Sunday, 26 October 2014


It stands to reason that all human beings (assuming free of mental illness) want to be happy, content or at least have positive feelings and harmony in their lives. However, happiness is very subjective based on brain chemistry, individual mental state, and character disposition, none of which can be subject to public policy, except in so far as a country’s health system and social programs are concerned. Happiness is also based on individual, family, community, religious or secular criteria that may include a combination of factors from health to money, from achieving one’s career goals to securing upward social mobility for one’s children, from mastering the complexities of quantum theory in physics to traveling around the world for the mere joy of it, and so much more.

 It is also possible that some people may not want to entertain positive feelings, or be “happy” because negative feelings, lack of contentment or unhappiness provides an existential sense of being, feeling alive and empowered through negative energy because there is purpose in life for which to strive. There is also the element of happiness and cultural relativism that accounts for different perceptions of this concept in different cultures. What may constitute happiness for a Wall Street stock broker is not the same as a small farmer in Kazakhstan. As we will see below, the concept of happiness in the individualistic West is different than it is in societies where collectivist or communitarian values prevail. In all cases, of course, human beings have basic needs that must be met for survival and those essential common needs transcend cultural differences and nuances in what constitutes happiness.  

Finally, there is the whole notion that happiness is an illusion like so many others people entertain in order to cope in life. If we accept that narcotics induce a sense of euphoria owing to stimulating effect and disruption of neurotransmission, then happiness as a state of mind may be another illusion that the media and societal institutions in general have inculcated into the mind of people. Can the state provide the illusion that people are happy? Of course it can and it always has by projecting an image of grandeur and the best possible society citizens can live in, an issue with which French thinker Voltaire dealt in his brilliant novel Candide. If government and its rulers endeavor to project the “best of all possible worlds” idea as Voltaire’s novel satirizes, then people are either duped or they live vicariously through the lives of others who are satisfied with their lives. 

Ideological commitments determine where scholars side on the controversial issue of public policy and human happiness. For some, there is a demarcation line between personal and societal welfare where public policy has no role to play in the personal domain for it would mean legislating morality. This reflects an ideological preference toward classical Liberalism, while those more accepting of collectivism in society see public policy as playing a role in both community and individual well-being. A Marxist and even some non-Marxist Socialist would argue that human happiness is economically determined and class based.

Depending on the ideology, so goes the analysis and conclusions about the merits of public policy and happiness. It must be stressed, however, that these are not absolute and constant concepts because the epoch and place determine their nature. Besides the issue of cultural relativism, all of this assumes rationality in human conduct when in fact that is not a valid assumption. The absurdity of society where everything from wars to individual violence takes place, from mass poverty to institutional prejudice poses monumental obstacles to human happiness. The question is whether government can and must help remove such obstacles to societal happiness by promoting greater social justice, even while religion and meditation offer spiritual comfort to help people cope individually.

Public Policy and Societal Happiness
Does public policy affect societal happiness or by contrast create or perpetuate societal misery? From ancient times to the present, many thinkers from different disciplines have argued this is indeed the case. Others insist that happiness is strictly an individual endeavor, thus happiness is strictly and individual matter and the domain of private morality and religion.

If public policy has a direct and indirect influence in peoples’ quality of life, it is because of fiscal, economic, social, and foreign/defense policy. In this case, the role of the state becomes central to societal happiness or misery. If public policy benefits only a privileged segment in society, then it stands to reason that happiness is legislated for a narrow social group at the expense of the majority which remains in perpetual misery as a result of prejudicial public policy.

With the rise of mass politics in the 20th century, with capitalism weakening parliamentary democracy rooted in a social structure that requires a strong middle class base, there are scholars, politicians, journalists, trade unionists, students, and social activists arguing for public policy intended to engender societal happiness.  More interested in social justice than they are in the success of market hegemony, critics of the dominant culture and capitalist political economy see public policy impeding societal happiness.

Although the mass media and politicians equate success and happiness with market performance, and although the market has a determining role in the lives of people around the world, happiness and the sense of satisfaction for the vast majority does not hinge as much on markets as on how public policy impacts them. At the broader societal level, happiness in civilized society has always been a matter of social justice.
The reality of mass uprisings throughout the Muslim world in the last few years (Arab Spring), mass demonstrations in the US (occupy Wall Street movement, among others) and EU (especially Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, and France) against socioeconomic injustices and absence of political representation of all citizens, strikes and protests in Latin America (especially in Chile and Argentina) and Asia (especially Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and South China, Turkey, Cambodia, and Indonesia), all of these indicate a search on the part of those in the periphery of the institutional mainstream for social justice that many equate with societal happiness.

The challenge for politicians in the 20th century as the era of mass politics is to forge popular consensus in order to govern effectively under the umbrella of the market economy amid tensions between nations that case numerous wars. The challenge for political leaders in the 21st century remains essentially the same, except that the public, especially in Western democracies, is likely to make greater demands that public policy must meet the welfare of society and its broader happiness equated with a sense of fairness or social justice, and not special interests. The question of public policy and societal happiness or satisfaction as an integral part of the social contract is the key to successful government, more so today when instant global communications have raised the social consciousness of the masses.

While there is only one country, Bhutan, on the planet with a happiness index comparable to a GNP index, there is an underlying political interest on the happiness index as a measure of forging popular consensus. Just as some companies want happy and satisfied employees and customers, politicians wish the same for their constituents. Nevertheless, most politicians in the world today would oppose legislating “happiness” because it is an extremely high risk endeavor because this is the domain of utopian politics and an area filled with traps in case of failure to deliver on the social contract.

Regardless of a politician’s predisposition on this issue, laws have a positive impact on some social groups and negative impact on others. After all, this idea is as old as ancient Athenian leader Solon “the Law Giver” (638-558 B.C.) who believed that good or harmonious laws (Eunomia) account for a harmonious and happy city-state, while bad or unfair laws  (Dysnomia) result in chaos, misery and ultimately uprising of the citizens. Coming to power after the city-state was on the verge of revolution, Solon recognized that government has a role in social justice, which translates into harmony or disharmony in society and that in turn translates into happiness or unhappiness among the disparate segments of the population.

It may be realistic to believe that the political economy determines human satisfaction, positive emotions (happiness) or dissatisfaction or negative emotions (unhappiness) of citizens in the 21st century when markets dominate public life and influence institutional structures and societal values. (For more discussion on this see Benjamin Radcliff, The Political Economy of Human Happiness: How Voters' Choices Determine the Quality of Life (2013)  However, it is realistic to expect the state to intervene in favor of citizens and not the markets because citizens may reach a point of destabilizing or even overthrowing the regime.

