Justifying the doomsayers by default

By Paschos Mandravelis

The decision by the government to allow retail stores in central Athens and other cities to stay open much later than usual on the last Saturday of 2013 did not spell the end of the world. In fact, the public and business owners seemed delighted. The former swarmed to central shopping districts, perused window displays, hung out at coffee shops and eateries, and did some shopping, while the latter saw a bit more money in their tills. The Greek capital shone with Christmas lights and buzzed with energy, and just a handful of doomsayers protested on a dark corner of Syntagma Square.

Every time a step is taken to deregulate the market, two things happen: citizens acquire more choices and doomsayers spell disaster. It happened in 1993 with the liberalization of telephony. But today, we don’t have to wait anything between five or 10 years to get a telephone connection and we have companies scrambling to secure our business. The same happened with the sale of Olympic Airways, with the doomsayers going as far as arguing that the privatization of the state carrier would put the country’s islands at risk of invasion. Of course Olympic’s privatization did not go as smoothly as it might have done, but from 2008 to the present Greek taxpayers have been spared some 2.8 billion euros in damages. We would have been spared another 5.6 billion euros if the sale had gone ahead in 1998 as it should have.

More recently, a measure allowing stores to open on Sundays has been the target of the doomsayers, yet a recent survey by the Thessaloniki Chamber of Commerce published in Kathimerini suggested that 70 percent of retailers in the northern port city claim to be pleased by the decision.

Of course, every change inevitably brings bad with good and there is every reason for people to question whether the changes will negatively affect workers’ rights. Unions, meanwhile, must to be on the lookout at all times for labor rights violations and maintain the pressure on the authorities to safeguard workers. Instead, the doomsayers and unions expend their energies on rearguard battles as ministers and deputies put pressure on labor inspectors to turn a blind eye to violations so that the liberalization drive is not disparaged.

And so, liberalization – which is so important to the economy – is conducted without rules and at the expense of workers and the public interest.

The problem is that the system (led by the governing powers) takes the doomsayers way too seriously. Market deregulation is constantly delayed and the result is deeper recession and even more unemployment, therefore justifying the doomsayers by default.