Friday, May 7, 2010

Greece: The 'Cradle' of our Civilization

This pun is too good to resist: from cradle to grave. But it’s more than a pun: like most other European countries, Greece has a strong left wing and consequently it is what we would call a welfare state. It has a national health service, and the average retirement age is 61, although some workers in the public sector retire in their fifties.

I happened to hear this latter figure yesterday, when in the gym I frequent, I was subjected to an afternoon Fox News program. The anchor mentioned, in one breath, that Greeks retire at fifty, and are less evolved than Americans because when they have a problem with the government, they take to the streets.

I’ve never been good at math, but doesn’t early retirement make jobs available to more people? (As does the thirty-five hour work week in France?) Most European countries have chronically high unemploy- ment, compared to what used to be ours, yet they have free schools, free health care, five weeks vacation and, in the case of Greece, two extra months of salary, as used to be, and perhaps still is, the case in Italy.

It’s difficult not to see a connection between the fact that Europeans are more likely to take to the streets than Americans, and the fact that European workers manage to get and keep a much better deal than American workers.

An outgrowth, no doubt, of the ancient Greek agora, where direct democracy was practiced for a while. As populations increased, direct democracy became impractical, Kings and feudal lords arose, and ‘the demos’ were mightily used and abused.

All that is long since past: direct democracy is making a comeback, thanks to texting, and in Europe, at least, cradle to grave security is the norm. Meanwhile the United States prepares to follow the lead of its biggest state, Texas, in expunging from textbooks the likes of Thomas Jefferson, replacing the phrase ‘democratic societies’, with ‘societies with representative government’, and ‘capitalism’ with ‘free enterprise’, dropping all references to the Enlightenment.

Thus, while Americans wring their hands in despair at the ruination of the Gulf wetlands and lost income for our fishing industry at the hands of oil company-led cowboy capitalism, they’re being warned against what must, in the end, prevail: the cradle to grave democratic socialism the Greeks are currently defending, that puts people ahead of profits.

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