On this edition of Radio Free Acton, Acton Institute Director of International Outreach Todd Huizinga draws on his wealth of diplomatic and international experience to help us understand the history and context of the ongoing financial difficulties of the nation of Greece, and how the nature of the European Union contributes to the unrest we see today in parts of Europe. You can listen via the audio player below.
Much attention has been given to Greece’s fiscal and political issues, but one European country may have even bigger problems: France. Writing in the American Spectator, Samuel Gregg discusses ‘Europe’s Real Time Bomb’ and how the challenges Greece faces are miniscule compared to France’s.
It’s no exaggeration to say that France is facing one of its most systematic crises since the Fourth Republic’s collapse in 1958. This time, however, there’s no man of destiny—no Charles de Gaulle—waiting in the wings to save France from itself. In fact, that’s part of France’s problem: a political class that, regardless of party, isn’t adept at imaginative thinking, especially concerning Exhibit A of France’s problems: its economy.
It gets really interesting now in the wake of Syriza’s stunning victory in yesterday’s Greek elections, widely interpreted as a populist rejection of austerity programs that could spread to other indebted European Union basket cases. All eyes on are Alexis Tsipras, the newly-sworn in prime minister (in a highly unusual secular ceremony), with a lot of unanswered questions about how his party will govern. (Syriza is the transliterated Greek acronym for Coalition of the Radical Left). I’ve been following this story – indeed the long gut-wrenching meltdown of the Greek economy – in recent years with more than casual interest. I grew up in a Greek immigrant household and have retraced my grandparents’ steps back to the family villages (I’m what real Greeks refer to as a “two week Greek”).
On the Forbes site, Charles Calomiris paints a picture of what is in store for Greeks if Tsipras follows through on his promises to magically wish away debt (176 percent of GDP), go after “the rich” (Greek shipowners) and give away more free stuff (electrical power, health care, higher minimum wage, etc.) paid for with other people’s money:
… the likely consequences for Greece of Sunday’s election are a chaotic future of bank runs, devaluation, capital flight, and even more worrying, new radical leftist policies to respond to the economic collapse produced by the crisis (e.g., huge expansions of government spending, and nationalizations). Nothing can be ruled out when someone like Mr. Tsipras is in charge – a European version of Hugo Chavez.
Calomiris concludes by observing that “although it is likely that Mr. Tsipras’s victory will soon be regarded as a major electoral error by Greeks, it could be a helpful wake up call for the rest of Europe.” (more…)
The short answer: The constitutionality of saying religiously specific prayers (e.g., praying in Jesus name) at government meetings and functions.
The (slightly) longer answer: In the town of Greece, located in upstate New York, the Town Board sessions were opened by a prayer from local clergy, mostly leaders of Christian congregations although in a few instances members of other faith traditions offered the invocation (a Jewish man, a Baha’i leader, and a Wiccan). The Second Circuit Court ruled the prayers were unconstitutional since they aligned the town government officially with a particular faith — Christianity. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court.
What was the Supreme Court’s ruling?
In a 5-4 decision, split along traditional right-left lines with Justice Kennedy joining the majority, the court ruled that the town’s practice of beginning legislative sessions with prayers does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court concludes:
When I talk about my time growing up in Los Angeles with my mother, I often describe her motivations for going to Hollywood like this: “She wanted to be a movie star…which means she was a waitress.”
That’s a pretty common experience in an industry as competitive and grinding as film. But increasingly these kinds of challenges are faced by women in less glamorous and more mainstream industries. As a recent BusinessWeek piece put it, “You Can Have Any Job You Want, as Long as It’s Waitress.”
From Australia’s SBS Television: Greeks with Australian citizenship are returning here in the hope of finding jobs and a better life, away from the instability crippling Greece’s economy.
Which is why so many Greeks left home and family behind for the American Dream in the early 20th Century:
Greeks began to settle in America at the end of the 19th century and the influx of migrants continued up until the 1920s. Around 400,000 Greeks migrated to America at that time, primarily from the Peloponnese and the rest of southern Greece. Three quarters of the immigrants settled permanently in America, in large urban centers such as Chicago, New York and tens of smaller cities scattered across the country reaching as far as California. They engaged in various forms of employment such as street vendors and shop owners. Many were restaurateurs while others worked in more manual jobs such as cotton mills, coalmines, or on the railways.
Australia’s ranking on the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom: 3
Greece’s ranking on the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom: 117
The United States’ ranking on the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom: 10
There are at least six “self made” Greek-American billionaires on the Forbes 400 list.
There is considerable debate in the public square these days about a number of issues that have significant economic components. Globalization, environmental protection, and aiding the poor are just a few. Decisions we make in our personal lives are influenced by our assumptions about economic realities as well. So how might mainstream economics connect with Christian values and principles?
Greece is, economically, a mess. With a youth unemployment rate exceeding 65 percent, leaving two-thirds of the nation’s young people unable to find a job, there is not much to celebrate in a country where family life – like many cultures – revolves around meals. Greece is also facing a sharp decline in population. Here is a story of what happens when people who love to cook, but have no one to cook for, meet people who love to eat, but have little money for food. (more…)
Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, announced Wednesday that the government would attempt to cut government debt by taking money from its citizens’ private pension funds. Poland currently has a two-fold pension system: mandatory contributions are made to the state pension fund and then to private funds. It is the state funds, known as ZUS, that the Polish government plans to “transfer” money from. According to Reuters:
…Prime Minister Donald Tusk said private funds within the state-guaranteed system would have their bond holdings transferred to a state pension vehicle, but keep their equity holdings.
He said that what remained in citizens’ pension pots in the private funds will be gradually transferred into the state vehicle over the last 10 years before savers hit retirement age.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is a frustrated man. With unemployment rates in Germany hovering at around 8 percent, and Greece and Spain at almost 60 percent, he believes the EU is on the brink of “revolution.” His answer is not to scrap the welfare model however; he wants to preserve it.
While Germany insists on the importance of budget consolidation, Schaeuble spoke of the need to preserve Europe’s welfare model.
If U.S. welfare standards were introduced in Europe, “we would have revolution, not tomorrow, but on the very same day,” Schaeuble told a conference in Paris.
Not everyone agrees. Italian Labour minister Enrico Giovannini says European youth are being asked to put their lives on hold, and that this is “unacceptable.” Werner Hoyer, head the European Investment Bank, acknowledged that there is no plan at this point to direct the spiraling downturn of the EU economy. There is, instead, a country-by-country “patchwork” approach. For instance, Greece is attempting to focus on job training and entrepreneurship for 350,000 young people, and France is working on a similar plan within its own borders. (more…)
As commencement ceremonies once again are being celebrated around the country, I was reminded again of the moral crisis of US education.
Elise Hilton recently surveyed the dismal employment rate among young adults in the US, writing that we have moved in twelve years from having the best rate in the developed world to being among the worst, following the path of Greece, Spain, and Portugal.
She highlights two possible solutions. The better one is from Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg:
Gregg says we must rely on free markets rather than redistribution of wealth, economic liberty, rule of law, entrepreneurship and the ability to take risks economically – all things that have made America great in the past.
The second comes from David Leonhardt, who, among other ideas, suggests, “Long term, nothing is likely to matter more than improving educational attainment, from preschool through college.”
Notice the language he uses? Not educational quality, nor even job-training, but “educational attainment.” With no intended disrespect to Mr. Leonhardt, it is precisely this well-meaning, widespread, but ill-informed mentality that has led, in large part, to our current educational crisis. (more…)