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Why Greece doesn’t need a Greek chorus— Athens

Preface

You can’t ask all the people all the time.

Business, Economy, Global financial crisis, Recession

2 November 2011

You can’t ask all the people all the time.

That’s something George Papandreou should’ve considered before he announced a referendum yesterday – a decision that’s forced world markets to plummet.

Greece is going to quiz its population on whether they want a bailout loan contract. And that comes with a slew of tough austerity measures.

Papandreou says he believes in his citizens’ judgment. But analysts are baffled.

Isn’t this a little like door knocking to ask residents whether they’d like their houses burned or just looted?

We already know most Greeks are deeply unhappy about the prospect of reform. You only have to look at hoards of indignati on the streets of Athens to see how the proposals are going down. And surely this loan option is Hobson’s choice?

Canvassing for a popular thumbs up to a wildly unpopular set of reforms seems perverse. And it is also politically fraught – if it’s a “no” from Athens then Papandreou will surely have to resign.

On the whole, single-issue referendums are often misguided. Look at Iceland. When asked whether their government should pay back money owed to governments in the UK and Netherlands earlier this year, Iceland’s majority answered a firm “no”. But now courts in Reykjavik indicate they have to do it anyway.

Single-issue referendums just aren’t good governance. They are the modern equivalent to mob rule. And the popular movements that demand them often have some funny ideas. (Tea Party activists, for instance, have called for a referendum on National Identity.)

There is often a tyranny in the opinion of the majority. Polls suggest, for instance, that over two thirds of Britons support the death penalty. At the same time most parliamentarians are staunchly against the idea.

Democracy may be far from perfect. But we employ our politicians to step up and make the call. If we don’t like it then we vote them out. That’s the system.

Papandreou shouldn’t ask every Giorgos, Giannis and Dimitris what they want. As premier, it is in his power to make the tough decisions the populous don’t want to make themselves.

Monocle 24

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