Get It Right: If It’s “All Greek” Right Now, It Won’t Be For Very Much Longer

Opinion by Erica Morgan
May 12, 2010, 12:34 a.m.

Get It Right: If It’s “All Greek” Right Now, It Won’t Be For Very Much Longer

On May 5, The Wall Street Journal reported, “three people were killed and four were seriously injured in a firebomb attack on a bank in central Athens Wednesday as a massive protest against Greek austerity measures turned violent and angry youths rampaged through the capital smashing shop windows, torching businesses and overturning garbage bins.” Though we may be appalled at the crisis Greece faces, and though we may shake our heads at the violence and the civil unrest, most of us get on with our lives without lending much thought to the wider implications of Greece’s plight and its particular relevance to the future of the United States.

Don’t get me wrong: economically conscious Americans wonder how European instability will impact the U.S. markets. Will exports suffer? Is contagion a possibility? Was the massive intraday market crash last Thursday attributable in part to fear of Greek financial default? These questions, while highly salient, distract from a more pressing consideration: is American heading in the same direction as Greece?

The question may seem melodramatic, but as federal spending continues to rise and the US government continues to insert itself into every corner of the private sector, one can’t help but notice the parallels. Former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker (whose job it was to ensure the fiscal and managerial accountability of the federal government) declared in a CNBC interview in February, “We’re not Greece, but we could end up with their same problems down the road if we don’t get spending under control and start dealing with our structural deficits soon…I think we’ve got a couple of years to demonstrate that we’re going to do something meaningful.”

Problem #1: Greece is out of money. “Old news,” you scoff, “Obviously Greek debt is a huge problem. The pressing issue now is figuring out how to fix it/bail it out because it’s too big to fail.” But why is Greece out of money? Here I defer to Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the U.K.: “The problem with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Socialist governance such as that in Greece sure sounds great in the short run. The State foots the healthcare bills, employs 14 percent of the labor force and pays generous benefits to its public sector employees. In the long run, you get firebombs.

Problem #2: People like handouts, and become quite wroth when there are no more to be had. The problem with “entitlement programs” is that citizens delude themselves into thinking that they are actually entitled to other people’s money. Which gets back to the problem of what to do when the other people are no longer willing/able to pay up. The Greeks handed financial responsibility to their government, and, now that the government is teetering on edge of bankruptcy, they’re not willing to accept the repercussions. As Greek protestors have conniption fits in the streets, it behooves us to realize that we are likewise becoming a nation of citizens dependent on government for our basic needs. Social Security reform? Of course we can’t reform! That would mean cutting benefits! Healthcare? Obviously the government should provide healthcare! It’s a basic right after all. I wonder though, what will happen when our own coffers run out and there is therefore no more money for the government to dole out?

It is rare that reading the news these days brings much in the way of entertainment, but the irony of a particular New York Times article was too priceless to ignore. The article describes the features of the IMF’s efforts to assist Greece. These efforts are contingent on the Greek government’s cutting of public sector spending: “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.” Economists indicate that liberalizing the transportation and health care industries “would help bring down prices in these areas.” So, as a financially devastated Greece considers privatizing healthcare to save itself from ruin, America nationalizes healthcare to…cut…costs? Wait, what?

Socialism only operates until the government runs out of money. Income redistribution only works until those being robbed are no longer willing to create income. And at the crucial juncture, when the state can no longer fill the hands reaching for it, the people head for the capital to demand that which they are rightfully “owed.” And those who dare to suggest austerity are condemned for implying that human beings ought to support themselves. It’s truly terrifying.

Erica is contemplating rioting in White Plaza for benefits to her GPA. It’s only fair. [email protected].

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