The European establishment are desperate to avoid the election of an austerity-defying left-wing government in Greece, currently ahead in the polls. This could happen soon, depending on the result of Greece’s Presidential Election, being held tomorrow.
Antonis Samaras, the right wing Prime Minister who has been supervising an austerity programme far worse than any other European country’s, needs his candidate to get the support of at least 180 out of the 300 MPs in order to avoid immediate parliamentary elections, which according to opinion polls he will lose, albeit by a small margin, to Alex Tsipras’ party SYRIZA.
The European establishment are anxious to save Europe from the chaos they think will ensue if SYRIZA wins an election. From their point of view, if this happens Greece may default on its debts. Default seems to have been a good move for Iceland and Argentina, after all. If Greece defaults, will other indebted EU countries follow suit? Greece may end up leaving the Euro, though SYRIZA says its policy is to stay in; again, if Greece leaves will the Euro collapse?
The establishment wants Greece to keep its present government in order to save Europe. But save it for what? The people who worry about debt defaults and the future of the Euro have houses to live in. They have enough food for themselves and their children. Increasing numbers of Europeans, especially Greeks, are no longer so fortunate.
I too hope Greece will save Europe, but the other way round. I approach the matter from my Christian belief that the world has been made by a good God who has provided us all with enough to meet everybody’s needs. However God has also given us freedom to choose between good and evil, and there have always been people who take more than their share and leave others without.
For much of Christian history, especially the early Church and medieval Catholicism, there was a limit to how much wealth it was morally acceptable for a person to possess. Those who had more had a moral duty to give the excess to the poor.
In modern times this belief has declined as secular theories of economics have dominated western societies. They have produced a new ideology, central to which are the following:
1) Nature does not provide enough for everyone. We must therefore work hard to create wealth.
2) Knowing how to create wealth is a technical matter, so we depend on the expertise of specialists.
3) Society therefore needs to be very hierarchical, with all the power under the control of the experts. Some people matter a lot; some hardly matter at all.
4) People who do not help create wealth are free riders, dragging down the quality of life for the rest of us. They should be penalised.
The European establishment – governments, business and finance leaders, the mass media – take all this for granted, or at least behave as though they do. As the years go by it is becoming increasingly clear that it is unsustainable.
Here I focus on the most obvious cause of unsustainability, that it carries on making the rich richer and the poor poorer without any limit to the process.
Throughout history the tendency has always been for the rich to use some of their wealth to make themselves richer still. So unless some process redistributes wealth, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
What kinds of processes redistribute wealth? There are three: war, revolution, and deliberate redistribution by governments. One or another of these will happen to Europe some time over the next few years.
In the Bible, all debts are to be cancelled every seven years (Deuteronomy 15:1). One ruler, Nehemiah, described how he enforced debt cancellation. In the days of the Deuteronomists and Nehemiah, it was possible to be shocked by the immorality of a wealthy person lending money to a poor person and then demanding a return with interest regardless of the debtor’s personal circumstances.
Before then it was common for Mesopotamian kings, on gaining the throne, to decree a cancellation of debts – it was a way of ingratiating themselves, as there are always more debtors than creditors.
What kind of creditor is it who thinks repayment of their loans is more important than the debtor’s family having food to eat and a home to live in? Why not just cancel the debts?
Yet this is the situation we are in now. The European establishment is at one in threatening total chaos unless debtors pay everything they owe, regardless of the distress caused to millions.