In public opinion polls, there seems to be a correlation between countries ranking low on the “happiness scale” and citizens disliking their governments. Therefore, misrule entails a disgruntled population in our time as much as in the time of Solon and the near civil war conditions, or 17th century England (Civil War and Glorious Revolution), 18th century France, 1789), 20th century Russia (Bolsheviks, 1917), China (Maoists, 1944-1949), and Cuba (Fidel Castro and Che Guevara Communists, 1950s).

Of course it must be stressed that societal happiness assumes a high level of national sovereignty where external forces do not determine policy. For example, how can we possibly compare societal happiness in Norway that enjoys national sovereignty and is listed as one of the world’s happiest nations with war-torn Afghanistan under foreign military occupation and subject to intermittent foreign intervention in its modern history? There are also cases with lower level of intervention and external dominance at the economic level, such as Latin American nations historically under the hegemonic influence of the US and Africa under Europe. How can the people of  Pakistan and the Central African Republic enjoy the same sense of autonomy and thus comparable societal happiness as the people of the US and France when the former have been subject to economic imperialism?

For the state to be an agent of societal happiness it must enjoy full autonomy, otherwise external agents determine societal happiness of its subjects. This is exactly what has been the case under the current globalization world order where there are patron and client states serving markets. Even if the role of the state is not to engender happiness in its citizens but to serve markets, do policies have beneficial impact on some who are much happier because they are institutionally privileged while others who are on the fringes and in misery because government policies keep them there?  If indeed the state has a Gross National Happiness (GNH) index as does Bhutan, does this not mean that the state is restricting the liberties of those wishing to exercise their own will and even to wallow in misery if they so choose? The goal of Bhutan, a small country between China and India, is to adjust policy based on GNH indicators (economic, social, political, environmental, individual physical and psychological).

Although GNH was set up for the well being of citizens, libertarian critics argue that we live in a Rousseau-type world where people must be compelled to be happy at the expense of their free will. However, Columbia University and private polling groups track world’s happiest and least happy nations, with criteria that some may find questionable and others may accept. The polls are not just an indication of measuring the reflection of public policy on citizens, but how stable a government may be so that investors feel safe with their money. For example, it is not surprising that the Scandinavian countries rank top in the world, while Africa and the Middle East rank among the lowest, while southern Europe undergoing austerity also rank among some of the world’s poorest nations. Nor is it a coincidence that the countries ranking at the bottom enjoy a low level of national sovereignty owing to dominant external influence at the economic, political and/or strategic levels.

Religion, Happiness and the Earthly State
In all civilizations throughout history, religion has been the source to which most look for happiness they associate with inner tranquility and a sense of satisfaction combined with the hope of redemption. While Western thought stresses the role of the individual in relationship to the state, in Eastern religious and philosophical thought the emphasis is on societal unity that reflects a cosmological unity, and systemic-collectivist approach to the issue. In both Western and Eastern religious traditions, the emphasis is the individual’s spiritual redemption and not the earthly goal of social justice that would deliver happiness through public policy.

In the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Karl Marx rejected religion as escapist illusion, a relatively cheap narcotic for the masses to alleviate the pain from earthly misery. After all, human beings live in the material world where the state and society produce religion and the elites use it as a conformity mechanism to perpetuate a privileged institutional structure. “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

German theologian Ludwig Feuerbach’s (The Essence of Christianity, 1841) assertion that the quest for happiness must form the basis of all morals because happiness is innate is a concept with roots both in pagan philosophy and Christian doctrinal tradition, especially in neo-Platonist Christian theologian Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430 A.D.). Living during the declining years of the Roman Empire, he argued that people are not happy because they do not have what they want in life in terms of “earthly possessions”.
According to the theologian who set the doctrinal foundations for Catholicism in the Middle Ages what people need is spiritual love of God that is permanent. Submission to the Will of God is the only road to happiness. After all, the disappointments of life on this earth point the way to God. People, however, seek things of the earthly temporary world at a time of the declining Roman Empire that could not even offer protection from Barbarian invasions overtaking the Western provinces and sacking Rome (410 Alaric King of the Visigoth), an event that inspired Augustine to write the City of God  as the alternative to Rome, the city of man. By accepting the assumption that happiness is a goal of human beings, St. Augustine was merely saying that the church could deliver it where the state had failed and can never succeed. Such thinking was not unique to Western thought, but is also found in Asia much earlier than in the West.

The Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama, 563-483 B.C) also argued that the pursuit of material things, pleasure, immortality and all things of this earth make people miserable because happiness is rooted in the spiritual domain. One answer to human happiness is religion or spiritual contemplation intended to achieve Buddhist-like transcendence. Needless to say, there are differences between St. Augustine’s neo-Platonist Christian positions on happiness and those of the Buddha whose Upanishads-rooted teachings maintain that understanding the causes of (spiritual) suffering leads one to unlock the secrets to happiness. While the Buddha and St. Augustine offer spiritual solutions to human misery, neither had a practical institutional solution for misery caused by the earthly institutions. Not that one would expect theologians and spiritual leaders to provide “earthly” advice for people to be happy, for that is the job of those in other domains from medical science and the arts to public policy.

Without taking anything from the religious/spiritual emphasis to human happiness, there is the reality that people live as social beings in a material world becoming increasingly more so. Clearly, for many centuries religion was the domain to which people turned to find happiness largely because the City of God, as St. Augustine insisted was the place for permanent bliss, whereas the earthly city is where we encounter misery. Regardless of whether one accepts the religious/spiritual road or sees it as escapism,  modern materialistic culture is swimming in hedonism, becoming less spiritual as science and technology mold the human mind along with all aspects of life.

Tenth century Muslim philosopher Abu Muhammad al-Farabi combined the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle on human happiness as a goal of all people with Muslim doctrine of liberating the soul of material want and using this life as a testing ground for eternal happiness in the next. One would expect theologians to insist on the spiritual dimension and to have nothing to say about public policy as a means to achieve happiness, regardless of the strong evidence of social justice in society. Spiritual meditation and hopefully transcendence provides the vehicle to bring relief from misery, regardless of whether this is all inside the mind of the individual and has no connection to the empirical world.

Although religion and spirituality have their very powerful institutional advocates, this raises the question of how societal institutions, first and foremost the state, shaping human happiness in order to maintain social harmony. This is an issue that Solon (638-558 B.C.) raised when he was asked to design laws for the city-state of Athens about to lapse into chaos, revolution and civil war. This remains a key issue for modern society, whether religions step in to provide answers or the state and secular institutions. Eudaimonia or happiness is as important in classical (pagan) ethics issue as the concept of arête or virtue was very important in ancient Greece. Because classical thought rested on the concept of man as a social and political animal (Aristotle), namely, all activities of the individual are shaped by the very existence of living in a community it stands to reason that the state plays a role in eudaimonia or happiness.

