OPINION

Feudal new world

In Greece we are accustomed to a state that does not function with the objective of bettering the entire nation’s lot but, on the contrary, is oriented toward serving the interests of specific groups at the expense of everyone else. That which other countries fear is already the norm here. With a recession spreading across the globe, with the disappearance of every certainty and the bankruptcy of ideas and ideology, it is very likely that we will see a weakening of the nation state, because of the empowerment of interest groups that will influence policy and also because of the intervention of transnational organizations which will try to manage a crisis that no one country can manage on its own. The fact that governments are preparing to devote inconceivable amounts of money toward supporting their economies does not necessarily mean that the state is resurgent – on the contrary, it will most likely become a feeding ground for all kinds of economic interests that will exploit the uncertainty of the times and the fact that no state is prepared for the kind of oversight needed. In a classic study published in 1982 but referred to with increasing frequency, the late American economist Mancur Olson laid out his theory that when a society has enjoyed a long period of stability, special interest groups develop and exploit their strength so that politicians and state authorities create the circumstances that favor these groups, at the expense of the country’s development. In «The Rise and Decline of Nations,» Olson argued that Britain and its empire had declined because of such interest groups, which he held responsible for the slow growth rate and high unemployment in Britain’s postwar decades – whereas the economies of Germany and Japan, who had lost the war but were free of such interest groups, were taking off. Since 1982, we have seen unbelievable change in the global economy. «Thatcherism» streamrolled over Britain’s interest groups and the country enjoyed great development, before the current recession; the «globalized» economy took shape, along with «off-shore» capitalism; the international credit system expanded and then collapsed; recession is spreading across the world. Olson’s theory, however, remains a most useful analytical tool for examining the relationship between citizens, interest groups and the state. Through our history, it would appear that the Greek state has repeatedly passed directly from turmoil (war, occupation, recession and dictatorship) to decline without the intervening periods of stability and development. (With the exception of the past few decades, as our country’s membership in the European Union since 1981 has given rise to the greatest uninterrupted period of stability and progress in the modern state’s history – but even here, the interest groups immediately took charge.) In any case, at the local and national level, Greece has always been riven with special interest groups that are rival confederacies of businessmen, politicians, state officials, news media owners and common crooks. Their sole aim is to share the plunder of every possible common good, whether this be land or money or information and influence. And the people, in their general lack of trust toward the state and institutions, organize themselves into their own groups – unions, parties, sports fan clubs, Internet communities, anarchic groupuscules and so on – so that they can try to protect their own interests. They block roads, they strike, they demand political support for their votes – they do whatever they can. No one talks of the public interest, not even as a cover for their actions. A society whose groups are continually in conflict with each other undermines all concepts of «state» and, consequently, «nation.» As more and more states – and their weak, frightened governments – struggle to guarantee the quality of life to which their citizens were accustomed, groups will coalesce around whichever leader or organization looks more likely to achieve gains for the group. As governments bow to the demands of international organizations – such as the EU or the International Monetary Fund or some new UN council, such as the one proposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel – within the state’s borders various groups will be pressing to secure their own interests at the expense of everyone else. The feudal system of business and political entanglements that is so well-developed in Greece may well come to dominate other countries as well. They will undermine those countries’ efforts to develop economies and get out of the crisis – at the expense of their own nations, their partners and anyone who does business with them. In this crisis, all the structures of the modern world are being put to the test.