- Clientelism and Economic Policy: Greece and the Crisis by Aris Trantidis
The outbreak of the Greek sovereign debt crisis in 2009 caught much of the world by surprise. Up to that point the prevailing view was that the country had joined the club of wealthy democracies, as it was part of the euro regime, posted relatively strong rates of economic growth, and had a relatively high standard of living. No one was more startled than Greece’s Balkan neighbors, which, with the exception of Turkey, were struggling after four or more decades of communist rule. To them, Greece was a prosperous, stable, democratic, peaceful, and well-respected country—an example to emulate. The outbreak of the crisis stimulated numerous analyses seeking to explain the causes and consequences of the country’s prolonged and pervasive economic malaise and its impact on the future of the European Union.
In general, the works on the Greek crisis can be divided in to three categories: descriptive analyses, insiders’ accounts, and more scholarly treatises. The first category includes an avalanche of mass media articles and several book-length publications describing the texture of, the players involved in, and the impact of the crisis. Jason Manolopoulos’s Greece’s ‘Odious’ Debt is a good example. A more recent variant encompasses a few accounts by insiders or would-be insiders. The memoirs of George Papaconstantinou, finance minister in the first phase of the crisis (October 2009 to June 2011), titled Game Over: The Inside Story of the Greek Crisis, is by far the most authoritative in this category. Books by Yanis Varoufakis, finance minister in the leftist [End Page 131] SYRIZA government (January to July 2015), and his American advisor James K. Galbraith are also of interest. Finally, more academic treatises have received publicity as they seek to provide more sophisticated treatments of the country’s prolonged economic difficulties. Michael Mitsopoulos and Theodore Pelagidis’s Understanding the Greek Crisis and Takis S. Pappas’s Populism and Crisis Politics in Greece are representative of this category. Aris Trantidis’s Clientelism and Economic Policy: Greece and the Crisis joins these scholarly efforts. It blames the underlying causes of the Greece’s devastating sovereign debt crisis and the country’s inability to overcome it on the country’s pervasive, chronic, and deep-rooted clientilistic political system. Even though numerous analysts have alluded to clientelism as one of the ills afflicting the Greek polity, Trantidis’s volume is the first comprehensive, systematic, and in-depth treatment of the phenomenon. Rather than rely on quantitative methods and formal modeling, the author seeks “to highlight the value of historical research.”
The aim and main thrust of Trantidis’s book is to shed light on a seemingly intractable paradox: why Greek authorities failed to introduce much-needed structural and other reforms to avert the economic crisis, even though for more than four decades the country had been governed by one-party governments supported by comfortable parliamentary majorities, a powerful prime minister, and a politically subservient bureaucracy. He attributes the failure to pervasive clientelism that severely limits the “reform capacity of the Greek governments.” Trantidis views clientelism as “the distribution of resources by political power though an agreement in which politicians—the patrons—make this allocation dependent on the political support of their beneficiaries—their clients.”
The centralized, active, and interventionist nature of the Greek state forms the backdrop of the country’s clientilistic political and economic system. Without a doubt, the state plays a key role in the allocation of economic resources and social opportunities. This arrangement creates both the space and the environment that “rational politicians and other actors will seek to turn into rent-seeking, corruption, and patronage.” It is also an environment in which well-placed client groups—such as labor unions, public employees, and construction firms—can advance their interests. In other words, the patrons—political parties and politicians—dole out state resources in exchange for political support from key client groups, and the clients need the patrons to...