Category Archive 'Public Pensions'

21 May 2010

“Big Fat Greek Funeral”

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Mark Steyn watches Greece arrive at the end point of the road Europe is well along, and on to which Obama has turned the United States.

From the Times of London: “The President of Greece warned last night that his country stood on the brink of the abyss after three people were killed when an anti-government mob set fire to the Athens bank where they worked.”

Almost right. They were not an “anti-government” mob, but a government mob, a mob comprised largely of civil servants. That they are highly uncivil and disinclined to serve should come as no surprise: they’re paid more and they retire earlier, and that’s how they want to keep it. So they’re objecting to austerity measures that would end, for example, the tradition of 14 monthly paycheques per annum. You read that right: the Greek public sector cannot be bound by anything so humdrum as temporal reality. So, when it was mooted that the “workers” might henceforth receive a mere 12 monthly paycheques per annum, they rioted. Their hapless victims—a man and two women—were a trio of clerks trapped in a bank when the mob set it alight and then obstructed emergency crews attempting to rescue them.

Unlovely as they are, the Greek rioters are the logical end point of the advanced social democratic state: not an oppressed underclass, but a pampered overclass, rioting in defence of its privileges and insisting on more subsidy, more benefits, more featherbedding, more government. …

Traditionally, a bank is a means by which old people with capital lend to young people with ideas. But the advanced democracies with their mountains of sovereign debt are in effect old people who’ve blown through their capital and are all out of ideas looking for young people flush enough to bail them out. And the idea that it might be time for the spendthrift geezers to change their ways butts up against their indestructible moral vanity. Last year, President Sarkozy said that the G20 summit provided “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give capitalism a conscience.” European capitalism may have a conscience. It’s not clear it has a pulse. And, actually, when you’re burning Greek bank clerks to death in defence of your benefits, your “conscience” isn’t much in evidence, either.

Let us take it as read that Greece is an outlier. As waggish officials in Brussels and Strasbourg will tell you, it only snuck into the EU due to some sort of clerical error. It’s a cesspit of sloth and corruption even by Mediterranean standards. On my last brief visit, Athens was a visibly decrepit dump: a town with a handful of splendid ancient ruins surrounded by a multitude of hideous graffiti-covered contemporary ruins. If you were going to cut one “advanced” social democracy loose and watch it plunge into the abyss pour encourager les autres, it would be hard to devise a better candidate than Greece.

And yet and yet . . . riot-wracked Athens isn’t that much of an outlier. Greece’s 2010 budget deficit is 12.2 per cent of GDP; Ireland’s is 14.7. Greece’s debt is 125 per cent of GDP; Italy’s is 117 per cent. Greece’s 65-plus population will increase from 18 per cent in 2005 to 25 per cent in 2030; Spain’s will increase from 17 per cent to 25 per cent. As lazy, feckless, squalid, corrupt and violent as Greece undoubtedly is, it’s not that untypical. It’s where the rest of Europe’s headed, and Japan and North America shortly thereafter. About half the global economy is living beyond not only its means but its diminished number of children’s means.

Instead of addressing that basic fact, countries with government debt of 125 per cent of GDP are being “rescued” by countries with government debt of 80 per cent of GDP. Good luck with that. Alas, the world has deemed Greece “too big to fail,” even though in (what’s the word?) reality it’s too big not to fail. And the rest of us are too big not to follow in its path. …
Greece, wrote Theodore Dalrymple, is “a cradle not only of democracy but of democratic corruption”—of electorates who give their votes to leaders who bribe them with baubles purchased by borrowing against a future that can never pay it off. The future is now here, and the riots will spread.


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