The scion of a socialist political dynasty, son of one prime minister and grandson of another, George Papandreou has also inherited the unwelcome task of bringing Greece's sinking economy back from the depths of the Aegean. Here, he explains how Greeks are more stoic than you think, that Europe isn't the problem -- and why markets are not gods.
- By Benjamin Pauker
Ben Pauker is executive editor at Foreign Policy. Ben came to FP in May 2010 from World Policy Journal, where he was managing editor from 2007-2010. A native of New York, he grew up in Brazil, Australia, and Thailand and has written for Harper's, the Economist, and the Chicago Tribune, among other publications. He is the co-founder of the Gastronauts, the world’s largest adventurous-eating club, and, in the course of reporting but mainly to see if it was possible, has smuggled small arms out of Central Africa.
Our country was not well run. There was a lack of transparency; there was a lot of money that was lost, wasted, through huge bureaucracy, a clientelistic system, patronage, and then of course, graft.
There was a period of almost terror, being terrorized by the markets every day, being told by the Greek and international press and all kinds of gurus on the economy that you will lose your money, you will lose your euro, you will lose your savings, there will be catastrophe.
My experience is actually a Greek experience. Living abroad, diaspora, exile, as a refugee; going through dictatorships, jails, persecution — these are things which pretty much every Greek family has had some relative go through. And one thing you hear in Greece is, “Yes, this is a crisis, but we have come through difficult times before. Let’s huddle together and work it out.”
Markets are fallible, and we should not worship them as gods. We have to see how to put them to best use to help our economies and our societies. You can get a psychology in the markets that is not rational, and that can become a mob psychology, which can go in a positive direction, creating bubbles, or in a negative direction, creating catastrophes.
On the one hand, we have huge capabilities and means to deal with crises, but on the other hand, the problems, because they’re global, interconnected, and interdependent, make people feel disempowered. And that sense of disempowerment is going to create more insecurity and more mistrust in the political institutions we have — and that could range from apathy to violence, from fundamentalism to populism.
We need more Europe, not less. We have to move down a path of more coordination, deepening our integration. Otherwise, we face the prospect of moving back to more nationalistic, more self-centered policies. And that, I think, would be very sad after what we’ve been able to achieve in Europe over these last decades.
Illustration by Joe Ciardiello for FP