Greek’s weak productivity and profligacy now threatens the early retirement age, extensive unemployment benefits and guaranteed vacation time of the Greek worker. While US laborers would consider the Greek system to be more akin to summer camp than actual labor, the Greek population is rioting in the streets.

In the US, the reaction to the real estate bust, credit collapse and market crash of 2008-09 was much more modest. As the nation crept up to the edge of the abyss, there was investor panic and widespread fear, but the populace in the states remained remarkably placid.

It wasn’t always this way. Prior to the current era, Americans did occasionally take to the streets. 600 Iowa farmers abducted a judge who was doing mortgage foreclosures, threatening to lynch him. The governor declared martial law, and troops were sent to quell the riots.

Have a look at these 1930s articles from the NYT:

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We are now defined by endless distractions, and 1000s of channels of hi def, flat screen, home theater. We have plenty of food. The nation remains wealthy, even if that wealth is unevenly distributed. Our never resting entertainment industry has managed to thoroughly distract us from our problems — perhaps too well.

The Romans had it right — bread and circuses are all politicians need to keep the population complacent and themselves in power.

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Category: Current Affairs, Psychology

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

47 Responses to “Bread & Circuses: Greece vs US Riots”

  1. tenaciousd says:

    Wow. I used to live in northwest Iowa. I didn’t know the locals had ever been that rowdy. I have newfound respect for them–or, at least for their grandparents!

  2. keithpiccirillo says:

    My town wouldn’t let me build a moat around my English Tudor, so I had to buy precious metals instead.
    So it goes.

  3. Robespierre says:

    It goes beyond Bread & Circuses. For riots to happen there would have to be a true opposition party or organization. In the US there is no such thing just the illusion of it. Democrats and Republicans are exactly the same in actions. All perceived differences are for show. That is your real Bread & Circuses. The other place where you will find resistance would be Unions and/or Universities. Unions are as corrupt as the two parties and students are busy with their gadgets and to cynical to actually believe in the possibility of change. What I will expect in the US as far as a violent manifestation of discontent along the lines of a home grown fringe group hit and hide violence. IMHO

  4. Ken B says:

    @tenaciousd

    You call that respectable?

  5. polizeros says:

    The populist movements, which started in the 1890′s, emerged primarily from Midwest farmers who were losing their farms to predatory banks and being gouged by commodity speculators (sound familiar?). They formed co-ops, controlled state legislatures, and had a senator. For a while, they were a powerful force.

    We’re seeing a resurgence in populism today.

    The populists in North Dakota in the 1915 were a major force in creating their state-run bank. It is the only such bank in existence today. North Dakota also has a budget surplus. These two facts, I think, are directly related.

    Unfortunately, history like this has been scrubbed from the history books, for the most part. But hey, unlike socialism, populism has a long and vibrant history here and is red white and blue American.

  6. itserich says:

    I live in Iowa.

    Endless distractions.

    We have what I would call a truly awful Democratic governor, but I will vote for him because the Republicans are primarily concerned about stopping gay marriage.

    Trinkets and the culture wars keep Americans mollified while the Treasury is looted.

  7. alfred e says:

    @BR: good post.

    Huxley had it right. AS long as they get their soma all will sleep well.

    Besides, TPTB have the technology to detect and thwart insurgency before it boils over. Or so they think.

    It might get interesting.

  8. flipspiceland says:

    It’s always about Incentives.

    There is a huge incentive to fight like hell when the single most important luxury in the world ( not appreciated as much by those who do not live in an idyllic climate) is TIME. With a capital T.

    TIME became noticed as the single most important luxury of the 21st century and beyond when most realized that you only get about 80 years + or – in which to live. And the prime years are when you can get the most bang out of it. This is not as much appreciated in other countries at the conscious level as much as it is in many European countries.

    If you live on a paradisical island, you likely value your TIME more than any single material object you can find. Threats to that lifestyle are going to be met with protest, violence, and death.

    By taking away some of the TIME Greeks (next the British, then the French) have had to themselves for whatever pursuits they choose, what with their 30 hour work weeks, early retirement (to use their time as they see fit) and other ways to use TIME unencumbered with actually having to work for a living, a disincentive has been introduced and good luck with trying to change a multi-generational attitude like that.

  9. PhilB says:

    BR you are right…Bread and Circuses.

    But you are leaving out one MAJOR difference. The US has bought the placid behavior of their masses by massive govt spending and bailouts. Unemployment benefits keep getting extened, people live in houses which banks normally would have foreclosed on if their money was at stake, credit is tight but again all bank lending was backstopped by the US govt. US govt has increased govt jobs and taxes have yet to rise significantly

    Greece is in the opposite situation. It must reduce govt spending, reduce govt jobs and increase taxes. Now the US will need to do all this eventually too, they just bought time to allow the powerful elite to maintain their posts and continue to leech of middle-class.

    You want riots? Balance the US budget!

  10. The Curmudgeon says:

    Alas, when the Romans lost their bread, they still had their circuses. Gladiator games were held in the Coliseum right up until the time that the barbarians finally stormed the gates and relieved the city of both. I imagine we’ll do the same–living in street alleys because we mortgaged the house to get season tickets to watch our favorite teams.

    In the meantime, it’s true that cheap food is actually the greatest of the mass’s opiates–far beyond drugs or drinking or nicotine. Just look at the obesity figures in America. There is a hollow spot in our souls, a lost sense of purpose, that many of us try to fill with carbohydrates. Food is a drug for a great many people in America. But sports are a bigger and more powerful drug. Take away the Super Bowl, and then you’d have riots.

  11. Jessica6 says:

    This Greek ‘profligacy’ has rather less to do with retirees and vacations and probably rather more to do with good old-fashioned corruption.

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,693973,00.html

    05/11/2010

    Complicit in Corruption
    How German Companies Bribed Their Way to Greek Deals

    By Jörg Schmitt

    Greece’s rampant corruption is one of the reasons why the country’s economy is in such a mess. German companies have taken advantage of the system for years in order to secure lucrative deals.

    Miza and fakelaki are the lubrication that keeps the Greek economy running smoothly. Fakelaki — literally “small envelope” — is a payment used when Greeks need to be treated by a doctor or are having trouble with a tax auditor.

    Miza, on the other hand, is the money that doesn’t fit into a small envelope and requires something bigger, like a suitcase, or when the cash needs to be squirreled away in an account in one of the world’s many tax havens. Without miza — i.e., bribes — virtually no foreign company could do business in Greece. Large government contracts are particularly prone to miza.

    These deals often allow millions to flow via shell corporations around the world and back into the pockets of industrialists, civil servants, the military and politicians. Meanwhile, the payments are usually declared on the company’s books as commissions for negotiating contracts. And German industry is one of the major players in the game of miza Monopoly.

    Highly Lucrative Deals

    Germany is one of Greece’s leading trading partners. Last year, Germany exported goods worth €6.7 billion ($8.5 billion) to Greece — compared to a volume of imports of only €1.9 billion. But what methods are used to achieve this enormous surplus?

    … read on. They have every right to be angry.

  12. Machiavelli999 says:

    “The Romans had it right — bread and circuses are all politicians need to keep the population complacent and themselves in power.”
    ——————————————————————————

    True, but after seeing what happens when the population starts paying attention (e.g. Tea Parties, etc.), perhaps keeping the population complacent is the best way to govern.

  13. Dogfish says:

    “You call that respectable?”

    I sure do. It’s the type of actions that our founding fathers called for when the government went astray, as it has in current times, thanks to the confluence of corporate influence, political malfeasance, and civilian indifference.

    +1 Curmudgeon

    Reminds me of what Chomsky talks about in Manufacturing Consent.

  14. Dogfish says:

    “True, but after seeing what happens when the population starts paying attention (e.g. Tea Parties, etc.), perhaps keeping the population complacent is the best way to govern.”

