Are the Greek Riots a Picture of Our Future?

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Dateline Istanbul - We caught the last flight out of Athens, moments before Greece descended into madness. The news images of fire bombs being thrown on the same streets we walked the day before confirmed our decision to get out while we still could. But will the spiraling chaos convince Americans to give up the cherished delusion that we can go on consuming more than we produce before we experience a Greek tragedy of our own?

The spectacle of government workers, cranky retirees, militant unionists, and mad dog socialists locked arm in arm protesting reality is a sight we'd better get used to. The Germans may think they can staunch the panic with a mere hundred billion because Greece's feeble economy is so small. But the same fatal flaw that gives democratic majorities everywhere the power to vote themselves a comfy retirement now infects a greater part of the developed world. It's only a matter of time before a demographic tsunami swallows us all.

The contrast between the streets of Athens and Istanbul provides striking evidence of the corrosive effect of policies that stifle incentives to work, save, and take care of your own. Athens is a squat, graffiti covered dump badly in need of a paint job whose population all seemed to be off somewhere taking a nap. Take away the handful of ancient ruins and there'd be no reason to go there except to change planes. Istanbul is a pulsing metropolis whose ancient buildings, still in service, mingle with modern skyscrapers, towering bridges, and bustling bazaars. It would take weeks to even scratch the surface.

The Greek economy relies heavily on tourism yet there was hardly a hint of a service mentality. Doughy stares and listless shrugs were the order of the day. Everyone in Istanbul seems to be politely eager to sell you something. If they couldn't instantly meet needs you didn't even know you had they were ready to introduce you to a cousin that would make you a good price on something else.

Both cities host fewer panhandlers than Boston. Yet in Istanbul street corners had hawkers selling everything from roast chestnuts to bottles of water. The Greeks are apparently too proud to scrounge for a living in retail. They prefer to do their begging wholesale. Wielding clubs.

What were the leaders of the European Union thinking when they invited Greece in and left Turkey out? The Turks we met reminded me of what Americans used to be - a nation on the hustle. The Greeks? Take a good hard look at the donkey boys, Pinocchio, because that's what we are becoming. You can't imagine how hard this is for a Greek American like myself to say, raised to believe that our ancestors single handedly invented Western civilization.

Wake up America! How many million unionists are we expected to carry on our public payrolls? How long can we keep government employees on defined-benefit pension plans while the rest of us scramble to fund our 401(k)s ? How many more people are we going to drop from the income tax rolls as we lean on a smaller and smaller slice of citizens to carry an ever greater percentage of the load, leaving the rest free to vote for tax increases? How large a swath of our population can we pretend to keep supplied with newly manufactured economic rights like free healthcare as Social Security and Medicare careen toward insolvency? How much more do we think we can borrow from the Chinese to fund day-to-day government operations? How long do we think we can afford to police the world?

What the world's political leaders and those who elect them need most right now is a shocking example of the only possible outcome of trying to practice redistributive justice on a national or even global scale. Rescuing Greece is a mistake. What they deserve is a good hard dose of exactly what they are asking for - unvarnished socialism.

Throw Greece out of the European Union. Let them default on their debts. Teach buyers to beware before they invest in sovereign bonds. Dare Greece to print Drachmas by the wheelbarrow. Put the whole country on the public payroll then challenge them to demonstrate what a truly egalitarian society looks like. Maybe a dramatic spectacle of what a workers paradise looks like under the media's glare will teach us what's in store if we don't change our ways.

Democracy is broken. You can't mix Freedom and Free Lunch. One or the other has got to go.

Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here.  If you would like to have his weekly columns delivered to you by e-mail, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.

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