Press Release: Greece is a warning to the rest of Europe

This press release may be downloaded here: http://www.cobdencentre.org/?dl_id=51

Public perceptions of economics are vital to resolving the current crisis, Greece is a warning to the rest of Europe

The political and economic problems facing Greece are of such a magnitude and the proper solutions are so unlikely to be adopted that social unrest must be a possibility, according to a paper published by the Cobden Centre. Deep-rooted political beliefs among the public and problems with the political and social structures have combined to facilitate bad fiscal management by successive Greek governments, according to Anita Acavalos, an economics student currently based in the UK.

“The Cobden Centre has published the article because we believe that it shows just how important public education about economic theory and policy are in avoiding crises such as the one affecting Europe today,” Antoine Clarke, a spokesman for the group said. The Centre is an educational charity to promote the Cobdenite tradition of liberty: honest money, free markets, free trade and peace as the means to the maximum of social progress for every person.

In her paper, titled “I predict a riot,” Ms Acavalos notes the problem of accurately estimating the scale of Greece’s problems: “Soaring budget deficits coupled with the unreliable statistics provided by the government mean there is no financial newspaper out there without at least one piece on Greece’s fiscal profligacy.” The paper ends with a call for “Greek people learn to listen to the ugly truths that sometimes have to be said,” adding that “the time for radical, painful, wrenching reform is NOW.”

She warns that what may appear to be “simply the result of gross incompetence on behalf of the government,” is the consequence of “the country’s social structure and people’s deep rooted political beliefs” which show that the current crisis “could not have been avoided even if more skill was involved in the country’s economic and financial management.”

Among the cultural difficulties are “suspicion of and disrespect for business and private initiative,” a widespread belief that “big money” is earned by “exploitation of the poor or underhand dealings and reflects no display of virtue or merit,” Ms Acavalos argues.

The political patronage system, whereby may voters expect their support of a politician to be rewarded with favourable treatment by the public authorities, in some cases by outright bribery, poisons the relationship between the electorate and the political class.

“[P]eople feel that they are entitled to manipulate the system in a way that enables them to use the wealth of others as it is a widely held belief that there is nothing immoral with milking the rich because they are commonly perceived to be everything that is wrong with Greek society,” Ms Acavalos writes. One example that might be seen as destroying private initiative is that getting a job is considered to be someone one does by asking one’s contacts with the public administration.

The result of politicians promising everything and the lack of entrepreneurship is:

“Greece is the perfect example of a country where the government attempted to create a utopia in which it serves as the all- providing overlord offering people amazing job prospects, free health care and education, personal security and public order and has failed miserably to provide on any of these. In the place of this promised utopian mansion lies a small shack built at an exorbitant cost to the taxpayer, leaking from every nook and cranny due to insufficient funds which demands ever higher maintenance costs just to keep it from collapsing altogether. The architects of this shack, in a desperate attempt to repair what is left are borrowing all the money they can from their neighbours, even at exorbitant costs promising that this time they will be prudent.”

There is hope however, Ms Acavalos believes:

  • family ties and social cohesion are still strong and have cushioned people from the problems caused by government profligacy;
  • families make “huge sacrifices” in order to raise money for their children’s private tuition or send them to universities abroad whenever possible;
  • the poor quality of university education in Greece is compensated for by the large numbers of young Greeks who study outside their home country; and
  • private (as opposed to public) levels of indebtedness although on the rise are still lower than many other European countries.

Notes for editors

1. “I predict a riot,” by  Anita Acavalos, published by the Cobden Centre, can be accessed online here: http://www.cobdencentre.org/2010/02/i-predict-a-riot/

2. The paper is part of the Cobden Centre’s range of publications, available from: http://www.cobdencentre.org/

3. The Cobden Centre is an educational charity, dedicated to the causes that were championed effectively by Richard Cobden in the 19th century: free trade, honest money, social progress and peace.

For more information, contact Antoine Clarke on +44 (0) 7720 152 096, or email antoine@cobdencentre.org .