Sunday, May 9, 2010

A social contract, broken

Contrary to western Europe, where property has been the prevailing value of the ruling elites, in Greece it has been rent-seeking. Throughout the Ottoman period, local authority was based on tax collection, as performed by the local elites, the “kotsabazes”. When Greece revolted in 1821, they quickly managed to regain control, albeit through a civil war (that started in 1822!). Greece’s current ruling elites are their descendants, either by blood or spirit. What the kotsabazes did was collecting taxes in the name of the Sultan and keeping them, mostly for themselves. Thus the “State” has always been something that everyone looked upon as a source of income. The “kotsabazes” had the “connections” that gave them the authority, and their subordinates were given a small part of the spoils, as rents for their obedience. Those small parts, as soon as Greece became independent, translated into jobs in the civil service, i.e. employees of the State.

This has been the social contract upon which Greece has functioned for the past 180 years. The ruling elites milk the country's resources (or borrow on its behalf) to fill their coffers, and the ruled (the voters) keep them in power in exchange for jobs in the public sector. This is how we ended up with almost a million and a half public employees.

Following Greece’s virtual bankruptcy and the obligatory measures that the government must take, this social contract has been broken. Hence the riots. The riots bring together the beneficiaries of the social contract; civil servants, pensioners, and other indirect beneficiaries of the state. They are angry because they feel betrayed. And truly they are. Their rulers became rich at their expense, and now, their rulers tell them that they have to reduce their wages, or even leave them jobless. The ruled want “justice’, meaning that they want the rulers to pay as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment