by Charles Hugh Smith
Of the many lessons we can learn from Greece's difficult path to rejection of debt-serfdom, the most important is perhaps the most obvious: no real change is possible until the Status Quo can no longer fulfill its promises, i.e. it effectively collapses.
The collapse of the Status Quo has two distinct features: the process is highly variable, and the process affects the social classes in different ways.
The process of collapse is neither sudden nor smooth. Things do not necessarily cease to function overnight; rather, the decline to effective collapse operates much like energy states in physics: systems decay and then drop to a lower energy level, where they are stable until further decay causes the next drop to an even lower level.
Pension payments provide a ready example. The pension payment is reduced, and the recipient tightens his/her belt and gets by. The next reduction (either outright or via inflation) forces drastic changes in consumption, and subsequent reductions reduce the pension to a supplement that cannot possibly support a retiree, much less their family.
The pension is still issued, but the promise of a pension that could support a household at a modest level of consumption has collapsed. Though the system for issuing pensions still exists, it no longer fulfills the original purpose.
In this sense, the collapsed pension system becomes much like the phantom legions of the late Roman Empire: the paymasters and officers still received the legion's pay, but there were no real soldiers; the legion was a bookkeeping entry in a skimming operation, not a fighting unit.
The financial Aristocracy (i.e. the kleptocracy) in Greece avoided much of the pain of debt-serfdom. What's the point of running things if you can't distribute the pain to others? I addressed this is Greece at the Crossroads: the Oligarchs Blew It (January 27, 2015).
The powerless classes were stripmined first. Bamboozled into voting for the Kleptocracy in previous elections, the powerless lower classes felt the brunt of austerity for the simple reason the kleptocracy knew there would be no blowback, as long as a few shreds of swag were being distributed.
This highlights the critical role of complicity in maintaining a corrupt, venal and parasitic kleptocracy: the passivity and silence of recipients of social welfare are bought very cheaply, as these classes will fear the loss of the miserable coins tossed to them.
This fear is a potent form of financial terrorism: any resistance or protest might trigger the loss of the reduced social welfare benefits, and so the powerless choose to remain powerless rather than rise up and take the risk of bringing down the parasitic kleptocracy.
The statist bourgeoisie (a.k.a. state-funded upper middle class) were the last to lose faith in the kleptocracy, for the simple reason that their share of the swag was sufficient to maintain the facade of middle-class comfort. It was also enough to sustain the illusion that the kleptocracy's abject kow-towing to the Lords of the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would magically become a winning strategy for Greece, rather than a one-way ticket to permanent debt-serfdom.
When the kleptocracy lost a significant percentage of this top 20%, they sealed their fate. When the state apparatchiks, institutional functionaries, professionals, small business owners, etc. finally lose faith in the the Status Quo, the Status Quo is doomed, though it can stage a rear-guard action by brutally suppressing this class (see Venezuela for an example of this doomed defense of a failed Status Quo).
In the U.S., the top 10% are doing very well, the next 10% are getting enough to sustain the illusion that they may yet recover their former status and wealth, and the bottom 80% have been bought off with social welfare or the promise of social welfare. Some variation of these percentages are in play in Europe, China, Japan and the emerging economies that haven't already imploded.
When the illusion that the Status Quo can fulfill all its promises to everybody dies, the Status Quo starts the terminal slide to effective collapse.
Unfortunately, no real change in the social order or power structure can occur until the effective collapse of the Status Quo has taken down everyone but the kleptocrats, their high-ranking apparatchiks and the piteously delusional.