Robert Knight: Economics: It’s Greek to the Socialists
ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight wrote this column appearing on Townhall.com on May 6, 2010.
There they were, at the wall under the Parthenon on May 4, unfurling their giant banners urging “Peoples of Europe—Rise Up.” The banners were emblazoned with a red-colored communist hammer and sickle.
This was obviously not an appeal to the goddess Athena, for whom the temple was built from 447 to 432 BC. The location, however, was fitting, since they were standing beneath one of the most famous ruins in the world. After years of socialist policies, Greece is in economic ruins and is threatening to bring down the European economy with it. The government has been forced to announce austerity measures that are not sitting well with a people accustomed to socialist illusions.
It doesn’t matter to them that the budget deficit is as high as 14 percent of the gross domestic product—a whopping 11 percent higher than the European Union requires its members to observe. Led by the public employee unions, a general strike ensued on May 5, and it quickly turned murderous. Three people burned to death inside a bank that protesters had torched and then had blocked firefighters from saving them.
Trying to secure a bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Prime Minister George Papandreou had announced a second set of wage cuts for public workers, a second sales tax and a pensions freeze. And even this might not be enough to pull the Greeks out of the monetary gutter. Add to this a dive in tourism as the world watches Athens erupt day after day.
The attitude of the protesters was epitomized by Andreas Petropoulos, spokesman for the ADEDY, the public sector umbrella union, who said, “We want the government to take back all, and I mean every single austerity measure.”
Really? Every single one? This is like watching passengers on the Titanic attack the crew for getting lifeboats ready, demanding that they instead serve up more hors d’houevres. That sinking boat? Ignore it and it will go away.
One would think that the socialist labor unions would have lost their clout by this time, having engineered the destruction of a once-viable economy. And what about those communists? Weren’t the deaths of more than 100 million people worldwide at the hands of communist dictatorships during the 20th century enough to persuade them to try…something else? Apparently not. In the Ukraine this week, where Joseph Stalin had murdered more than 10 million people through famine and executions during the 1930s, communists erected a statue to him in Kiev.
Socialism is an ideology built on illusion and envy. It’s about “spreading the wealth” by taking from some to give to others. And its inevitable result is poverty, accompanied by force. That’s because socialism is based on dishonest assumptions that transgress economic laws that are as immutable as gravity.
In Greek mythology, there were a lot of ornery personalities among the gods on Mt. Olympus. Life for the folks down below could be quite arbitrary.
The Bible, by contrast, assures us that there is only one God to answer to—the Creator of the universe. The Scriptures present a wealth of guidance about economics and every other aspect of life, and make it clear that faith, strong families and hard work are at the heart of economic success. The Greeks, like the Romans, thrived when their pagan philosophers at these societies’ zeniths most closely championed the precepts found in the Bible. Aristotle, for instance, preached natural law and virtue and warned of the misery spawned by the “‘tribeless, lawless, hearthless one,’ whom Homer denounces.” And Rome’s Cicero warned of the power of corrupt elites, that “the men of upper class who do wrong are especially dangerous to the State, because…not only are they corrupt, but also because they corrupt others.”
Many of the Greek elites bought into the easy lies of socialism and wound up corrupting the populace with the promise of a free ride.
Because God’s laws—including the laws of economics and the consistency of human nature—do not change, people and societies thrive if they follow Biblical advice about safeguarding property rights and inheritance, working hard, and pursuing honesty in business dealings. The Bible acknowledges healthy self-interest as well as the sinful nature of man.
At war with God since it began metastasizing in the 19th century, socialism began with the mistaken assumptions that man is on his own here, is basically good and needs only a strong government to perfect him.
In his classic treatises Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754) and The Social Contract (1762), Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that man was more virtuous and free at one time in a state of nature, that society and property ownership had corrupted him, and that the only solution was a powerful state that owned all property and enforced absolute equality. Rousseau’s secular view that man would be good absent the temptations of power and privilege conflicts directly with the Biblical view that man is inherently flawed.
Without that reality check, socialists can actually believe that governments created by flawed men will solve all the flaws. And that government authorities are inherently altruistic (with other people’s money), and are not subject to the corrupting influence of envy—wanting what is not yours.
It takes a while to right a ship when it has gone far off course. The Greeks need to restore order, continue with the painful adjustments and to discard the false ideology that got them into this mess.
And they might try praying to God Almighty in the shadow of Athena’s broken house.