Everyone’s been culling from the history of ancient Athens a fitting metaphor to illustrate the financial disaster befalling modern Greece. As far as this story goes, I played with working Tiresias, the blind prophet, or Odysseus, the self-blinded king, into the post’s title. But I’ll just let the following report speak for itself:
It was the rumours of an “island of the blind” which first bought Angelos, a journalist, to Greece in 2011.
He had heard that on Zakynthos, something like two per cent of the population were registered blind.
All was not quite how it seemed, however, and it transpired that 61 of the 680 “blind” residents were quite happily driving around the island.
In fact, an astonishing 498 of those 680 were not blind at all — or even partially sighted.
But being “blind” had its advantages — in particular, the €724 paid in benefits once every two months, and a reduction in utility bills.
It was a scam which could be traced back to one ophthalmologist and one official, which was estimated to have cost the country €9 million.
And, as Angelos discovered, it was only the tip of the iceberg.
How big is the problem of disability benefits fraud, Angelos asked the then-deputy health minister Markos Bolaris.
“Very big,” came the accurate, but short, reply.
Indeed, when those claiming disabilities were asked to present themselves at government offices so records could be updated, 36,000 failed to do so.
Granted, this is an extreme case of playing the system, but we should also admit that this is the inevitable consequence of “socialism” in all its Hydra-headed forms. (Who knows what the word even means anymore, its having corrupted so many different kinds of economies in ways large and small.)
For the sake of argument, let’s define socialism as the state confiscation of citizens’ wealth for the purposes of redistributing it over and above those services only the state at its various levels should provide—and this in the pursuit of a mythical “equality” that exists only in the minds of central planners.
It’s a self-perpetuating system—in other words, permanent—because the government needs dependents, otherwise it has no guarantor of power, and no reason to continue to take from Peter to give to Paul so that Paul will continue to empower the redistributors. And the system not only needs dependents, it also needs to convince more and more people how dependent they are, how dependence is downright patriotic, a good work for the sake of one’s neighbor.
And if that is the case, why wouldn’t you expect larger and larger swathes of the population to get with the program, to become dependent, even if they’re not? Who can live with the cognitive dissonance that socialism generates? “Think you’re able? You didn’t build that! Don’t buy into that right-wing propaganda: you’re disabled! Now act accordingly!“
Socialism was transableism before it was cool.
So I don’t want to hear about how faking indigence is corruption on the popular level. The lies start at the top. “You can have everything you need, and retire before age 61, at taxpayer expense, or by endless borrowing from more industrious sources, ad infinitum, no negative financial consequences, because
I need to hold on to power social justice. Worse comes to worst, we’ll guilt the Germans into bailing us out.”
Lie. Lie. Lie. Lie. Lie. Lie. Lie. Good luck with that.
And there’s but a gnat wing’s difference between crony capitalism and socialism, because “success” still depends on a corrupting influence from within the state: whether it’s the granting of tax breaks that working- and middle-class folks couldn’t get for themselves in a month of Sundays, or business permits that are denied to competitors, or federal contracts that were never properly bid out, etc., etc.
And now we have Bernie Sanders promising to bring the Greek miracle to the U.S. Watch Hillary and other Dems (and undoubtedly a Republican or two) try and keep up.
No matter how many times a “redistribution of wealth” scheme proves to be the long-term impoverishment of everyone; no matter how many times a Rube Goldberg bureaucracy grinds to a halt, tripping up the very people it’s supposed to move forward; no matter how many economies socialism, right-wing or left-, destroys—it always finds a taker.
Why? How can something so old and soiled and with such a poor track record continue to be pitched as new and progressive?
Is it merely ignorance of history? Ignorance of how economies actually work, or how wealth is actually produced in the first place? Fear of being unable to keep up in a highly competitive capitalist economy?
Yes, but it’s also more than that.
