Op-Ed

Pipe dreams in Greece

GREECE: Alexis Tsipras, standing, leads the leftist Syriza Party into elections slated for January.
GREECE: Alexis Tsipras, standing, leads the leftist Syriza Party into elections slated for January. Bloomberg

The new year was an extremely unstable one in the Mediterranean, but the shockwave will envelop the planet.

The shakeup will begin in Greece with the likely election of the Syriza Party. The word is a Greek acronym that can be translated as Coalition of the Radical Left. And it sure is. It is an anti-system amalgam dominated by the Marxists and presided by Alexis Tsipras, a 40-year-old engineer who was a communist student leader in his youth.

Syriza brings together nostalgic Stalinists, Trotskyites, anarchists, anticapitalists, antiglobalizationists, Greens, anti-Americans, Europhobes, antieuros and, of course, pro-Palestinians/anti-Israelis. (Not surprisingly, Greece is the most anti-Semitic country in Europe, according to the latest Anti-Defamation League survey.)

This rabble began to gestate some years ago during the protests against the meetings of the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. It was a youthful mob recruited from the urban tribes, frequently unkempt and unruly. The participants camped in various emblematic squares, from Wall Street in New York to Puerta del Sol in Madrid, or hurled stones at the police in half a dozen cities.

The Syriza platform is perfectly situated to capture a high percentage of voters and, simultaneously, to drive the country further into the ground. It addresses a society that has a 28-percent unemployment rate and a foreign debt that's 200 percent of its GNP. It tells voters that they can emerge from the crisis with a bigger government (although they already turn over to the public sector 44 percent of all the wealth they produce), by spending more and maintaining the mythical “welfare state” with good services that are “free” to all.

Tsipras talks about rights but not about responsibilities. He rejects the austerity of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is so ridiculously preoccupied with the money she gets from the hard-working Germans for safekeeping. He is offended by the insolence of the banks and bondholders who dare to collect the agreed-upon interests, or those derived from the growing risk-country, to the degree that the investors notice the wolf's ears.

Naturally, Tsipras fights the politicians’ and businessmen’s corruption, which is abundant, but does not mention the corruption of “the people” who defraud the Finance Ministry, simulate illnesses to collect pensions — Greece is the developed country with the world’s largest number of “legally blind” citizens — and hold jobs where they don’t work.

Greece has hundreds of professionals (among them, barbers and radio announcers) who can retire at age 50 or 55 with 96 percent of their wages, and despite having a disastrous public education system, has four times more teachers per capita than Finland, the country that best imparts knowledge, according to internationally recognized measures.

Syriza’s predictable triumph will likely propel the victory of “Podemos” (We Can) in Spain, a similar group directed by the young communist-leftist professor, Pablo Iglesias.

In addition to communist ideology, Iglesias and Tsipras, share an eloquent biographic fact. Both have always lived within the public sphere, subsidized or sponsored by all the citizens, through their taxes. Maybe that explains why neither one realizes that the problems of Spain and Greece do not derive from the market or the distribution of income but from the weakness of the productive fabric.

What Spain and Greece need is more capitalism, but the good kind, the kind based on competition and meritocracy, not on cronyism and bribery. They need a lot more successful and competitive businesses in the private sphere, because we know the Circle of Hell to which public enterprises lead us.

No sensible person has anything against the Welfare State, so long as the society that enjoys it has chosen it democratically and works to support it — as the Danes and Austrians do, for example.

But what doesn’t work — in the words of Ricardo López Murphy with relation to Argentina, so similar to Greece and Spain — “is working as in Sicily, wanting to live as in Sweden, and blaming the United States or Germany when, naturally, that can’t happen.”

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