Learning from our mistakes

If we don’t figure out what went wrong in this country and learn from our mistakes we will never go forward. For example, I find the entire discussion about the “derailment” of the Greek economy before the country signed up for a bailout completely hypocritical. There is nothing easier than blaming X or Y for our problems. The tough thing is to say that we are all ultimately to blame: the political system, unions and the media.

Let’s start with the political system. I can’t remember any of the major parties ever accusing a government of spending too much money. Quite the contrary. Every lead opposition would pressure the government for more appointments and take to the streets in order to get the demand met. When the issue did make the headlines – as it did, for example, in the spring of 2009 thanks to then-Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis – no one was willing to even discuss it, much less form a national strategy. Did any politician openly call for measures to rein in the deficit and deal with the skyrocketing debt? There were two or three, but they were quickly sidelined. So there we were, in a vicious cycle that began in the 1980s with the over-expansion of the state and the dismantling of the public administration. Everyone spent state money unwisely, everyone appointed friends and doled out favors. The ship was taking on water and no one dared speak up.

Workers’ unions played their own role in the shipwreck by controlling the political parties and acting like battering rams every time a crucial decision had to be taken. A leading example is the effort at social security reform under Costas Simitis, which was quickly scuppered.

The media played a role because it never launched a meaningful debate as to whether the Greek state could sustain any more debt, any more appointments and even greater deficits. Every effort at addressing the issue was met with a tsunami of reactions. Newspapers ran headlines slamming “brutal austerity,” TV stations screamed about measures “against the people” and in the end, nothing was done. The media also often acted the part of the monster that would scare politicians over the cost of doing something viewed as too harsh.

This is all in the past, you might say. But that’s not how it goes, because you cannot move forward unless you learn from your mistakes. No one is innocent for the spectacular sinking of this ship, and the constant arguing between New Democracy and PASOK over who’s to blame stirs even more anger in people who are being sorely tested and who are waiting to be convinced that the politicians have mended their ways.

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