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About Those Greeks…

January 27, 2015 — Leave a comment

I see where the Greeks elected a new government this week to help them reduce austerity that was forced upon them by the European Union bailout.  This reminded me of a book I read a few years ago entitled “Boomerang” by Michael Lewis. One chapter in the book was about Greece. The book is very enlightening and well written. Here are some selected snippets about Greece.

2015-01-26_11-43-52The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year….

The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. 

The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as fifty-five for men and fifty for women . As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than six hundred Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on….

The Greek people never learned to pay their taxes. And they never did because no one is punished. No one has ever been punished. It’s a cavalier offense— like a gentleman not opening a door for a lady.” The scale of Greek tax cheating was at least as incredible as its scope: an estimated two-thirds of Greek doctors reported incomes under 12,000 euros a year— which meant, because incomes below that amount weren’t taxable, that even plastic surgeons making millions a year paid no tax at all….

The problem wasn’t the law there was a law on the books that made it a jailable offense to cheat the government out of more than 150,000 euros but its enforcement. “If the law was enforced,” the tax collector said, “every doctor in Greece would be in jail.” I laughed, and he gave me a stare. “I am completely serious.” One reason no one is ever prosecuted— apart from the fact that prosecution would seem arbitrary, as everyone is doing it and that the Greek courts take up to fifteen years to resolve tax cases. 

Lewis, Michael (2011-09-28). Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World – Norton. Kindle Edition.

The quotes above give you an idea as to why Greece might be in the troubles it is. As the book implies actions have consequences and Greece apparently needs to learn that lesson.

Greece is the birthplace of democracy so let’s end this post with a quote from the ancient Greek philosopher Isocrates:

“Democracy destroys itself because it abuses its right to freedom and equality. Because it teaches its citizens to consider audacity as a right, lawlessness as a freedom, abrasive speech as equality, and anarchy as progress.”

Sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it?

America’s broken promise

December 19, 2014

2014-11-16_08-44-26All that lovely wealth isn’t trickling down. The country’s median income hit a high of $56,080 in 1999, went into slow decline, dropped to $53,644 after the 2008 economic meltdown — and five years later, was lower still, at $52,100. Raises remain tiny. Many newly created jobs pay a pittance. For tens of millions of people, the economic recovery is an illusion.

The voters are right: Wage stagnation — and the resulting erosion of the middle class — is this country’s biggest problem. When hard work no longer produces upward mobility for workers who lack elite skills, America’s implicit promise is broken. At National Review, conservative Maggie Gallagher complains that “for more than a decade Americans have been losing ground financially, and the GOP has yet to address the issue.” In The Washington Post, liberal Harold Meyerson grouses that “the Democrats have had precious little to say about how to re-create…widely shared prosperity.” Perhaps that’s because the standard liberal and conservative nostrums (Tax the rich! Eliminate regulations!) won’t address the fundamental problem: Globalization and technology have devalued both labor and workers, and made companies more ruthlessly competitive. Here’s a scary thought: Neither party is offering a remedy because there isn’t one.

SOURCE:  America’s broken promise – The Week.

The two hundred words above from my friends over at the Week seem to cut to the bone as the primary reason so many people are upset about how this country is proceeding.  The guy/gal who gets up every morning and puts in an eight to ten hour day working for someone else is falling further and further behind. So many people have seen their paychecks and any benefits they might have had go down for the last fifteen years while all those “rich cats” continue to rake in vulgar profits on their unearned income.  There seems to be a fundamental breakdown in our society.

As the article states this is a problem that can’t seem to be addressed by the old methods even if the GOP allowed them to happen. Democrats can’t throw enough money at this problem to make it go away and the Republican’s trickle down obviously after fifteen years is not got to happen. I will admit that globalization has a lot to do with this dilemma. So much of the rest of the world is in much worse shape economically than we are. It will be years, probably generations, before that is balanced. The old solutions just don’t work anymore.

New approaches to strengthening the large middle segment of wage earners is drastically needed. The problem is neither party in Washington seems capable of any degree of new thought. They are too busy blaming each other to find new pathways to overall prosperity. Somethings got to give sooner or later.

For all the problems that the middle have those on the margins of our society have it worse. The unemployment rate for them is astronomical. The safety net continues to erode so little or no help is seen on the horizon. Somethings got to give and I am afraid that when it does it will have some serious consequences for all of us.

2014-10-10_08-32-08“There’s a lot of people out here in the working field doing what Governor Walker wants us to do: he says he wants us to be out here working,” said Branch, who identified herself as a supporter of Burke. “I was hoping that Mr. Walker would see [the complaints] and take account of these workers out here … he just needs to take a walk in my shoes.”

SOURCE: This Is Scott Walker’s Idea Of A Living Wage.

I know that Scott Walker’s fellow Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan simply adores all of Ayn Rand’s teaching and a primary part of those teaching is that empathy has no place in a modern society. Empathy is basically about putting yourself in the shoes of others in order to understand their problems and handicaps. This article seems to indicate that Governor Walker believes the same thing.

To their, and Ayn Rand’s, mind empathizing with others is not one of the reasons they were put on this earth. But my hero is not Ayn Rand but instead Jesus Christ and he clearly told us that empathy is a critical important part of being one of his followers. He told us that all of life is about only two things: To love God and his creation, and to love each other. In my mind it is hard to have love without empathy.

Mr. Ryan says he is a devout Catholic but his words and actions seem to go against a primary teaching of that church. Of course it is not my, or anyone else’s place to judge Mr. Ryan or Mr. Walker but I would certainly like to hear both their apparent lack of caring for others and especially about government’s responsibility in those areas.

Trickle Up….

October 9, 2014

2014-09-04_19-56-10“The money was all appropriated for the top in hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr. Hoover was an engineer. He knew that water trickled down. Put it uphill and let it go and it will reach the dryest little spot. But he didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellow’s hands.”

Will Rogers – 4 December 1932

The first time I remember hearing about “Trickle Down” policy was from David Stockman in the Reagan administration and of course the GOP has been pushing it ever since. I wasn’t aware that Hoover was the first president to try it.  Thanks Will for informing me of that fact. Why do we allow this idiotic concept to even exist today? As Will says money, unlike water, runs uphill and will end up soon enough in the 1%er’s off shore bank accounts. Let’s pass it through the hands of the guys to need it first.