COMMENT

Out with the old, but where is the new?

By Alexis Papachelas

I wonder sometimes who will have the courage to finally explain to the people just how much needs to change in order for Greece to become a normal country. The lies started as soon as we entered the sovereign debt crisis and the memorandum. The entire political system refused to accept the need for reforms. It could hardly do otherwise: In the minds of modern Greek politicians reforms mean suicide, ending clientelism, assigning management to professionals rather than failed politicos and wearing a straitjacket as a means of keeping away from political favors and wasting public funds.

So we ended with half-hearted reforms, which in some cases were not implemented or were eradicated after being approved. The biggest crime of all was that the political system relinquished reform ownership and blamed everything on the memorandum and the troika. Greeks despised the troika and the memorandum as they saw their salaries and pensions being slashed while taxes skyrocketed. There was little, however, in terms of reforms. Schools, universities, hospitals, red tape and justice, among others, remained more or less the same. Fiscal reform was carried out in the same way in which a dentist pulls out a tooth without using anesthesia. In the absence of other policies, lowering labor costs became the easy way to increase competitiveness. This failed to translate into exports and real production, however, as the entire system is anti-entrepreneurship.

Greece’s partners realized relatively early on that this was not a simple case of fiscal crisis, but a challenge to rebuild a country on modern foundations. They started experimenting by involving the troika, the task force and a string of advisers. Seeking out easy solutions they ended up dealing with taxi and milk issues, only to realize that nothing would change without constitutional reform and radical reconstruction.

Today people are tired and in despair, while our creditors fear we might ask for more money. On October 16 the markets showed us what would happen if we were left to our own devices. Opposition SYRIZA is under the illusion that its leader will head to Berlin and get it all: money, a debt write-off as well as a growth deal. Prior to the Euro-election, the government created expectations of outside monitoring coming to an end, an expectation it could not live up to.

When will we exit today’s impasse? Only when a critical mass of Greek citizens throw their support behind a brave, large-scale reform of the kind that only happens every 40 or 50 years. We have yet to realize what has happened and that is why leading personalities capable of expressing this historical need have yet to emerge. It might take one or two election rounds, a few more governments and several “adventures” before we come up with a solution. In the words of a friend, the old is dying but the new is taking too long to be born.

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