Philosophical Approaches to Politics and Happiness
A universal issue that transcends time and place, public policy and happiness is an issue that Plato raised in the Republic, John Locke in Two Treatises of Government, Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the Social Contract, and a host of thinkers from ancient times to our day. In Plato’s Republic, one notices the link between the sense of “justice” in the individual, presumably rooted in social justice, and happiness. This was probably the thinking of Socrates whose thought rested more on the heavens rather than earth, as Roman philosopher Cicero noted. Nevertheless, we have in ancient Athenian thought the link between happiness and justice of the citizen in city-state, although the concept of justice was invariably associated with virtue as well.

Just as Plato placed emphasis of the individual to determine his happiness by transforming himself as a just and virtuous citizen so did Confucius argue in favor of individual transformation, rooted in the “humanity” that makes one nobler. No doubt, Plato and Confucius represented the elites of their respective eras and societies, and neither had much concern for the lower echelons of society. However, the idea of applying a happiness principle in the political context was established in ancient times as it has been from the European Enlightenment (18th century) to the present.

The European intellectual/cultural revolution that took place during the Renaissance and coincided with the Commercial Revolution entailed a “humanist” definition in the concept of happiness. The man-centered culture, the emphasis on life in this world, and above all the idea of creativity as a factor that accounts for satisfaction in life became themes that Renaissance thinkers developed, whether through art, sculpture, literature, poetry, or other aesthetic and scientific endeavors that fulfill human life. This intellectual revolution stressed human dignity and creativity amid changes in the social structure where a middle class and a capitalist economy were emerging. The commercial middle class challenging the value system and institutions of the feudal nobility associated with monarchies accounted for new perspectives on happiness as part of the social contract.

Such a perspective we find in the works of John Locke the father of Western Liberalism and the epistemology of empiricism. In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke argues that: The necessity of pursuing happiness [is] the foundation of liberty.  The highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty. The stronger ties we have to an unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, which is our greatest good, and which, as such, our desires always follow, the more are we free from any necessary determination of our will to any particular action…” 

By the time of Locke’s era of the Glorious Revolution (1688), northwest Europe had changed to the degree that the rising middle classes made the association between societal happiness and public policy through the legislative branch that Locke believed ought to be in the hands of all propertied classes, and not just the landowning nobility represented by the Tory Party. Along with the Glorious Revolution we have a shift in the value system because class structure changes demanded it, as they demanded political change that Locke articulated in his Two Treatises of Government (1689).The 18th century brought about even greater changes in the bourgeois value system and even greater expectations of the government’s role in society’s happiness. However, the Industrial Revolution in England also created a sense of fear among the middle class intelligentsia because the greater wealth it created the more poor people emerged especially in London and other urban areas.  

The American and French Revolutions formally placed the concept of societal happiness into the political dialogue by making it a core constitutional issue. To some degree the American War of Independence resulting in the Constitution codifies happiness as the excerpt below indicates.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The concept of Happiness during the War of Independence under those specific circumstances meant something unique that does not have the same meaning today. However, the basic meaning of the concept includes contentment with government, public virtue and success, indicating the inexorable link between citizen and the state entering the social contract as 18th century Enlightenment thinkers envisioned it. Clearly, the influence here comes mostly from Locke’s Liberalism and to a lesser degree from Rousseau’s concept of social democracy. For Rousseau, man in the state of nature is essentially happy, but not so in civilized society where institutions corrupt and degrade human beings. Hence the opening line in the Social Contract: “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.”

Undertaking universal systemic changes in society, the French Revolution went farther than the American in promising to deliver the ideal society for its citizens. During the more radical phase of the Revolution under Maximilien Robbespierre, largely influenced by Rousseau, the state would be the ultimate arbiter of societal happiness. Many intellectuals, including Hannah Arendt, deplore that the French revolutionaries made societal happiness instead of individual freedom the center of their political agenda. Interestingly enough, Arendt reveals her Liberal bias and anti-Rousseau-Robespierre view by arguing that the Jacobins were promising something reflecting a “totalitarian” regime. This is in contrast with the American Revolution founded not as much on Rousseau’s social democratic ideology that promises happiness part of public policy, but on Locke’s that only focuses on individual freedom and nothing more. In this respect, Arendt the Liberal actually sides with Edmund Burke the counter-revolutionary who applauded the American Revolutionary War that maintained the social and economic status quo, but deplored the French Revolution that tried to undertake system changes across society.

Addressing the issue of human happiness from a Christian moral perspective but with a sense of realism rooted in the Industrial Revolution, Thomas Malthus (An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798) linked the asymmetrical rise of the population to the exhausting demand for natural resources necessary to sustain such growth. Malthus did not see that the root cause of human misery rested with the unequal distribution of resources, but with the rapidly rising population and the poor multiplying at such rapid rates precluding their own ability for adequate means of survival. In short, it was not the economic structure and public policy that restricted human happiness, but population growth. A Christian clergyman, Malthus believed that there are limits to human happiness for infinity rests only with God. Therefore, it is not public policy that can deliver happiness, but rather people that must refrain from overpopulating the earth which has limited resources.

Without debating the many facets of Malthusian theory about asymmetry between rising population-declining natural resources, Malthus focused on this asymmetry as the one and only cause of poverty, disregarding the issue of equitable income/wealth distribution and the impact public policy on the economy. Classical economists from David Ricardo to Karl Marx debated the contradictions of capitalism, namely, how it creates enormous wealth and at the same poverty to polarize the social structure. Trade unionists, progressive politicians and journalists in the 19th and 20th century dealt with the same issue, debating whether public policy plays a role by legislating to promote the market economy based on the profit motive. 

If indeed there was and still is more than enough food to feed the world’s entire population but it is simply not profitable for companies to do so, the Malthusian argument has its limitations. It is worth mentioning that contemporaries of Malthus, as well as neo-Malthusians and apologists of a capitalist system throughout our modern times, insist that poor people have no one to blame but themselves for their condition. Therefore, the state must remain a casual observer of structural poverty, although the political economy based on capital accumulation and socioeconomic inequality creates poverty as it facilitates capital accumulation. After all, every person is on their own and the state can only provide protection for life and property, according to classical Liberalism, not alleviate misery through social policy.

