Beware of Politicians Bearing Gifts

The great classical Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro, better known simply as Virgil, said “do not trust the horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts.” While Virgil was referring to the sly and cunning nature of the Ancient Greeks, these potent human faculties failed to manifest when Greece allowed its own Trojan horse to penetrate its boundaries 30 years ago, that of course being socialism.

This was not always the predestined trajectory for Greece and should be a cautionary tale for the United States. As early as 30 years ago, Greece was an exemplar of fiscal frugality as its debt to GDP ratio stood at only 28.6 percent. No small feat for an industrialized nation but that path was abruptly halted, as a politician named Andreas Papandreou was elected Prime Minister in 1981.

Papandreou was a vanguard of academia that had limited governing experience but rode the wave and slogan of “change” to victory in the election 1981. Sounds frighteningly familiar to most Americans.

Shortly thereafter, Greece took the inexorable plunge towards statism and central planning. The Greek government and the ruling Socialist party nationalized failing industry, instituted a government run health-care system, exceedingly expanded welfare handouts, and vastly expanded public-sector employment to the point where one out of every four of its citizens are government employees.

This led to the development of an elite ruling class dominated by public-sector workers and government largess gobbling up huge amounts of the nation’s output and wealth. Greek citizens were now being inculcated with the belief that an omnipotent government could be the ultimate provider for all of life’s desires and needs, while the private-sector economy was ostensibly on the road towards serfdom. Taxes were at egregious levels, while debt continued to soar to unparalleled heights, now standing at 140 percent of GDP. The implacable belief in leviathan government eliminated any possibility of the necessary reduction in the size of government.

Thus now stands Greece. On the precipice of fiscal disaster and potential default, anarchists, socialists, communists and other leftist automatons have taken to the streets rioting and looting in a greedy and vain attempt to thwart austerity measures.

This has been a futile effort, as Greek parliament passed the bailout and austerity package forced upon them by the European Union. Still, this nightmare tale of Greek profligacy seems inevitably headed towards tragedy. Interest rates continue to soar and economic growth will never reach levels needed to service the enormous level of debt.

This Greek tragedy will continue to unfold. But there need not be an American tragedy. We seem headed on a similar fiscal path but unlike the Greeks, our story has not been fully written yet.

The concept of the role of government in our society needs to be changed backed to the limited government ideals of our founding and the American ethos of “beware of politicians bearing gifts” needs to be restored.