We all know the story of the prodigal son. Confident he knows what is best for him, he recklessly squanders his inheritance. The Occupy Wall Streeters are just that, the prodigal protesters. Disobedient to history’s lessons and ignoring what is going on just across the Atlantic in Greece, they make extravagant demands and, in achieving their ends, they squander the very wealth they seek.
For four weeks indignant protesters have flooded Wall Street. Though their specific demands are unclear, their anti-capitalist rhetoric has a reoccurring theme of correcting economic inequality. Signs and banners with slogans like “Where’s my bailout?” “Incent compassion, not greed. Learn to share,” and “Without justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?” fill New York’s Zuccotti Park.
But what Occupy Wall Street activists fail to realize is that they are walking in the footsteps of the Greeks — a dangerous path indeed.
I imagine the Wall Street protesters would embrace Greece’s unusually generous benefits and massive welfare state, which were put in place by Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou in the 1980s. The high price tag for the social programs that accompanied Papandreou’s entitlement matrix proved devastating, eventually ballooning Greece’s debt to 162 percent of its gross domestic product.
As its debt skyrocketed, Greece’s unemployment rate climbed, hitting 16.5 percent in July. The economy is expected to contract 5.5 percent this year. This economic reality forced Andreas’s son, Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou, to undo the work of his father.
One of the most powerful union leaders in Greece, Konstantinos Koutsodimos, criticized the prime minister, saying, “This is a political patricide. Papandreou’s policy is a complete betrayal. Before being elected, he promised that he would increase the social welfare state. He said he would increase wages, and in just two months after his election he reversed everything, he forgot all his promises.” But going back on election promises was not a choice; it was a necessity.
The very welfare state the Occupy Wall Street protesters so eagerly applaud is what has saddled Greece with colossal debt and left its economy on the brink of collapse, igniting violent protests across the nation.
Even though Greece’s debt is more than one and a half times the size of its economy, Greek unions have planned what the Ta Nea newspaper calls “the mother of all strikes” for this week to oppose the inevitable wage cuts, tax hikes and public sector layoffs Prime Minister Papandreou is advocating. Shops, businesses and state offices are shutting their doors as Greece braces for the largest demonstration since the financial turmoil began two years ago.
The brutal demonstrations in Greece are but a small taste of what is to come for America if Occupy Wall Street attains its ends. The protesters hail the idea of a passionate and just welfare state, but do they also welcome the repercussions of establishing such a welfare state? Good intentions do not always translate into good policy. What is nice in theory is not always nice in practice.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the son eventually sees the error of his ways and comes back to his father seeking forgiveness. He learned his lesson the hard way. Will the prodigal protesters learn from the past or are they doomed to repeat it?
Kayleigh McEnany is the founder of www.RealReaganConservative.com. She is a graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and has studied at Oxford University.