I posted this blog in February 2012, and I’ve decided to re-post because I think it is more relevant today.
“The fact is, the Greek people seem to be sleepwalking towards the election of a radical government that is going to destroy their country and effectively take them out of the euro. Not all their reasons for voting for the Syriza coalition are illogical either, given the corruption of Greek politics and the real pain that ordinary Greeks are feeling. Even right wingers like me, who support the EU/IMF and recognise the need for harsh fiscal discipline in the country, are beginning to despair at what the Greek people are going through. The fact is, if we are not careful, we will see Greeks dying, or possibly suffer third world levels of poverty as their public infrastructure collapses.
But what is the solution? To keep giving a corrupt, incompetent Greek state money, which it will squander, or use to stave off vital long-term reforms?
Instead, is it time for the EU to consider direct welfare provision, to stave off the worst excesses and protect the most vulnerable? Should the EU offer to voluntarily register individual Greek citizens and pay them a weekly amount directly? Or what about creating EU public works programmes, such as hiring thousands of unemployed college graduates to collect taxes from businesses? Would it be patronising, even colonialist? Quite possibly, but bear in mind that it was the Greek government that created this insatiable public money devouring clientelist monster, not the EU. It would be voluntary, anyway, perhaps dispersed from EU embassies, effectively the biggest direct aid programme in Europe since Marshall Aid or the Berlin Airlift.
How ever we do it, we cannot let Greeks starve. This is Europe, for Christ’s sake, and these are Europeans too. We have to offer the Greek people a realistic alternative to austerity, that is, austerity with a purpose. Maybe putting much needed euro directly into the hands of Greeks in return for complying with the reforms needed to make the Greek economy self sustaining? Will it work? I don’t know. But a chink in the eurozone accompanied by a Greek default would surely be more expensive than giving every struggling Greek €200 a week?
Of course, when I suggest something like this there’ll be the usual Irish voices demanding that any such funds be spent in Ireland, but the reality is that Greece is in a far worse state than Ireland, and unlike Ireland, is in serious danger of a military coup. One thing is certain, and this applies to Ireland as well as Greece. Whilst you must get taxes and spending into alignment, you just cannot cut your way out of a recession.”