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Ithaka on the Horizon by Stavro Nashi

Ithaka on the Horizon

by Stavro Nashi

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ITHAKA ON THE HORIZON: A Greek-American Journey

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09 October 2012

Comments

Joseph

Stavros, you have described the situation, at least the way I also see it from the outside, very accurately. People are suffering and the kind of welcome Angela Merkel received is only natural for people who see the Merkel and Germany as those responsible for imposing Austerity on Greece.
It is hard to tell what is right for Greece (and as a wannabe Greek I might better keep my mouth shut, as you suggested), but my feeling is that staying within the Eurozone is a painful option, but probably the only realistic option for Greece, I dare say. I hope that I do not heart the feeling of anyone reading this, but I believe that in the long run, this will help Greece stand on its feet economically once again. There is one thing I am sure about, Greeks have not lost and will never lose their filotimo!

morpheus

Stavros you are brainwashed. There is no real economy in Greece never has been. There is crony business like in the entire Western world. Its all power plays internal and external. You are consuming the propaganda of those who want to continue the system of domination.

morpheus

I cant believe Greece has been in crisis for years and you still believe the BS of the West.

Stavros

Joseph,

I believe that filotimo is alive and well. There are still many good people of conscience in Greece and throughout the world. People who try to do the right thing, the moral thing, even when they are faced with horrible choices. The problem in Greece and elsewhere is that many of our elites, in government, business, academia and even religious institutions, have lost their way. These are the leaders we look to for solutions to the massive problems that we face. We look to them for leadership. If they are corrupt, self centered and incompetent, then unfortunately I can't help but blame all of us, myself included that in some way help them get where they are.

Most Greeks would agree with you. Staying in the Euro is probably the safest course of action. If Greece were to return to the drachma it would mean the immediate devaluation of the Greek currency and the loss of 50% or more of every Greek's meager savings. Who would want that to happen? On the other hand, staying in the Euro means that the Greek economy will remain forever under the control of Brussels. It would also mean that Greece will never be able to compete on an equal footing with its northern European neighbors. It will be unable to repay loans without crippling austerity. Nothing will change and the Greek economy will continue to sputter along.

Morpheus,

We are all consumers of propaganda, including you. I am always wary of those like yourself who get upset with the rest of us who do not necessarily agree with your version of the truth.

I believe in freedom, political and economic. Capitalism is the freest economic system known to man and it is also the one that has allowed humanity to make the greatest strides toward improving people's standard of living. Greeks have historically been a mercantile people, give them freedom and watch them thrive.

I do not believe in class warfare. I do not believe that the state has all the answers. I do not believe that government creates jobs, nor should it control the economy. I believe the government's role is to enforce the law, not to pick winners and losers (cronyism). The government does not know how to spend my money better than I do.

Unfortunately governments run out of other people's money. That is the dilemma that we ALL find ourselves in today, Greece just happens to be further along than the rest of us.

morpheus

Stavros, fair enough your analysis of Greece remaining in the Euro Zone is spot on. I admit I have modeled the options myself and cannot come out with a good outcome yet. Only time will tell what needs to be done and what will happen.

morpheus

To believe in a free market, freedom etc and the real world are two different things. I think youll find the two usually dont meet. No worries it usually takes time for people to figure out they are being conned into starvation.

morpheus

But capitalism is so great whats all the fuss about?

Stavros

Morph,

As we speak here, the Greek company, FAGE, one of the few Greek companies that is able to compete and has made major inroads in the US market with their products, is quitting Greece and moving to Luxembourg. It joins many other Greek owned companies that have fled to other countries in order to survive by avoiding the crushing taxes in Greece. When companies flee, they take jobs with them adding to the 25% unemployment that exists in Greece. What the Greek government is doing, at the behest of its EU lenders, is literally destroying its already meager tax base, small wonder that Greeks try to avoid taxes in any way they can. It's not only the tax revenues from companies they lose, it is also the revenue from workers who no longer have a salary. Even taxing the rich at 75% as France wants to do will simply mean that the rich will flee and take their wealth with them. I suspect that Greece has a genius or two like Steve Jobs. He or she is living right now from hand to mouth, plotting on how to leave a country where there is no outlet for the kind of creativity that was once its trademark.

morpheus

I feel your pain Stavros. Taxes are horrible all over the Western world. What is needed is real markets-that means trust breaking, decentralisation and reigning in speculators etc. But there is no will to do that in the world. May just be that our private-public planner rulers have decided we have reached our production-profit limit and are just engaging in a pludering campaign acriss the planet. Real business, entrepreneurship is, frankly, a dead phenomenon.

morpheus

I'm still not convinced private market models, as they currently operate, will solve anything. You seem to be advocating a kind of bourgeois revolution which may or may not be dubious. Look at firms like MARFIN etc who are raising huge amounts of money to conduct buy outs and acquisitions now etc. Well they are not adding to the GDP. I am also dubious as to how this crisis started, its highly political and geopolitical character etc. We live in a world where the powers that be dont want you to be succesful because ipso facto you become a competitor for scarcities.

