Saturday, May 15, 2010


The Washington Post describes the "elaborate cocoon of benefits" which exists in Greece:
Pharmacists, for example, are protected in small neighborhood practices, spaced out geographically by the government and guaranteed a 35 percent markup on prescriptions. Newcomers get in by buying an old-timer's license for tens of thousands of dollars. Lawyers take a bar exam that limits them to the courts in one region of the country, forcing them to hire local counsel to try cases elsewhere. As much as 40 percent of a university professor's take-home pay may come from "allowances" added on for books, research or new babies.

"No one's interested in going to a company and making a lot of money for your boss. You work too much and the pay is too little," said Stauros Lopatatzidis, 22, a computer science graduate whose attitude is often heard among young adults, even those working for private companies.

"Greeks are traders by nature, and they do very well when let loose," said Minister of Finance George Papaconstantinou, who noted, as many here do, the success of diaspora Greeks in establishing businesses abroad. "But in this country, entrepreneurship has a very mixed review."

That wariness of the private sector, and the push he said many Greeks make to secure government jobs for their children, have made the nature of the coming reforms particularly controversial. Few here would disagree that the government ranks are bloated or that change is needed.

But there is also a sense that a way of life may be ending as Greece debates how its cafe-bound, sun-and-sea culture can meld in monetary union with such industrial powerhouses as Germany.
This is just sad. The Greek government's various protections, special favors, and elaborate benefits for its servants have created a society where private sector work is scorned in favor of dining at the government trough. This is nothing more than Bastiat's statement that "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else" playing itself out in real life. It also brings to mind Benjamin Franklin's quote that "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

The Greeks heeded the siren song of politicians who offered a devil's bargain, in which liberty and the fruits of their labor would be surrendered by the people in exchange for an easy and secure future. Instead they now find themselves broke and the security purely illusory. Such is the compassion of the state as a once proud people have been reduced -- quite literally in some instances -- to an unruly mob.

Be not proud, however, for the U.S. is on track for a fearsome reckoning of its own, as the sweeping promises of politicians past begin to shatter.

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