Lifting the obstacles

Lifting the obstacles

Greece is weighed down by some very specific problems that make getting back on its feet that much harder. Its huge debt is one problem, of course, but there are other, inherent shortcomings that add to the strain.

One such obstacle is populism, which has acquired near-institutional status. The Greek political system is extremely hostile to anyone who would consider putting his career in the private sector on hold to contribute to the state sector instead.

For example, there are salary caps for executives employed by state banks, public utilities or other organizations. The idea behind that is to avert the “golden boy” phenomenon. As a consequence, these jobs attract party cronies who would never stand a chance in the private arena or individuals who know how to make money in somewhat shady ways.

Moreover, anyone with a successful career in the private sector knows that a public sector job would mean full disclosure of their declaration of assets, regular visits to the prosecutor’s office and a good chance of seeing their name in the headlines. These are major put-offs for any reasonable person.

Speaking of headlines, another problem has to do with the quality of the country’s news media. Greece is no stranger to blackmailers, big or small, but what is new is the proliferation of over-the-top or even fabricated news. For very little money, you can assassinate characters or exterminate values and ideas. There is no filter to protect the average citizen from the spread of lies and misinformation, and we are paying a hefty price for this.

Even the people who are in charge of Greece at the moment are aware that the media system which they so recklessly used to climb to power is sick and destructive. As for the much-hyped war on political and business corruption, it proved to be a sham.

Furthermore, prime minister Alexis Tsipras bears a huge responsibility for weighing down the country with an institutional problem: the system of simple proportional representation could easily result into a Greek exit from the euro area – that is unless something very spectacular happens. Take a moment to think how many – and exactly what kind of – parties may make it into the House. Take a moment to think of that oligarch who, with just a little money, will be able to manipulate fragile and complex majorities. And, finally, take a moment to consider the risk of political instability at a time when what the country needs is courageous and swift decision-making.

Too bad for the country, none of these obstacles is easy to lift. The next person called in to rule will soon realize that it is not fully governable – unless he engages in kamikaze politics.

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