Stavros

I am not an economist nor claim any particular expertise; my worldview is more simplistic than yours. I don't see any dark powers at work just a competition between competing visions of the world. One in which we look to the State as the solution to all our problems and one in which the individual and freedom are the driving force.

Greeks, no matter where they live, must always come down on the side of the latter than the former.

morpheus

Its not really conspiracy, you have to look at how the country has developed historically and the world business cycle. But power is the ultimate driving force. Call that conspiracy if you like.

Telemachus

Greece's principle problem is cultural not economic. The greatest economic system ever devised is not going to succeed in dragging Greece out of the mire if we Greeks are not prepared to change our ways.

We need to learn that voting is a civic responsibility and not a licence to vote for people that should not be trusted with the church donations tray let alone the nation's bourse. We need to learn not to trust politicians who promise us the world and we need to stop asking for more.

We also need to learn that laws and taxes are not optional. No society can survive very long when it's citizens show a flagrant disregard for both. In a democracy if you don't like the laws or the tax system the answer is not to engage in a personal guerilla war against the state. No democracy can survive long when it's citizens only think and act in accordance with their naked self interest and do not respect the will of the majority.

Finally our public servants need to learn that their job is to enforce and to administer the laws and they cannot reserve the right unto themselves to decide what laws are worth the effort of administering and enforcing.

Stavros

Telemachus,

Although I agree with all your salient points, I'm not so sure that it is an entirely cultural phenomenon. I see very much the same type of thing here in the United States. Corrupt politicians, low information or ignorant voters who vote for those who promise things that they cannot deliver, increasing lack of a sense of civic responsibilty and citizenship, lawbreaking and tax evasion. These things are universal though they differ in degree from country to country and are affected by other factors.

Much of what happens in Greece is the result of government inefficiency, a result of a civil service that is part of the spoils won by the victorious party at election time and thus constantly in a state of flux. It's a revolving door, a path to good money for little work. In fact I think that the state is probably the largest employer in Greece. Unfortunately it is impossible to sack any substantial number of civil servants, where would they go? There are no jobs in the private sector.

Telemachus

Stavro,

What you are describing is the patronage clientalist system that has been a feature of Greek politics since independence. This too is a cultural phenomenon that has it's roots in the occupation period.

As for the comparison with the US, I agree that there may be some formal similarities, but what pains me is Greece not the US. In any case, unlike the US we are unable to print money to get out of our (400 million euro) debt.
We have to somehow claw our way out of the pit we have dug ourselves into on our own. In order to do that we are going to have to deal with our cultural shortcomings.


Telemachus

Oops our debt is approaching 400 billion not million. If only....

Stavros

Perhaps I am indulging in a bit of denial. All the Greeks I have ever known have always been almost without exception honest, hardworking people who were good civic minded citizens. They were patriots, who loved both their fatherland and their adopted country. Above all they were imbued with a sense of filotimo. Our Orthodox faith is at the heart of filotimo and if we follow the rest of the Europeans by ignoring our religious heritage we will reap what we sow.

I find it painful to contemplate that the culture that created them is somehow to blame for our present predicament even though I know deep down that you are right. Greeks have historically been unable to achieve consensus unless the barbarians were at their door and even then they were prone to infighting.

Some way we have been able to step back from the edge of the abyss and survive.

You're right about the US ability to print money. It has its limitations unless it is accompanied by good fiscal policy. That is why I believe the only option for Greece is return to the drachma as painful as that will be. It is the only way to pay off the debt while making the Greek economy competitive. It is also the only way to make Greeks masters of their own fate.

morpheus

The best way is just to default.

morpheus

I think its wrong to call it a culture problem. Freedom in capitalism is largely an illusion. The room/window for choice is very small and in Greece historically almost non-existant.

Telemachus

Yes very simple Morpheus. All we need to do is default and get back to doing what we do best. In other words being unproductive; rorting the state, engaging in tax evasion, playing the game of rousfetti and clientelist politics and in short doing precisely what we did to get into this mess. No my friend, the time has come for us to start looking in the mirror.

