Opening up to neoliberalism

on . Posted in English texts


One of the paradoxes in Greece is that we have managed to banish an entire system of ideas (from universities, bookshops and the media), while at the same time we lament its absence.

Although we are keen to lash out at so-called neoliberalism, few are interested in finding out what it stands for. Even publishers here fail to operate according to the rules of business. Although they seek to publish books that will set tongues wagging (and hopefully advertise the book), there is an ideology that has been a source of heated debate for over 20 years and yet little, if anything, has been published on the subject here. The much-detested Milton Friedman and the always-underrated Friedrich Hayek are virtually absent from the Greek bibliography.

More paradoxically, while we have exiled the core of liberal ideology, we still implement, or at least seek to implement, the policies that go with it, be it the minimum guaranteed income or privatizations and monetary stability. We don't know what liberalism is, we vilify liberalism and we implement liberalism (or at least we try to), all at the same time.

Sure, ignorance enriches our political vocabulary. Economic liberalization is now known here as "structural changes" or "reforms" in a bid not to scare off voters. Monetary stability is known as "the Maastricht criteria" while "minimum guaranteed income" has been renamed as "socialist policy."

But there are also serious political implications. Everyone sees the need for greater economic liberalization - in political jargon, this is known as the "need for structural changes" - but no one really knows why. For most people, the reform program is the modern-day equivalent of the cod liver oil parents used to force down the throats of their children: detested yet necessary. No one takes time to explain the rationale behind the so-called structural changes, because that rationale has been done away with. As a result, all discussions take place on a metaphysical level. People are constantly reminded of the need for reforms, but no one bothers to explain why. If the state is good, why is there a need for less state interference? If freedom can be dangerous, why have it? If globalization is bad for us, why open up to global competition? If businesses don't have the public's best interest at heart, why should we attract foreign investment?

So all politicians dread the "L" word and, as a consequence, they all have trouble enforcing policies based on that system of ideas.

Greece has blocked off an entire system of ideas. We must look into this rejection, as an intellectual exercise if for no other reason. Or perhaps in order to find out what the SYRIZA crowd has been raging against all this time without bothering to explain why.

KATHIMERINI English Edition, 23/05/2008