    The Tea Parties are an example of a powerful minority convincing an ignorant majority that they share the same interests. It’s the same way the Republicans rose to prominence in the mid 90′s with Newt and his contract leading the way.

    People are getting energized, they just have no direction because they are really clueless as to how things really work in this country. This makes them quite susceptible to having a direction suggested to them. Reminds me of the painting of the chess game between one fat banker, with his pieces represented by skyscrapers and factories, versus a dozen little people, their pieces represented by houses and small business. Organized greed will always defeat disorganized democracy.

  15. Dogfish says:

    Also, if the Tea Parties didn’t represent the interests of the elite, they wouldn’t receive a quarter of the attention and coverage that they currently do, if that.

  16. PhilB says:

    Jessica6 (or Jennifer8?)

    While their is massive corruption in Greece, the US has just exhibited the largest financial transfer of wealth within its society because of outright fraud and corruption at all levels of government and major corporations.

    We have plenty of reason to riot too! We just havent had our bread taken away yet, its been financed on the backs of our children.

  17. Marcus Aurelius says:

    I’m not usually so harsh, but those farmers should have hung that judge on the spot (and then moved on to the next judge) — he’d have done it to them and cited his magisterial power and Constitutional authority to do so as he passed sentence and handed them over to the executioner. Then he’d have gone home, had a nice dinner (thanks to the farmers’ labor), and a good night’s sleep.

    The most rank and low-brow criminality in our system can be found in our Judiciary — where opinion and power can’t be challenged, and whose members rely on their Union (Bar Associations) to protect their industry from oversight or regulation by those not in the club. The Judiciary or its equivalent is where the rubber hits the road in any tyrannical system.

  18. Patrick Neid says:

    “In the US, the reaction to the real estate bust, credit collapse and market crash of 2008-09 was much more modest. As the nation crept up to the edge of the abyss, there was investor panic and widespread fear, but the populace in the states remained remarkably placid.”

    While that is true to date, I think it simply reflects that nothing has happened out of the ordinary yet. Sure there has been layoffs, very common in recessions, declining real estate prices, although new, folks had a sense that prices were absurd. Buy a house, do nothing, become a zillionaire!

    The riots in the streets will be coming if, like Greece, we have to cut spending 20% and raise taxes 50% and lay off vast numbers of public union members. Obama and crew, previous admins knew this. Let’s see what happens in California over the next year.

    I don’t think its all a coincidence that there are gigantic forces against gun ownership.

  19. bdg123 says:

    Greek profligacy and lack of productivity ………. a myth perpetuated by the most unproductive and profligate across the globe – the American financial industry. Productivity so low it has required backstopping $20 trillion in assets it holds in the American economy and there are countless trillions more across the globe. I think that statement was lifted from a recent Mauldin email. Mauldin is beholden to a belief system he doesn’t even understand. A virtuous person who believes in a system that is morally-bankrupt.

    Greece’s lack of productivity and profligacy is nothing of the sort. The people of Greece are just as productive as the people of the United States. It is financial corruption and government corruption that has caused this crisis. In large part fueled by financial corruption in the United States.

    The only people at risk in this crisis are the wealthy Americans and wealthy Europeans – the bond holders. Greece should demand a huge haircut from the bondholders or simply default on their sovereign debt and start over with a public banking system.

    The profligacy starts and ends on Wall Street.

  20. Marcus Aurelius says:

    Patrick Neid Says:

    I don’t think its all a coincidence that there are gigantic forces against gun ownership.
    _____________

    Dude, I think you’re trippin’. Please provide a link to these “gigantic” forces. I have yet to hear any politician call for anything but reasonable restrictions on “gun” ownership.

    BTW: The Constitution says nothing about owning guns. It does, however, say something about “bearing arms.” If taken at face value, why should the private individual not be allowed to own bombs, or tanks, or missiles?

