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Works and Days

Raging Against “Them”

January 2nd, 2011 - 6:22 am


It’s All Greek to Us

In very un-Icelandic fashion, last week protestors in Athens tried to blow up a downtown courthouse. Over a year after the Hellenic meltdown, the Greek newspapers still reflect the popular fury—protests, strikes, senseless violence—at the mandatory cutbacks, the public sector layoffs, and the high-interest needed to attract investors to shaky Greek bonds. And yet amid the furor, 60% of the public still polls in favor of the European Union. How are we to diagnose the drowning non-swimmer who eagerly grasps—and yet hates—the life preserver?

A bit of story-telling: When I lived in Greece in the 1970s, it was a relatively poor country. The road system was deplorable; the airport at Athens was little more than an insulated warehouse. I usually stayed in hotels with bathrooms down the hall. A bus trip of about 200 miles translated into about a six hour marathon. The buses were often of eastern European make and spewed black smoke into the Athenian air whose toxic bite could devour marble. Rail travel was nightmarish (biking was quicker). There was no bridge across the Gulf of Corinth. The Athens “subway” was little more than a 19th century electric carriage.

Greeks’ second homes were one bedroom village affairs. It was rare to see a Mercedes in Athens. I knew one Greek who had a swimming pool. Getting off an island ferry boat usually meant meeting a swarm of older ladies trying to hawk you their extra bedroom for rent.

You get the picture:1970s Greece reflected a small southern Balkan population wedded to a siesta lifestyle, on a rocky peninsula in which there was little wealth other than tourism, a poorly developed agriculture, some shipping, and remittances from Greek expatriates in the United States and Germany.

Fast forward to the post-Olympics Greece: five star hotels, 20,000 plus private swimming pools (most of them unreported for tax purposes), half the work force ensconced in cushy government or government-related jobs, Attica dotted with Riviera-like second homes, BMWs more common than Mercedeses, billions of euros worth of new highways, and a new airport and subway system.

In other words, somehow a country without a manufacturing base and with poor productivity, a small population, an inefficient statist economy, and bloated public sector suddenly went from near third world status to a standard of living not that much different from a Munich or Amsterdam. How? Did Greek socialism produce all that wealth?

Well, we know the answer: northern European cash—borrowed, given, or swindled. The radical new affluence in part was justified by the fact that Germans and Scandinavians wanted good infrastructure and facilities when they went on their annual summer Greek vacations—along with pan-EU pipe dreams and fraudulent Greek book keeping that disguised massive debt.

Now? Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at “them.” Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.

California Got What It Wanted

The same is true of California. Our elites liked the idea of stopping new gas and oil extraction, shutting down the nuclear power industry, freezing state east-west freeways, strangling the mining and timber industries, cutting off water to agriculture in the Central Valley, diverting revenues from fixing roads and bridges to redistributive entitlements, and praising the new multicultural state that would welcome in half the nation’s 11-15 million illegal aliens. Better yet, the red-state-minded “they” (the nasty upper one-percent who stole from the rest of us due to their grasping but superfluous businesses) began to leave at the rate of 3,000 a week, ensuring the state a Senator Barbara Boxer into her nineties.

Yes, we are proud that we have changed the attitude, lifestyle, and demography of the state, made it “green,”and have the highest paid public employees and the most generous welfare system—and do not have to soil our hands with nasty things like farming, oil production, or nuclear power. And now we are broke. Our infrastructure is crumbling and an embarrassment. My environs is known as “Zimbabwe” or “Appalachia” for its new third-world look that followed from about the highest unemployment and lowest per capita income in the nation. Again, thanks to the deep South, our schools are not quite last in reading and math. So of course, like the Greeks, we are mad at somebody other than ourselves. Californians are desperate for a “them” fix. But who is them? “Them” either left, is leaving, or has been shut down.

Consumers are furious at spiking gas and food prices, and the collapse of state revenues. The illegal alien cadre is furious that there are cutbacks in their entitlements. The Latino community says that it cannot support anyone who wants to close the border and opposes amnesty. The public employees are furious in Greek-like fashion at the thought of cuts to pensions and lay-offs. The professors and UC administrators are either suing the state or turning on each other. Where are a few hundred Bill Gates and Warren Buffetts who would gladly pay more in taxes for the rest of us from their ill-gotten gains?

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