Will Greece Be Ruled by the Bankers or Its People?
Posted on Mar 3, 2012
|Parti socialiste (CC-BY)|
By Peter Bratsis, Truthout
The most central and constant dilemma in modern politics has been the choice between the political desires and demands of citizens versus the policy expertise and prudence of bureaucrats and specialists. For the more democratically inclined, those like Machiavelli and Aristotle, the judgments of the many, as flawed as they often may be, are nonetheless more trustworthy than the commands of the elite. The few, no matter their credentials or honors, are never able to match the collective intelligence of the multitude.
For others, including those who drafted the US Constitution, the whims and desires of the many are a great threat to social order, and the special few must stand as a moderating force between them and the levers of government.
Recent events in Greece have hinged on this tension. The Greek economic crisis is often presented as a product of too much democracy, of politicians bowing to the demands of citizens for jobs, pensions and low taxes. The troika of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and European Union have stepped forward to undo this damage by attempting to break the ties between the residents of Greece and those who govern them. The troika has imposed strict policy guidelines, formulated by economists and other specialists, and closely monitors the implementation of these policies by the Greek government. Most recently, they have demanded written guarantees from all political parties in Greece that the austerity programs will be continued regardless of any future elections. Any “regressive” movements toward the demands of the Greek people provoke swift retributions from the troika.
Indeed, the surprising though half-hearted call for a referendum on the debt by Prime Minister George Papandreou last November brought his immediate ouster. Papandreou, technocratic tendencies notwithstanding, obviously felt some obligation as an elected official to appeal to popular support. Papandreou’s replacement, Lucas Papademos, was, de facto at least, appointed by the troika for his technical capacities and his dedication to IMF and ECB principles. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more credentialed or vetted technocratic specialist than Papademos, who has a PhD in economics from MIT, taught economics at Columbia University as well as the University of Athens, and was vice president of the ECB. Freed from the fetters of thinking about re-elections, and without any significant formal opposition (the Papademos government is a coalition of the two major parties, plus the far-right; only the two leftist parties, with a meager 30 out of 300 seats, are outside of the coalition), Papademos was put in power to fully implement the cuts and reforms deemed necessary to address the crisis. Finally, prudent governance would replace reckless populism.
It should be emphasized that it is not only the Angela Merkels and Mario Draghis of the world who desire to minimize the ties between the Greek state and its residents. A great many Greeks also argue that the basic cause of all the current problems in Greece is too little distance between policymakers and common citizens. In a recent seminar titled “For Greece, Now!” which consisted of a small group of well-known academics and politicians warning of the disaster that would follow if Greece were to leave the euro zone, populism was presented as the key source of Greece’s problems. Many preposterous suggestions were put forward: that university professors should also teach some hours each week in a school, and those who have extra money should donate it in order to help alleviate the financial crisis. And the once respected legal scholar Nikos Alivizatos made the laughable argument that the political elites of Greece cannot be held responsible for the present crisis since it was completely unexpected given that even the credit agencies had rated Greek bonds AAA as recently as 2007. Nonetheless, the overarching point of the presentations was that now is the time to finally end populism in Greece and to institute the widespread reforms and transformations needed to make Greece economically competitive.