The Greek economy has deteriorated steadily during the past eight years of unprecedented fiscal collapse, and the people may finally be fed up with big government, runaway spending, public-sector corruption, and job-killing regulations. A recent in-depth survey, published by the daily Kathimerini newspaper and the new think tank Dianeosis, reveals that Greek society seems to be experiencing an ideological sea change. Economic freedom is steadily becoming the clear victor in the battle of ideas in Greece.
In 2013, Atlas Network and a handful of other organizations and individuals started paying close attention to Greece. The worrying state of its prevailing intellectual climate had left the principles of a free society almost entirely undefended in public discourse. As a result, we witnessed the rise of radical collectivism as a dominant political and ideological force in the country. From the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party to the rise of the radical left and the far right, politics in Greece seemed to be all about which enemy of classical liberalism would dominate the rest.
Atlas Network has since stood at the forefront of a significant effort to rebuild a vibrant community of freedom champions through strategic grants, training programs, and networking support for Greek think tanks and student groups. The idea behind our involvement was to hit the reset button on the liberty movement in Greece and start from scratch. The subsequent four years have been filled with the tremendous growth of our Greek partners and the student movement, and we now see a different picture taking shape.
In Greece, the term “liberalism” retains its classical meaning of support for individual liberty, free markets, and social tolerance. The latest finding from the Dianeosis poll shows that 27 percent of respondents identify as either liberal or neoliberal, together making the largest ideological group for the country’s overall population. These ideas have taken even stronger hold among the rising generation, with an astonishing 50 percent of Greek youth identifying as either liberals or neoliberals.
This is only the beginning of the good news. About 60 percent agree that government is intervening too much in economic matters, and thereby prevents the private sector from creating jobs and wealth. Even more telling is that the majority of Greeks, 55 percent, believe that lower taxation is preferable even if that results in less government welfare. This finding is particularly important because two years ago only 39.2 percent agreed with that statement.
Greeks today also seem to show overwhelming support for many fundamental concepts of the free-market tradition. About 73 percent agreed that “markets” have a positive connotation, along 80 percent for “reforms,” 87 percent for “competitiveness,” and 56 percent for “denationalization” of industries or companies.
There are also, however, some unfortunate countervailing currents of thought. Greeks are also becoming increasingly skeptical of the European Union and 33 percent would prefer an alliance with Russia instead, along with 58 percent support for a Nordic-style welfare state. Most Greeks still fear globalization, with 60 percent viewing it as a major threat, and nearly as many who believe that immigration contributes to the country’s high unemployment numbers.
Atlas Network and our partners have played a strong role in the process of re-introducing the ideas of a free society to Greece. Since 2013, we have supported the launch of two think tanks, Liberty Forum of Greece-Markos Dragoumis and Greek Liberties Monitor; organized a major economic conference where global leaders shared a reform platform that could end the cycle of crises; supported the tremendous growth of the classical liberal student movement; and trained more than 30 intellectual entrepreneurs on how to be effective freedom advocates.
These broad strokes are only a few of the most visible accomplishments in an increasingly vast liberty movement in Greece filled with gatherings, training programs, studies, new books and translations, and substantial media engagement. Our partners have gained access to major media outlets, presented a positive path towards economic recovery and prosperity, and have ensured that when the opportunity arises, the ideas of freedom will be alive and accessible in the future.
This ongoing transformation of Greek society, however, cannot be attributed only to our work or the work of our partners. I believe that a primary reason for this turn toward free markets is that the government regimes in Greece have clearly failed, thereby tainting their devotion to destructive statism and populism. This has caused many Greeks to consider economic freedom as a viable solution for the country’s devastating problems.
Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman famously explained the conditions that allow political systems to change: “Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”
Perhaps we are now seeing this happen in Greece.