OPINION

Asterix without the magic potion

The only way to make any sense out of how we fell so easily into the trap of eternal debt is that a combination of cleverness, history and circumstances conspired to form a closed society in which we believed that we could ignore the laws of nature, economy and ethics. We thought ourselves the equals of Asterix and his merry band of Gauls — the chosen few with the magical potion of eternal prosperity — only to learn that we were more like some Stone Age tribe which, in its blessed isolation, knew nothing beyond the limits of its camp and had no defences against new temptations, deadly germs and the demands of foreigners.

In our small, indomitable country, we became accustomed to demanding the maximum while providing the minimum. We did not care if our demands were met at the expense of others, just as we believed that actions had no consequences. The two major parties, when in government, gave everything to everyone in order to buy support and social harmony — borrowing to fill the holes. When in opposition, they joined the smaller parties in trying to outdo each other in their demands that more be given to the people.

The result was disastrous. The parties made no effort to create policies; their role was simply to hand out benefits, jobs and promises. Even as the world changed, the politicians of Greece, our public administration and many of our citizens were splashing around in the Jacuzzis of ephemeral prosperity.

Our society grew soft. The more dynamic citizens either emigrated, created businesses or entered politics — in each case, they pulled the cart of progress. When the salaries of civil servants became larger than those in the private sector, when borrowed money hid the deficits in the economy, this eradicated the need for inventiveness and productivity. When the public administration?s backbone was broken so that there would be no hierarchy, evaluation or discipline, there was no incentive to work. This lackadaisical attitude contaminated everything to the point that lawlessness was seen as a democratic right.

No government dared touch these taboos. But paradise was undefended. Globalization, with its oceans of cheap products, and entry into the eurozone, with its low cost of borrowing, were the equivalent of the moment when the noble natives enter the modern world and surrender to the charms of beads, drink, new dogmas and the rusty weapons that the foreigners brought.

When two worlds collide, the smaller and weaker one will either disappear or it will adapt and survive. Those are its options.