    Years ago, a fellow I know came up with what I think is a perfect form of gun control: Any citizen may own any gun longer than his or her own leg. Such a weapon cannot be concealed, so that the other (non-threatened feeling) members of society know exactly who and what they are dealing with in their day-to-day social interactions. This simple law would protect the ostensible “right to bear arms” while doing away with the ability of someone with a nefarious agenda to act with impunity up until the point of criminality.

  21. realgm says:

    I just saw this about California.
    http://finance.yahoo.com/tech-ticker/schwarzenegger-warns-of-%22terrible-cuts-absolutely-terrible-cuts%22-coming-in-california-483776.html;_ylt=AorIcHLrKgIoONrIUP6K1Ea7YWsA;_ylu=X3oDMTE1cXZxdnJ2BHBvcwM1BHNlYwN0ZWNoVGlja2VyBHNsawNzY2h3YXJ6ZW5lZ2c-?tickers=tlt,tbt,xlf,ncu,nvx,nkl,cev

    California state gov’t is basically insolvent. Quite a lot of states in the US are in similar situations, but people had been ignoring these news. Would California be a US version of what happened in Greece? Obviously, the FED can just print more money and bailout the states.

    The “terrible cut” mentioned by Schwarzenegger may trigger riots in the US.

    What is your take here, Barry? This should be more concerning to the US citizens than what’s happening in Greece or in 1930.

  22. davver says:

    The end of hunger means the end of revolution. Name a revolution whose participants had full bellies?

  23. DeDude says:

    Now lets get this straight, it was the financial terror attack of Goldman on Greece that is causing all their problems. And the US government has so far not lifted a finger to bring these financial terrorists from Wall Street to justice – or even prevent a similar attack on a defenseless little country in the future.

  24. Ramstone says:

    Just wait a couple weeks, your riot will materialize…

    Rogue satellite could kill cable programming

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13506_3-20004772-17.html

  25. flipspiceland says:

    @Curmudgeon

    As a born Chocolatarian, I object to the all-inclusive carbohydrate bash. Can we get an exemption
    or a Cap and Trade on this one delicious resource?

  26. Dogfish says:

    Convince an entity (person, nation, etc) to take larger loans than they should based on inflated projections of growth, then, when they default (as planned for and expected by the lender), demand the pound of flesh in return, in the form of wage cuts, privatization of public resources, etc. For some reason bondholder haircuts are never on the table.

    Straight out of Confessions of an Economic Hitman and Shock Doctrine.

  27. DeDude says:

    flipspiceland;

    In Europe a large part of the increases in productivity has been converted to self-indulgence in more free time. In US it has been converted to self-indulgence with more “stuff” (bigger houses, cars etc.). Problem in both places is that most of the increases in productivity was sucked up by the rich and most of what was given to the middle class was given on credit. Our materialistic self-indulgencies have driven our (and the Chineses) GDP way up giving a false sense of increased wealth, whereas the European self-indulgence in time has left the impression of a stagnating economy. Sooner or later both sides of the Atlantic has to deal with the fact that as efficiency grow free time is being produced (i.e., machines do the work). If you use that time to produce more things you have to find costumers for those things. If you distribute that time as free time to the population, you have to find an efficient way to transfer wealth from the owners of the automated factories to the unemployed workers from the old time factories.

  28. patient renter says:

    It’s an interesting dichotomy, but don’t the Greeks have satellite TV and all sorts of entertainment of their own? I think there’s something else more to what’s going on…

  29. TIME became noticed as the single most important luxury of the 21st century and beyond when most realized that you only get about 80 years + or – in which to live.

    Bad news. You guys are getting ripped off there too. Christians and Jews get to live forever. I suppose you shouldn’t trust GS to sell you a life either

    I imagine we’ll do the same–living in street alleys because we mortgaged the house to get season tickets to watch our favorite teams.

    No season’s tickets (those are for the bankers). They will be putting a flat screen TV on every corner soon so it will be the next best thing. Especially when 3DHD comes out into the mainstream

    Also, if the Tea Parties didn’t represent the interests of the elite, they wouldn’t receive a quarter of the attention and coverage that they currently do, if that.

