Independence Day for Greece
Should Greece follow the U.S. example – and issue its own Declaration of Independence?
- Many of the reforms demanded by the troika are not unreasonable, but intolerable in their pace.
- Greece will have to change in order to truly harvest the fruits of its newly found independence.
- In American history, the price for independence was the war fought by the US against Britain.
- Greece’s New War of Independence will be fought without weapons, but it will be costly nevertheless.
- The political struggle that followed US Independence was between the plutocracy and the middle class.
As citizens of the United States celebrated Independence Day yesterday, an event that features cookouts and fireworks all across this nation, the Greek people are being called upon today to vote in a watershed referendum that may well determine their future in the Eurozone. (See TG’s recent coverage of Greece here.)
Should they vote “Yes” (and accept more austerity and reforms)? Or should they vote “No” – and thereby risk the uncertainties related to a possible exit from the Eurozone?
In making this decision, Greek voters might want keep in mind the tremendous courage of then-thirteen colonies that would form the United States of America starting 1776.
These fledgling states decided to quit their relationship with the United Kingdom and forthwith stand on their own, with all the unknown and terrifying consequences that it entailed.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence, drafted just shy of 240 years ago, begins by saying:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
How would such declaration apply to Greece? A “No” vote would indeed mean to “dissolve the political bands” with the Eurozone, notwithstanding denials to that effect by Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras.
The dissolution would be for the purpose of assuming “the separate and equal station” to which the Greeks are entitled.
Intriguingly, the opening paragraph of the U.S. Declaration of Independence – applied to Greece – also states that Greece owes to itself, as well as to the Eurozone, an explanation its reasons for a “No” vote.
As far as the Greeks are concerned, many of the reforms demanded of them by the troika are not unreasonable in their nature, but intolerable in their pace.
There cannot be any doubt that Greece will have to change in order to truly harvest the fruits of its newly found independence.
When it comes to explaining itself to the Eurozone, Greece should heavily draw on the beginning of the second paragraph of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
How America’s Founders put it
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
As any other nation, the Greek people are entitled to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
However, rising suicide rates, a failing healthcare system, spikes in HIV and tuberculosis infection rates, a collapse of the education system, elderly poverty as well as youth unemployment rates chronically in the 60% range are largely – albeit by no means exclusively – the result of harsh austerity measures of the last five years.
They are hardly an expression of these “unalienable rights” from the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Also, following the proud American example, these rights are to be secured by a government that derives its powers from the “consent of the governed.” Nothing could be further from reality in Greece.
Whose idea was it?
The package of reform and austerity measures were not the ideas of this government, not even the idea of previous Greek administrations.
The Greek population has certainly never agreed to them.
Instead, these measures were imposed onto Greece by its European partner nations, the European Commission in Brussels, the ECB in Frankfurt and the Washington-based International Monetary Fund.
Because these measures have proven to be rather “destructive” as far as the Greek economy is concerned, it is the right of the Greek people – following the logic of the U.S. Declaration of Independence – to alter or abolish this form of (external) government and to institute a new one.
That government’s mission would be to pursue the goals of “Safety and Happiness” on behalf of the Greek people.
Therefore, the Greeks should vote “No” today and in favor of their own independence. But in doing so, they should also know that their decision will come at a high price.
In American history, the price for independence was The War of Independence (1775-1783), fought by the United States against Britain.
The British Navy disrupted the flow of trade with the 13 states of the new republic by destroying the vastly inferior American fleet.
Greece’s New War of Independence will be fought without weapons, but it will be costly nevertheless.
The Eurozone and maybe the EU could use its arsenal of trade barriers to make life more difficult for Greece and for the Greeks, although that seems highly unlikely, despite the rawness of present sentiments on both sides.
The U.S. War of Independence also created strange bedfellows.
Cautionary signal to Greece
Recall that France joined the 13 states in 1778. It was itching to take revenge for losing the Seven Years’ War against Great Britain in 1763.
In today’s world, Russia and its President Vladimir Putin cannot wait to be in a position to create instability in the West for what they consider the humiliating demise of the Soviet Union.
Most important for Greece, though, the United States also implemented a wide range of economic and fiscal reforms following the War. Many of them were extremely controversial.
As Graeme Snooks said in his book The Ephemeral Civilization: Exploding the Myth of Social Evolution, “It was one thing to throw off British rule, but quite another to develop a new system of government.”
The author goes on to quote James Madison, who had noted at the time that the political struggles that followed America’s Declaration of Independence were not between “the Class with, and the Class without, property.”
In fact, the latter had little to say. Instead, it was the plutocracy that fought the middle class. In the end, the plutocracy largely prevailed.
To be sure, that should be a cautionary signal to the Greeks.
Economic and fiscal reforms in Greece are equally unavoidable — as (almost) all Greeks will concede.
But given the clientelistic and corrupt structure of post-1974 Greek society, Greece must do better than the United States did at its independence.
Unless Greece reins in its plutocracy, truly empowers the middle class and gives a voice to those “without property” (so that Greece may thrive and flourish with Safety and Happiness for all), most of the strife for independence would be for naught.
Only if that broader mission gets accomplished would I conclude by saying: “Happy 5th, Greece.”