21 July 2011

Colonialism, Today II

A small country, a relatively happy country, a country who's been producing wealth at more or less the same level for years... 

...Who one day decides to abandon control over its own monetary policy.  To take that sovereign control, stuff it in an envelope, stick on a stamp, and mail it to a country far, far away.

A boxing club made up of only heavy-weights and middle-weights has the magnanimity to invite in a few feather-weights.  How kind.  How inclusive. How optimistic.

What could possibly go wrong.

This, apparently:

Roll up, roll up, roll up. Elgin Marbles, Acropolis, Mykonos. Anyone? You don't have to be an ancient Greek historian to understand the significance of it. But maybe it helps. For Thucydides, born back in 460 BC, the Port of Piraeus was the commercial heart of the Athenian democracy. "From all the lands, everything enters," wrote the author of the History of the Peloponnesian War.

But now the port is up for sale – alongside the sort of assets even Thucydides would never have envisaged – in the biggest and most controversial privatisation Greece has ever seen.

Under pressure to raise €50bn as the quid pro quo for its massive €110bn (£98bn) bail-out, Greece is being forced to hawk its industrial and commercial backbone to the highest bidder.

'Being forced...'  By whom?   Indentured servants in colonial America were prosecuted for running away.  They had, after all, signed themselves into servitude.   What else were they expecting?

LSE's Featherstone says the sell-offs push Greece's capabilities to the limits. "It is very controversial," he says. "It is a challenging thought that foreigners have come to sell the family silver."

And foreigners aren't just selling it.  They're buying it, too.  In copious quantities:

 The advisers and sell-offs being set up include:

• Deutsche Bank and National Bank of Greece on the sale of OPAP, the state gambling monopoly

• Credit Suisse on state lotteries

• Rothschild and Barclays appointed for road concessions

• PriceWaterhouse selected for railway firm OSE

• France's BNP Paribas and Greece's National Bank on the extension of an operating lease on Athens International Airport.

When the IMF rolls up its sleeves and sends foreign companies sweeping in to buy up utilities, railroads and oil concessions in sub-Saharan Africa, it's called 'neo-colonialism.'

So how do the Greeks feel about the honor of officially joining the third-world?:

As the Greek parliament managed to narrowly pass a package of sweeping privatisation and draconian cuts to public services at the insistence of the EU and IMF, police deployed an unprecedented level of violence to suppress mass protests and prevent demonstrators from blocking the parliament.

Fear not; their democratically-elected leaders will surely take into account their discontent.

Outside the chamber, some 5000 riot police firing volley after volley of tear gas and stun grenades at a largely peaceful crowd, including into a makeshift hospital in central Syntagma Square, those present described the scene as less the quashing of a riot than the suppression of a popular uprising.

A local television channel, Skai TV, has reported hundreds of injuries, the majority arising from breathing difficulties arising from the gas.  The head of the country's pharmacists' association has accused the police of criminal actions and pleaded for the gassing to end.

In normal times, such massive protests would send the government tumbling. Furious Argentinians made it happen several times during their 2001-02 crisis.  But Argentina enjoyed one advantage lost to Greece:  She was and is a sovereign country.

Greece, on the other hand, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Brussels, Inc.

How, then, could a country capable of producing as much wealth as this:

Possibly think that it would be feasible to 'line up' its economic policy with a country that creates as much wealth as this:

Former European Central Bank Chief Economist Otmar Issing, in the trenches back when the euro was first born, has an idea:

Greece was only able to join the euro through deception, and the currency bloc’s leaders have been “too polite” ever since to deploy adequate sanctions that could have averted the region’s debt crisis, former ECB chief economist Otmar Issing has said. “When I worked for the ECB, I suffered every time countries didn’t meet the criteria,” Issing, 75, said in an interview in Copenhagen yesterday. “Greece cheated to get in, and it’s difficult to know how we should deal with cheaters.”

And there it is.  Greece wanted to play with the big boys, so it cooked its books and, safely disguised under false whiskers of fiscal responsibility, slipped in the eurozone door unnoticed.

Before the single currency club came knocking, the Greeks were by all accounts very happy with their top-heavy state, all-powerful unions, government-run just about everything, abundant welfare, and widespread tax evasion.   It seems that's how they want to live, most of them, or they'd have been voting for something else all these years.

Forcing this completely alien policy package onto them will accomplish nothing but more misery. Greece is the way it is because it's full of Greeks. Unless we want to take back up the burden of colonization, we must let people govern themselves as they please.

It hurts to watch a country shoot itself in the foot, like it hurts to watch your alcoholic brother go off on another bender.  But you can't 'help' in either case.  You can't change somebody.   Let the Greeks be the Greeks, even if they're less wealth-producing than you.  What if they're happy that way?   A medium-human-capital, clannic, socialism-loving people who enjoys its sunny coasts and its long vacations and its tax evasion, but as a result won't necessarily enjoy 50,000€ per year salaries.  Let them be that.

But that's what this blog proposes.  What do the Deciders propose?  LSE's Featherstone:

"What Greece needs is a huge cultural change from an environment where business is too close to politics. But to jump to an open and competitive market is a deep root-and-branch shift. The hope is that this crisis is actually going to be able to trigger this fundamental shift. But attitudes are deeply embedded."

So what Greece needs, in a nutshell, is to become a country of non-Greeks.  Perfectly sensible solution.  Which country's population would Mr. Featherstone recommend swapping them out with?

Or perhaps Mr. Featherstone could ask himself this:  Were the Greeks happier before their plunge into the single currency, albeit less 'successful' than you, or are they happier today, under your tutelage as a debt-slave colony of Brussels, Inc.?  Is that their definition of 'success'?  Or yours?

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