What We Can Learn From Greece…2500 Years Ago
The recent Greek elections for better or worse signaled that Greece would remain a part of the European Union. The retired class of Greece, fearful of losing their benefits, came out en masse and voted for the “center-right” New Democratic party, the socialist Pasok party and their pro bailout platforms. The loss came at the expense of the “left” Syriza party, lead by charismatic Alexis “Sexy Lexis” Tsipras, and shook the cradle of Western Civilization out of its secessionist frenzy.
“I am relieved,” New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras told Reuters. “I am relieved for Greece and Europe…The Greek people voted today to stay on the European course and remain in the euro zone,” Samaras said in a victory speech. “There will be no more adventures, Greece’s place in Europe will not be put in doubt.”
Since the crisis began the world has been focused on the causes, but most feverishly on the countermeasures. Fans of free market have lambasted austerity alarmists like Paul Krugman for claiming “Austerity Is So Wrong” and that it’s killing the great economies of Europe. Indeed, the free marketers claim “austerity” in Greece and throughout Europe have been anything, but austere and in fact Greek leadership has made only minor cuts while raising taxes grinding the Greek economy to a halt.
“…Critics of cutting government spending in a weak economy ignore academic research showing that significant spending cuts, structural reforms to entitlements, and loosening labor regulations are proven ways to reduce debt loads and get countries moving again” writes Nick Gillespie and Jim Epstein of Reason Magazine.
Spending after all is how the Greek economy got into debt 160% of their GDP in the first place is it not? Digging a deeper hole to China seems a little counterintuitive, unless you’re a Keynesian or Paul Krugman. If more spending is the answer you’re merely empowering the same people, finance oligarchs and unscrupulous politicians, who signed Greece onto fraudulent debt not merely the monies actually spent on addictive entitlements and economic relief. But what is the real cause for Europes woes, socialism or some virulent form of capitalism? Perhaps Sexy Lexis and his anti-bailout crew are right. It may be that Greece is too big.
How Peisistratos’ “Small” Banking Experiment Created Western Civilization
In Leopold Kohr’s discussion on the Breakdown of Nations notes that classicist Kathleen Freeman “has shown in a study of Greek city states that nearly all Western culture is a product of the disunited small states of ancient Greece.” This makes perfect sense if you understand the Renaissance occurred amidst the divided city-states of Italy and the neck breaking expansion of the early United States when territories, states and frontier townships formed a robust tapestry.
Peisistratos a popular tyrant who ruled Athens when it was a relatively inconsequential city-state during the 6th century BC is a testament to Freeman’s thesis. Rather than oppress the Athenian population through violence, as we understand modern tyrants to do, Peisistratos, according to Aristotle and Herodotus, governed idyllically, and dutifully preserved the proto-democratic reforms of the Athnian statesman and lawmaker, Solon. He didn’t attempt to rout the rule of law and in fact Aristotle wrote that “his administration was temperate…and more like constitutional government than a tyranny.”
This is not necessarily a result of being a city-state as there were belligerent polities like the Spartans who cared little for innovation and comfort outside of military barracks and weaponry. It is Peisistratos’ archaic Athens, then small, which confined and focused his activities, that aided in producing an unprecedented economic expansion and provided the impetus which forged Athens the seat of power in the region it kept for thousands of years.
Today Greek politicians clamor for more money from the European Central Bank, for the Federal Reserve and its enforcers on Wall Street to streamline the effort and bless each and every step. For what? Does this put money into the hands of the people who need it or merely those who have the influence to direct where it ultimately goes? Does mere “stability” for the sake of stability produce growth? No and no.
Peisistratos created one of the world’s first micro-loan programs for those in need expanding on Solon’s accomplishments in emancipating the poor from state dependency by planting olive trees. Rather than a grain subsidy, outright entitlement or relief measure in poor harvests Peisistratos established a fund that provided easy and low interest loans for the neady – invariably the Hyperakrioi who lived in the hills.
These loans helped farmers invest in capital-intensive projects, namely olive trees and their prized oil. It also helped them purchase the tools and equipment necessary. Unlike today’s Greece Peisistratos reduced taxes while providing these low interest (free at times) loans. Duties paid at Athenian harbors and extracted from silver mines in Mount Pangaeum funded this financial operation, not printing money or borrowing from other states.
The intimacy that was commonplace in Athens over two millennia ago is not something we can find easily today under the rule of the One-Worlders those who wish to unite evermore nations under one government. Peisistratos for instance, in a famous story: “saw a farmer digging in a field of stones and asked what his income was. When the farmer replied, ‘Just so many aches and pains; and of these aches and pains Peisistratos ought to take his 10 percent,’ the tyrant remitted all taxes to the frank farmer.” Peisistratos had the benefit of living within the same community as his people, while modern rulers are ensconced in their ivory towers in Washington, Brussels and Beijing.
Athens, as a result of Peisistratos travelling courts, low taxes, inventive financing, real investment in tangible goods and the resulting wealth, produced more for Athens than just prized olive oil and agrarian revolution it laid the foundation for economic expansion. His calm and even rule enabled public projects providing evermore jobs and an economic boom, which emancipated individuals to pursue science, philosophy, literature, drama, art and architecture – the crucible of Western civilization. To be sure, Aristotle recorded the tyranny of Peisistratos as the age of Cronus, the golden age.
How will historians record our time?