In its policies toward Greece, the “Troika” — a new shorthand for the combined will of the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund — has actively and enthusiastically embraced Maggie Thatcher’s social and political philosophy, memorably captured in her chilling assertion, “There is no such thing as society.”
That philosophy has found its fullest and most concrete exposition in a 2014 “competition assessment” of Greece made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD analyzed 555 Greek regulatory restrictions and made 329 specific recommendations the Troika expects Greece to enact with dispatch. Again and again the report views as virtually criminal regulations that favor small business, local ownership, and a reliance on local and domestic suppliers.
The OECD, for example, points an accusing finger at a Greek regulation requiring milk labeled “fresh” to have a maximum shelf life of 5 days. The regulation makes Greek “fresh” milk, on average, more expensive than in other EU countries. Why? “The high retail price of milk in Greece is a direct consequence of the high prices paid to Greek producers, since the five-day regulation makes imports next to impossible.” To the economists at the OECD and the Troika price is all. But the majority of Greeks, and I daresay many of the rest of us, might well support an agriculture policy that asks us to pay a few more cents for a bottle of milk to sustain and nurture an ecosystem of small, domestic dairy farmers.
The OECD demands Greece abolish any laws restricting the days or hours a business can operate (e.g., Sunday closing laws) — despite the fact that several European countries have enacted such policies to protect workers and small businesses. Germany has some of the most restrictive rules on opening hours of all.
The OECD insists, “The current retail price regulation of books should be abolished…” Why? “(N)ew retail channels such as the Internet will be developed.” The market demands that small publishers and bookstores make way for Amazon.
The OECD bids Greece abolish ownership provisions to “allow the development of retail pharmacy chains not owned or run by pharmacists.” The country’s pharmacy care should be opened to giant drugstore chains.
Each of these examples reveals a full-throated assault on Greek society by the Troika. Let’s examine the OECD and the Troika’s bid to overturn Greece’s pharmacy laws more closely. These require, as noted, that pharmacies be owned and operated by a licensed pharmacist, prohibit a pharmacist from owning more than one store, require that over-the-counter drugs be sold only in pharmacies, and cap the price of these medicines. The OECD’s demands galvanized a 24-hour strike by pharmacists in mid June. Continue reading