Oxi-moron is a bad pun

Vote No, Hellenes: let’s see what happens next. Alternatively, vote Yes: ditto. Either way, their whole country is still bankrupt on Monday morning. I, for one, do not regret the damage they are doing to the euro, the European Union, and various public and private sector banks, quite as much as Christian charity might demand of me. There are people who work in the banks and the bureaucracies whose pain one might feel; European taxpayers stuck with the drubbing; and quite apart from them, the fact that at least some people may have lost honestly-earned life savings — is underappreciated. But this sort of thing happens.

So far as I am aware, no freely-elected government, in the history of the world, has survived the combination of cutting services while increasing taxes on a large scale (absent the prosecution of a world war, but then there is usually no election). This is what their creditors have for some time been asking Greek governments to do. I am able to understand why each of those governments has hesitated to obey. Mr Tsipras, the current prime minister, may be a Marxist loon, but his behaviour in this context is not inexplicable.

The contrary policy has often been attempted, however, and it is a demonstrated vote winner. “Let us all join together and live beyond our means,” might as well be an election slogan. Those with moral stamina may reject this, and vote instead for the mean, tightwad, compassionless rightwing party, but a majority of those without this stamina can be patiently assembled for the Left.

One recalls Theodoros Pangalos — grandson of a frightful military dictator of the same name and Albanian origin, former Greek deputy prime minister, leading light in the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, and begetter of many generous welfare schemes. He once explained how it was that all the money Europeans had “invested” in Greece since 1981 had disappeared, having apparently been used for purposes other than those agreed with the lenders.

“We ate it together,” he said. Adding that, “There are no honest Greeks.”

Perhaps the opponent of every political principle I subscribe to, but one honest man. I wanted to give him an award for candour.

In the same spirit, and on the assumption that all of its members are glued to my Idleblog, I should like to proffer my advice to the current regime. Don’t waste any more time on divisive referenda. Simply remind your creditors how things are. May I suggest:

“It’s true we owe you the money, but quite frankly, we can’t pay. We couldn’t even put a 1.6 billion instalment together, while asking for another 50 billion plus real quick, so take it from there. I’m sure you understand the situation as well as we do. So let’s cut to the chase. We’re not going to pay, and if you have any brains you are not going to lend us another euro. If on the other hand you don’t have the requisite intelligence, please give us another trillion or so, over the next twenty years.”

The bankers could then get busy writing off the debt in its totality; and negotiating with the re-invigorated finance ministers of Italy, Spain, and Portugal. And meanwhile the Greeks could apply themselves to their own next choice — between rebuilding an economy that has taken a hit, as if a war had passed over; or indulging in the kind of hyper-inflation that will eviscerate all economic enterprise, and lead inevitably to bloodshed.

I would recommend the former, but it is up to them. I would propose some Churchillian call, to summon all resources of grit, skill, faith and prayer; or better yet the Adenauer call, to do again what Germany did in the late 1940s: stable currency, enforced rule of minimal laws, no social programmes, very low taxes to compensate, and every man for himself and his family. (Including his extended family.) Make Greece the beacon for a “new Europe,” that works on the principles of the old Europe — which worked.

Start, if you will, with a silver-standard Attic drachma (4.3 grammes), minted with an owl on the reverse, divided into six little button-like obols. Add didrachms and tetradrachms as demand revives, and eventually minas and perhaps even talents.

Meanwhile, if they are truly hungry, we could send them food packages gratis, with notes full of love and encouragement, forgetting their trespasses, as they forget ours.


By way of postscript, let me add that I’ve been glancing towards the Greek Orthodox this last week, to see what their priests and hierarchy are making of events. And I’ve been quite impressed: they act as if no one has heard about any referendum. We need heroism like that in Rome.