About Those Greeks…

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.

The 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?

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