As much as it pains me to say this-because every sovereign nation worthy of the title should always pay it's debts-I agree that Greece should unilaterally postpone it's debt repayment obligations. I also agree with Stavro that if we want Greece to reclaim it's national independence and sovereignty, there is no alternative but to return to the drachma.

The present economic crises, the growing and alarming threat of Turkish aggression and the invasion of unassimilable and illegal migrants to Greece from the Islamic world leaves Greece with little choice.It must secure it's borders by any means at it's disposal. It must regain control of the levers of it's economy. It must free itself from any NATO or EU constraints in pursuing it's own self defence against Turkish aggression and finally we must start reforming our society and ourselves.

morpheus

Doesnt matter we will be forced to default when the EURO-DOLLAR implodes anyways. I agree with the rest of your comments. But we should just write off the last 30 years.

morpheus

Hopefully we wont have any creditors soon. We can rebuild a real economy. But there are alot of people that dont want to make the leap and what it requires, which may include blood letting.

morpheus

I'd be careful to say this is all our fault there has been huge increases in debt in the West and the world in general since the early 1970's. Just in the 1980s prices in Greece increased by some 400%. Our debt going into the 1970's was quite manageable actually. I would say the exogenous forces here trump everything else.

πτυχιακές εργασίες

As you mention, Greeks blame anybody else except them for the situation. I believe that each Greek citizen as a part of responsibility in the whole mess created.
I have come back in Greece since the beginning of 2012 trying to build a startup. I suffer from the system and people's bad habits. There is a potential business in my field. On the other hand, Greeks are not used to do business in a proper and good way...They always look for alternatives, to pay less, to earn more, to not pay the tax....
I am a Greek...and I am ashamed of the situation.
On the other hand I am touched by the new mesures of the governement, lately announced.
35 % tax for the individual business owners...
That kills the economy!

Stavros

Remember Argentina? There are plenty of cautionary lessons in the Argentine default experience. Cut off from international financial markets, the government had no choice but to live within its means. With the value of the currency plummeting, Argentinian households had no choice but to shift away from importing things to spending on locally produced goods or services. Foreigners suddenly found Argentine products cheap, so exports and tourism soared. This is how austerity is supposed to work. Your society consumes less, but produces more.

That said, default and devaluation were hardly a party. They destroyed the country’s banking system and wiped out many Argentines’ savings. But it did work. Argentina enjoyed rapid growth for about eight years, with a low unemployment rate.

Unfortunately, old habits die hard. The government has spent massive amounts on government subsidies to win elections. It has handed government jobs to loyalists, and many now find it more convenient to live with government handouts rather than work. Instead of reducing government spending in light of the economic downturn, President Christine Fernandez Kirchner has doubled down on failing policies. Now the country's largest union is asking for a 30% increase in salaries and agricultural producers are threatening strikes. The country is moving into a recession.

The comments from " πτυχιακές εργασίες " indicate that Greece does not lack for creative and talented people willing to take risks even now. What the country lacks is a business environment that will allow such qualities to flourish. I think part of the reason that Greek business has developed bad habits is because that is the only way to survive in an economy that is skewed by constant government intervention and red tape, not the least of which is government taxation.

Restore competition and you restore good business practices because that is what it takes to succeed.


Telemachus

Stavro,

I have re-read your piece about your father in the light of your post above. Both are beautifully written and both touch the heart. Three generations of honorable gentle Greek men who radiate filotimo. You must be bursting with pride at the path chosen by your son. May his calling be blessed.

Stavros

Telemachus,

Everyone struggles in our short lives on this earth. The three of us have had our share of them. Monasticism demands a great deal from monastics but also from their families. We are proud of him but feel deeply a sense of loss. May God help us all on our individual journeys.

πτυχιακές εργασίες

Stavros thank you for your reference.
I find correct what you mention. As far as Argentina is concerned, I find a very big difference between that country and Greece. Argentina is a huge country, enormous territory, many natural ressources....the crisis made Argentina people to have the will to be alltogether, help the country, to do an effort for the common good...
Here in Greece, maybe there are some ressoucres but we are unable to use and exploit them, because everybody is caring only for his / her part and nothing more!
Nevertheless I believe that the change will come, people are going to think and act differently....but we need to be patient because that will last many many years!

Helene

May our All-Holy Mother be praised, Greeks definitely need time to "wake up" -- Pentecost might be appropriate too.

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