    Fantastic point Dogfish! Ron Paul and Austrian economic thought are prime examples

    The Constitution says nothing about owning guns. It does, however, say something about “bearing arms.” If taken at face value, why should the private individual not be allowed to own bombs, or tanks, or missiles?

    Or tank tops for that matter. Oh wait. Never mind

  30. radioman says:

    Ray Bradbury predicted this in 1947 with Fahrenheit 451, the book, which is more about dominating a society with distractions rather than letting them think freely (vs the movie which is mainly a superficial action/adventure flick) . I was always amazed at how prophetic Bradbury was. I guess he just based it on history and bread & circuses!

  31. Todd in SM says:

    Military Industrial Complex
    Americans now know (and see on TV) that if they get too out of line they will be teargassed, tazed, or worse.

    Not the case prior to 1965. The populace far outnumbered the enforcing authorities.

  32. Bokolis says:

    The clippings underscore the well-understood (by the PTB, hence the circus and bread) reality that our founding fathers revolted for a lot less than the shyte they pull on us now. I didn’t hear of anyone running down to the NASDAQ building and kicking in a window, or of anyone throwing a flare (or even a bottle rocket) at the NYSE. Does anybody so much as e-mail their local Congressman (every time he signs a bill he hasn’t read) to call him a
    Clueless
    Uninformed
    No-good
    Twit (or, if a Congresswoman, a dishrag)?

    Deal with enough Californians, then tell me about weak productivity and profligacy…that’s all media misdirection away from the above reality. That they surely don’t live to work in the motherland as they do here doesn’t equate to lavish living. The Beastie Boys notwithstanding, I’ve never met anyone that would fight for their right to party. The people rioting are making 15k Euro per year and getting taxed 25% on it. That’s the same as the corporate tax rate- which is about to get reduced- without the ability to hide income…if companies here can show one set of books to the Street and another to the IRS, you can be sure that the books in Greece are being roasted on a spit.

    Until the trend of taxing labor instead of wealth reverses (both in Greece and in the US), national balance sheets will remain broken and economies will remain built on inflated asset prices. Shame that, it is only when those asset prices drop that people can see the gutted house of cards (as represented by outsourced jobs) upon which economies are built.

  33. The Curmudgeon says:

    @flipspiceland:

    Anything and everything in moderation, even chocolate. Heroin would be okay, if anybody could figure out a way to take just one hit…

    @davver:

    The American Revolution, for one, had folks with mostly full bellies fighting folks with yet fuller ones. Hungry people rarely incite rebellion. It’s hard to fight on an empty stomach. Revolutions come after subsistence is achieved and there are further riches to be fought over.

    But there’s no reason for Americans to revolt. It’s not like anybody thinks that blood in the streets will make them richer, or keep them from becoming poorer.

  34. Dogfish says:

    “The populace far outnumbered the enforcing authorities.”

    That is still the case. Keep in mind also that there would be a sizable number of those law-enforcing authorities that may have a moment of conscience when tasked with imprisoning or incapacitating their friends and neighbors – that’s a little different than being asked to do so to brown-skinned foreigners half a world away.

    The occupation of Iraq is a fine example of what happens when hubris meets reality. America is still the sleeping giant of yore, if we continue down this path of global elitist overreach and the masses truly get active, may your diety of choice help us all.

  35. Dogfish says:

    ha, “diety” = “deity”

    damn we need an edit function up in here, up in here

  36. freejack says:

    “Todd in SM Said: Not the case prior to 1965. The populace far outnumbered the enforcing authorities.”

    Then, we had the ‘War on Drugs’ ………..

  37. zitidiamond says:

    Ronnie, through tax cuts and massive deficit spending, was a master practioner of the bread and circus formula. However, he took it step further by offering all Americans the opportunity to elevate themselves by blaming their problems, and those of society, in general, on the poor.

