The Corner

Ask Not Out Whom the Government Bails

It bails out thee.

On Friday, before the announcement of the trillion-dollar euro bailout, the always excellent Theodore Dalrymple argued that, in gazing at Greece in riot, we were gazing at our future. A future in which an unsustainable welfare state, propped up on debt and taxes, bribes its populace straight into a disastrous sense of entitlement:

When the crowd tried to storm the Greek parliament, shouting, “Thieves! Thieves!,” its anger was misdirected. It was a classic case of what Freudians call projection: the attribution to others of one’s own faults. It is true that the Greek politicians are much to blame for the current situation, and no doubt many of them are thieves; but their real crime was not stealing, but offering a substantial proportion of the Greek population a standard of living that was economically unjustified, maintained for a time by borrowing, and in the long run unsustainable, in return for votes. The crime of that substantial proportion of the Greek population was to accept the bribe that the politicians offered; they were only too prepared to live well at someone else’s expense. The thieves were not principally the politicians, but the demonstrators.

Such popular dishonesty is by no means confined to Greece. In varying degrees, most countries in the West have displayed it, Britain above all. It is perhaps an inherent problem wherever the universal franchise is unaccompanied by widespread virtues such as honesty, self-control, providence, prudence, and self-respect. Greece is therefore a cradle not only of democracy, but of democratic corruption.

The Greek demonstrators did not understand, or did not want to understand, that if there were justice in the world, many people, including themselves, would be worse rather than better off, and that a reduction in their salaries and perquisites was not only economically necessary but just. They had never really earned their wages in the first place; politicians borrowed the money and then dispensed largesse, like monarchs throwing coins to the multitudes.

It is an obvious but often forgotten lesson of economics: what cannot continue will not continue.

Meanwhile, Wall Street is surging on news of the Euro “rescue.”

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