“There are two kinds of people – Greeks, and everyone else who wish they was Greek.” – Gus Portokalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Hopefully everyone has seen the movie, it’s actually quite good. Gus is obviously proud to be Greek. During one flashback to when his kids were young, Gus asks his three children to name three things invented by the Greeks; to which Athena, the oldest, replies “astronomy, philosophy, and democracy.” Now, the veracity of these claims is certainly subject of debate. Astronomy, in particular, has a long history predating the golden age of Greece. But, astronomy and philosophy aren’t exactly the point of this blog … it’s democracy that we’d like to discuss.
In a recent meeting of the European Commission, the Commission president Jose Barroso warned that democracy may disappear in the economically troubled nations of Greece, Spain, and Portugal. (The story is here: Greek Democracy No More.) The basic gist appears to be that the overwhelming sovereign debt in countries like Greece poses such a threat to the social fiber of the state that an upheaval and replacement of democracy may be in the offing.
Now, president Barroso may have just been engaging in superfluity to convince union bosses to give in on austerity measures. Then again, he may well have been right, and Greek democracy is in real trouble.
There are so many ways to go on this one. I think I’ll pull out a favorite economics quote from John Stuart Mill: “Panics do not destroy capital; they merely reveal the extent to which it has been destroyed by its betrayal into hopelessly unproductive works.” Now, Mill was referring to economics, of course. I wonder if we couldn’t augment the statement a bit to fit freedom instead. How about this: “Crises do not destroy freedom, they merely reveal the extent to which it has already been destroyed by corruption, sloth, and betrayal.”
For decades the Greek government has spent more than it took in, piling up more debt than could possibly be paid back. Corrupt politicians made extravagant promises of pay and benefits to public union workers. They have kept the concerned masses at bay by borrowing from the future to pay off enough voters to stay in office. They have sold the next generation of Greeks into debt slavery – and sooner or later the new masters will be taking over.
As the saying goes, “the first hit is always free.” Drug dealers understand that once people are hooked, they’ll buy all you can provide – the key is to get them hooked. Governments have worked for years to get people hooked on the government support. Some people are hooked on free money, or free food, or free medical care. Some are hooked on puffed up pay and benefits from government unions. Some are just hooked on preferential government policies for their pet issue, be it the environment, or social justice, or gay marriage. However you cut it, people are hooked on government power and control.
So, how do we respond when times are tough? How do respond when everybody will be required to sacrifice in order to save the nation? Can you give back some of your favorite program? It’s not so easy. Usually the demand is that everybody else sacrifice first. That doesn’t work though.
So, the Greeks find themselves in a pinch. There is no reason they have to give up freedom though. But they will have to defend it to keep it. (Freedom isn’t free.) They will have to make tough decisions that many in the populace won’t like. So be it. You can only kick the can so far down the road – the bill eventually comes due.
What about us? What about America? Do we have the necessary fire and commitment to remain free in the face of calamity? I’m convinced that we are made of sterner stuff. I’m convinced that we still love freedom enough to tough it out. That when presented with a “compromise” to sell some freedom in exchange for a few more years of peace, we can respond as William Wallace did in Braveheart when offered the king’s bribe.
Princess: “Peace is made in such ways”
William Wallace: “Slaves are made in such ways!”