Adamantly against public policy alleviating structural causes of societal unhappiness, neo-Malthusians and neo-liberals believe that aiming at social justice and happiness of all sectors in society entails higher taxes on the more affluent taxpayers. In short, societal happiness rooted in social justice has a price tag for the wealthy. This was the argument in the 1930s amid the Great Depression when FDR tried to institutionalize the social safety net that was rooted in Progressive Era (1900-1920) and Keynesian thinking.
Published in 1930 on the eve of the Great Depression, Bertrand Russell’s Conquest to Happiness is a good study of some aspects of human nature with a rather practical and humane approach to the topic. Influenced by Aristotle’s view all things in moderation and the primacy of the individual as the measure of all things, Russell believed in the Western concept of individualism. However, he was not oblivious to the reality that external forces, including institutions like the state, obviously impeding happiness at the societal level.

It is rather interesting that the most prolific philosopher of the 20th century decided to write a book would come out of the post-WWI decade when so many Europeans were not feeling so happy after the mass destruction and blamed not the individual but the institutions on which Western Civilization was built. Odd that Russell would tackle such a subject when a number of thinkers from T. S. Elliot to Jean-Paul Sartre were questioning the European value system that molded the minds of the masses and very foundations of Western Civilization as detrimental to human happiness.

Just a few years after Russell’s book on happiness, Hitler took power and authoritarianism with a pro-Nazi or pro-Fascist tilt spread from Portugal and Spain to Greece and the northern Balkans. All of this took place against the background of the Great Depression and just before the deadliest global war. How could the individual possibly remain oblivious to tyranny spreading across Europe, economic disaster conquering the world, and the reality that Hitler and Mussolini would spread destruction on a massive scale in Europe, Africa and the Middle East? How could any individual with a modicum of social conscience possibly remain oblivious to such developments and focus only on the self as though there is no society?  Even Russell the pacifist intellectual who realized that happiness goes beyond the narrow boundaries of philosophy as Plato and John Stuart Mill envisioned it, made an exception when it came to European democracies uniting to defeat the Axis Powers that were clearly a threat to humanity.

Classical Liberals and neoliberals of our time advocating globalization and privatization of any public service deplore the idea that the state must a role in the domain of human happiness. This is an interesting position, considering that public policy impacts the material lives of people, making the privileged in society more content while keeping the less privileged into a state of misery.  If happiness is the selfless act of doing beneficial things for others, regardless of whether the activity is voluntary or paid, then the laissez-faire proponents have no problem. But what if government policy from fiscal measures that are a means of wealth redistribution, to labor policy, to social policies are detrimental for the harmony of the citizen? Another dimension to consider about societal happiness and public policy is its absence in those countries that lacked national sovereignty which advanced countries simply assume is a given.

Happiness and public Policy in the Interwar Era
Is it possible for the state to conduct public policy in such a manner as to advance societal happiness or positive emotions of people even if this is a mere illusion on the part of the masses? According to Nicolo Machiavelli, people are invariably judging everything at the surface level, rather than its essence. Therefore, projecting an image in public policy intended to encourage greater positive emotions is all that matters.
The utilitarian theory of Jeremy Bentham as articulated in “A Fragment on Government” (1776), established the axiom: “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” Bentham’s axiom became one of the moral and legal bases for representative democracy. If the best society is where people are happiest, then Bentham was correct that it stands to reason the best policy is the one producing the greatest happiness. But is such a goal possible in a class-structured society, and is it possible in those countries that are externally dependent as are many in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and even the periphery countries of Southern and Eastern Europe?

Achieving happiness in the secular sense and linking it to societal institutions became a concern of the European intelligentsia representing the middle class in the 18th century. Intellectuals of the Enlightenment influencing the 19th century as well believed that a “scientific” method can be applied as much to solve social problems as all others. However, Enlightenment thinkers had different ideological positions that determined their views on human happiness and the role of institutions, including the state. Intellectuals reflecting on the concept of happiness were in essence reflecting the fundamental change in the social structure that the Industrial Revolution transformed and which in turn necessitated changes in the political arena, gradually bringing the capitalist class closer to imposing its will on public policy.

The interwar era brought to the consciousness of the masses around the world the government’s role in societal happiness (Jose Ortega y Gasset, Revolt of the Masses, 1930. This was especially so during the Great Depression that ruined the lives of millions, while mainstream politicians and apologists of the market economy asked people to simply wait until thing improve. The US and many other countries adopted New Deal type of policies based on the economic theory of John M. Keynes who advocated using the state to absorb the surplus capital from the private sector and combine it with deficit financing in order to stimulate jobs growth. Intended to rebuild decaying capitalism under the weakened parliamentary system in which the masses had lost confidence, Keynesian economics aimed to provide a safety net for the disgruntled masses. The state could not engender societal happiness amid the Great Depression, unless it alleviated misery on a wide scale.

In some countries, it was indeed too late to save the parliamentary system in which people lost faith. Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany and authoritarian regimes in southern and Eastern Europe resulted because the market economy was dysfunctional and generated misery on a broad social scale. The majority of the Germans during the Third Reich believed that Hitler and his regime were capable of delivering the utopian dream of a superior race. Masters at propaganda, the Nazis argued that if only the nation rid itself of Jewish profiteers and exploiters, Communist and gypsy parasites, other lesser humans impeding the racial superiority of Germans, only then would the pure Aryan race achieve its dream of societal happiness. 

Although in reality the Nazis delivered destruction for Germany and Europe on a massive scale, their followers believed that was the correct path “racial and national happiness”.  Sixty-five percent of the German citizens who voted for Hitler and millions more around the world, entertained positive feelings for Nazism as the solution to societal problems. They felt good and happy about the Nazi regime, regardless of the illusory promises it was making to induce those positive feelings and regardless of the destruction it was delivering to its declared enemies. Nazism is one of the most glaring examples of mass illusions about societal happiness and public policy.

Coming to power at the same time as Hitler in January 1933, Franklin Roosevelt had to cultivate positive feelings on the part of the American people not demonizing “enemies” of the nation-state but asking for altruism, communitarian disposition and comforting people that their enemy was fear that they must overcome. In short, FDR approached the issue of mass psychology and inducing positive feelings across society by trying to convince the masses to rid themselves of illusions they entertained about the other as the enemy, about atomism as the solution, because the problem of the economic depression would be solved collectively and the enemy was the culture of greed and individualism of the 1920s.