Make “capitalism”—defined however you like, as the so-called one percent, the banks, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Big Business (until “progressive” government can bring it to heel), or small business (because it flies below the radar of too many state-mandated regulations)—the reason you are poor, or have too much debt, or aren’t living the life the stars of Friends or Seinfeld are living, and it doesn’t matter that you’re being sold defective goods in its place. Resentment, bitterness, envy, and fear will do the rest.
F.A. Hayek had this to say about the choice between security and freedom in The Road to Serfdom:
In a society used to freedom it is unlikely that many people would be ready to deliberately purchase security at [the price of organization along rigid, hierarchical military lines]. But the policies which are now followed everywhere, which hand out the privilege of security, now to this group and now to that [think about how certain industries were bailed out and others allowed to fail], are nevertheless rapidly creating conditions in which the striving for security tends to become stronger than the love of freedom. The reason for this is that with every grant of complete security to one group, the insecurity of the rest necessarily increases. If you guarantee to some a fixed part of a variable cake, the share left to the rest is bound to fluctuate proportionally more than the size of the whole. And the essential element of security which the competitive system offers, the great variety of opportunities, is more and more reduced. [emphasis mine]
And of course there’s always the chilling lecture the Grand Inquisitor gives to Jesus in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov:
Our work is only beginning, but at least it has begun. And, although its completion is still a long way off and the earth will have to face much suffering until then, in the end we shall prevail, we will be Caesars, and then we shall devise a plan for universal happiness. But You, You could have taken Caesar’s sword when you came the first time. Why did you reject that last gift? Had you accepted the third offering of the mighty spirit, You would have fulfilled man’s greatest need on earth. That is, the need to find someone to worship, someone who can relieve him of the burden of conscience, thus enabling him finally to unite into the harmonious ant-hill where there are no dissenting voices, for the unquenchable thirst for universal unity is the third and last ordeal of man. …
Under us they will all be happy and they will not rise in rebellion and kill one another all the world over, as they are doing now with the freedom You gave them. Oh, we shall convince them that they will only be free when they have surrendered their freedom and submitted to us…for they will remember the horrors of chaos and enslavement that Your freedom brought them. … Ah, they will value all too highly the advantages to be derived from submitting to us once and for all. …The herd will be gathered together and tamed again…and this time for good.
Too many people would rather destroy what others have, even if it means they themselves will never have it, than be told they are free, and thus responsible for their economic fate.* If the wealth redistributors and their dependents cannot create, at least they can destroy. And they’ll always be a P.T. Barnum pointing the way to the “Egress” to persuade you there’s no difference.
*Yes, there are people who cannot keep up, cannot compete, due to no fault of their own—the severely handicapped, the chronically ill, those who have had their resources depleted or stolen by predators. A strong, competitive capitalist economy can afford a strong safety net—but one that should be just that, not a trampoline for otherwise healthy people to play on.
What about hardworking people who lose their jobs because of incompetence at the executive level or major shifts in the market, both due to forces they cannot control? Don’t kid yourself about the “benevolence” of a progressive system in that regard. Hayek again:
If those whose usefulness is reduced by circumstances which they could neither foresee nor control were to be protected against undeserved loss, and those whose usefulness has been increased in the same way were prevented from making an unmerited gain, remuneration would soon cease to have any relation to actual usefulness. It would depend on the views held by some authority about what a person out to have done, what he ought to have foreseen, and how good or bad his intentions were. Such decisions could not but be to a large extent arbitrary. …
When a person’s income is guaranteed, he can neither be allowed to stay in his job merely because he likes it nor to choose what other work he would like to do. As it is not he who makes the gain or suffers the loss dependent on his moving or not moving, the choice must be made for him by those in control of the distribution of the available income.
It should be noted that Hayek goes on to enumerate the positive requirements for government. The goal is not no government but wise and efficient government. You can’t have robust competition—competitive prices and responsiveness to consumer demands—if only one team has access to the equipment or the playing field, whether that team is the state or a private monopoly. Anti-trust laws and reasonable regulations protecting both public health and private property are also within the realm of government’s positive responsibilities.