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State intervention in the economy is a religion in Greece

24 January 2014 / 16:01:05  GRReporter
3877 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

"Reform" is probably the most frequently used word in the political life of Greece without any meaning being attached to it. Both before the crisis and today, after more than six years of recession, the Greek cabinet just talks about reforms but does not carry out any, the proof of this being the latest thriller about the return of the members of the supervisory Troika to Athens. In a letter to Minister of Development Kostis Hatzidakis, Greece’s lenders urge the cabinet to implement the proposals of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for the market liberalisation in four main sectors of the economy. The immediate changes that are proposed involve the change in the term for the sale of fresh milk, the sale of medicines without prescription in supermarkets, the option for all commercial sites to open on Sundays, regardless of their size, the removal of restrictions on construction of hotels. According to the calculations of the Organisation, these reforms will bring more than 5 billion euro to the Greek economy.

The report was presented late last November when Minister Hatzidakis promised to immediately start attempting to solve the problems in those sectors. Two months later, the Greek cabinet has not fulfilled even "some of the proposals" as promised. The lenders’ reaction is "why some but not all of them" and the whole question turns out to be the main obstacle in the negotiation process, as reported by Kathimerini newspaper correspondents in Brussels.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development also recommends the complete elimination of the taxes paid to third parties. "This is scandalous enrichment of small groups to the detriment of the rest of society. A person signs a contract, obliging him or her to pay a fee in favour of the insurance fund of lawyers, one buys a bottle of soda water and part of the amount is withheld to support the fund of journalists. The same is true for engineers and other professional groups which have been able to obtain these benefits, thus actually prospering on the back of the others." This is how former Minister of Economy and former chairman of the liberal Drassi party Stefanos Manos described the specific taxes at a discussion organised by the Institute of Diplomacy and International Relations in Athens.

"For me, reform means the elimination of all those pressures that burden the citizens in favour of certain circles," said the politician who is no longer actively involved in politics, adding that another serious problem of the Greek economy is the huge public sector that no government has dared to reduce.
"We all know that the state administration has tens of thousands of people who are completely useless but who are still in place, receiving salaries." Stefanos Manos explained the reluctance of Greek governments to reform the public administration with the fact that over the years, the government intervention in the economy had become a religion.

He said that this was largely due to the media that provide a platform for populist parties but deprive of publicity the few political parties that have the courage to speak out about the need for deep reforms in the sector.

Manos did not hide his displeasure with the behaviour of the Greek voters who continue to follow populist slogans and refuse to soberly look at the situation in the country. "Even now, during the crisis, parties that do not submit any proposals for solving the problems continue to spring up and the people continue to vote for them. So, we ourselves are to blame for the continuation of the problems."
"We have to understand that while this enrichment of some at the expense of the majority continues in terms of a constantly shrinking economy, there is no chance of achieving economic growth and the situation will deteriorate. The failure of reforms is wrong and if we do not correct this, we will pay for it," he added.

According to Alekos Papadopoulos, former Minister of Economy in one of the PASOK governments before the year 2000, the widespread populism in Greece, which prevents it from reforming, is due to the cultural immaturity of the citizens. "In the 1950s, on a mass scale, people were leaving the villages to move to the cities where they were able to find jobs in various industries. They managed to progress in financial, but not in cultural, terms. From farmers, they had turned into petty bourgeoisie, enthusiastically adopting all subculture products. An example of this was the boom of night clubs with popular live music in the 1970s, when very rich people and people from the so-called middle class were having fun together."

According to Alekos Papadopoulos, the attempts to create a bourgeois class in Greece between the wars had failed after they were made because the only criterion was the financial condition which is the same even today.

"Populist societies like Greek society do not tolerate reforms. Even the incomplete reforms that were carried out took place in a completely mechanical way, without the belief that they were implemented because this was the right thing to do," he said. Papadopoulos said that all Greek parties continue to nourish populism. "We have a total lack of rationality; no one explains the actual situation and what needs to be done to improve it."

Tags: PoliticsReformsPopulismBourgeois classStefanos ManosAlekos Papadopoulos
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