There is a word which European socialists, and their American admirers, invoke in their calls to come together for the greater government — er, good. That word is “solidarity.”
Here’s what solidarity looks like in Greece, where three bank workers died Wednesday after rioters threw Molotov cocktails into their branch:
“Witnesses said that protesters marching past the building ignored the bank employees’ cries for help and that a handful even shouted anti-capitalist slogans,” the English-language Kathimerini newspaper reported.
A columnist for the paper wrote that the man who started the fire “flipped [the bank employees] the finger when he saw them choking on the smoke of his firebomb.” Other media outlets reported that the mob blocked firefighters from reaching the burning building.
The proximate cause of these protests was the Greek government’s $38 billion plan to cut public spending and raise taxes. This “austerity package” was a precondition of the $140 billion that other members of the euro currency, plus the International Monetary Fund, are lending to Athens so that it won’t default on its debts and possibly trigger a second global financial panic in two years.
But there is also a social rot evident here, one that necessarily comes from policies that promise interdependence but deliver only dependence.
There’s no doubt that Greek civil servants fear losing their jobs, and that retirees are angry about losing the pensions they were promised. And while it’s hard to sympathize with those who vent their fear and anger by taking others’ property or even murdering them, there’s a lot of fear and anger to be had.
One in seven Greeks holds a government job, which pays them for 14 months a year — no typo there — until they retire, many of them before age 60. During most of their careers, it is virtually impossible to fire them.
If this system worked, the country would not be on the brink of bankruptcy. But try to take it away, and you get firebombed banks and sneers for the victims.
A politics of dependence such as this one does not emerge by chance. It was the conscious decision of, ironically enough, the father of Greece’s current prime minister, who in the 1980s sought to ensconce himself and his Socialist party in power by adding to public employment rolls and doling out subsidies.
Some of the loot was used to buy off the rich, some to buy off the middle class (very little, in Greece or anywhere else, ends up with the truly poor). It hardly matters; the rot is the same.
Greece is an extreme case, but the problem of politicians’ spending taxpayer funds to buy votes is universal, as is the rot. There is only one way to stop it, and it has nothing to do with favoring one political party over another. It is to limit government’s reach in the first place.
Otherwise, your eventual choices are between ugly (taking away the public trough) and uglier (dealing with the fallout from a default).
Sooner or later, you find out that, no matter how rich your nation, and no matter how clever the people running it, there isn’t enough money in the world to buy what you can’t pay for.