Is it Time for a Greek Coolidge?

July 2, 2015

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Coolidgeopoulos by Flora Lipsky

By Sam Izzo

The story of Greece could have been written by Aeschylus. Consider that when the American Founders designed our new government, they used the Ancient Greek democracies as a template, and the philosophers at Plato’s academy changed human thought forever. Greece’s decline from its lofty perch as the pinnacle and birthplace of Western ideals and enlightened rule to its new role as the sick man of Europe can appropriately be called ironic, a tragedy more suited for the Odeon than the silver screen.

The Ancient Greeks were certainly not without their fiscal challenges; the 5th century B.C. was wrought with civil war between the City-States, and one of the issues that sparked the conflict was where to put all the gold! Athens’ rival, Sparta, and the rest of the Allies who fought along with Athens against the Persian Empire, preferred the spoils of war be kept on the island of Delos, a neutral island in the Aegean Sea. When Athens moved the gold into the safe haven of the Parthenon on the Acropolis, this reignited the old rivalries and was one of the main causes of the civil war. The old problems of Greece were of surplus, not of debt.

The founding of our nation was not just due to the genius of the Greeks, but also due to the financial acumen of Alexander Hamilton. He knew that if the United States was to become a world power, it would have to establish itself as a stable and reliable house for investment. Hamilton prioritized the repayment of debt and the establishment of sound credit, and America ultimately followed his path, perhaps more so than that of any other Founder.

President Calvin Coolidge, a student of the Founding Fathers, understood the costs of debt as well. His homespun New England wisdom, compounded by the experience of his ancestors and their troubles with debt, told him that sound budgets and the avoidance of over-exuberance was the key to personal success, financial enterprise, and national economy. Coolidge followed the path of Hamilton, and during his presidency the avoidance of debt and promotion of business made America a world economic power.

What Coolidge and Hamilton understood was that reputation was an important part of economic success. The tragedy of Greece is that a country once renowned for its tremendous achievements and insight is now synonymous with ill-management and disaster. For centuries young students learned of the great achievements of Greece; they were amazed by Plato’s philosophical relevance and the artistic, architectural genius of the Greeks. Today’s young students may not fully understand the causes of the Greek crisis, but they will surely hear about it from adults or on the news, and this image of failure will surely remain with them.

Stereotypes and pre-reflective judgments greatly influence financial decisions, and even if the Euro crisis and Greece’s financial problems are eventually solved by an economic miracle, they will remain a country stereotyped as a place to avoid, not to emulate. As an ironic historical twist, perhaps the contemporary Greeks could use ancient American wisdom and learn from our thinkers. Maybe it is a time for a Greek Coolidge.

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