Aristos Doxiadis is wrong: Greece doesn’t need more of the same

20 Jan 2015, Athens, Attica, Greece --- A woman receives a portion of food at a soup kitchen, organized during the years of the Greek economic crisis by
20 Jan 2015, Athens, Attica, Greece — A woman receives a portion of food at a soup kitchen, organized during the years of the Greek economic crisis by “The Fellow Man” group, in Athens January 20, 2015. Image by © MARKO DJURICA/Reuters/Corbis

I don’t think these ideas of Aristos Doxiadis from his New York Times oped represent a path to prosperity for Greece. They’re really the same tired conventional wisdom dressed up as a attack on the new government. And his main idea, that of giving more power to the oligarchs, is a truly horrible idea and will do nothing to help the vast majority of the Greek people.

I don’t deny that streamlining approval procedures and chipping away at pointless obstacles can improve the business environment. There are useful reforms. But, in and of itself, regulatory reform can’t motivate business to invest in new plants and hire more workers if there’s no prospect of selling anything because most people are totally skint. And yet, Doxiadis says nothing about the role of austerity in creating the crisis that smashed the Greek economy. Neither does he discuss the inability of previous governments to collect taxes due to massive corruption.

What’s more, the term “regulatory reform” means a lot of different things to different people. Frankly, “regulatory reform” scares the hell out of me. Louisiana, where I once lived, successfully “reformed” itself into being basically a gigantic toxic waste dump with a crappy education system and no social services after people like Doxiadis promised them that it was the ticket to prosperity.

You know, one man’s “anti business environment” looks to the rest of us a lot like things that are basically important and very good social policies. Personally, I favor laws against child labour, slave labour and prohibitions against selling dangerous or poisonous products. I like having water that is clean and not flammable, air that is breathable, food that won’t make you sick and so forth. I mean, if you think about it, I’m basically describing China, the most “business friendly” industrialized country on the planet.  I wouldn’t want to live in China and I seriously doubt whether most Greeks would, either.   Fortunately for him, Aristos Doxiadis is rich enough so that he wouldn’t need to live the hellhole to which he and his oligarch friends would consign most of the Greek people.

So I think we should hear some specifics before deciding that “regulatory reform” is a panacea, particularly since he doesn’t cite a single example of a country that would have done business in Greece but for the country’s and the EU’s burdensome regulations. If the term “regulatory reform” isn’t fleshed out then it’s just a throwaway line or, worse, a ticket to become China. In any case, it’s certainly not a key to growth in a depressed economy that exports primarily into a Europe that is itself suffering from deflation and a huge crisis of demand.

I also question why Doxiadis thinks giving the oligarchs more power is a solution to anything in an economy that has been devastated by austerity and privatization. The current crop of oligarchs has looted the country for generations and advocated for exactly the kind of large scale privatizations that would put everything of importance in the Greek economy in their control and at fire-sale prices, too. An expanded role for the oligarchs seems like a recipe for an even worse disaster given their already out-sized role in running the Greek economy into the ground in the first place.

This really seems like the same tired advocacy of neoliberalism that has been responsible for the destruction of most of the Western economies and their increasing transformation into oligarchies. What’s more, the new oligarchs are hardly creating vibrant economies since their main activities seems to be bribing the political class into selling them state assets cheaply or otherwise subsiding their activities by exempting them from paying taxes. The Greek people just voted to stop the oligarchs and assorted eurotrash from looting their patrimony and steal from the public fisc, something that seems like a good idea to me.

I’m very skeptical of anybody who doesn’t think that fighting corruption, collecting taxes and getting the Greek economy moving again aren’t the top priorities that need to be addressed before anything else.  First things first.