Greece, after its forced exile, four years ago, from the international financial markets, has returned, this week, back to them with aplomb to reap the confidence of the markets of its future economic development. In 2010, Greece, by numerous prominent economists and analysts and top economic journals, such as the Economist, was sentenced to death for its economic maladies that had brought the country into bankruptcy. This dire and calamitous situation however was overturned by the advent of Antonis Samaras as prime minister in June 2012, who, by selecting a constellation of bright stars as ministers, was able to accomplish by his strong and sagacious leadership, in the short space of two years, this reversal of misfortune that had engulfed the country as a result of the ill-fated fiscal policies of past governments. This achievement is unprecedented, as no country in the world was able to transform itself from the brink of economic ruin to economic recovery in such a short time. In the annals of economic history this illustrious outcome will be registered as the economic miracle of Greece.
The following paper was written on April 2012 and is republished for the readers of this blog.
By Con George-Kotzabasis December, 2012
The most respectable German newspaper Handelsblatt, proclaimed Antonis Samaras as the greatest European politician for the year 2012. At the same time the illustrious former Foreign Minister of Germany Hans-Dietrich Genscher, also praised Samaras in glowing terms as the politician, who after admitting his own mistakes and the disastrous economic policies of Greece that brought the latter to the brink of insolvency, brought the country with remarkable celerity and unsurpassable decisiveness on the right course that would rekindle the economy and lead the country toward economic development. Goldman Sachs is predicting that in the next 10 years Greek GDP will increase by 30%. The rating agency Moody’s increased the financial status of Greece by six points.
”Things grow at the right time, i.e. the right moment and the right perseverance. ‘For’, as [the German poet] Holderlin said, ‘the mindful God abhors untimely growth’ “
History has shown that at critical moments, in countries of advanced and high culture, men of stupendous ability, imagination, foresight, and fortitude, sprang, like phoenixes from the ashes, to salvage their countries from mortal threats. Themistocles at the battle of Salamis that saved Greece from the barbarian Persian invasion, is one example, the other is Charles Martel, who at the battle of Poitiers stopped the barbarian Muslim invasion from conquering Europe. In our modern contemporaneous times, Greece, on the verge of being devoured and crashed by the ‘hungry fangs’ of default and economic poverty, is just as promptly to be saved by a modern-day Periclean statesman, Antonis Samaras.
In the early 1980’s, with the advent of Andreas Papandreou’s socialist government to power, which proved to be the destructive force that brought Greece to its present catastrophe, that immediately started implementing the serial economic crime of a policy of deficits, the country entered the vicious circle of government spending without economic development. By the early 90’s it was glaringly clear that the debt of the country was reaching astronomical heights that would lead it to the precipice of default and bankruptcy. In 1994, Constantinos Mitsotakis, the former prime minister of Greece, in a prophetic speech in Parliament, predicted that the economically crass and thoughtless policies of Pasok would send Greece as a mendicant to the International Monetary Fund to spare it from pauperism. Andreas Papandreou himself was shocked when at a sober moment glanced at the unfathomable debt that the country was in, as a result of his dirigisme economic policies. It was in his presence when his minister of finance Kostas Simitis remarked, in an accusatory and pungent phrase, that this was “the revenge of the economy.”
The false prosperity that had engulfed Greece turned a sizable part of its population to indulge in the charms and seductions of dolce vita at the expense of government largesse. A whole generation of Greeks had been spoiled and became kaloperasakides (the easy life of prodigally good-timers) under the perpetual munificence of the State. In such a social situation the New Democracy party, though imbued with the precepts of The Austrian School of economics versus Keynesianism, and realising, as its leader Constantinos Mitsotakis did, that the country was approaching in a rapid pace the edge of insolvency, had its hands politically manacled and could not implement decisively and with celerity, and with the necessary degree required, policies of economic restraint that would have prevented the transformation of Greece into a mendicant status, since there did not exist even a small constituency on the political landscape of Greece that would contemplate, least of all accept, policies of austerity. The Greeks had been ‘pathologically’ conditioned to the ‘benefits’ accruing from big government, introduced by Andreas Papandreou, and any attempt to small government by any party in power or any opposition propagating such an idea, could neither hold or win government. Who would give up the ‘free tans’ in sunny Greece that so profusely and generously the State was providing? And who would give up the cushy and loafing jobs in the public sector that the party boys and girls of Pasok and New Democracy were enjoying and relishing? This is the point from which the economic tragedy of Greece had started and would continue to its tragic end.
Thirty years of frivolous public spending brought debt-to-GDP ratio of 120%. Since October 2009 when the son of Andreas Papandreou, George, became prime minister and implemented measures of severe austerity as directed from Brussels in the first memorandum, debt reached 168% of GDP. With the continued recession of the country for the fifth year, Greece lost 16%–18% of its GDP since 2009.
