Greek Debt Crisis Steeped in Social-Mania-Style Hope and Change Politics
Part 1 – Three decades of creeping anti-capitalistic social-mania and big government expansion/intrusion collapses Greek economy.
Greece’s massive debt problem didn’t just simply appear overnight due to the Global recession of 2007. This was a tragedy created by over three decades of political battles between the last remnants of the once- principled economic party of the New Democracy (ND) versus the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), a radical party openly opposed to mainstream European social democracy. These battle lines were drawn in the sand after the fall of the Greek military dictatorship way back in 1974.
After Greece’s long-standing military dictatorship government fell in 1974, it created a political vacuum not unlike what we see in Egypt today. In the beginning of this struggle there were two main factions of governmental leaders that were vying for power: Constantine Karamanlis founded the [conservative] New Democracy party, (ND) while Andreas Papandreou had already founded the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), a radical party openly opposed to mainstream European social democracy. ( I call this the irresponsible and undefined Hope and Change political platform and will expound on that in part 2 )
First let’s take a close look at just what type of government Constantine Karamanlis’ (CK) New Democracy party consisted of in it’s initial creation. CK was elected as the Prime Minister of Greece in 1974 and held that position until 1980. During this time, the Karamanlis-led ND party ran on a platform which consisted of three main planks:
The first plank of the early ND party was the creation of a solid institutional framework meant to produce a two-party system yielding strong governments, and including a new constitution that reinforced the executive in order to enable governments to work more efficiently.
The second plank of Karamanlis’ project was a strong state that was geared towards national economic development. So insistent was Karamanlis on the pursuit of this goal that he dared apply a massive program of nationalizations in the Greek economy which both friends and foes dubbed as social-mania.
The third pland of Karamanlis’ ND party project was Greece’s Europeanization. The problems inherent in what was considered at the time to be a mainly conservative-based theme in the Karamanlis’ style of desired government points to severe contradictions between the three components in his plan. He combines an extravagant increase of governmental power under the guise of creating a strong economic development, all the while moving to nationalize a huge chunk of the private sector. This is a great example of how the supposedly conservative “New Democracy” party was actually heavily rooted in Socio-Liberal ideology right from the beginning. Keep in mind that this all started 37 years ago, thus the reference to Greece’s creeping social-mania in the title of this article. This was the actual start of the Greek erosion of operating on sound economic principles that would rear it’s ugly head in the form of the Greek debt crisis we see today. It is amazing to look back at the main planks of the New Democracy party and see that they basically abandoned all conservative principles while still claiming to represent the conservative style of government at the time of their creation.
Meanwhile, at the root of the Greek social-mania movement at the time, was Mr. Andreas Papandreou and his Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), the very radical anti- European social democracy group. Many economists consider the ND at the time to be actually rooted in left of center ideology ( not conservative by any stretch of the imagination) and the PASOK party, in representing the opposition, as consisting mainly of far left radical social change operatives. That situation could be transposed with America’s current political situation, which we will also explain in parts 2 and 3.
The early PASOK party platform was extremely anti-American and also opposed Greece’s ascension into the EU. ( in the beginning, which they quietly changed later on) As the New Democracy party of Karamanlis won control of the Greek government in 1974 on the three plank platform described above, the PASOK party came out with it’s own platform based on supposedly opposing the ND style of government. The PASOK platform was not well-defined in the beginning, not unlike the Hope and Change platform Americans voted for in 2008. Papandreou was also known as a “brilliant public speaker and political charmer” at the time Greece was struggling to install a new government in 1974. [That should sound eerily familiar to Americans that are today wondering how in the world Barack Obama ascended to his current position of the presidency in America in 2008.]
The first plank in the platform of the PASOK party in the beginning was the elevation of certain people as opposed to citizens in general in which Papandreou promoted the radical economic expansion program based on manipulating the state and it’s resources without giving any thought towards creating a stable tax basis to fund the economic expansion. This was not unlike the ND party’s first plank in which Karmanlis wanted to expand governmental power towards controlling the private sector under the guise of creating a government-knows-best economic system. Both first planks were rooted in the very same socialistic policies of big government expansion while destroying the private sector revenue-creating economy along the way.
