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Greek Rioters Epitomize Statist Mentality

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Greece is on the verge of default, even after receiving $157 billion from the EU and IMF and after reducing government salaries and pensions. While an even larger bailout is in the works, it would come with strings that approximately 80 percent of Greeks oppose.

Not only do they oppose spending within their means, many Greeks have engaged in violent protests and large scale strikes. Only after resorting to tear gas could riot police clear access to parliament, and the tension has risen to such a level that the prime minister has offered to resign. Even journalists joined in on Thursday and Friday and managed to shut down the nation’s largest media outlet, which happens to be taxpayer subsidized.

The protestors shout “Thieves! Traitors!” at their elected officials, and they claim widespread corruption. Fair enough; I would be tempted to yell the same thing, but they want the collectivist gravy train to continue rather than end.

Basic economic logic says it cannot, and heightened transparency alone will nowhere near bridge the gap. Greece’s 2009 fiscal deficit reached 15 percent of economic output, and subsequent cuts only reduced the 2010 deficit by a third. Greece now has debt at 150 percent of economic output and the world’s lowest credit rating. Without a bailout it will default before the end of the month.

Further, the protestors don’t seem to recognize two ethically important facts: Their politicians continue to borrow on their behalf, under substantial constituent pressure, and owe repayment. Continued borrowing on the backs of future generations, not present to defend themselves, entrenches rather than halts the thievery. The protestors also don’t address questions such as why others ought to be forced to pay for media or how to stamp out corruption when “social justice” demands feed a bloated bureaucracy.

But to the protestors, economic and ethical realities appear to be beside the point, despite their repeated but superficial claims to the contrary. They typify the statist mentality; their objective is to preserve legalized plunder and direct government activity, and violence is merely part and parcel of the process. Now it’s out in the open for all to see.

When government officials fail to extract or borrow money to satisfy the protestors’ whims, the protestors believe they have license to rectify the situation with whatever violent means are at their disposal. This sociopathic mentality crosses over to private affairs as well, with bizarre consequences. Some French employees, for example, see fit to take their boss hostage to “renegotiate” better contract terms. Apparently, when imaginary workers rights are in jeopardy, to trespass and hold someone captive is permissible.

The protestors’ actions also remind me of a thought experiment I often do, with not-so-pleasant conclusions. What would happen if we were to eliminate one of the many unnecessary government programs?

Let’s take funding of higher education, since people with degrees are in such short supply. We already know what happens in the face of incremental cuts; just look at California. Students, along with instructors and other beneficiaries of the heavy subsidies, march with as much self-serving hyperbole as they can muster — as though the barber down the road owes them a university education. On the fringes, some become violent.

If California officials were to actually discontinue funding altogether, there seems little doubt these beneficiaries would riot violently — probably with the excrement-throwing antics they’ve already gained notoriety for.

Look at what these funding streams have reduced the beneficiaries to: people who throw a tantrum when they don’t get their largesse and who have the audacity to claim moral superiority along the way. That’s right, the beneficiaries who feed off the labor of others are the victims, and those who want to keep the fruits of their labor are the greedy ones. Forget pride in self-sufficiency and independence (and never mind that college tends to fail to teach American history, but it has no problem eroding traditional moral convictions).

Following the same deluded logic, Greece’s creditors who want their money back or resist further lending are the greedy ones, along with the officials who want to balance the nation’s books. The beneficiaries of the debt-financed spending must be the victims. As Frederic Bastiat wrote so succinctly in The Law “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” ,

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    Fergus Hodgson is host, editor, and founder of The Stateless Man radio show and e-newsletter and a policy advisor with The Future of Freedom Foundation.