23 June 2015

Drama queen

My knowledge of economics is rudimentary; I don't claim to understand much beyond the basics of supply and demand so I can't provide insight into this "crisis".  Oh, and that word, "crisis" - a time when a difficult or important decision must be made - the time for decision making seems to stretch for an eternity.

What follows is not a coherent analysis but rather observations on how this affair has been presented for public consumption, what has been highlighted and what has been conveniently overlooked.

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The (Western European) press has continuously presented this “crisis” in the classic good guy/bad guy dichotomy, with a very strong moral slant.  On the one side, we have the profligate, lazy Greek, who wants something for nothing, who doesn’t pay his taxes, who sits around in the sun all day long, sipping ouzo, and other such national stereotypes.  On the other side, we have the virtuous, frugal, hardworking German taxpayer who subsidizes the indolent Greek.  Such sweeping generalizations based on prejudice and stereotyping is only to be expected from certain sections of the press.  After all, one must pander to one’s paymaster.  Oh, yes, I admit, there are odd sob stories that come out now and again about the soup kitchens in Athens and cancer patients not being able to afford their life-saving medication, but these merely fulfil editors’ demands for the “human interest element” in their papers, something for the bored housewife to read during her coffee break, which is a lot lighter than economic analyses. 

It takes two to tango: if Greece borrowed money recklessly then somebody lent them that money recklessly.  But the press doesn’t focus on the lender’s side of the relationship too much.  (Here I remember the US banks that lent money to house buyers with low incomes, knowing full well that the new home owners would not be able to maintain payments for long, default, and the banks could then repossess – we know how that turned out.) By the same token, when Greece joined the EU and the Euro, didn’t those economists and financiers figure out that Greece had cooked the books a little? Would they have us believe that they were duped?

Greeks do not have a monopoly on corruption and tax evasion.  The Siemens scandal, Schäuble’s acceptance of a sizeable donation during Kohl’s term in office, all those Germans with Swiss bank accounts …….. These stories do not make the front page very often.  Then there are those numerous Germans (and other Europeans) who have bought up plots of land in the Greek countryside and built their holiday villas.  Some of them had to oil the wheels of bureaucracy (just like the Greeks) when buying their dream in the sun – especially if the land in question is outside the urban planning zone (which quite often it is).

Greece go it alone with the Drachma?  I don’t see it happening.  I don’t think the Bundesbank, oops sorry, the ECB, would like Greece to repay its debts in a worthless currency.  They would prefer Euros, of course.  And a Greece out of Europe is a loose cannon: not only would the EU’s much vaunted “unity” and “solidarity” be damaged, but Greece would then be free to flirt with other partners.  Russia is already wooing Tsipras – is Putin interested in exploiting Greece’s oil/gas deposits? Or wants to sell his own to Greece?  Both countries share the Orthodox religion and Cyrillic alphabet – tenuous links but perhaps these are enough to form a basis for collaboration.

A final word on the subject of hypocrisy: while Mrs. Merkel and her ministers are dictating to the Greeks how much of a pay cut they should take, the backroom boys are working on a deal to sell German arms to the Greek government, weapons and armaments they don’t need and can’t afford.  What they give to Greece in financial help, they get back in arms sales.  This does not get into the mainstream press.  (I forget the exact statistics, but Greece is something like third on the list of Germany’s top arms buyers – not bad for a country on the verge of bankruptcy).

Is there a solution? I think not. This is a country in the strangle hold of the church, with an inadequate education system, crumbling infrastructure, little computerisation in public life, dysfunctional public services, etc. etc. etc. And this was even before the "crisis".  Greece's creditors are obviously not in the charity business; they expect a return on their money and like everyone else, they want their cut.

So much attention to this Greek drama, and so much (biased) press attention  because if Greece goes down, she's taking some others down with her. And this is what it's all about: self preservation.

Greece has never done anything alone, without help from outside. This goes right back even to the War of Independence in 1821 against the Ottoman Empire. Sympathisers and Philhellenes provided funding. 

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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.