Problems will never be solved properly or bad conditions improved, if we try to avoid the truth.
I sympathise with the plight of the Greek people and I acknowledge that there is much suffering due to the poor economic conditions in Greece.
However, I also acknowledge that the Greeks have and continue to make many mistakes in the way that they run their country. So, in a lot of ways, it could be said that the Greeks have only themselves to blame for where they find themselves today.
Well, this is where I start to deviate from this line of thinking.
Apportioning blame is a zero sum game. We can write reams of pages about who, what & where the Greeks are to blame for the mess that they find themselves in. Retrospective finger-pointing may make us feel better about making the Greeks grovel in front of the EU altar. But it is not going change anything and it certainly won’t help the Greeks!
Sure, we need to identify the problems and understand what went wrong and so on and so forth. Otherwise, we will not know what has to be fixed.
Therefore lets have a look at Greece, through the eyes of a Greek.
Pavlos Papageorgiou is a Greek who now lives and works in Scotland. Through his blog, I get the impression that Pavlos is very concerned about the decline of the economy and political system in Greece. This is despite the fact that Greece is a member of the EU and the Eurozone. Pavlos has written a number of very insightful posts on what he thinks is wrong with the EU and Greece and what should be done to improve the situation.
The following article was written in May 2010, but it could have been written in May 2015.
Nothing seems to have changed!
You may have heard that there were huge protests in Greece over the financial measures, basically pay cuts, that the government put in place to get its finances under control………..This must seem like tragic madness to outsiders, and even to many who live in Greece. When societies fail, it’s easy to conclude that people are irrational, that therefore there’s no prospect for improvement, and that imposing a basic plan or order upon them might be a good idea. Let me try and allay these notions.
Greeks are upset about the economic hardship that they now face. In this they are partly justified and partly naive. Greece was never rich, but it lived on borrowed money and immigrant labour for nearly twenty years, so now it feels poorer. Greeks would like the government to do something about their economic situation. Greece has relatively generous employment laws, like Germany, so the labour market and the pace of structural change in the economy are slow (when they are followed). The government is liberalising the labour market and Greeks are reasonably protesting because there’s no link between that concession and any specific growth prospects, and once the concession is made it’ll stay whether or not the economy improves.
What Greeks ought to be protesting even louder, and holding their politicians to discipline over, is failure to develop any strategy for economic growth. Greece has a mentality of economic servitude. There’s supposed to be some focus of wealth — the government, the EU, the abstract concept of tourism — and Greeks are used to attaching themselves to such a source of revenue, preferably for life. That worked, of sorts, when the country was economically insignificant. Now that it’s a reasonably-sized Western economy it has to produce as much as it consumes, and Greeks are incredibly naive not to face up to this reality. Both the public and politicians are arguing about moving the bar of entitlement a small amount up or down, without considering economic realities. A shared concept of economic growth, or the discourse needed to develop it, are absent.
Greece is structured as a strong welfare state, like France or Germany, but large scale industry never developed and aggregate output is way short of entitlement. Since the 1980s Greece has pursued a poor imitation of the American dream, becoming a highly individual, materialist, and power-seeking society. For a small country that’s delusional. Some people would like Greece to become more socialist, like the ex Yugoslavia or the Nordic countries. It’s also possible that Greece could develop an entrepreneurial high-tech economy like Israel, hopefully without a war. In terms of tradition, family values, and temperament the cultures are quite similar. But the question of growth is not discussed. Only schoolchildren persistently bring it up, and the older generation brushes them aside……..”
Not wishing to mislead you, the loyal and faithful readers of my blog, Pavlos went on to discuss the actions of the Greek police who had been very severe and violent in response to riots and demonstrations that had taken place in Greece at that time. If you are interested to read what he wrote, you can do so by going to the full, original post on Pavlos’ blog here.
So there we have it. The Greeks act like…..well, Greeks.
They are not Germans with a teutonic mentality. Neither are they Nordic and they are not Slavs or French either. They are Greeks. And now that we have got that one sorted out, we can now get on with sorting out the rest of the problems!