Socialists rarely adopt their beliefs on the job. They usually inherit them from their parents or learn them in school. In the case of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, he came to socialism, or rather socialism came to him, through both routes. Greece suffers the consequences.
George Papandreou’s father and grandfather were both socialists and prime ministers of Greece. One who never questioned the ideas of his socialist parents or his socialist professors isn’t going to question why he’s attending an expensive college far from home when he could be attending a school on the state’s drachma in the original seat of Western learning.
Universities are free in socialist Greece. They have been since the year of Papandreou’s graduation from Amherst College in 1975. Despite the guarantee of free schooling in Greece’s 36-year-old Constitution, Papandreou received his master’s in sociology at the London School of Economics in 1977. Tuition alone there today costs about $17,000 a year. If socialism works so well, why pay abroad for what they are giving away at home?
In Greece, higher education that is not state subsidized is forbidden. Private colleges, like the one Greece’s prime minister attended in Amherst, Massachusetts, are illegal. Wealthy Greeks like the country’s socialist leader evade the law by studying abroad. But his subjects are stuck in the higher education monopoly run by the same government that has run Greece into the ground.
The leader of Greece’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement and the president of the Socialist International can’t renounce a society based on freebies and remain in good stead with his fellow socialists. So, instead of genuine austerity measures, he asks for money from neighboring states that will be never paid back. And the neighbors keep giving. The troika—the European Commission, International Monetary Fund, and European Central Bank—is expected to approve an $8 billion loan for November that will allow Greece to fend off default for now. And for when Greece inevitably bails on the bankers, European leaders have discussed a bailout for the bankers following their bailout of Greece. Who will bailout European taxpayers after the deadbeat debtors and discredited creditors get paid?
Greece is to the EU what its citizens are to it: dependents. Greece is addicted to borrowing the way the Greek people are addicted to government spending. One bad habit feeds the other. Despite melodramatic protests over “austerity” measures, government spending is up 7 percent this year. They just can’t give up the socialism, even in the face of the economy-killing debt it has created.
On a personal level, Greece’s prime minister understands that “public” education, like public housing, public toilets, and public transportation, is a euphemism for inferior. But Papandreou the politician is different from Papandreou the person. Whoever said the personal is the political never met a socialist.
This cognitive dissonance is key to understanding the inability of the third-generation prime minister to bring the nation’s out-of-balance books into balance. Rhetorically touting austerity measures while continuing to handout free eye exams, free tuition, and free babysitting is the free ride that leads to the free fall. Just as the boy prime-minister-in-waiting didn’t see the disconnection between crumby state schools for the masses and tony private colleges for the masters, the prime minister doesn’t make the connection between the government’s free-handed handouts and Greece perpetually putting its hand out to Europe.
Greece, like its prime minister in his college years, has a socialism problem. George Papandreou solved his socialism problem by using his wealth to obtain a superior education away from his homeland’s state-funded university monopoly. Greece can solve its socialism problem only by not practicing what its government preaches. Papandreou the prime minister, like Papandreou the student, reconciles socialist deed with word at his own peril.
The ideas that worked so brilliantly in London School of Economics classrooms and Amherst College lecture halls somehow failed in Greece. Alas, Papandreou gleaned the wrong lesson. Whatever professors said about socialism in those classes was refuted by what Papandreou attending those professors’ classes said about socialism. Socialism fails so miserably that even socialists would rather pay for what government gives away.
You can learn a lot from a socialist education. Most of the lessons aren’t ones the teachers mean to impart.
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