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September 19, 2015

The best and the brightest

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Written by: DW

In the spring of 2006 I invited Pavlos Geroulanos to visit the Dukakis Center to speak on the topic of “youth and politics.” At the time Geroulanos was something like chief of staff to the then-president of PASOK, George Papandreou, having recently returned to Greece from the US, where he had done an MBA at the Harvard Business School.

During the course of his discussion Geroulanos said something that I have been thinking about ever since. In the US, he suggested, the best and the brightest go invariably into business. In Greece, he said, they go into politics.

Now you could probably find lots of ways to qualify or rebut Getoulanos’ observations. I have organized two sessions of the Business and Politics Forum at the Dukakis Center in part to test the validity of this claim. I have also written on the themes of brain drain and citizen disengagement. What if, after a fashion, Geroulanos were right?

If we thought in terms of capacity, or of success metrics, or of relative prestige, it would say a lot about the prospects for economic development if Greece’s best and brightest, or at least those who stayed behind in, or returned from abroad to the patrida, were politicians. The potential for oligarchic behavior notwithstanding, it could have major implications on the quality of political life in this beleaguered country.

There is considerable interest these days in the emergence of a class of anti-politicians, in Europe as in the US. One pole of the debate argues that robust political activity, from anti-establishment activism to backroom wheeling and dealing, is essential for the survival of democracy.

In such circumstances, the theater served up in Greece during the last several months by politicos and citizens alike has been a vibrant index of what potential exist among Greeks in government and in civil society, despite the constraints of the regime of austerity imposed by Greece’s creditors.

What I hope to be able to accomplish at the Dukakis Center with these thoughts in mind is two-fold.

First, we will seek to counteract the perennial complaint that politics is ruining our democracy. As the Australian political scientist Kenneth Minogue argued in his book, Politics: A Very Short Introduction, there can be no democracy without politics; the result is despotism, autocracy.

Second, we will remain mindful of an observation made just recently by Elaine Kamarck of the Brooking Institution: we need to establish public standards such that we ensure that our politicians are actually good at politics.

And so we take our leave on this, the eve of another national election, by wishing our readers kalo psifo tomorrow. May the best politicians win.






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