Margaret Thatcher was right when she opined that the problem with socialism is eventually running out of other people's money. It's a fact Greece is finding out today, because it will almost certainly miss a debt payment to the Eurozone and face significant economic distress. A last minute deal may appear as it has so many times before, but if so it will simply push the evil day down the road a few more months. The writing has been on the wall for years... one way or another Greece is facing impending and more or less catastrophic economic collapse.
I hate to be that guy... the typical right-wing talking-point ideologue who points at every hiccup in soft socialism as evidence of its imminent collapse, but honestly, how many times do we have to see collectivist/statist economic egalitarianism fail before we figure out, finally, that it can't work?
Of course it's never as simple as high level philosophy alone. As Greece takes another turn circling the drain and long lines of people pull the few last Euros out of ATMs, there's all sorts of blame to go around. Yes, Milton Friedman was right about the inherent problems of a single European currency. No, the European Union probably shouldn't have let Greece enter the Euro in the first place. Yes, Greece was hit harder than most in the financial collapse of 2008, and yes the Eurozone probably should have laid on the austerity shtick with a little less vigour. But all of the particulars aside, there's an overarching theme that goes well beyond a single country and enters a long list of failed egalitarian economic systems the world over.
Greece was a poster child for socialism before 2008, and it must accept responsibility as a poster child for socialist failure today.
The bloated government sector made on average three times the private sector wage, including an ineffectual education sector with four times more teachers per student than Finland (rated best in the world). Defined benefit pensions for employees in the private sector and the self-employed were fully funded by the state. Athenians accessed a more or less free transit system whose employees were paid by the state on average around $100,000 annually, including track workers and cleaners. Unmarried daughters could live off their parents' pensions even after their parents were gone, and some civil servants were paid extra for using a computer or speaking a foreign language or even for arriving at work on time. Half a month's extra salary was paid at Easter and another half during the summer, and yet another bonus to civil servants at Christmas. Fully 600 professions, including pastry chefs, radio announcers and hairdressers were allowed to retire at age 50 with state funded pensions equal to 95 per cent of their last year's earnings.
These examples are just a taste of the ridiculous disaster locked tight into place by powerful unions that went on strike on an almost monthly basis. Add to that the broadly pervasive corruption inherent in massive public bureaucracies, and Greece was an economic train wreck long overdue.
We can take many lessons from Greece, but there are two that stand out for me. With socialist economic systems the question of financial collapse is when and never if, and the speed of collapse seems to correlate to the degree of socialism... the closer a nation gets to the Marxian ideal of economic egalitarianism, the faster it approaches insolvency. It seems to me that these are lessons we ought to keep in mind while we approach the Canadian federal election later this year. After all, there are always parties willing to step up and pretend reality is a choice and not an imperative.
— Scott Anderson is a Vernon City Councillor, freelance writer, commissioned officer in the Canadian Forces Reserves and a bunch of other stuff. His academic background is in International Relations, Strategic Studies, Philosophy, and poking progressives with rhetorical sticks until they explode.