Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Are Greeks the ‘chosen people’?

Pantelis Boukalas was complaining today in an opinion piece for Kathimerini that the crisis affecting Greece has made the country an international byword for economic and moral debasement representing ‘the fall of an entire nation and its people’.

He goes on: ‘We seem to be heading back to the days when some Western dictionaries would cite the words “swindler” and “cheat” as synonyms for “Greek.”

‘All that of course means that we will have to find a cure for our delusions of national supremacy that were instilled in our brains from an early age, when we were taught that we were the chosen people, a nation worthy of respect from the entire universe.’

I’ll just make a quick point on this, which is that Greece fell not because Greeks believed in ‘delusions of national supremacy’ and ‘that we were the chosen people’; but because it ceased to believe these things, and only when Greeks start believing in these things again will the country recover. And this is not a nationalist rant about the superiority of Greek blood and civilisation, but a recognition of the fact that nations only prosper and progress when they are assertive, self-confident and, most importantly, convinced of their uniqueness.

The clip above, which I’ve posted before, is from Robert Rossen’s 1956 film, Alexander the Great, in which Aristotle argues that indeed Greeks are the ‘chosen people’; and we all know what Alexander and the Greeks achieved imbued with this conviction that they were ‘the best’.


lastgreek said...

‘We seem to be heading back to the days when some Western dictionaries would cite the words “swindler” and “cheat” as synonyms for “Greek.”

Well, that's rather unfair for Boukalas to say that. The Wall Street banksters took the American taxpayers for trillions of dollars ... Western European counries are just as corrupt, if not more, than Greece.

And all this talk about how the "clever" Greeks "cheated" their way into the monetary union is hogwash, too. The ECB auditors, folks, were not born yesterday!

The pivotal moment---the beginning---in Greece's downward spiral is the Asia Minor disaster. Up until the Second World War, it was basically a steady decline. From then on, it's been a freefall ... culminating in the shameful fiasco the country now finds itself in.

Did I say on another thread yesterday that 2-year Greek bonds were yielding 20%? Today, they are yielding 22%! I think that must be some kind of eurozone record or something.

Maybe if every Greek were to open a baraki or kafeneion---maybe all their economic problems would be solved. I can see the modern Greeks aspiring to such high endeavours.

(Don' laugh. Some American economist/analyst, can't recall his name now, suggested such a plan for Americans ... lol)

lastgreek said...

So ... the Greeks point to the Parthenon and say, "Our ancestors built that maginficent structure."

Ok, fine. But can today's Greeks build another one. How hard can it freakin' be, right? I mean ... they have all this modern technology at their disposal now, unlike their ancestors who didn't have much of anything except for their big brains---not even electricity for souvlaki's sake!

Greeks love to drive. Ok, that's fine, too. So, why don't they manufacture their own automobiles? Are they that stupid that they simply can't? Are the Germans with their schnitzels and tight leather shorts that much smarter than the Greeks?

As one of my mistresses once said to me, "You Greeks invented everything."

Well ... yes---but that was a long time ago!

John Akritas said...

So, I guess, LG, in your opinion, we are not the 'chosen people'. A pity. I don't think the phrase means much anyway – other than what I said about a nation/people needing to believe it is unique, otherwise why exist in the first place, if you are no different from a Nigerian, Somalian, Turk or whatever. Generally, I agree with your sentiments, though Greece doesn't need to build cars; it can do a thousand other things the Germans can't. But Greece will fail because the creative abilities of the Greeks – which have kept us around for so many years – are being stifled by a Soviet mafia ethic that's gripped the country and a state that's been found out. Και θα πω και κάτι άλλο, ο σύγχρονος Έλληνας είναι ανόητος, ίσως πιο ανόητος από τους άλλους. Λυπάμαι που το λέω.

Hermes said...

The political economy in Greece is screwed up. Despite this there are many innovative companies that have carved out niches in several export markets. Forget about cars and heavy manufacturing, that is for large countries which either compete on labour (Asia) or large scale engineering (Germany). Greece needs to focus on niches. Forget grandiose schemes.

By the way do not get too down. Almost to the day a few years ago the Greek people did rise up and show their mettle:

lastgreek said...

Btw, I really like figs whether fresh or dried. Love 'em. Yet, out of principle I will NOT buy figs coming from Turkey. Because I can't bring myself to do business with murderers and rapists. Unlike the Greek government and the National Bank of Greece, for example, I do not forgive and forget such crimes.

Now, talking about crimes, whatever happened to that crook Akis Tsohatzopoulos, former Defence Minister of Greece? Is he still in Greece? He should be hiding in some cave if he had any philotimo.

John Akritas said...

History has, so far, shown, H. that Papadopoulos was right, even though that prick Christofias is doing his best to throw it all away and bring back the Annan plan. No question though, it took plenty of courage to do what Papadopoulos did. It's not very often you can say of one man that he saved his country, but in this instance Tassos played the part.

Hermes said...