A scholar who devoted her life to the study of totalitarianism in Germany, Hannah Arendt was influenced by classical Liberalism and the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Arendt argued that the first time we encounter the convergence of the concept of happiness with politics is during the French Revolution. While it is true that in their euphoria of the Revolutionaries raised the happiness theme to contrast the new regime with the old one under absolutist monarchy, it is a stretch to claim that the core of the French Revolution under the brief Jacobin rule rested on the concept of public happiness. Nevertheless, Arendt is correct to stress that never had a regime linked the concept of happiness with politics, considering that this was primarily the domain of religion. 

Arendt’s work represents the sensitivity of a scholar who wrote about the horrors of the holocaust and at the same it reflects Western classical liberal assumptions that carry all of the bourgeois values of society and politics. Arguing that anything more progressive that trying to integrate the masses through a public policy safety net in order to engender greater equality constitutes a form of totalitarianism reflects both Arendt’s justifiable fear of Nazism and preference for classical European Liberalism as the only alternative. Coming out of the era of Hitler and Stalin, the era of the Cold War when totalitarianism meant both Nazism and Communism, she was very much a product of her era and found it unable to transcend it.

Contemporary Views on Public Policy and Happiness
There is growing evidence that rising levels of prosperity in Western economies after 1945 have not been matched by greater incidences of reported well-being and happiness. Indeed, material affluence is often accompanied by greater social and individual distress. A growing literature within the humanities and social sciences is increasingly dedicated charting not only the underlying trends in recorded levels of happiness, but to consider what factors, if any, contribute to positive and sustainable experiences of well-being and quality of life. Increasingly, such research is focusing on the importance of values and beliefs in human satisfaction or quality of life; but the specific contribution of religion to these trends is relatively under-examined.

Although money is not necessarily the thing that makes people happy, neither is abject poverty where there is lack of clean water, basic foodstuffs for survival and essential medical services. While the Western World and richer nations may not think about such things and demand better health care and education for their countries, we still have more than two billion people, mostly Africa, Latin America and Asia that lack the basic needs of life and that is a matter of public policy at the local, national and international levels as it touches the entire planet one way or the other. I want to stress that societal happiness in many parts of the Third World or developing nations depends on external forces that dominate national economy and influence public policy.  

For merely propaganda reasons and to secure voter support, politicians are interested in finding ways that the voters believe they are “happy” with their candidate, even if they may disagree with parts of the candidate’s policy agenda. Emulating the behavior of the church, regimes from the Age of Absolutism to the present have tried to inculcate into the minds of the masses that happiness is synonymous with identification with the regime. Not just the cult of personality, but the cult of a regime has the ability to manipulate public opinion so that the majority believes their happiness hinges on strength of the leader and regime.

In a public opinion poll with the ranking of countries with the most negative emotions about their lives Iraq ranked at the top in 2013, followed by Iran, Egypt, Greece, and Syria, while African countries rank among the lowest in all such polls. In fact the top ten “least happy nations” have political regimes that are not tolerant of diversity as in the case of Middle East countries, or they face monetary austerity as in the case of Greece and Cyprus where half of the population is now below poverty or near it. OECD surveys dealing with the issue of “life satisfaction”, which is actually a better method of measuring responses than using the term “happy”, southern and eastern European countries under austerity policies (economic contraction) rank the lowest, while northwest Europe ranks highest. 

While no one is surprised about the rankings of African and Middle Eastern countries, or India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, one may be surprised that the US has ranked just above or below Mexico in similar surveys. One would expect the world’s superpower to occupy a spot in the top five, but actually it is not even in the top twenty in many polls, indicative of the growing dissatisfaction with life under existing policies and institutional structures.  Although polls are manipulative and the issue of “happiness and life satisfaction” is very subjective, the empirical evidence based on opinion polls shows the correlation between human misery and public policy. 

Without a doubt, the existing evidence shows that the Libertarian argument of non-government interference in individual happiness is not relevant because people do not live in isolation inside caves but in organized society under common laws and policies. If we assume that human beings that draft laws do so knowing that those laws will benefit some and not others, and if we assume the justice system is as political as the legal system, and if we assume that the wealthy and powerful receive preferential treatment from the judicial system, then we cannot expect that society is based on a sense of equality for all. 

Realistically, people in the Western World especially, would oppose the idea of legislating happiness even if government promised it would improve their lives. Because they are immersed in atomism, they assume that their free will determines their state of being, not realizing the limits of free will and the enormous influence of public policy in everyone’s life. From very young age when children attend school that government provides, to very old age when they may enter a public nursing home for the elderly, public policy follows people in every aspect of their lives and determines the level of satisfaction of lack thereof.

When the state legislature votes down same-sex marriage, it impacts the lives of those interested in legalizing gay marriage. Interestingly enough, those in favor of legislating morality are adamantly against legislating happiness, unless it is in matters pertaining to their own interests. At the same time, the mainstream politicians, journalists, and most intellectuals would have no problem with the state legislating well-being through mass consumption of processed foods that make people ill, but they have a problem legislating to lift the structural obstacles of poverty that keep millions in misery. 

While the concept of happiness in the Western world has been linked to public policy, that concept is not at the core of political movements and regimes in many non-Western World countries. While there is recognition that it is not the role of government to promote happiness through public policy, people understand when government can impede public happiness with its policies especially in fiscal and economic policy. Because there is greater attachment to traditions and customs, and because there tends to be a greater sense of collectivism than there is in the West, there tends to be a higher sense of satisfaction than in individualistic societies, at least according to a study by John F. Helliwell, Haifang Huang and Shun Wang who published their finding in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

With all emphasis on “efficiency” and competition, code words that apologists of market economics use to mean maximizing profit and cutting wage costs and taxes, the culture of “maximization” leads to greater unhappiness for the majority so that a minority may derive greater material benefits. The question is whether the “maximization principle”, as one scholar describes it leads to happiness as it promises or creates more problems and greater unhappiness in society. (Hilke Brockmann and Jan Delhey, eds. Human Happiness and the Pursuit of Maximization: Is More Always Better? (2013

Along the “maximization principle” that leaves the vast majority aspiring to what the minority has, there is a value system of atomism that goes along with it as part of the same ideology promising happiness. The privatized or atomistic notion of happiness in Western pluralistic societies is quantified against the framework of the “cash-value” culture and interpreted in terms of hedonistic value system. Immersed in atomism and hedonism, people subconsciously accept such assumptions but never aware of what makes them behave in a specific manner toward the pursuit of happiness as it is defined by the dominant culture. The notion of privatized self placed rather than the individual as an integral part of a community with a social conscience predisposed to consider the welfare of the community instead of the self raises serious ethical questions about the ethics of the concept of happiness in modern hedonistic society that the market economy and public policy reinforce.

Atomism keeps people in perpetual absence of happiness while altruism provides a sense of satisfaction, positive feelings and a deep connection between the individual and the community. Atomistic tendencies go hand in hand with the age of materialism in which the individual consumer is valued far above the citizen, the billionaire valued far above the humanitarian doctor working with the poor in sub-Sahara Africa, the famous movie star far above the soup kitchen volunteer. These values are constantly reinforced in everything from mass media to schools, popular books, and motions pictures that make up the dominant culture. These values are rooted in the political economy of consumerism that is a black hole leading nowhere, and certainly not to happiness because there is no end to the appetite for consumption that the public and private institutional structures push on citizens as the religion of our modern era.

Government leaders know as they have throughout modern history that forging consensus is the key to governing successfully. To deliver social justice through public policy that would in turn account for a happier population is a difficult task because this goal clashes with the interests of the various elites especially those who own most of the wealth, a problem that Solon faced more than 21 centuries ago when he took over Athens. One strategy of governments has been and remains that citizens must suspend happiness (their personal welfare) in the present in return for a better future for themselves and their children. This has been a standard strategy of Communist China, but also Western democracies as well as authoritarian regimes in the non-Western World.

As long as people see evidence of broader national progress they are willing to suspend a better life for the present in exchange for a better future – the prospect for upward mobility or the equivalent of achieving the American Dream. Because capitalism as an economy promises the “possibility of riches” for anyone who plays by the rules of the game, people suspending disbelief of their own reality and identify with the millionaire, aspiring to become him and vicariously living through him. Because people live with the dream of becoming instead of assessing their present condition and future prospects realistically, and because the state and institutional structure constantly plays the theme of hope in the media, the illusion of happiness in society becomes a reality. It is not the case that people do not know their own interests, but that they place faith in their aspirations. How can we blame a coal miner in West Virginia for dreaming of becoming a millionaire and trusting the media and politicians that someday soon he too can make it in a system that he knows is essentially very hierarchical and the odds are against him?

Another strategy the state adopts to keep people perpetually immersed in illusion is a Machiavellian solution, namely, appearance is reality in politics. The state delivers the message that the status quo is best suited for society and that any change would be detrimental, even if the majority of the people are not happy under the existing system. In this case, governments invoke everything from democracy and expression through the ballot box to patriotism, asking citizens to sacrifice for the greater good, and not to risk opposing the system that would entail threat to political stability. 

This is to suggest that the cynical and propagandistic approach is the one that government adopts, instead of opting for the road to social justice that would deliver greater societal happiness. The only way to change an institutional structure rooted in inequality and unfairness is to take the advice of English philosopher John Locke, namely, if the system is tyrannical, then the people eventually overthrow it because they decide as subjects that it is not in their best interests. As long as people entertain the illusion of happiness, whether it is because of the mass media that propagates, through churches and schools, through businesses and social clubs, etc., the government does not have to be concerned about public policy that aims toward social justice and happiness of its citizens.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

RUSSIA AND CHINA: Will the Two Powers Ever Collide?

Russia and China have common geopolitical and economic interests at this juncture because they are both faced with common rivals. What brings them closer together is the threat that they perceive that the US poses to their security interests and to the balance of power at their respective regional levels. Indicative of the common course Russia and China are following because of the common rival they fear is the recent UN vote for rotating UN Council members.

China and Russia voted for Venezuela that the US strongly opposes while they rejected Turkey that the US favors. This is a very strong political message not so much to Turkey which had been immersed in the jihadist rebel movement to overthrow Syria’s president Assad, but to the US that it cannot continue the policy of destabilization.

There is also the question of US-imposed sanctions Russia deems reckless and the containment policy both Russia and China are confronting. Clearly the US has containment if not an encirclement policy toward Russia, justified in large measure because of Russia’s policy toward Ukraine, but also because Putin entertains ambitions of reviving at least part of what was once the glory of the Russian Empire.

At the same time, the US has a policy of deep engagement with China but also a containment policy for strategic considerations and to secure the leverage it desires in Asia with its own allies. These realities of US policy toward Russia and China only bring the two countries closer together, while each is guarded about the power of the other. After all, China is a global economic power with nuclear weapons and the world’s largest army in terms of manpower, while Russia is a regional power trying to revive some of its former glory against iwncredible obstacles from the West.

Because of the geographical proximity and historic rivalry between China and Russia, Czarist era as well as Soviet era, it is very realistic to assume that the antagonistic relationship is just below the surface and one day Moscow and Beijing could become bitter rivals once there is an absence of convergence of economic and strategic interests. The US that used China to undermine Russia is actually bringing the two countries closer together by the aggressive and destabilizing foreign policy it has been pursuing in the last two decades. I can easily see Russia distancing itself from China in the future, assuming several scenarios play out.

First, China becomes very powerful and Moscow feels that it is in its interest to counter balance it by forging a new relationship with Washington to pursue a joint US-Russia containment policy toward China through regional blocs. Second, I can see Russia becoming disturbed over China’s increasing influence across Eurasia, especially in Muslim countries where it has an interest to secure raw materials and market share. How can Russia use its political leverage to offset China’s rise to globalism?

Several years ago, I proposed to my colleagues at the World Association of International Studies (Stanford U.) that Russia and Israel ought to join both the EU and NATO as a way to secure stability in Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East. This may seem like a dream at this point, but the prospect of closer Russian integration with the EU is not so far off the reality chart because of the energy reliance of EU on Russia, and as China gains strength who is to say what Washington’s position would be on this issue.

For its part, China has a global approach to policy and behaves in a more restrained manner than Russia and much more prone to global stability because of its economic role than the US that has immersed itself in destabilization policies through direct and indirect means in Africa, Middle East, Ukraine, and several Latin American republics. China has a great deal more at stake around the world at this juncture, and tends to be cautious even when it can easily prevail given that it enjoys so much political and economic leverage.

Its ultimate goal is to reestablish some of the glory of the past when China was the world’s powerful empire, but the road to glory has to be one of caution, balancing out the demands of the military elites, the new capitalists, and those of the masses still trying to achieve upward social mobility. Caution means a policy of its own trying to contain the US from further destabilization conduct, while also keeping Russia integrated into the Chinese economy – $400 billion energy deal for example – while insisting on political solutions to the Ukraine crisis.

China has no illusions about Russia as a potential rival and a potential destabilizing regional force. This is evidenced by some of the critical comments Beijing has made regarding Putin’s behavior toward Ukraine. Realistically, China has to have Russia on its side for the next decade, and perhaps even until the mid-21stcentury when China will be clearly dominant, assuming nothing drastic like a war breaks out. I can see Beijing imposing its own containment on Russia, if the latter becomes an obstacle to China’s economic or military security.

