As the smoke clears over the financial battlefield of the Greek exit from the Euro, it is clear from the words of the ostensible winners of this fight, the Germans, that they intend to impose a punishment on the entire country of Greece and its people. For the crimes the Greeks committed, the penalty is hard times for millions of people for the foreseeable future. This includes not just economic hard times as the economists and bankers would have you believe, but hard emotional times, hard personal times, poverty and suffering.
The sentence was passed by a merciless Germany, a country who, shortly after WWII, in 1953 received a complete write-off of its debts by the Allies. In that year Germany was destitute; they had no economy after the war and enormous reparations to pay. If not for the mercy of the victors and the forgiveness of the debt, it is highly doubtful Germany would be the most powerful economic force in Europe today. So the irony should not be missed that Germany is now insisting that tiny Greece pay its bills. The Germans artfully explain that their bailout wasn’t the same thing; and they paid it off anyway – after it was written down.
Germany plays the role of the tough-love parent, claiming that harsh economic medicine for Greece is good for both Greece and the European Union. But at some point even a tough-love parent has to determine if the punishment fits the crime, and also if it serves a purpose.
Forty lashes would be excessive for spilling a glass of milk and it is doubtful it would prevent further spills. If your teenager borrowed your car and got drunk and totaled the car and ended up in the hospital, it would be natural to expect him to pay for the car. On the other hand if he was sober and borrowed the car to volunteer to run errands for the Golden Years Convalescent Home and got in the same accident you would probably react differently.
So which one is Greece? We should take the Germans at their word when they say that one of the major causes of the Greek problem is the big pensions that workers are paid. This means the Greek government is not accused of using the money to irresponsibly pay multi-million dollar salaries to CEO’s; they are not accused of adopting policies to increase the gap between rich and poor; they are not accused of wasting money on five star hotels for fancy conferences while their citizens starve.
Greece is accused of providing a welder or a clerk who worked thirty years for the benefit of their country an opportunity to enjoy the remainder of their life. They are accused of giving excessive rewards to the middle class instead of to the top one per cent. They are accused of attempting to turn their country into a more egalitarian society.
But in the German world of punishment without regard to good intentions, being caught with a borrowed car running errands for the Golden Years Convalescent Home, means you not only have to pay for the car but you have to sell your Xbox, iPhone and just about everything else of value. Because Germany says that one of the punishments, (for their own good,) is for Greece to sell off billions of dollars worth of public lands, utilities, infrastructure and treasures (and Greece has a lot of treasures) to pay for the mistake.
Greece’s heart was in the right place; unfortunately, sharing, compassion and equality are not the desired assets of a business-dominated society. Let those old geezers pay for their own errand boy, Germany commands.
There is a German word called schadenfreude. It means pleasure derived from the suffering of others. Germany is overflowing with schadenfreude right now but they would be well-advised to consider the ancient Greek story of Nemesis, the spirit of divine retribution who punished those who display hubris, the sin of pride and arrogance.
The Germans may hold the purse strings but the Greeks wrote the book and they deserve better.