budget deficit is 12.2 per cent of GDP; Ireland’s is 14.7. Greece’s debt is 125 per cent of GDP; Italy’s is 117 per cent. Greece’s 65-plus population will increase from 18 per cent in 2005 to 25 per cent in 2030; Spain’s will increase from 17 per cent to 25 per cent. As lazy, feckless, squalid, corrupt and violent as Greece undoubtedly is, it’s not that untypical. It’s where the rest of Europe’s headed, and Japan and North America shortly thereafter. About half the global economy is living beyond not only its means but its diminished number of children’s means.

Instead of addressing that basic fact, countries with government debt of 125 per cent of GDP are being “rescued” by countries with government debt of 80 per cent of GDP. Good luck with that. Alas, the world has deemed Greece “too big to fail,” even though in (what’s the word?) reality it’s too big not to fail. And the rest of us are too big not to follow in its path:

“Another reform high on the list is removing the state from the marketplace in crucial sectors like health care, transportation and energy and allowing private investment,” reported the New York Times. “Economists say that the liberalization of trucking routes—where a trucking licence can cost up to $90,000—and the health care industry would help bring down prices in these areas, which are among the highest in Europe.”

Removing the state from health care brings down prices? Who knew? This New York Times is presumably entirely unrelated to the New York Times that’s spent the last year arguing for the governmentalization of U.S. health care as a means of controlling costs.

The EU is now throwing an extra trillion dollars at countries which by any objective measure are insolvent, and are unlikely ever again to be anything but—at least this side of bloody revolution. How do you grow your economy in a remorselessly shrinking market? That’s to say, Greece is a land of ever fewer customers and fewer workers but ever more retirees and more government. How do you increase GDP? By export? Where? You’re entirely uncompetitive; you can’t make anything at a price any foreigner would be prepared to pay for it. More to the point, foreigners already own your debt, and just servicing that in the years ahead will gobble up around 10 per cent of GDP—which you’ll have to try and make up domestically. How? You’ve got some of the lowest productivity rates in Europe, and a “workforce” that would rather rouse itself to murder bank tellers.

Greece, wrote Theodore Dalrymple, is “a cradle not only of democracy but of democratic corruption”—of electorates who give their votes to leaders who bribe them with baubles purchased by borrowing against a future that can never pay it off. The future is now here, and the riots will spread.

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  • 2 comments

    2 Comments so far

    1. Don Reedy May 23rd, 2010 8:26 pm

      I wish I had contemplated more the essence of what was the true Greek experience. There’s a French saying that goes “If youth but knew, and age could do.”

      This article on Who Killed Homer ends with the following:

      All of this would be depressing enough if the new multiculturalist classicists actually believed what they wrote. But not one of them (despite the fashionable rhetoric) really wishes to adulterate our core values from the Greeks, to live under indigenous pre-Columbian ideas of government, Arabic protocols for female behavior, Chinese canons of medical ethics, Islamic traditions of church and state, Japanese ideals of race or Native-American notions of private property. The very tools that today’s critics in the university use to attack Western culture and to deny the Greeks their progeny are themselves inevitably Western. No multiculturalist thinks his academic freedom is oppressive, her notion of a university separate from the church and government burdensome, or her presentation of research and opinion in journals free from state censorship “hegemonic,” “patriarchal” or “racist.” All make their arguments in the comfort (material, psychological and legal) of Western institutions that guarantee their rights — rights that descend directly from the Greek vision of the world, rights that now incidentally include guaranteed employment for life. Intellectually naive at best, this form of academic multiculturalism is hypocritical to the core and entirely alien to Greek wisdom.

      Classicists — especially classicists — should know better. Instead, entire departments are even now diluting and perverting the study of the Greeks by metamorphosing into ancient Mediterranean studies programs. But the Egyptians, Sumerians, Phoenicians and Carthaginians were not the Greeks. The choice between the Greeks and these other civilizations is stark: to have an assembly or a Pharaoh, three classes or two, a Herodotus or a court toady with a chisel. You can turn the intelligentsia loose to write poetry and attack the elite — or make them build tombs, flatter The One and incise obsequious pictographs. A man can own a piece of land outright or hoe on the Great King’s estate. Make the rich endow plays and build a navy, or allow them to carve up and possess outright the entire countryside. Listen to “Zeus is no more” or decapitate the haughty who do not bow to Tut. Ostracize, audit, ridicule, publicize and investigate, or wait for the midnight bang on the door. In the end, that choice determines whether young children have a better chance to eat, live free of disease, grow up safe from mutilation and capricious death, see and describe the world as they choose — and enroll in the modern university to learn how awful that entire culture of their childhood actually was.

      Our hope, then, is that when classics falls, the Dark Age of Greek will give way in our children’s age to a new Greek era, one accessible to, and the property of, everyone, more in the spirit of the true Greek polis. New leaves in a different spring will sprout, for the roots of Greek are deep and cannot be so easily infected.

      Do we have a season before us, with ethics fallow enough, to sow once again? If not, then surely we will have joined in this killing of Homer…..

    2. Greg Swann May 24th, 2010 8:43 am

      > Do we have a season before us, with ethics fallow enough, to sow once again? If not, then surely we will have joined in this killing of Homer…..

      Rest easy. They can kill us individually, but to kill the Greeks, they will have to kill us all, down to the last mind.

      > I wish I had contemplated more the essence of what was the true Greek experience. There’s a French saying that goes “If youth but knew, and age could do.”

      I first heard the story quoted below when I was eight years old. I think about it every day.

      When Roosevelt went to Washington for his inauguration in 1933, he decided to visit Justice Holmes who was 92 years of age. Holmes was in his library reading Plato. President-elect Roosevelt asked, “What are you doing, Mr. Justice?” to which Holmes responded, “I am improving my mind.”

      This was a beautiful comment, Don. You have the soul of a poet.