Visions, not a vision

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Our so-called "productive classes" (who are in effect just merchants, middlemen and traders) are calling for a new economic plan. They have not said whether it should be a Soviet-style five-year plan but they have argued that there can be no economic growth without state guidance.

The truth is that whenever there has been growth here, it has been state-dependent and state-controlled. With abundant liquidity made possible thanks to unchecked state loans and incentives, endless debt settlements and thousands of laws on competition, Greece’s entrepreneurs looked more like freelance civil servants. They knew that no matter what happened to their investments, the state would always throw them some sort of lifeline – always in the name of growth or job security.

The point is that the Greek economy does not need the state to have a vision to survive. What it needs is the aggregate of private visions. If anyone back in the 60s and 70s had said that the hippies hanging around Stanford University would trigger the technological boom, people would have called them crazy. Those kids in Silicon Valley were not following some grand IT vision imposed by Washington. They were driven by a less grandiose vision: They wanted to make good computers. They were not guided by some Soviet-style master plan, but no one put obstacles in their way either.

In Greece, visions die as soon as they arise. Even the most prosaic ones. If a kid wants to become a trucker, the Transport Ministry imposes a 200,000-euro tax on him. If he wants to open a pharmacy in his hometown, the Economy Ministry imposes population criteria and makes him move his business to some faraway village. If he wants to open a CD shop that will stay open when the megastores are closed, then the so-called productive classes will try to shut it down in the name of fair competition. In Greece we want the state to have a vision but we don’t want individuals to have vision. Everything, even the rhetoric about the new growth model, helps reproduce the existing counterproductive model.

Greece only needs one vision: the vision of freedom. We must finally allow our children to work and prosper. Sure, not all of them will succeed. Some of their businesses will fail while others will become the impetus for a new growth cycle. Greece must shed its Soviet-style ideas and open up its markets. Or we shall all fail.

Published in "Kathimerini" newspaper 22.7.2010