Patrick Cockburn: Greece has an overgrown and expensive state machine

 

Athens

Greece is like an Arab oil state without oil. It has an overgrown and expensive state machine hard wired with webs of patronage and corruption. In the Middle East this is a crude, unfair but partially effective way of distributing oil wealth and binding recipients to the state through jobs and favours.

In Greece borrowing took the place of oil. Membership of the eurozone gave the country the same triple AAA credit rating as Germany, enabling it to borrow what it wanted at cheap rates. Euro membership, like oil wealth elsewhere, was a disincentive to political, economic and social change because the money was there to pay off friends and foes.

Greece is very much a divided society and the divisions are different from the rest of Europe. From the civil war in 1946 to the fall of the colonels in 1974, the country was dominated by the right which looked after its own, from ship owners to small businessmen who paid few taxes. From the eighties on, the centre left Pasok party was in the ascendant and expanded the state, giving jobs and social welfare to its supporters. Everybody was happy until the money ran out.

And the money really has gone. While the Troika (EU, IMF and European Central Bank) devise elaborate schemes for reform, the government is often simply not paying its employees or paying them very late. There is, in any case, something absurd about expecting a dysfunctional state machine to reform itself at a fast pace under foreign supervision.

There is a second more specific parallel with the Middle East in recent history. Sitting here in central Athens in recent weeks, I was reminded of the beginning of the US occupation of Baghdad in 2003. The Americans thought they were in control and they were not, but they were going to be held responsible by Iraqis and the rest of the world for anything that went wrong.

The political ice in Athens is even thinner than eurozone leaders imagine. For the moment, they appear to have all the cards in their hands. The main Greek parties have signed up to the new austerity deal in order to get the €130 billion loan and the €100 billion write off by private bond holders. Greece is effectively going to have a managed and limited default except that it is not going to be called that to avoid triggering the insurance element in credit default swaps.

There is no chance that Greece can be rendered sufficiently competitive by the new austerity measures that it will be able to pay its debts. The country lacks natural resources, manufacturing industry or an international service industry; wind mills and fish farms will not be enough.

But the future of Greece may not be as bad as it looks. The mammoth efforts made by European leaders to prevent a total default underline the fact that, for all their protestations to the contrary, they dare not let Greece go publicly broke. The profound impact of the recent financial negotiations on everything from the price of oil to shares on New York stock exchange, show that Greece can still blackmail the rest of the eurozone by threatening to totally renege on its debts.

There is a second possible benefit for Greece if the myth is maintained that it is doing what the eurozone wants and this is likely to work. The international hysteria surrounding the dire state of the Greek economy is self-fulfilling. It has frightened people into withdrawing their bank deposits and refusing to invest. The Troika’s plans will almost certainly not work, but a period of calm might at least end the present economic paralysis.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments