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War on the Young: Greece Exiles the Future

Do welfare states always end by eating their young?

As Greek employers in the public and private sectors trim wages and payroll, the younger generation has less and less reason to stick around. NPR discusses Greece’s crisis of the young:

The financial crisis gripping Greece is having a major impact on the country’s young people. A two-tier labor market that favors the older generation and draconian austerity measures have triggered a record high jobless rate among those under 35.

And now, the economic upheaval is undermining the traditional family structure and pushing the young to leave their homeland for better prospects…

Greece’s large and growing pool of skilled as well as unskilled workers is attracting headhunters from abroad. The Australian Embassy in Athens is already organizing work fairs in search of doctors and dentists as well as plumbers and home care workers. Even Germany is putting out feelers for doctors and engineers.

The Greeks are driving the best and the brightest of their youth into exile but this is nothing new.  As in Ireland, generations of young Greeks have left their country in the past and built new lives abroad.  The US, Canada and Australia are among the countries who have benefited from hardworking Greek immigrants who had to leave home.

In the old days the youth fled because overpopulation and the collapse of traditional farming created rural unemployment — or, as in Ireland, because a natural catastrophe like the potato famine made migration necessary.  But these days young people must flee countries where population is stagnant or dropping because poorly designed, over-generous welfare states and imprudent governments have created dysfunctional economies.

Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal: all countries where children are increasingly rare, and all countries where the younger generation can’t find work.  Something has gone badly wrong.

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  • Corlyss

    “Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal: all countries where children are increasingly rare, and all countries where the younger generation can’t find work. Something has gone badly wrong.”

    Couldn’t this be considered similar to the effects of capitalism’s “creative destruction?” It looks like all down-side from this end of the process. The same take was probably that of the cottage industries and family farms struck by the industrial revolution. Yet much positive came out of those. Painful now, yes. But seemingly full of promise too.

  • Jordan

    @Corlyss: “Couldn’t this be considered similar to the effects of capitalism’s “creative destruction?”

    Unlikely I think. It’s generally the young generation who are more in tune with recent trends, technologies, etc. and possess the most recent knowledge. So while creative destruction does leave a whole bunch unemployed for a while, I would think it disproportionately hits the young the least.

    No, I think Greece’s problems are the result of an exceptionally selfish generation of individuals, perhaps conditioned by govt giveaways for quite some time.

  • Robert Sendler

    Two wolves and a sheep decide on what to have for dinner…stop me if you’ve heard this one.

    Of course they eat their young…who else is left to eat?

  • rvastar

    [Couldn’t this be considered similar to the effects of capitalism’s “creative destruction?”]

    Actually, there’s a far more accurate explanation:

    [Painful now, yes. But seemingly full of promise too.]

    Yeah, if by “promise” you mean an economic dead-zone populated by old Greeks and the third-world immigrants they’ll be forced to import to keep the lights on – immigrants who have no desire to adopt Greece’s culture as their own. And as the young native Greeks flee and the older ones keep aging and dying off, there will eventually come a time when the immigrants and their offspring reach the numbers necessary to say “why am I paying to support these lazy, old Europeans that I have nothing in common with?”

    When that happens…game, set, match.

    There’s a song lyric that goes “I fought the law and the law won”. Greece is yet another sterling example of the Left’s hubristic believe that the laws of economics can be legislated away. Well, they fought the law and the law won…again. It always does and it always will.

  • Bonfire of the Idiocies

    I can’t agree this is creative destruction. Creative destruction replaced one thing with something better (more efficient, cheaper, easier or whatever): steam locomotives gave way to diesels, typewriters gave way to word processors, etc, etc. Jobs were lost in the displaced industries but new jobs eventually replaced them, and society as a whole benefitted.

    What’s going on in Greece is destructive destruction. One group, the beneficiaries of the current system, is cannibalizing the economy to feed itself. This will only stop when changes are made to impose an equilibrium of sorts. Once it becomes clear there will not be enough food at the trough to satisfy all the entitled mouths, they will turn on each other. There will be no improvement, no betterment to society until all of the demands are met or relinquished. Who knows what will be left at that time?

  • Luke Lea

    Of course we have been draining the talented tenth out of poor, underdeveloped countries in Africa and Asia for decades now. It may be good for Bill Gates but it is not so good for the poor folks in the countries left behind.

    But, then, America’s immigration policies have long been all about US. Immoral, selfish, egotistical — and in the name of compassion for the lucky few who get in. Aren’t we good!

  • Jim.


    No, this is the opposite of creative destruction. Capitalism destroys the old because something new is taking its place. Welfare States destroy the new, until in the end, the whole edifice crashes down.

    Europe is committing suicide. For those of you who consider this “euthanasia” — either in the PC uncharitable sense that Europe deserves to die, or even in the sympathetic sense that believes this is a desirable death, I can only shake my head in wonder that the human mind can get so twisted as to advocate this tragedy.

  • Eurydice

    The issue in Greece is that the ways in which people get jobs have been changing for some time now. The traditional way was for the child to enter the family business, whether it was farming, a trade, or a professional position. Jobs could also be had through political affiliation and cronyism. Also, jobs were strictly stratified by social class – no such thing as a college student waiting on tables to made some extra money.

    This order was not sustainable in an open world with free interaction between other countries. The EU crisis has only hastened the change.

  • Steve S.

    I’ve been reading about ‘brain drains’ for 40 years now: US to Canada in protest of Viet Nam; Britain to US in protest of Thatcherism; Japan to US in response to stagnant economics; Venezuela to Brazil in response to confiscatory fiscal policies; etc. etc. If I bothered to Google it, I’m sure I could come up with a dozen more examples.

    We brag about Texas and North Dakota job creation. Most of folks filling them came from somewhere else, in response to dismal conditions at wherever they came from. Isn’t this supposedly a good thing?

    As markets shift around, so does labor. Why are these migrations always presented so mournfully? They are a feature, not a bug.

  • Tim

    “No, I think Greece’s problems…”

    ..and the UK’s problems, and France’s problems, and and Italy’s & the U.S.’s problems, and…

  • Rifle308

    “Do welfare states always end by eating their young?”

    Dr Mead, I think the answer is obvious.

    Consider those among the “Occupy Wall Street” idiots who are moaning that their expense degrees in “verbal basket weaving” are not getting them cushy, high paying jobs. As usual the blame is directed at the private sector instead of the governments whose “free lunch” spending, “nanny state” regulatory, and crony captialism policies laid the foundation for this mess!

  • Les Hardie

    Five years ago, my graduate-student daughter spent several months working on a project in Greece. She loved how warm and friendly theGreeks were, but was amazed how little work they did. She literally spent several hours every day with her colleagues in cafes, eating and drinking and socializing. Work was definitely an impediment to playtime. Most of these people were employed by the state, had lifetime jobs, great benefits, and no obligation to produce more than a pittance. No wonder Greece has collapsed.

  • A Berman

    The author of that essay just wrote a book on the subject, entitled ‘How Civilizations Die’.

  • Jim.

    @A Berman:

    Interesting essay there in Asia Times, but while some of the sweeping generalities there make for a well-spun narrative, on closer inspection they fail to hold together as coherent trends.

    – Christianity does not seek to replace Siegfried with Empire; Christianity seeks to replace Siegfried with Christ. This simple truth is as invisible to Spengler as Original Sin seems to be. Princes and powers seek to replace Christ with themselves; this has always been so. In the present day it is less aristocratic and more democratic, but it is no less an unworthy aggrandizement of the human sovereign over God.

    – The French coupled Catholicism and Nationalism long before Richelieu. Clovis, Philip II, St. Louis, Philip the Fair, all used and abused the Catholic church in unifying their kingdom and people. Even post-Richelieu, all French monarchs who valued their throne worked ceaselessly (frequently using religion) to prevent the unification of the German states. The wisdom of this path was proven by the suffering of France at united Germany’s hands, and its foolishness by the massacre of Christians in the Revolution.

    – Europe’s loss in 1914-1918 was its loss of faith in the “Grand Illusion” that humanity (or any portion thereof — e.g., aristocracy) could be a recipient of any kind of grace. After experiencing the horrors of war, they decided that no joy or grace was left in this world (beyond the avoidance of pain and the enjoyment of physical comforts) and any prospect of joy or grace beyond it was a lie.

    Contrast this with the philosophical writings of the most Christian C.S. Lewis, whose evocations of joy and grace — even in the most dire circumstances, even despite bitter pain — are some of the most soul-touching words ever put into print. Lewis’s argument, that shows us that Europeans are damning themselves through the mortal sin of despair, still serves to explain much of the European condition today.

    (But that doesn’t fit neatly with the Spengler’s mythmaking about nationhood (then again, neither does claiming nationalism is Christian, either) so he ignores it.)

    It also points the way to the solution to Europe’s anomie — but it involves too much religion for the current crop of all-knowing secularists to do anything but beat it down as hard as they can. All too many souls are being lost from their grim and graceless efforts.

    – Christianity is not only growing in Africa — where it is growing by leaps and bounds — it is also growing in Asia as well. Churches on the West Coast of the US (where European meets Asian on neutral ground) are not closing; they are simply changing hands as some (certainly not all!) of their old European congregations increasingly share their houses of worship with Koreans and other east Asians. Congregations of Chinese Christians are growing day by day.

    Europeans (and their disciples in America) are in fact alone in their abandonment of hope and faith.

    One wonders what they see in it. Eternal and temporal joy on the one hand, embracing the pains of this life and the challenges of the morality that is the only path to amelioration of those pains, and on the other — utter meaninglessness. It can’t last.

    We should all pray daily that they should turn back before it is too late, and those of us with the talent to do so should make the re-Christianization of Europe a worthy life’s work.

  • Toni

    @Les Hardie – You bring to mind a similar anecdote.

    Some 15-20 years ago, a Greek immigrant friend was extolling to me his homeland’s calm, laid-back culture, where people took time over meals, etc. America should be more like that, he said.

    This man came here ca. 1980 for an advanced computer degree. He stayed, founded a little software company, and regularly paid to bring his elderly parents over to visit and get health care they couldn’t get at home. All I had to say to refute his thesis was, “Why are you here?”

  • A Berman


    I think that you and “Spengler” are not as far apart as your response implies. From the essay:
    “At the political level, Christianity sought to suppress Siegfried in favor of Christ through the device of the universal empire…”
    And the basic point– Europeans have lost its faith both in Christ and their nationalities and is depopulating in large part because of that, is not antagonistic to your points in any way.

  • console

    magical thinking. ofcourse its going to bite back.

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