June 22, 2010
Mad and MadderBy Vasko Kohlmayer
So now it is Spain's turn to be wracked by protests against "austerity" measures. Given the country's fiscal condition, those measures are rather mild. One of them is to cut the salaries of public sector workers by five percent. This is really not that much given that most of those salaries should not even exist in the first place. Those who receive them should be instead encouraged to look for real work.
Said one outraged protestor:
Like the Greeks, the Spaniards too do not like the idea of spending cuts and demand that their government keep giving them money. The problem is that the Spanish government does not have any money. It only has debts.
Spain's budget deficit is more than 11 percent of the country's gross national product. Its public debt is some 55 percent of GDP. It is likely, however, that these official figures are grossly understated. As most people know, governments lie about their debts. We saw this most recently with Greece. The more leftwing the government, the more likely it is to lie about its obligations. The previous Greek government lied big time and they were "conservatives." One can imagine the kind of figure-fudging that is going on in the present Spanish government, which is socialist.
In any case, one thing is clear: Spain is broke. Yet the Spanish people still demand more money from their government.
This is Greece all over again. The Greek government was going bankrupt and had to be bailed out. The bailers required that it show a modicum of responsibility. So the government proposed some mild cuts. Then all hell broke loose. There was screaming, there were protests and there was rioting. People were killed. Parts of Athens resembled a war-zone.
The Greek people do not want any cuts. They want easy government jobs from which they can retire at 53. Then then want to enjoy their long retirement on one of the islands in the Aegean. I do not blame them. It is pretty there. One can find a solitary cove, sit on its rocky beach, look out into the sea and ponder. There is something about Greece that lends itself to contemplation and metaphysical speculation. It was there Western thought was born.
When you get hungry from all the thinking you go to a restaurant overlooking the water. You order Greek salad with olive oil and feta cheese and a piece of fish. A glass of wine goes well with it. It tastes great and it is healthy too. No wonder the Greeks have such a long life expectancy.
The Greeks want the good life, but they do not want to work for it. They want someone else to foot the bill. Obviously this cannot work in real life, not for very long anyway. If a people base their societal model on non-work, their society will eventually fall apart. It cannot be otherwise. If the Greeks are lucky and find someone stupid enough, they will bail you out. But this will give only a temporary reprieve. To have a prosperous society its members must work, and they must work hard. It is through hard work that good things come. Non-work only brings grief in the long run, which is what the Greeks are learning now.
Many Greeks, in fact, do worse than non-work, since they "work" for government. And what every government invariably does is to make life difficult for those who are willing to do real work. Governments prey on and rip off the productive. This is the primary focus of all governments, which is why in countries that have big governments little real work can be done. People did hardly any productive work in the former Soviet Union. Cubans do little work in Cuba nowadays. Hence their poverty.
In Greece a full 13 percent of the labor force works in government. Even though a year has only twelve months, Greek government workers get fourteen monthly salaries per year. It is surely a great deal for them. But is it any wonder that the country as a whole is in such a mess?
Bill Clinton constantly urges young people to go into public service. This is the euphemism for working for government. Bill Clinton thus advises America's young to become parasites and leeches and nuisances. This is bad advice. Here is better advice: Go and get a real job in the private sector. Do something useful and productive. If you want to see where Bill Clinton's advice leads, go to Greece.
The mindset in Spain is similar to that of Greece. The people there also want the good life, but they are not willing to earn it. Instead they expect the government to provide. The Spanish politicians have been happy to oblige in exchange for votes. But now they are out of money. They too will need a bailout.
"Democracy could collapse in Greece, Spain and Portugal unless urgent action is taken to tackle the debt crisis," warned Jose Manuel Barosso, the head of the European Commission, last week.
Barosso is right. Sooner or later things must collapse, because countries cannot go on borrowing ad infinitum. This should be quite obvious, yet there is no political or popular will to cut spending and stop the borrowing madness. Everyone wants more money, everyone wants the easy life. And everyone wants the government to foot the bill.
But this is not only a problem in Europe. In America things are even worse. The American government has become the greatest debtor in the history of the world. And yet, we keep spending at an ever-accelerating rate. This year's deficit will be larger than last year's deficit. And last year's deficit was three times the previous record.
In light of their dire situation, European politicians are at least trying to propose spending cuts. President Obama, on the other hand, is only proposing spending increases. And when he is not doing that, he is urging the Europeans to spend more. It was Obama who kept badgering them while they were negotiating that huge bailout for Greece. In the end he still was not satisfied; he was hoping for more.
We used to mock Europe's spend-happy socialists. In recent years, however, we have been spending so much that Europeans now seem responsible in comparison. If you still think they are mad, then we must be madder still.