Ukraine is clearly a security matter for Russia and one with an interesting history of US covert meddling, but it is also an issue for the EU that has been pressuring China to lean on Moscow for a negotiated solution. If the issue were not the Ukraine but a close Asian neighbor where Russia was meddling, Beijing would turn quickly against Moscow.

Beijing has not made as much noise about US meddling in Mongolia partly because the US counterbalances Russia at no expense to China. Mongolia has been quietly supportive of Russia over Ukraine. To neutralize China, Putin has been trying to create a China-Mongolia-Russia alliance against NATO and the US.
Even Mao recognized that the US was a “natural” ally of China and had invited the US to accept the new situation during the Civil War with Chiang Kai Shek’s KMT. The US rejected Mao’s proposal, siding instead with the nationalists. The future of China-Russia relations depends as much on US foreign policy toward Russia and China as it does on China.

Saturday, 18 October 2014


Greece is a country of just under 11 million people with tremendous socioeconomic progress and upward mobility after 1974 when the US-backed military dictatorship fell and parliamentary democracy restored. From 1980 until 2010, Greece developed a middle class and raised its per capita GDP level to an unprecedented degree. The catalyst to economic expansion was mostly the public sector as well as new private capital coming from multinational corporations investing to secure market share for their retail goods and services.

With public sector expansion stimulating private demand, income levels rose close to those of Italy by 2005. However, the problems with the Greek economy were fundamental, rooted in the political economy of "baksheesh capitalism". This system involves the clientist relationships of the two ruling parties (New Democracy and PASOK, both neo-liberal) alternating governing the country by providing crony capitalists and foreign corporations with contracts, tax exemptions, tax forgiveness and in return receiving media support as well as bribes for every favor rendered to the recipient.

The following are just some of the systemic problems that led to the IMF-EU austerity regime in May 2010, a regime continuing to this day.
First, "baksheesh capitalism" characteristic also of other countries like Egypt under former president Mubarak, rested not so much on internal production  and distribution of products and services, but on foreign products and services. Therefore, consumption of imports was driving an economy that was under-producing and sustaining a huge balance of payments deficit financed by foreign loans. 

Second, the level of corruption in the public and private sectors had an enormous parasitic impact, for it drained capital from productive projects into the pockets of those in both private and public life. it was impossible to conduct business without bribery. Everything from medical products to submarines entailed bribery of different officials. No project could be carried out, no matter how large or small in the absence of bribes that of course lined the pockets of officials but drained the economy.

Third, the economy had no built-in incentives for productive investment, resting instead on subsidies coming from domestic or EU sources. For example, when an EU packet of half a billion euro was designated for agricultural development, a tiny amount actually went for that purpose. Instead, money went to politicians and public officials approving the designated funds, to inspectors overseeing how the funds were utilized, and to the recipient farmer who instead of using the money for fertilizers, new seeds, machinery, etc, used it to buy a new home, car, etc. Productive investment was very low largely because the culture of consumption that the corrupt two-party system established had filtered down to the entire society that simply assumed there would be no end to perpetual borrowing to finance consumption of imported products and services.

Fourth, the two political parties ruling Greece in the last forty years, the conservative New Democracy and the more liberal PASOK, both neo-liberal in their approach to policy and both supporting the IMF-EU austerity, built a massive clientist political system that contractors, bankers, TV-radio-newspaper owners, and of course shipping tycoons whose interests they served by also distributing some of the spoils to trade union leaders and bureaucrats. The media covered up the clientist political structure  and to this day refuses to accept that there is such a thing as s structural problem, atributing corruption only to those very few individuals serving a prison sentence. 

However, the two ruling parties have legislation that provides immunity to ministers of government, and the legislature passes laws that extends such immunity to bankers, contractors, m,edia and shipping tycoons who are implicated with politicians in money scandals. In short, the law never reaches the politician or businessmen. The legal system as a structural impediment to a productive economy is designed so that the few thousand families who own roughly half of the wealth in the country retain their privileges along with the two ruling political parties protecting them.

Fifth, the only way that the decadent baksheesh capitalist system of Greece kept going was by falsifying statistics in every sector of the economy, but especially on the budgetary deficit and the budget. To secure respectability of the bond market so Greece could continue borrowing, they hired Goldman Sachs that “massaged the numbers” presented to the EU for approval. This was shortly after Greece joined the euro in 2000 under false statistics that the EU was well aware. Eventually the EU asked Athens to stop the practice of false statistics that was widespread across other countries and with the knowledge of the EU. Goldman Sachs had enough political influence in the EU – Mario Draghi was a former employee of the company – that it could get away with fraudulent practices for a fee, of course, and it was difficult for the EU to admit then as it does now that in reality Greece entered the euro zone under false statistics, largely because both the US and many EU members wanted the Balkan country to join for political rather than economic reasons. 

Sixth, Germany under Merkel changed the EU integration model so that it resembles NAFTA where the US enjoys a hegemonic role, while Mexico is the client state. The new EU integration model after 2010 is even worse than NAFTA because Germany uses the common currency to insist that member states follow austerity policies that merely produce ever larger surpluses for Germany and create greater debt for the periphery. The US and IMF have criticized Germany for following this model that now seems to have backfired for Germany because it has a problem exporting goods and services to a common market with weakened consumption power and high unemployment levels. Certainly Italy and France are objecting to the continued austerity regime that only benefits Germany within the euro zone. Nevertheless, not a single government so far has changed course. The reason for this is because the powerful financial and corporate elites in their own countries, Greece included, demand austerity continue because their assets are in the hard currency.

On the surface, the economy of Greece appeared as fast growing before austerity in 2010. Economic indicators showed income growth and low income inequality with relatively low unemployment rates until the deep global recession of 2008. Despite the signs that beneath all that glittered on the surface there was a bubble beneath waiting to explode, the clientist system kept going because it catered to the small domestic capitalist class and foreign corporations making money selling everything from automobiles and cell phones to banking and insurance services.Economic grwoth and low employment however rested not with the large domestic and foreign firms, but small shops and housing construction that was a means to launder money and hide assets from tax collectors.

There was no doubt that one result of the US-centered deep recession that started in autumn 2007 would spread to the EU and there was no doubt that financial retrenchment would place in fairly short time. Financial retrenchment was combined with the massive transfer of capital from periphery economies (developing) as well as semi-periphery as in the case of Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Eastern Europe. This is what took place from 2010 until 2014, further weakening the periphery and semi-periphery economies that at the same the EU and IMF placed under fiscal austerity. 