In the initial second plank of the PASOK party platform was a great example of how most politician’s quest for power leads to severe contradictions between promises of a fair government for all, and the supposed PASOK-hated elitist European governmental model opposition. The PASOK party’s second plank turned it’s back on the promised collective national welfare, and instead was heavily rooted in crony-capitalism in which jobs and social benefits were only given to select people, mainly their supporters. That too should sound very familiar to informed Americans today.
The final plank in Papandreou’s initial proposed platform of government is quite difficult to define. It contained an expressed belief in Greek supremacy while at the same time seemed to be rooted in fear of the bigger, stronger nations within Europe. That fear was not unfounded, as we will see the drastic effects of Greece joining the eurozone in 2001 in part 2 of this article. While the ND party seemed to realize early on the importance of joining the eurozone, the PASOK party wanted to rely on what some term protectionism, that would lead Greece to become isolated from doing business with many valuable European markets. Today, when looking back at the Greek debt crisis creation during the past three decades, economists have made cases for both sides of thisa argument. Greece joining the EU opened up eurozone markets for their exports, yet also flooded Greece with products from other European countries, some say at an unfair balance.
During the time of Karmanlis’ ND party rule from 1974-1980, Greece prospered under the new government , as Karamanlis could claim considerable success in all three aspects of his political project. Within a relatively short time, Greece became transformed into a pluralist polity with a democratic constitution, brand new political parties, and a working party system. Its state-led economy brought the country a real GDP growth of 4% a year between 1975 and the second oil crisis of 1979. Crowning his achievements, on January 1, 1981, Greece became a member of the EU, well ahead of her southern European competitors, Spain and Portugal. ( Whom are both also teetering on the brink of insolvency today) We must also keep in mind that pretty much all of the world’s major economies also enjoyed increased prosperity and robust economic growth during the late 70’s. In 1980, Karmanlis resigned as Premier and moved to the presidency of the Rupublic, he had what most people thought to be the prefect successor lined up to replace him in the highly acclaimed moderate George Rallis, who at the time was stated to have impeccable democratic credentials and whom promised the people he would continue the Karmanlis plan of government. Low and behold, the people turned their backs on the recent prosperity they enjoyed under the ND government and instead voted for Andreas Papandreou and his PASOK party’s promise of “allaghi” or the great change. In a very American-like political platform, Papandreou had campaigned on the platform of a policy plan that was a binding “contract with the people.” Americans should be very familiar with that political motto. Even as Greece and America are separated by thousands of miles of ocean, we see their political campaigns running quite parallel all to often. The political soundbites and media trickery used to get elected to powerful governmental positions have no boundaries, as is proven throughout world political history. The PASOK party platform of “allaghi” ran along the very same rails as FDR’s New Deal progressive big government expansion, and Barack Obama’s “fundamentally transforming America” statement of 2008. The PASOK party’s fundamental transformation of the Greek economy now has them begging for bailouts from the EU today to avoid a total collapse of their economy.
How did Greece fair under the far left radical Socialist PASOK party and Andreas Papendreou of the 80’s? PASOK remained in power throughout the 1980s and, save a brief interval during 1990-93, for most of the 1990s and early 2000s. Papandreou had meanwhile died in 1996 and was succeeded in PASOK leadership by Costas Simitis, a mild-mannered technocrat who desired to replace Papandreou’s populism with a new reformist spirit. He consistently pursued convergence, so that in January 2001 Greece was able to join the eurozone, but failed miserably to reform his party, which was eventually defeated at the polls in 2004. What was to be proven to be even more remarkable, however, was that when the ND came back into power in 2004, led by Costas Karamanlis, the very nephew of that party’s founder, far from trying to restore some of the latter’s project, they instead followed PASOK’s well-charted path of irresponsible populism and free-spending ways, patronage politics and toleration to corruption, along with further divergence from Europe. It was the combination of those three factors that, irrespective of party in office, simmered for a long time until it exploded in the form of the fiscal crisis that has recently hit Greece. Carefully consider the following chart of Greek debt and GDP spending from 1970 – 2010. The only reason we see a hint of a decrease in big government debt near the end of 2010 in this chart is due to the austerity measures forced upon the Greek government by the EU, in which resulted in bloody riots due to the massive budget cuts and increased taxes suddenly laid upon the shoulders of the working class. Eventually, America will also collide with that debt-wall, and trouble will ensue in the form of civil unrest. The green line represents total gross external debt as a percentage of GDP. ( most important figure)