The Greek riots this past weekend have been sickening. “At least 45 buildings were burned, including one of [Athens’s] oldest cinemas, while dozens of stores and cafes were smashed and looted,” reports the AP.
Why are the rioters upset? “More than 100,000 protesters marched to parliament to rally against drastic austerity cuts that will force firings in the civil service and slash the minimum wage,” explains the Christian Science Monitor.
But “austerity” is the wrong name for these reforms that only slightly reduce the government controls of Greece’s largely socialized economy. The Heritage Foundation explains the underlying problems, calling the Greek economy “mostly unfree” and noting the nation suffers from “acute problems in labor freedom, monetary freedom…the control of government spending…and endemic corruption.”
The Greeks should know better; after all, Athens is the birthplace of the Western legal tradition. In his book Solon the Thinker, historian John David Lewis argues that Solon, “selected as chief official of Athens around 594 BC,” offers important truths in support of justice and the rule of law. Indeed, Solon’s ancient poems should serve as a warning to modern Greeks:
The citizens themselves by their foolishness desire
to destroy the great city, persuaded by material goods…
They grow rich, persuaded by their unjust deeds. …
Sparing the wealth of neither public nor sacred treasuries
with rapaciousness they rob from one another,
and fail to guard the sacred foundations of Justice
who silently knows what is and what was.
But, in time, retribution certainly comes.
Modern Greeks have instituted a government that systematically violates individual rights, one that engages in large-scale looting under color of law. The rioters merely do away with the legal pretense.
Rather than pass trivial “austerity” measures, beg for handouts from other European nations, and riot in the streets, the Greeks should establish a just government that protects people’s rights to property and contract and thus enables them to create wealth and prosper.
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- Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens
- The Rise and Fall of Ancient Greek Justice: Homer to the Sermon on the Mount