Redefining populism

It was the international financial crisis that brought the Greek development model crashing down, but corruption, waste, parasitic behavior toward the state and a variety of other forms of arbitrariness are systemic phenomena rather than exceptions. The fact that this mentality has seeped into the fabric of society is what has made it resistant to change. What we are actually experiencing right now is the end of an era. This goes for Europe because of the radical changes that have occurred in the international division of labor, but especially so for Greece. Anyone who believes that the crisis is just a brief parenthesis will be sadly deceived. Small-scale business owners, small-scale manufacturers and self-employed workers who have managed to survive only by evading their tax obligations, will either step up a notch or come crashing down. Those in medium-sized businesses that were not especially competitive but had managed to ensure a relatively high standard of living will either need to change direction or become accustomed to having less. Farmers who came to rely on unjustifiably high public funding, state subsidies and cheap migrant labor will have to tighten their belts if they don’t increase their holdings and especially if they don’t turn to agricultural products that have higher demand and, by extension, higher yields. Civil servants who were used to having their palms greased by virtue of their position will have to realize that the party’s over, and those who fail to do so will have to pay a hefty price. If this commentary were to stop here, it would earn the praise of those who tend to focus only on the middle class. These are the same people who brand anyone who tries to point the finger at big business and the elite as a populist. They do the same to anyone who defends the interests of the weaker members of society and the need for social cohesion. Of course, there is nothing new about populism; it is an existent socio-political stance and it is to blame for many of the country’s ills as well. On the other hand, the neoliberal camp (and others) has taken advantage of the bad rap that populism has suffered in order to promote its own ideological and political agenda – an agenda that reeks of class-defined interest. Building a robust and productive development model is vital, but for society to even begin moving in this direction, each group needs to stop hiding behind its own half-truths. They need to share the price of progress even just a little bit fairly. But, there is no such thing as fair, because the big fish have other ways out and the political leadership has a tendency to protect them.