From early 2010 the Opposition leader, Antonis Samaras, few months after his election as leader of the New Democracy party, was warning the Papandreou government of the danger that the austerity measures without economic recovery would lead the country into recession. But his was a lone voice in the wilderness. And for his bold and insightful decision to oppose and vote against the first memorandum replete with the leaden heaviness of austerity that would sink the Greek economy as it did, he was vehemently reprimanded both from within and outside the country. The Economist magazine severely criticised him for his stand against the memorandum but only to lament its critique two years later and concede that Samaras was right. Likewise, Chancellor Merkel and many European ministers with whom Samaras had quarrelled and pointed out to them that austerity measures without rekindling the economy would not resolve Greece’s problem but would make it more abstruse and harder to crack. It took two years for the top brains of Europe to realize that the austerity pills that they were forcing into Greece’s mouth to remedy its ills would have the effect of poisoning its body. (In two years of the severe austerity of the Memorandum, as we indicated above, Greece increased its debt to GDP by a great amount and lost a substantial part of its Gross Domestic Product as enterprises closed and unemployment ravaged the country.) And in turn, like The Economist, admitting that Samaras had won the argument, as all Europeans now are calling for economic recovery and development, supplemented by austerity measures that are necessary, as the way to restore a country’s economic strength.
The May 6 Elections of Greece Crucial for the Future of the Country
The impending election that has been called by the interim government of Lucas Papademos for May 6 is of momentous significance for the future course of the country. Greeks will be called to be partisans of the hard climb to the peak of Mt Olympus from where the sun of hope will rise once again over Greece or be partisans to a free fall in a long twilight of despair. The first is the thunderous call of the New Democracy Party under the Gulliverian and imaginative political leadership of Antonis Samaras, and the second is the deathlike mute call of a congeries of small parties from the left and the right led by Lilliputian politicians. These politically ‘pigmy’ parties, among which is the Communist Party, have no policies of rescuing Greece from its woes, except policies that would lead to the exiting from the European Union and return to the drachma that would lead in turn to the absolute poverty of the country, deliberately drop the curtain on all hope on Greece as their sole aim is to sordidly profit politically by their investment in hopelessness.
The socialist party, Pasok, the main opponent of New Democracy, although on the side of hope, even under the new leadership of Evangelos Venizelos, is totally discredited, as it has been the party that led Greece to its present catastrophe by a bout of unbelievable and unprecedented economic and political mistakes, that Venizelos himself was involved in and responsible, during the last two years that was in government. Moreover, the latest decision of the High Court of Greece to apprehend and charge a former luminary of Pasok and right-hand man of Andreas Papandreou, the founding father of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, Akes Tsohatzopoulos, his wife and daughter, and some of his relatives, with bribery and corruption and with being the receiver and beneficiary of millions of dollars as paid commissions, during his tenure as minister of defence, from German and Russian companies to which he had authorized major assignments and projects of his department, has indelibly marked Pasok as venally corrupt; particularly when its present leader Venizelos, at the initial investigations of Tsohatzopoulos, with the stentorian voice of the lawyer, that he is, was defending and exculpating from any knave dealings, and with the usual catch-all alibi of the typical politician, that the “accusation against Tsohatzopoulos was politically motivated.” Hence, inconceivable political incompetence and culpability, and unfathomable corruption on the part of Pasok, will be two major themes that will dominate the elections and which will ineluctably lead to new lows in the polls for the socialists.
In this critical economic and political setting that the country is in and the looming threat of the breaking of social cohesion, Samaras is asking the Greek people to give New Democracy the “auto-dynamism,” by a majority of votes in the elections, so he can have his hands untied to govern the country with decisiveness and clear uncompromised policies that would put Greece on the trajectory of economic recovery and development. He argues cogently, that in the present political situation of Greece when consensus about the necessary economic policies among parties of how to regenerate the economy of the country is absent, a coalition government–which is the designated position of Pasok and according to the polls at this moment the desire of a majority of the electorate–will be politically impracticable, and more importantly, would not drag out the country from its peril but would further engulf it into profounder depths; as one could not govern effectively a country in a crisis and gradually bring it out of it by being compelled to make compromises to one’s political partners, but only by a well-defined plan and decisive and prompt action to implement it without compromises, by a leader who has a strong mandate from the electorate.
Samaras believes, and reasonably hopes with the confidence of a statesman, that during the electoral period and closer to election date, there will be a dramatic shift of voters toward polarized positions, once the crucial issues of the country are spelled out clearly and without lies to the people by New Democracy and by foreshadowing the practical economic policies backed by real numbers that would put Greece on the track of economic recovery, there is a great chance that the majority of Greeks will give New Democracy a strong mandate to govern on its own for the benefit of all Greeks and for the salvation of the country.
