If you have any Greek friends you have probably heard the yarns. The terrible harsh measures imposed on Greece “for the banks”. Global capitalism eating up it’s children like Saturn and not a Zeus in sight to fight back. Even Alexis Tsipras, the communist trained youngster, couldn’t do a Hermes on them. He talked the talk and then somersaulted into submission signing one after another Memorandum of Understanding. The “sold off Greece”, “mortgaged our future” and many other horrible things. According to most Greeks it was either “the Germans making money off us” or “the EU making an example of us”. According to conspiracy theorists it is “the beginning of a global economic meltdown.”
Let me help you with some facts.
- Greek business is, in general, crap. “Crap” being a term I use in the strictest sense to denote lazy and unorganized. Greece doesn’t really produce anything. As a consultant I see a lot of companies “insides”. Even those that appear to be healthy or export orientated are usually dependent on lazy government contracts one way or another. There is no “private sector” really because even companies that don’t belong to the government, end up making most of their money directly or indirectly from the government. Worse still, there is no major improvement. If someone gave us a gazillion billions to pay off all our debt we would simply slide into debt immediately again.
- The myth about Greek civil servants still holds true. Don’t look at official figures. When the latest government of pseudo left incompetents took over, my father declared “well, they have no money to give away, so at least they can’t hire loads of new civil servants.” Many people, usually like my father no longer well connected to developments, believe this. The truth is that this government has continued with gusto in the age old Greek tradition of giving jobs for votes. They just find new ways. We have consultancy positions, committees and dozens of other ways to give money to have people dependent enough to vote for them again. It is the PASOK know-how. (A lot of PASOK went into the current government.)
- Greeks are still living the good life, they just complain more. We have all taken a hit and it is true that some luxury items like expensive cars or international travel have been scaled back. It is also true that people on the edge of poverty are worse off. But the picture is not so clear. Hospitals are worse off, lacking essentials very often, but most people find a way to get either private health care or some in between solution. Doctors working in public hospitals abuse expensive machinery on the side for example. Bus travel is virtually free as there are never ticket inspectors. You hardly ever see anyone with a ticket anymore. Most Greeks still own the house they live in and their summer house and possibly a flat or two in the city which they rent out or AirBnb on the side. How many Germans have that?
I have written before about the many signs that Greeks are still wealthier and lazier in economizing than most Europeans. Things like the lack of used goods stores or the price of coffee. Greeks still top charts on rates of spending on personal care or plastic surgery. Supermarkets recently started charging for plastic bags and there was an uproar. Old habits die hard. You still don’t see too many people with carrier bags. We just take plastic bags from the vegetables section and use them! The “average American” we all like to make fun of, has infinitely more financial literacy than a Greek. We don’t spread risk, or count investments or move money, here is a conversation with your average Greek about debt.
No, that sort of thing is for “stupid foreigners.” We just wait for the next Euro idiot to give us more money to share.