THE NEW ATHENS
From the insights of Mark Steyn
MR DIMPLE: Believe me, Colonel, when you shall have seen
the brilliant exhibitions of Europe, you will learn to despise
the amusements of this country as much as I do.
COLONEL MANLY. I do not wish to see them, for I can never esteem
that knowledge valuable, which tends to give me a distaste for my
native country. - Royall Tyler, The Contrast (1787)
From the Times of London, May 6,2010:
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
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 fourteen monthly paychecks 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 twelve monthly paychecks 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 spoiled overclass, rioting in defense of its
privileges and insisting on more subsidy, more benefits, more
featherbedding, more government.
Who will pay for it? Not my problem, say the rioters. Maybe those
dead bank clerks clients will - assuming we didn't burn them to
death, too. America and Greece are at different stops on the same
one-way street, all too familiar to us immigrants. There's
nothing new about Obama: been there, done that. Nothing could be
less hopeful, or less of a change. He's the land where we grew
up, with its union bullies and marginal tax rates and government
automobiles and general air of decay all re-emerging
Brigadoon-like from the mists entirely unspoilt by progress. It's
like docking at Ellis Island in 1883, coming down the gangplank,
and finding everyone excited about this pilot program they've
introduced called "serfdom." Greece is at the point in the plot
where the canoe is about to plunge over the falls. America is
upstream and can still pull for shore, but has decided instead
that what it needs to do is not just drift along with the general
current but paddle as fast as it can to catch up with the Greeks.
Chapter One (the introduction of unsustainable entitlements)
leads eventually to Chapter Twenty (total societal meltdown); the
Greeks are at Chapter Seventeen or Eighteen.
The problem facing advanced societies isn't very difficult to
figure out: the twentieth-century welfare state has run out of
people to stick it to. When you're spending four trillion dollars
but only raising two trillion in revenue (the Democrat model),
you've no intention of paying it off, and the rest of the world
knows it. In Greece, the arithmetic is even starker, because
they're at the next stage of social-democratic ruin. If America's
problem is that it's spent tomorrow today, and can never earn
enough tomorrow to pay for what we've already burned through,
nations such as Greece have a more basic problem: they've spent
tomorrow today, and there isn't going to be a tomorrow. To prop
up unsustainable welfare states, most of the western world isn't
"printing money" but instead printing credit cards and
preapproving our unborn grandchildren. That would be a dodgy
proposition at the best of times. But in the Mediterranean those
grandchildren are never going to be born. That's the difference:
in America, the improvident, insatiable boobs in Washington,
Sacramento, Albany, and elsewhere are screwing over our kids and
grandkids. In Europe, there are no kids or grandkids to screw
over. In the end the entitlement state disincentives everything
from wealth creation to self-reliance to the survival instinct,
as represented by the fertility rate. If the problem with
socialism, as Mrs. Thatcher famously said, is that eventually you
run out of other people's money, the problem with Greece and much
of Europe is that they've advanced to the next stage: they've run
out of other people, period. All the downturn has done is brought
forward by a couple decades the West's date with demographic
The United States has a fertility rate of around 2.1 - or just
over two kids per couple. Greece, as I pointed out in "America
Alone," has one of the lowest fertility rates on the planet - 1.3
children per couple, which places it in the "lowest-low"
demographic category from which no society has recovered and,
according to the UN, 178th out of 195 countries. In practical
terms, it means 100 grandparents have 42 grandkids - in other
words, the family tree is upside down.
Hooray, say the liberal progressives. No more overpopulation!
Here's the problem: Greek public sector employees are entitled
not only to fourteen monthly paychecks per annum during their
"working" lives, but also fourteen monthly retirement checks per
annum till death. Who's going to be around to pay for that?
So you can't borrow against the future because, in the crudest
sense, you don't have one. Greeks in the public sector retire at
fifty-eight, which sounds great. But, when ten grandparents have
four grandchildren, who pays for you to spend the last third of
your adult life loafing around? Welcome to "My Big Fat Greek
We hard-hearted, small-government guys are often damned as
selfish types who care nothing for the general welfare. But, as
the protests in Greece, France, Britain, and beyond make plain,
nothing makes an individual more selfish than the generous
collectivism of big government: give a chap government health
care, government-paid vacation, government-funded early
retirement, and all the other benefits, and the last thing he'll
care about is what it means for society as a whole. People's
sense of entitlement endures long after the entitlement has
ceased to make sense. And, if it bankrupts the entire state a
generation from now, so what? In his pithiest maxim, John Maynard
Keynes, the most influential economist of the twentieth-century
social-democratic state and the patron saint of "stimulus,"
offered a characteristically offhand dismissal of any obligation
to the future: "In the long run we are all dead." The Greeks are
Keynesians to a man: the mob is rioting for the right to carry on
suspending reality until they're all dead. After that, who cares?
You don't have to go to Greece to experience Greek-style
retirement. The Athenian "public service" of California has been
metaphorically face down in the ouzo for a generation. As Arnold
Schwarzenegger, the terminally terminated Terminator, told the
legislature in his fourth State of the State address, "California
has the ideas of Athens and the power of Sparta." That's
half-right: California has the ideas of Athens. Unfortunately,
it's late twentieth-century Athens. As for "the power of Sparta,"
unless he's referring to gay marriage, it's hard to see what he's
Greek public servants have their nose to the grindstone 24/7.
They work twenty-four hours a week for seven months of the year.
It's not just that every year you receive fourteen monthly
payments, but that you only do about thirty weeks work for it.
For many public-sector "workers," the work day ends at 2:30. Gosh
when you retire on your fourteen monthly pension payments, you
scarcely notice the difference, except for a few freed-up
mornings. Could happen in America right?......
Yes it could happen in America, and Steyn goes on to tell you
where and how it is happening in parts of the USA.
So now folks you know more as to what's behind those poor-done-by
people who are protesting in Greece.
As one leader in the EU said just a few days ago, it was a huge
mistake to let Greece into the Eurozone money union. And if the
truth should be known, a huge mistake to let Greece into the
Europe Union of nations in the first place. Your in a war zone
Greece, and having your long distance marathon runner running the
26 miles to give a note to another Greek general that more troops
are needed if the battle is to be won, ain't going to cut it.
It's really time for Greeks to say, "Do not say what can our
nation do for us, but what can we do for our nation."