LG, Greece exports more than figs. There is an interesting Greek manufacturing and service sector e.g. Petzetakis, Piscines Ideales, Coco-mat, Follie Follie to name some well known ones. I did not include the cement, telecom and banking co's. There has also been an effort to create business clusters. But given all this, doing business in Greece must be a nightmare. On almost all measures of transparency, corruption, entrepreneurship obstacles, heavy taxation, unproductive wealth transfers, low R&D, poor education and post-graduate facilities, Greece is at Latin American levels.

Hermes said...

Here is an interesting initiative, Corallia Cluster, which appears to have won some kudos overseas. I am not an expert on the Greek economy but I suspect most of these companies would probably operate outside the broader Greek economy:

Hermes said...

Regarding science and innovation, what is striking about Greece is that it has more science and engineering graduates of all new degrees and it publishes more science articles per capital than the OECD average. Undoubtedly, the talent pool is there. However, this is a catch. Expenditure on R&D, venture capital is way below OECD average. Also, what is telling is that financing from abroad and patents from foreign co-inventors is higher than average. Meaning that there is a severe lack of domestic capital and suggests the institutional framework does not support private capital and innovation. No surprises here. Why would any Greek committ to risky ventures when the bureaucracy, corruption is so out of control!!!

John Akritas said...

I'm sure all you say, H, about talent pool and so on is 100 percent correct as is your assertion that what obstructs it is bureaucracy, corruption and so on and that for Greece to get back on its feet economically it's not about reinventing the wheel but creating the right legal and bureaucratic framework. But the question is why can't this be done in Greece. Why is it so hard for Greece to do very simple things, like come up with laws/reforms, pass them, then implement them?

lastgreek said...

LG, Greece exports more than figs.

Yes, but that was not my point. My point was that we should not do business with the Turks.

Hermes said...

LG, I find Turkdom as revolting as any self respecting Greek. However, based on some numbers I saw a while ago its actually one of our 10 biggest trading partners. Also, if you have read the latest literature on new economic geography, proximity to markets can make a massive difference to GDP and productivity. Given that Albania, Skopje and the Bulgars are not economic powerhouses, and Greek productivity is well below OECD levels, trading with Turkey is important. Of course, trade should be tempered by geopolitical concerns.

J. Akritas, perhaps there are two reasons why Greece cannot make the necessary changes.

Firstly, there are massive vested interests in keeping the status quo. For example, the transport industry violently protects its barriers to entry. This decreases logistical performance and reduces productivity. As you know, Greek wages are quite low but that in itself does not make a country productive. The level of output per worker must also rise to increase productivity. Therefore, the Greek worker does not cost much to produce a good; but, when he produces the good, its costs a hell of a lot to transport it. There are many other closed professions which increase the level of bureaucracy and the costs of doing business. This is one of the reasons why I do not subscribe to much of the Leftist hot air coming from Greece. Many of those Leftists do not care about the little people. They are simply mouthpieces for these vested interests, like the one controlling the transport industry, which are invariably controlled by big capital.

Secondly, I believe the problems are so monumental that the Greek government, not an efficient entity at the best of times, simply cannot cope with the workload.

John Akritas said...

I accept it's a question of vested interests and that it's quite weird to expect that Pasok – which created all these interests and is part of them – will take them on. And the reason Greece will fail is because no government will take them on. I think Papandreou was hoping to muddle through the crisis, wait for the figures to turn more positive, without really having to take on the unions, Greece's mafia families that run the economy and so on. But this can't be done, and either Greece will restructure – something I don't think the EU will allow – or it will have to accept even more stringent cuts and privatisations to cut the debt and get IMF loans. But the vested interests won't be touched and the underlying causes of Greece's economic woes that you have mentioned won't be addressed.

lastgreek said...

However, based on some numbers I saw a while ago its actually one of our 10 biggest trading partners.

Greece has a very large trade deficit with Turkey. Either the Greeks can't get enough of Turkish goods, or the Turks want nothing to do with Greek goods. I suspect the latter.

Three-quarters of the Greek economy is in services; in other words, it's a baraki/kafeneion economy. That tells you all there is to know.

Hermes said...

Iordaninis has written a short article explaining the negative impact of the Junta on modern Greek society, not only the Junta itself, but the people that were established, after the Junta was gone. Very few people are blameless in Greece's current predicament.

John Akritas said...

Of course, what Iordanidis says is mostly true, but are we really 'watching the post-dictatorship system collapse'? Admittedly, from a distance and a position of much less expertise than Iordanidis, the 'system' appears to me to be doing all it can to survive the crisis. I don't see any evidence that the system is collapsing. Where are the new forces, arguments and ideas?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Hermes Greece needs to focus on niche markets. But what is interesting there was an article on phantis about Greece's automobile industry and it was a lot larger than I thought.
Its interesting since entering in the EU greece has become deindustrialized. Just like what is happening in the US. The EU is also part of the problem. It does nothing for the members and in fact has helped destroy most of their economies. Germany is the only western country with extensive industry. I don't understand why if the EU was set up for European interests it would not encourage outsourcing to cheaper European countries over china. Of course I felt all along little countries like Greece are being set up to be destroyed.