Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Margaret Thatcher would fail in Greece



I’ve heard it said that what Greece needs is a Margaret Thatcher, i.e. a leader with an ideological commitment to capitalism, reduced state spending and personal responsibility. Greece, the argument goes, is a socialist experiment gone wrong and the country to revive itself must now engage in wholesale privatisation, dismantle the overweening and unsustainable welfare state and replace it with a culture of free enterprise and individual endeavour. And just like Margaret Thatcher rarely wavered or doubted her vision – conviction was far more important than consensus to her – Greece has to acquire a prime minister unafraid of confrontation and willing to push through change, impervious to collateral damage.

Now, I don’t want to go into the merits or otherwise of Thatcher’s doctrinaire enthusiasm for capitalism; but I do want to point out a couple of things, which people often forget about her politics when they seek to apply it to Greece.

Thus, it should be stressed that Thatcher did not slash public expenditure or reduce the state across the board. In fact, spending on the police and on improving the pay and conditions of the police force was a priority for her, and this was not only because another important aspect of Thatcherism was law and order but also because Thatcher heavily relied on the police to repress opposition to her policies, most notably during the 1984 miners’ strike.

Indeed, the use of the police to enforce Thatcherism was part of a wider strategy that involved using the law and the courts to defeat opponents. This was particularly the case with trade union reform. Thatcherism had long identified the power and influence of trade unions in society as a key cause of Britain's economic decline and law after law was passed restricting their activities. Trade unions that sought to defy laws on strike ballots, picketing or closed shops were dragged before the courts, their funds sequestered, their leaders fined and jailed.

In other words, Thatcherism knew that to impose her brand of ‘people’s capitalism’ on the UK meant that the left, its culture and institutions, had to be confronted and dismantled and to do this she was prepared to use all the means at the state’s disposal. Now, regarding Greece, since there is no ideological commitment to the things being done at the moment – the reforms are the evil designs of the troika – and the Greek state is defunct, then it’s clear that Greece is not going to make the transition demanded of it. The tools Thatcher used to push through her agenda in the UK would not be available to her in Greece. Greece’s problems are far more intractable than the UK’s in 1979.

It’s also worth pointing out that in the first three years of her premiership, Thatcher was hugely unpopular, low in the polls, heading for certain defeat at the next general election; and then, in 1982, Argentina seized the Falkland Islands… Thatcher’s resort to nationalism is another overlooked aspect of her ideology.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sorry but I am not sure what Thatchers success is. Today Britain is just as deindustrialized as Greece, just as in Debt. The finance industry which is a relic of its empire is headquartered in london and BP oil a relic of the empire exploiting oil that belongs to thirdl world countries and a declining north sea are all that Britain has left.

I think Greece does imbrace captilalism. There are more small businesses in Greece as a percentage of population than most countries. That is what allowed most Greeks to succeed all these years in spite of a corrupt innefficient state, and also one of the reasons it is also failing in the tax collection area.

I was surprised by an article in Phantis last year that has been removed now on Greece's automobile industry. In the 80's when Greece was poorer it had quite a few manufacturers. Greece needs to drop the anglo saxon model of a service economy and get more teutonic or even gallic and promote some of its own industries. Go after the low end manufacturing, this is what Turkey is doing. Of course Greece needs its own currency to deflate to attrack customers.

This will take time. In the mean time its got to get focus on what it can do now. Agriculture exports have been lacking. This is mostly due to subsidies by other countries and again an expensive currency. But I am surprised by how little Greece exports it can grow most of the fruits and vegetables of Europe. Exploit its energy. A bit tricky with the bastard turks but they should follow cyprus' lead. Don't know if they can get more out of tourism but use the crisis to promote Greece as a cheap destination. It always was but people mistakenly believe turkey is cheaper. Skyskanner did a good article on this last year showing Greece and cyprus already way cheaper than turkey.

And use the crisis to make changes at home cut government and break up the unions and monopolies.

Ted

John Akritas said...

I was really thinking about the last point you make, Ted, regarding 'changes at home' and why Greece's politicians have been unable to make them, why there is such a reluctance to use the state – like Thatcher – to back change. I'm not saying using the state in this way is a good or a bad thing; just curious to know why the Greek state won't ban marches if it knows they're going to end in violence; why demo after demo ends in riot and looting – and no arrests; why the Greek state won't use the police and courts to manage trade unions; and so on. Again, I'm not saying the state should do these things, but I know that a state that doesn't do these things has ceased to exist; and if the Greek state has ceased to exist, then the worst is yet to come for Greece.

Makis said...

Thatcher was a barbarian. Greece has nothing to learn from her.

John Akritas said...

Thatcher had an ideological commitment to capitalism, which she was able to convince large sections of society to share. This was backed up by appeal to nationalism and, most importantly, a resort to repressive state measures. All I'm saying is that Greece's political elites are deluding themselves if they think they can reform the country by consensus, without using the law and the courts. Now, since they cannot or will not use the police, the courts, the law to impose reform, then all they can do is cut wages, pensions and benefits and raise taxes – to which there is a limit. For Greek elites to get away with what they're doing, they need to break a few heads, but they are reluctant to do this, which means their efforts will not succeed. This is not a value judgement, but a depiction of statecraft.

John Akritas said...

I guess you could also say that Greece's politicians instead of using repression to impose reforms should show they have guts in a different way; by saying no to the troika. Indeed, it's just as interesting why Greek politicians have been supine in regard to foreigners and bankers. It's a remarkable failure of political will and imagination, whichever way you look at it.

Anonymous said...

John, Thatcher was a warrior for the English ruling classes. She articulated and imposed their economic and social agenda against the competing agenda of the organised working class.

