No Greek Butter but Plenty of Guns

Politicians try to solve economic problems by taking from the public and preserving the privileges of the elite. When we look at Greece, do we see ourselves in the mirror?

While the Greek people demand social justice in the face of Greek regime efforts to cut a punitive deal with the EEC that would impose harsh penalties on workers, retirees, and students, the Greek regime evidently still feels rich enough to spend plenty on its military: guns always seem more attractive to politicians than the people they are supposed to be representing.

Despite the push for cuts in other spheres, the Greek government continues to spend a considerable portion of its budget on arms, amounting to 7 billion euros in 2011. From 2002 through 2006, Greece was the world’s fourth-largest importer of weapons. Despite the country’s ongoing debt crisis, it remains the tenth-largest military importer.

As a proportion of its GDP, Greek defense spending is nearly double that of any other EU member. The country also has a less-than-transparent procurement process and a reputation for budgetary corruption….

Economists estimate that if Greece had cut defense spending over the past decade to levels comparable to other EU nations, it would have saved some 150 billion euros – more than its last IMF bailout. [RT 10/26/12.]

Sacrifice, shared and done thoughtfully, is part of life, but we in the West need to develop some rules for its implementation. Here are the three most basic rules for proper implementation of austerity in a democracy:

  1. Transparency must be the foundation;

  2. Sacrifice must be shared by the rich;

  3. Sacrifice should hit the military budget first, social budget second.

In practice, it would be hard to find a government that follows these rules. Governments, especially in crisis, do not do a very good job of representing the people. Foreign interests, politicians, the rich elite, and society constitute the minimum number of actors whose behavior and viewpoints must be considered to evaluate the dangerously destabilizing process of implementing a policy of austerity. Whether the case be Pinochet’s Chile, the U.S. in 2008, Wisconsin in 2011, or Greece and Spain today, politicians, the rich, and foreign creditors tend to gang up in secret to punish society. Objectively, that must be recognized as extremism, and so no one should be surprised when it provokes extremism on the part of a desperate population.


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