This deadly combination sent GDP growth to negative territory, with Greece losing more than 25%, while its public debt rose from 120% of GDP in 2010 when the IMF promised to lower it below 100, to the current 180% of GDP. Both Germany and the IMF kept promising that austerity would deliver low unemployment rates, higher growth rates, higher investment, low balance of payments deficits and much lower debt. The exact opposite of what they promised has taken place, and the IMF admitted that along the way "mistakes" were made. In its entire sixty year history austerity policies deliver exactly what has taken place in Greece which is hardly the exception, but rather the rule to such policies intended to concentrate capital.

In the real economy this has translated to a massive reduction in wages, benefits and social security incomes, sharp cuts in all social programs, especially health and education, combined with a massive rise in taxes on the lower 80 percent of the population that owns less than one-third of the wealth in the country. Meanwhile, austerity has resulted in a sharp rise of Greek millionaires at a time the middle class has shrunk sharply and weakened owing to income cuts. Leading the EU in unemployment at 27% officially, while the real rate is about one third of the labor force, Greece now has a population near or below poverty close to 60 percent. The 60 percent is according to the Parliament’s scientific committee, while the official government statistical service has the poverty number at the much more respectable 45 percent.Despite these realities, the IMF, EU and the neo-liberal ruling parties insist there is no alternative but for the middle class and workers to "make sacrifices".

This is not even the worst aspect of IMF-EU austerity that Germany insists is for the best long term interests of Greeks who ought to rely more on tourism, although it only represents about 6-7% of GDP. There is a massive exodus of college educated young people going anywhere they can find employment. This is partly because many of those who stay behind and work and may never be paid by their employer, public or private. The rate of workers not receiving payment for work performed is staggering, but not as staggering as the number of suicides in the last four years in a country that historically had one of the lowest suicide rates in the world.

The government confiscates people’s savings accounts even in small amounts if they have unpaid taxes owed. At the same time, the government does not honor its own obligations toward workers in some sectors such as shipyards, or toward taxpayers, private and public companies alike such as the electric company. Finally, the government has engaged in mass dismissals of workers on the payroll so that it can hire a private firms to carry out the exact same services at twice the cost. This is part of neo-liberal privatization that starts with everything from cleaning services in ministries and hospitals to gold mining operations essentially gifted to private firms.  All of this is carried out in the name of neo-liberalism that has had a political cost of extreme polarization.

The political result of all this is a sharp rise of neo-Nazism, with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party ranking number three in public opinion polls, and if it were for the fact that the politically-dominated judicial system is prosecuting every single parliamentary representaitve, Golden Dawn would rank number two in the polls. In secretly recorded conversations between advisers of the conservative prime minister Antonis Samaras and Golden Dawn elected officials, it has become very clear that the ruling party had a plan to collaborate with the neo-Nazis so that they would prevent the center-left SYRIZA from coming to power when elections take place. Parliament demanded an investigation of the secret collaboration between neo-Nazis and the government, but instead the ministry of Justice took preventative measures and arrested and jailed the leadership of Golden Dawn

Under EU, US and Israeli pressure, the prime minister had to crack down on the neo-Nazis, especially after they assassinated a popular rapper, and had engaged in assassinations as well as other criminal activities before the rapper’s incident. Targeting mostly foreigners, but also Communists and gays, the Golden Dawn dreamed of creating a Nazi-style regime that would rid society of foreigners, gays and leftists of all types. There have been reports that behind the neo-Nazis were not just conservatives inside the government, but the police and judges as well as millionaires in the shipping business.

Given that the neo-Nazis represent the third largest party according to opinion polls, while the center-left SYRIZA and Communist Party combined represent a bit more than a third of the voters, the political system has become very polarized. People have been beaten down so much by a corrupt system very much part of a culture of baksheesh capitalism that they believe it is partly their fault. In fact, this is exactly the message that the two ruling neo-liberal parties want people to believe, arguing that corruption at the retail level is at fault - the son of an old lady in a mountain village now dead still collecting her social security benefits. Despite some popular protests, people have become fatalistic, waiting and hoping for a better future that never comes because austerity is now a way of life. Amid this reality, the government as well as austerity apologists from Chancellor Merkel and the IMF to financial analysts insist there is no alternative to austerity, as though God mandate it in the Ten Commandments and those suggesting otherwise will turn to salt. 

Austerity is now in its fourth year and it has become a way of life because its policies are here to stay forat least another decade unless there is a systemic change in society and not just a government of SYRIZA that would restore some lost social benefits to the poor as it has promised. That Greece is in worse shape than Argentina, as I have written in a separate article, that it has higher poverty rates, higher public and private debt rates, and fewer prospects to lower unemployment from 27% to under 10% is indicative of how capitalism under the neo-liberal globalization model has evolved in 2014.  

Although the government tried to find a way out of the IMF and EU austerity oversight so that it can have national sovereignty reestablished over policy, the financial markets immediately reacted by raising 10-year bond yields close to 10% before that number retreated a bit. The only way that they returned to the "respectable" 8% level - astronomical for a government and a signal that  it must stay under austerity regime - is because the prime minister announced strict adherence to all IMF-EU austerity measures agreed so far. Moreover, it now seems certain that there will be a new package of austerity measures, but they will have a label that the public finds more acceptable to endure.

The contradictions of the austerity measures that Greece has pursued are found in the consequences of a society that in 2014 resembles the era of the military Junta of 1967-1974. Never before has any government behaved in an authoritarian manner as the neoliberal administrations (both PASOK and New Democracy) except for the colonels of the US-backed Junta. Destroying collective bargaining, destroying the right of workers to strike because the courts declare strikes illegal, destroying the ability of people to demonstrate because anti-austerity protests are deemed synonymous with anarchism if not terrorism, the government has done everything in its power to return Greece to the good old days of pre-WWII era when Great Britain dictated policy and the Cold War when the US did the same thing. 

A mere semi-colony without a trace of sovereignty left, Greece has lost the illusion of pride rooted in the classical world. The neo-liberal regime tries to revive Greek nationalism and inculcate a sense of pride into the public by pointing to some new archeological findings from the post-Alexander the Great era, and by bringing to the country the new wife of actor George Clooney to say that the Elgin Marbles, stolen by the British and housed in the Birtish Museum must now be returned. Nothing wrong with a society immersed in classical culture and myth, but the reality of mass emigration of college-educated young people, poverty, high unemployment, and suicides due to absence of hope for the future cannot possibly be countered by the Elgin Marbles and new archeological discoveries that glorify ancient civilization. Joseph Campbell was correct about the power of myth in a culture, and it is true that Illusions keep humans beings balanced, but life's essentials for survival are even more important.