She did this largely-but not exclusively-through the use of the Courts, police and the army.

If the same repressive measures were used in Greece today the whole country would go up in smoke.
That is because the Greek state is not underpinned by an ideological consensus that trancends class divisions.

Unlike England, the majority of Greek people are not wedded to the notion that the economic system is fair and that the state apparatus is impartial (i.e, that the Courts are clean and beyond reproach; that the laws they enforce are just; and that the state's law enforcers are beyond suspicion of corruption etc.)

Greece does not need Thatcherism but it does need national leadership that can build a broad national consensus about the measures required to rescue Greece from the abyss. Only if it can do this can it acquire the legitimacy to use repressive measure against recalcitrant elements without fear of igniting a revolution.

John Akritas said...

I don't know if Greece would go up in flames if there was an attempt to impose reforms through the police, the courts and the law. I suspect the reason it can't be done is because the police are badly trained and badly paid, i.e. they are incapable and unwilling; the courts are ineffective and judges are not establishment lackeys as they are in England; all of which means, even if laws were passed, to control trade unions, for example, these would not be properly enforced. And the problem is exacerbated because there cannot be national consensus over reforms, not that there needs to be. Aristos Doxiadis has talked about a coalition of modernisers from New Democracy, Pasok and the Kouvelis left, but this seems unlikely to me. So, no national consensus and no ability to use repression and the law to get reforms through = even darker days ahead for Greece. It's going to get worse before it gets better.

Hermes said...

Like Ted wrote above, Thatcher’s legacy is not positive at all even for the class she believed she represented. England has no industry and specialises in financial shenanigans and “clipping the ticket” as we say in finance. Apart from a few world class universities, investment in human capital is very poor. The capacity of the economy is way below what it should be because governments are caught in trap of the neoliberal dogma. The governing class in England is either leaving or slowly being replaced by Arabs, Russians and Indians. That is Thatcher’s legacy. Greece will never become an Anglo-American style free market utopia. It is more realistic and sensible to conceive of Greece’s political economy built on French or German lines. Of course, Greece is not as large, so smaller derivatives like Belgium, where the state makes strategic interventions in the economy, broader stakeholder participation in industry, conservative banking system geared towards supporting local industry and so on.

Anonymous, wrote that “the Greek state is not underpinned by an ideological consensus that trancends class divisions”. This is true because we have been told by large elements of the internationalized Left and more recently, elements of the Right, that patriotism is old hat with the advent of globalization. However, it is state and non-state induced patriotism which binds countries together. Once it has a leadership that can produce this, and enough of the middle class is on board, then they should hunt down the radical elements without mercy.

Anonymous said...

The professional "middle class" used to closed shop arrangements that result in the extortion of the people will need to accept changes before they become part of the solution. So too the petite bourgeoisie shop keepers, traders and merchants who have grown fat and lazy by over charging Greek consummers and ripping off the state of badly needed tax revenue.

The agents for the salvation of greece are not the puny "middle classes" but the mass of peasants and workers who on the whole are patriotic and ready to do what needs to be done as long as they are confident that they are being led by people who are not self interested scoundrels but have Greece's long term interests at heart.

John Akritas said...

Since when has Greece had a 'mass of peasants'? Maybe you mean the Bulgarian and Albanian agricultural workers who pick tomatoes, cucumbers and peaches. Are they going to lead us to the promised land?

Anonymous said...

John I don't know which part of Greece you come from but I can assure you that the agrotis are alive and well throughout Greece. Their numbers may have have shrunk since the war but together with wage employees they make up the vast majority of the Greek people.

Hermes said...

Ahh ha ha Aris Velouchiotis is now posting on Hellenic Antidote!!

Oh yes, let's not forget his love of the peasants in Meligalas.

John Akritas said...

According to Wikipedia, farmers – and a farmer (αγρότης) is, of course, not the same as a peasant (χωρικός) – comprise 12 percent of the Greek workforce and there's about 500,000 of them. And what exactly are you proposing that these farmers do? Seize the land? They already own it.

But, more seriously, you are right, the merchant and middle classes in Greece are as you describe them, resistant to change and competition and ripping off consumers, producers and the rest. Not that producers/farmers are beyond criticism. How is it that they comprise 12 percent of the workforce, but contribute less than 4 percent of GDP? And as for Greek 'workers' – some have done incredibly badly out of the Pasok system, others have done particularly well and are now part of the problem. It's complex, isn't it? More complex, perhaps, than your 'peasants and workers delivering Greece from its troubles' theory.

Anonymous said...

John,

Its a question of which are the important and necessary sections of society that need to be "on board" for a program of social and economic rejuvenation.

H thinks it should just be the "middle classes". I happen to think that we need to base change on the support of a broader base of the Greek people.

H obviously thinks Greece is Chile in 1973 and wants a coup based on the pot banging "middle classes".

John where did I say that "peasants and workers delivering Greece from its troubles"?

Hermes said...

There are no peasants in Greek society (of course, we are not talking about immigrant fruit pickers). Greek farmers have been one of the greatest beneficiaries of the last 35 years. And I have first hand experience as most of my family are still farmers. Greek farmers are part of the middle class and if you are looking for old fashioned revolutionary zeal then you will not get it from this bunch.

Greek society is too old, in a demographic sense, for revolution anyway. It is not Egypt. Unless you expect the massess of pensioners to man the barricades.

Hermes said...

As you can see, Greek farmers are the most pampered farmers (ex Malta) in Europe under the Common Agricultural Polcy. See below for subsidies per hectare:

http://www.reformthecap.eu/key-data-on-the-cap

Now, are you going to claim that Greek farmers are peasants and they will rise up in some KKE-inspired revolution? You have to be joking!