In a few hours we will know whether fear trumped rage in this latest round of Greece’s election drama.
Were the European leaders and bankers right in threatening Greeks with the direst of consequences should they support openly anti-Troika parties?
Was the Global Left, Occupy Wall Street and the “austerity hurts” crowd closer to the point – that Greece could not and should not be subjected to more of the pain of structural adjustment?
Does it matter?
The implementation of Greece’s reform program has three major hallmarks:
–Little or no domestic constituency for reform
–Underperformance on agreed targets at almost every juncture
–Confusion about Greece’s administrative capacity to undertake reforms
At least up to the present, limited penalties were imposed by the Troika for Greece’s sustained underperformance on reform targets. So in a perverse way, underperformance has paid off and kept the cash flowing in. Look at the so-called “closed professions” and see how little has changed. For example, recall how the IMF’s debt sustainability reports for Greece were revised almost monthly last year to make the case for a deeper haircut at each juncture, yielding Greece more debt relief at each new stage of the discussion.
We suggest that the majority of the Greek people are reacting normally to a structural reform program that has few if any visible “up front” benefits. Building a domestic constituency for reform will be a long process, but up to now the issue has been a clear lack of justice, giving the population no stake. Tax increases alienated a large segment of the population early on. Finally, horizontal cuts in wages and pensions, a choice made by the Papandreou-led PASOK government itself, spread the pain across many layers of Greek society instead of the appropriate target, the bloated public sector. The Troika should not have accepted PASOK’s “job-preservation is paramount” arguments, since this shifted the pain of adjustment heavily onto the already overburdened private sector and hastened the collapse in economic activity, while barely reducing the Greek state’s revenue requirements.
This could be changed, and quickly, if leaders decided that the missing sense of justice would be addressed as a priority. Any of these ideas could have been attempted in the last two years and would have reduced the rage we are seeing today, in addition to producing some visible evidence that things could change for the better and that crime did not pay.
–Effective prosecution of the corrupt political and business elite based on a reformed judicial system. But in the meantime, set up special tribunals focusing on public procurement scandals.
–Repair and extensive modernization of the taxation system, allegedly ALWAYS underway, to include use of foreign advisors in the debt collection process.
–Re-evaluation of politicians’ asset declarations. Moving the “look-back” period on these assets to 1974, as many are proposing.
–High priority auditing of public sector jobs so the downsizing and mergers of public sector organizations can be accelerated. Prosecution of those found to have made hiring decisions based on political criteria as well as fast-track removal of the individuals illegally hired from those jobs, with pension benefits cancelled.
–Thorough scrutiny of all offshore business activities linked to Greece, via special tribunals.
The skeptics will say these ideas are politically unacceptable. We suggest they focus pain where it should be focused, so to demonstrate to the Greek people that unavoidable austerity (at least for the short-term) can be implemented with some sense of justice, social responsibility and reform.