  38. DL says:

    “The nation remains wealthy, even if that wealth is unevenly distributed”

    I don’t know how true that is any more, given all the public (and consumer) debt.

    However, the U.S. can still borrow at very favorable rates. For now, that is enough.

  39. advsys says:

    What you say is correct if this were our 1935. I am not sure that one can say that today will follow 1929 – 34. 1929 was not the year of major damage to the markets. It was the start of a multi year value destruction. Everyone keeps treating today like it is 1935. Just because Bernanke used 1934 to justify his choice of how to fix the problem. Most likely we are kind of topsy turvey to the 29 -34 crash. We did the 34 part it is quite possible that now we go into the 1930 – 32 part.

  40. DuchessGateau says:

    Curmudgeon,

    Excellent point about cheap food. Did you see that Walmart is donating $2 billion in food to food banks? Thank God the govt and private sector are making it a priority to feed people. Comments to this blog indicate that many TBP readers believe our politicians still fear the mob, and food stamps are not altruism. The mob seems powerless to me, but perhaps they are just waiting for a leader. The ECB had MUCH more influence over the so-called bail-out of Greece than their rioting mob. This was a bailout of the French and German banks who owned Greek debt. But did the banks require fire-bombings and 3 deaths to seal the deal? I am left wondering. Nobody knows who does what in the middle of a rioting mob. The banks benefitted from this bailout, as they have from all the others.

  41. Ole Drippy says:

    Don’t meth with Iowa…

  42. darincbrown says:

    Barry said, “We have plenty of food.”

    Heh. That depends on who “we” is. In the Central Valley of California, the epicenter of the housing bust, charitable food pantries have seen the number of people stopping by increase by a factor of 3 or more. Even those who don’t go to food pantries are often living paycheck to paycheck, and you wouldn’t know it, because they don’t exactly advertise the fact. The truth is that the average person is in far worse financial shape than they may superficially appear.

    I think the reason we haven’t seen what is shown in the articles above is because stop-gap measures have bought time — unemployment benefits, modest stimulus programs, bailouts, deceptive state accounting tricks. But only so much time can be bought. Already, California has a 13% unemployment rate and a 24% U6-unemployment rate.

    The state is certainly insolvent. Only one of two outcomes can happen: a) massive federal bailout, or b) additional massive layoffs of the public sector, drastic reduction or elimination of many social services, and steep tax hikes. Under the latter scenario, the state will slip deeper into recession, and the unemployment rate could easily reach 20% and the U6-unemployment rate could easily reach 30-35%, and include a large proportion of highly educated professionals and technocrats. The reduction or elimination of many social services would mean that large numbers of people (the working poor) will simply die of poverty and lack of basic medical services.

    This will spark a response from the people. The question is what form it will take — populism or proto-fascism? The answer to that question will largely determine the future.

  43. purple says:

    I agree with the immediate above. Transfers from the state have prevented a lot of social uprisings. And also the cult of personality behind Obama.

    The people who would be rioting are convinced Obama has their back. Imagine Mc Cain in the office with 10 % unemployment and you’re going to get a different picture of social conditions.

  44. nyet says:

    The American people are a bunch of suck ups. The ideology of the “free market” has destroyed our ability to stand up for ourselves. That is the reason we’ve tolerated decades of declining wages and job security and benefits, along with skyrocketing college costs and on and on. We believe in being suck ups, believe that if we just do it sincerely enough we will Get Rich Too. The System Works, folks, really it does.

    When I saw those Greeks hurling rocks to protest austerity measures, I thought, How UnAmerican.

  45. [...] long-term unemployment are. It wasn’t always thus.  Over at The Big Picture, Barry Ritholtz posted some articles discussing a riot in Iowa back in the 1930s.  My favorite snippet: The abduction followed Judge [...]

  46. Nando says:

    I went to law school in Iowa. I have a newfound respect for the farmers of that state. (They should have beaten the judge with cue balls in socks.)