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A Perilous ‘No’ to the Status Quo

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Aristides N. Hatzis, "A Perilous ‘No’ to the Status Quo" (Wall Street Journal, July 8, 2015)

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A Perilous ‘No’ to the Status Quo

  1. 1. 7/9/2015 A Perilous ‘No’ to the Status Quo - WSJ We use cookies to help us deliver our online services. By using our website or by closing thi: agree to our use of cookies as described in our Cookie Policy. . ... s uuj. /y . s . u. yuui pe. w.. a., .. u.. -w. ... ..e. c.a. use ulny. lJ ulucl plcaclltauull-Icauy wjnes IUI ulauluuuun IV yuul colleagues, clients or customers visit http: //vwvw. djreprints. com. http: //www. wsj . com/ articles/ a-perilous—no-to-the-status-quo-1436382329 OPINION I COMMENTARY A Perilous ‘No’ to the Status Quo Last weekend's referendum repudiated those elites who offer Greece its best chance at recovery. STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: The coalition of‘no’ voters was notable for its wide array of competing interests, including the radical Iefl, the populist right and neo-Nazis. PHOTO: KOSTAS TSIRONIS/ REUTERS By ARISTIDES N. HATZIS July 8, 2015 3:05 p. m. ET People outside Greece can’t comprehend the extent ofthe “no” side’s victory in Sunday’s referendum. It wasn’t only a landslide, 61% to 39%. It was also a triumph in an existential battle. Both camps presented the vote as a winner—takes—all conflict. The government, in supporting a “no” vote, asked the Greek people to demand an end to failed austerity policies and depression. The “yes” camp tried to persuade the electorate that the vote would determine Greece’s international standing. The victory for “no” says something about Greek—voter fatigue for recession and bailout—imposed policies. Even “yes” supporters concede these policies haven’t fully revived the economy. But it also sends aworrying message about Greek politics. The http: /Nwwvmsj . com/ articles/ a—peri | ous—n(>tothestatus—q uo1436382329 1/3
  2. 2. 7/9/2015 APeri| ous ‘No'tolhe Status Quo-WSJ country’ s political elites almost unanimously supported a “yes” vote, and voters overwhelmingly rebuffed those elites. It’s hard to overstate the pressure voters faced to choose “yes. ” Major television channels and newspapers, university professors, economists, bar associations, mayors, chambers of commerce, workers’ unions, leading intellectuals, columnists, artists and athletes all joined the pro-Europe camp with statements, op-eds, petitions and warnings. Conservatives, liberals, libertarians, centrists, social democrats, socialists and moderate leftists filled the ranks of the “yes” campaign. Except for those who are openly affiliated with the ruling far-left Syriza party, it was difficult to find a member of the intellectual elite who supported “no. ” This was an unusually broad coalition, arguably the first time such a wide array of competing interests made common cause. They united because they believed, correctly, that a lot was at stake—not just economically, but politically. The “no” position was endorsed by marginal political forces such as the radical left, the populist far—right and neo—Nazis, and “yes” supporters feared that the economic and political chaos following rejection of the bailout terms and an exit from the euro might empower those groups. That was why the defeat was so devastating. Greek voters apparently reacted with disgust at the attempt by the political, economic and intellectual elite to lobby for a pro- Europe vote. That the majority of voters sided with the extremists has delivered a major blow to the discredited mainstream of Greece. The causes for this failure are many. Most Greeks are disillusioned with the Greek political system and the European Union. They resent a political class that for decades allowed clientelism and corruption to proliferate. Worse, after 2010 the elites sold their soul to the austerity devil in order to keep Greece in the eurozone, accepting damaging tax hikes and unevenly distributed spending cuts without proposing to either creditors or Voters a pro-growth alternative of deeper reforms. Nowvoters are ready to support anything that even remotely sounds antiestablishment. Elite scaremongering failed to move an already traumatized electorate. Many Greeks don’t fear an exit from the euro because while they can’t perceive the dangers, they loathe the current never-ending stagnation. It’s not a coincidence that 85% of voters aged 18 to 24 voted for “no. ” These young women and men grew up in an era of borrowed happiness as Athens was spending money obtained from European lenders before 2009. They don’t understand the relationship between the current situation htlp: IAMmvMsj. comIarticIesIa-perilous-no-to-the-status-quo-1436382329
  3. 3. 7/9/2015 A PeI'i| ous ‘No’ to the Status Quo - VIBJ and that artificial Eden, and they also have no memories of Greece’s earlier period before it fully integrated into Europe. Meanwhile, a lot of voters were repulsed by the heavy-handed way most major mainstream media covered the referendum. They didn’t like the alarmism but also the tough—minded pressure applied by anchors and commentators on Syriza party members. Voters saw this as an attempt at brainwashing, a view compounded by long- standing—and often justified—skepticism about the media’s political and economic motives. All of these dynamics were compounded by an emotional factor. The most celebrated episodes in Greece’s history have involved some form of a defense against foreigners determined to destroy the nation. The fact that this time Greeks were repudiating the allies ofa democratic Europe, and not enemies such as Nazi Germany or the Ottoman empire, didn’t seem to make a difference in this knee-jerk reaction. The combination of forces that led to the “no” victory makes the outcome far more serious than even the question of euro membership would suggest. It has exposed the widespread mistrust that voters have for the reformist elites who are Greece’s best chance for staying in the euro, let alone implementing economic reforms that could return the country to growth. Those elites now have to win back public trust. One way to do this is for the reformists to offer a comprehensive plan that should include pro-market structural reforms designed to jump-start growth, an overhaul of the broken retirement system, a credible plan for fighting corruption and tax evasion, and a rebuilding of a shattered welfare system that is both inefficient and unfair. This proposal could serve as the viable alternative to the Scylla of austerity and the Charybdis of a Greek exit. Mr. Hatzis is an associateprofessor oflaw and economics at the University ofAthens and a co—founder of GreekCrisis. net. Copyright 2014 Dow Jones& Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved This copy isfor your personal, non-commercial use only. Distribution and use of this material are governed by our Subscriber Agreement and by copyright law. For non-personal use orto order multiple copies, please contact Dow Jones Reprints at 1-800-843-0008 or visit www. djreprints. com. htlp: IAMmv. vsj. comIarticIes/ a-perilous-no-to-the-status-quo-1436382329