Beware of Greeks Demanding Gifts

Our friend Alberto Mingardi of the Bruno Leoni Institute in Italy writes about the Greek crisis:

In a way, the most surprising element of the Greek disaster is that taxpayers in other European countries aren’t outraged at being called to rescue an economy that has been marching towards disaster for so long.

The legitimate fear of contagion affecting other European countries is now being used to persuade the electorates outside Greece that: first, Greece has not manufactured its own fate, but is rather the victim of “locust-like” speculators and, second, a Greek bailout would be an indictment of the European social model, that is, the welfare state.

Where European public opinion is collapsing under its contradictions is in the attempt to reconcile the idea of the EU as the ultimate policeman of public finance with the ideological need to save the “European social model” no matter what. If the European Union has long been a major catalyst for reform in member states, it seems inappropriate that it now aims to artificially remove the ultimate incentive for fiscal wisdom: the possibility of a sovereign default. The problem of “moral hazard” should not be considered the exclusive preserve of too-big-to-fail banks; countries can suffer from it, too.

At two Cato forums last year Simeon Djankov, Steve Hanke, and Takis Michas discussed the background of the Greek crisis. Partial transcript here. Video here and here. Michas blamed the problems on “clientelism,” which he described as “a system in which political support is provided in exchange for benefits…. The largest part of public expenditure was directed, not to public works or infrastructure, but to the wages of public service workers and civil servants…. What makes the case of Greece interesting is that Greece can be said, in a certain sense, to provide the perfect realization of the left’s vision of putting people above markets. Greek politicians have always placed people (their clients) above markets, with results we can all see today.”

Dan Mitchell said “I told you so” about the failure of the previous Greek bailout. My thoughts on the Greek “anarchists” demanding a continuation of government subsidies here. And here’s a comparison between the Greek and U.S. debt problems.