Cyprus Mail

NPLs and the unaffordable luxury of populist lawmakers

Following the Macedonian conquest of Greece, Alexander’s campaign and death, the socio-political landscape in the Greek world changed dramatically. As a result of the concentration of political, military and economic power in the hands of a few who reigned over a number of successor kingdoms of what was once the vast empire Alexander had conquered, citizens in former Greek city-states overnight became ‘idiotes’ – persons, stripped of the right to participate in their respective city’s affairs, minding only their own business. As in many of those city-states, philosophy had thrived in the past aiming at teaching citizens how they should participate in politics for the benefit of the city’s society, unsurprisingly, adjustment was needed to cope with the new political situation.

One philosophic school, for example, founded by the Cypriot Zenon taught that the ability to endure pain was the road to happiness. The Athenian Epicurus’ teachings went in another direction: the goal was ‘ataraxia,’ i.e. tranquillity, freedom from fear or suffering which could be achieved through ‘hedone,’ i.e. pleasure, the greatest good for humans. Epicurus opened a school in Athens, the ‘Cepos’ or Garden, which unlike all other schools of the time did not restrict membership or admittance to free men but also accepted slaves and women, including prostitutes. Hedonism was the goal of life, so the doctrines propagated at the Cepos were achieved not by indulging in material pleasures but by satisfying one’s basic needs, like food or protection from the elements of nature, without seeking unnecessary things beyond that.

By the time Epicurus was 70 years old his teachings had spread across the Greek world as they offered comfort to those who wanted to endure life without the freedoms of the past, the rights of a citizen to vote, getting elected or holding those in power accountable. One of the prominent rulers in the Greek world at the time was Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus and a distant relative of Alexander. Pyrrhus, widely known for his Pyrrhic victories against the Romans, once hosted Fabricius, an emissary from Rome. He initially sought to bribe his guest by offering him a large sum of money but Fabricius remained unimpressed. The king subsequently attempted, again unsuccessfully, to scare the Roman by bringing him close to an elephant he had hidden behind a curtain.

Later, when Pyrrhus and Fabricius were having supper in the presence of the king’s advisors, the talk turned to politics and philosophy. One of Pyrrhus’ advisors, Cineas, started talking about what Epicurus was teaching; avoiding getting involved in politics but instead focusing on pleasure, i.e. what the philosopher considered to be the ultimate good. “O Hercules,” exclaimed Fabricius interrupting Cineas. “May Pyrrhus and the Samnites believe these teachings as long as they are our enemies”.

On Monday lawmakers at parliament’s finance committee received a first briefing on the provisions of a proposed law submitted by deputy Anna Theologou and supported by Marinos Sizopoulos, chairman of Edek, and George Perdikis, chairman of the Greens.

The bill aims at offering relief to debtors not servicing their loans by extending them immunity against foreclosure provided they signed their loan agreement with their bank before September 2014, when parliament past the current foreclosure legislation to tackle strategic default without making it really effective.

If the bill was enacted, a Central Bank of Cyprus official present at the meeting explained, then more than half of the loans extended by the banks would be affected. A finance ministry official warned that the effects of the bill would be incalculable and it could potentially increase the banks’ capital needs.

Oh Hercules, why don’t our enemies have politicians with the brains of Theologou, Sizopoulos and Perdikis?

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