Samaras contended long ago, that only through a clear strong authorization given to him by a majority of the people he would be able to radically change Greece. For real economic development entails not only good policies and incentives but a transformation in the views and customs of people toward such development. He puts great emphasis on the value of human capital and entrepreneurship as the prerequisites for the economic recovery of the country. That is why he has promised to re-legitimize private enterprise and effort that for many years now has been delegitimized in the country by communist-led unions, to whom profit has been, as always, the devil-incarnate of the capitalist free market.
The present high unemployment of more than 20% Samaras contends, will not be reduced by mere lower labour costs which already have been decreased by 15% in the private sector while the tax burden on the latter has increased by 50% and energy costs by 450%. Even if Greeks worked for free no one would hire them with such high taxes and energy costs. Samaras in his Zappeio III speech few days ago declared that he would cut corporate tax to a flat rate of 15%, sharply cut pay-roll tax, lower personal income-tax to 32% maximum, and reduce taxes substantially on fuel and tourism. This would make harder rampant tax evasion and would unleash the creativity of the private sector and hence commence the gradual reduction in unemployment. He also announced, that he would increase the lowest pensions to 700 euros per month–that were reduced drastically by the second Memorandum under the austerity measures–and would increase the endowment of families with many children which would not only correct an injustice inflicted upon these two weak sections of society but would also have favourable economic consequence as they would increase consumer demand, which is so important in rekindling the economy, as both recipients of this government assistance spend their money in consumer goods. He would do these two things without increasing public expenditure and hence worsening the deficit, but by cutting government wastage that is so massive and profligate in the State’s spending. Further, he will provide incentives to private enterprise in areas where Greece has almost unchallengeable comparative advantage, i.e., in the merchant marine sector, ship building, and tourism; and in the production and merchandise of olive oil and other agricultural goods by the local producers themselves, not by foreign ones as is the case presently, whose development in all the above sectors will vitally affect the resurgence of the economy. He also proposes to provide incentives to entrepreneurs to exploit the rich mineral resources of the country and to give priority to find and tap the vast natural gas deposits under the Aegean Sea, by declaring the Greek AOZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) that could transform the export dynamic of Greece. He intends further, to reverse the present dryness of liquidity in the country by proffering amnesty from any legal penalties to those who withdrew their cash holdings from Greek banks during the height of the crisis and deposited them overseas once they bring them back to the country; and also by immediately paying back the 6.5 billion euros that the government owes to domestic enterprises; these two measures would increase the liquidity of the banks and hence their ability to provide loans to the private sector, especially to small businesses, that are the backbone of the country’s economy. Moreover, the re-capitalization of the banks, Samaras argues, will enable them to borrow funds at low interest rates from the European Central Bank, that were set up by it last December, which would be used to put Greece on the track of recovery and economic development.
It is by this method of supply-side economics, as that wunderkind Alders Borg the Swedish Finance Minister illustrated for his own country that Greece’s economy will rise again. The necessary austerity measures stipulated in the new Memorandum that Greece has to implement must be accompanied by the rejuvenated “animal spirits” of private enterprise. Samaras, consistently has been saying for the last two years that “we need a recovery to jump-start the economy,” and in conditions of recession austerity measures cannot stimulate the economy but on the contrary sink it deeper into stagnation.
The vision and plan of Samaras is to plant radical changes on the whole landscape of Greece. In his Zappeio speech he adumbrates constitutional changes that would separate the three branches of government the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary and thus prevent a member of parliament from being a minister, which has been in the past a malignant link of political corruption and has bestowed ‘asylum’ to members of parliament for their malfeasances. He pledges to bring changes to educational institutions that would reclaim the proud heritage of Greece that tragically has been eroded by the cultural relativists of a left coterie of pseudo-intellectuals and led to the disconnection of many young Greeks from their great cultural origins. He also promises to take drastic measures against illegal migrants, whom he calls “unarmed invaders” of Greece that under the soft immigration policies of Pasok they have occupied the main centres of cities, and remove them to provincial hostels until their eventual expulsion. Another important commitment of Samaras is to transform the bon vivant ethos of many Greeks, which up till now its tab has been picked up by the government, into a creatively productive one. On the new green tree planted by New Democracy, the singing cicadas will be replaced by fecund working bees. As Samaras is fully aware that sustainable economic development cannot be accomplished without transformative changes in the thinking and the mores of the people, especially of the younger generation.
Samaras is “framed in the prodigality of nature,” to quote Shakespeare. He is endowed charismatically both with a high intellect and remarkable moral strength along with the will and determination—all the stuff out of which statesmen are made–to change all things in Greece. But whether this lightning bolt of creative destruction will strike Greece or not depends on the strong mandate that he needs from the people. If Greeks do not fail, at this critical juncture, from fulfilling their historical duty to render to New Democracy a majority of seats in Parliament, then Antonis Samaras, in turn, will consummate the cultural, political, and economic Renaissance of Greece.
Hic Rhodus hic Salta