“An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to be silent.” Edmund Burk, Parliament, May 5th 1789.
All across Greece, something is stirring. It is one of those rare moments in history where so many agree to something so fundamental. The country must change. The question is: “To which direction and how?” Any attempt to answer this question has as its prerequisite the examination of an underlying cause, of an initial “why” of our collective failure.
Defining the problem and its source: What is wrong?
Cause and causality
Bankruptcy is not the source of the problem. It is merely the symptom, the causality of a given political administration, of a specific political system. This failure of our political system, however, cannot be traced in some kind of inherent weakness and surely not to a convenient interpretation focusing in the moral standing of its personnel.
So, we are going to have to wonder what is the moving force pushing the political system in its totality to make the decisions that actually brought us here. The answer to such question, as long as we are talking about a democratic country, can only be a continuing, solid majority within the Greek society. So the question can be further specified: What is pushing such majority to press for such policies through its elected officials?
The dominant ideology, its characteristics and its consequenses
I would suggest that the core of the problem are our most basic common perceptions, a platform of ideas, a vision of ourselves and the world, upon which we have structured a non-written, a non-legal, a non-visible “constitution”, binding us, the citizens, as well as our formal political expression in all its versions, whether they are parties, unions or other. This invisible constitution is nothing else but what we would call the “dominant Greek ideology” or the “Greek national narrative”. This ideology encapsulates a series of values, an initial perception of right and wrong, and, in the end, it marks the political framework within which we are having our public discourse and our narrower ideological debates.
The refference point of the dominant ideology, the narrator in our collective historic novel, is the state. The state and its intervension are always welcomed in public life in an undisputable way, regardless of any narrower political allocation. Such obsession with the state is interesting, as well as contradictory, as from the begining of time in modern Greek history, the state has always been the great suspect and the great patient. Trust in all kinds of authority in general is near zero, hence the ideology of the state remains as powerfull as ever. A consequense of such ideological structure is a non-liberal, yet deeply private, society with no sense of community.
Everywhere we look the the consequences of the dominant ideology are visible. No experimentetion, no change, no improvement can pass through the rocks of suspicion against any reform initiative on the one side, and of the hostility against anything non-governmental on the other. Every reform effort is crashed on the contradicting parameters of our national narrative.
This meta-otoman political economy that our dominant ideology has fashioned has transformed the state from a wellfare state to a grant employer; it has downsized the private job-market and has created oligopolistic structures with all the implications they bear. It has mythologized small businesses, which are, in reality, family businesses if someone reviews the data. And small businesses cannot absorb the plethora of young professionals or pay them decent salaries. Finally, it has passed on the disease of cronyism to the private sector, because the largest businesses survive due their relationships with the state.
The absolute economic weakness of the country is the fiscal product of our national narrative, the fruit of a political rhetoric from which personal responsibility is absent and the praxis where corruption substitutes policies.
Solving the problem at its source: Changing the unseen
Ideology is not independent from the economic and production model mosaic. It is being conserved by a complex of smaller and bigger interest groups which press for their longevity. Such pressure, though democratic, seems to generate unvialbe results both socialy and in respect to public finance. So, how can the country change democratically? How can it change without a majority to support an ideological shift to a more open, a more liberal vision?
The answer to that question is simple. It cannot and it must not change undemocratically. It must not change without a deaper shift in respect to how we see the state and its role, to what brought us here and how do we change it.
Methodological difficulties and strategic decisions: Aiming for the whole or for the part?
Empirical data shows that people act differently in different situations. A re-categorization of incentives could, therefore, give birth to different values, different behaviours, different priorities and, gradually, a different national narrative, as a minimum framework of values within which we are going to have our narrower political debates. Such re-categorization, however, would demand administrative reforms, re-modeling our production profile and political innitiatives that, most likely, won’t have a majority to support them.
Consequently, the answer on the question “how” is pending. Trying to convince through rational argument is a necessary component to change, but not an adequate one. A strategy for a paradigm shift might be more effective if it is focused on the force of example.
Changing sub-systems: To a political economy of freedom
More options instead of depriving pressure group privilleges
This proposal is based on the following approach: In order for society to make a more rational choice, despite its ideological background and short sighted interest, it must see it implemented, so it can opt for it. It seems that this is not feasible in a big scale, because this would mean big changes that would lack a majority support. So, a different approach would be to turn to changes of smaller scale, without necessarily radically reforming the totality of the system that we are interested in changing.
Changes in sub-systems, in a way that would favor freedom of choice and personal responsibility, may bring faster and more viable results. Tangible examples of such reforms could be the following: Giving to highschool and university students the chance to select their curriculum will have, in the longterm, much better results than any university reform. Giving the right to parents to pick their school managers or teachers could be a strong incentive for better schools. Having the ability to choose a pension plan, etc.
Anything that puts each citizen in the place of making his own decisions and being responsible for any mistakes will most probably lead in more rational options and help create a new political paradigm. Maybe faster than we think, the state as the ideological protagonist would yield its place to a society with immediate responsibility for its future.
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself” Andy Warhol
Societies change because there is a historic need and a collective will. Historic need is definitely present. The more political appeal is to forge a collective will. Failure has consequenses. We are living them. Success bears a cost. All that is left is for us to undertake that cost. It’s not going to be easy but nothing important never is.
Michalis Pattakos, attorney-at-law