This week, while the U.S. celebrates its independence, the world watches a modern Greek tragedy unfold as Greece votes on austere bailout terms imposed by the country's creditors. However the vote goes, one thing is clear: The austerity that came with the two previous bailouts has utterly broken the Greek economy. GDP has gone down nearly 30 percent. A quarter of the country is unemployed, including half of its young people. Pensions have been slashed. The health budget has been cut by 40 percent. Suicides are up 36 percent since 2008. The Troika has authored a new Greek myth -- that you can cut your way to growth. And now they're back, demanding more of what's already shattered the economy. The question is will they shatter the spirit of the Greek people? Just as we value our independence, so do the Greeks, who, after all, invented democracy. No matter the outcome of the vote, feeling some measure of control will help keep Greece's spirit alive.
Ancient Greece was not only the birthplace of democracy, but also a deathbed of reason when a jury of 500 citizens condemned Socrates to die by hemlock poisoning for his impious attitude toward the order of the day. Defiant to the end, the philosopher voluntarily drank the poison himself in a suicidal display of dignity. This weekend, Greek voters will decide in a referendum whether they will be force-fed more painful austerity, imposed by the jury of other European democracies, or, like Socrates, administer their own poison in a "no" vote that will likely push Greece out of the eurozone. Tragedy, too, such as we are witnessing today, had its origins in early Greek drama. Nobel Laureate Joe Stiglitz and Martin Guzman argue that Greece will be better off administering the poison by its own hand. As they point out by examining the Argentine default in 2001, there is "life after debt and default." Manolis Glezos, the elderly firebrand of Syriza, writes from Athens that, in a democracy, "the people are the measure" of their fate. (continued)
It is no longer wise, therefore, for the European Union, a superpower currently in limbo, with recessionist circumstances prevailing, to continue tormenting the Greek people in its strategic southern periphery instead of offering to us all a real chance to spark off prosperity both in Greece and the rest of Europe.