Editorial: The Greek Tragedy is Self-Made

Instead of dancing and demonstrating in the streets, please kindly get to work

Everyone loves a good Greek yarn. Hell, they’re famous for ‘em. The Iliad. The one with the big wooden horsey that has plenty of overhead luggage space. And the one where the guy shouts, “This is SPARTA!” Ripping stuff. But there’s a problem when you tell yourself a story in which you cast yourself as the hero. No matter how loud you tell it or how well it’s told, that doesn’t make it true.

And so it goes with the pathetic spectacle of Greeks demonstrating in the streets over the weekend, proclaiming that their majority vote “No” on a vague referendum is somehow the equivalent of a mass of freedom-loving revolutionaries singing the catchy “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miz.

Read: Implications of Greece’s vote

We should not be impressed. Really. Why? Because they are the architects of their own disaster. The Greeks are not being crushed under an exorbitant debt load the way that certain African nations have been kept down for decades by foreign creditors. The Greeks created this mess and time and again, have been given opportunities to dig themselves out of this hole. They didn’t listen, nor did they even pick up a shovel.

Let’s review. There can be no dispute that in the land of olives and arguments, the government for years has indulged itself in massive public spending even as the deficits grew larger and wages for public sector workers soared. At the same time, the government has been ridiculously late in addressing widespread tax evasion in the country, the kind that would make Al Capone want to move to Delphi. Its bizarre and complicated pension system has allowed scores of Greeks to retire, and while the pensions are not all windfalls, you cannot invigorate a national infrastructure, not to mention, an economy, with a tax base where folks can collect a government cheque as early as 50.

Read: Greece in limbo as it shuts banks to avoid financial collapse

Lest we forget, the EU and IMF ponied up $147 billion U.S. over three years back in 2010. And Greeks hit the streets back then as well to protest against austerity measures. And while yes, Germany is the leading creditor for Greece’s debt—more than $68 billion worth—this current crisis was sparked because Germany finally said that’s enough, no, you cannot keep putting us off, and Greece failed to make its 1.6 billion euro payment to the International Monetary Fund.

If a corporation announced it had “struck a blow for freedom” by ducking its debts, we would – rightly – want to shame it back into the shadows of Bay Street and Wall Street. Why then should an irresponsible country get a walk? Sorry, kids, but your Uncle Zorba is a deadbeat. Worse, he’s a whining deadbeat who threatens to leave you with the Visa bill he racked up while he siphons your gas for a quick getaway.

The best thing to happen would be for Greece to leave the EU. Yes, it will leave loudly, still whinging, still making noise and then blaming others while it spirals into hyperinflation and its re-introduced drachma becomes the new European toilet paper. There will be a very real, very agonizing human fallout, but I doubt it will be the “humanitarian crisis” that the networks keep shrieking in warning. It’s a country that after far too long, simply has to work for its living; it needs to build an economy on something substantive instead of the creaky planks of tourism and civil service jobs.

Read: Greece swamped by refugees

My concern anyway is not with the addict but saving the rest of the family. And yes, there will be fallout for the EU as well. It’s unavoidable. If anything, let’s break the so-called conceit that membership in the Euro is forever, that belonging to the EU is forever. What counts is the economic integrity of the whole, and the only way to recover that is the hard shock of fiscal discipline. Time for a slap of cold water from the western Mediteranean.

Photo © The McCullagh Photo Archive, Classical Studies, McGill University

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