It’s ironic that the founding civilization of the West should also be the thin-edge-of-the-wedge of economic ruin that may await some of its offspring.
Many pundits have expounded on the why’s and wherefores of the current situation, but one fact that they fail to mention and that should be of profound interest to the rest of us, is that Greece has a massive underground economy and that Greeks have a near-pathological aversion to paying taxes of any kind. I did a couple of consulting projects there a few years ago and when I asked the various companies to see their books the response was, “Which ones…the white or the black?”. It shouldn’t be any surprise then that many Greeks refer to their country as “The richest poor country in the EU”. It’s not uncommon for even the lowliest blue-collar worker to own a couple of condos (usually to house their layabout kids who don’t want to do any dirty-work, but enjoy hanging around the outdoor bar terraces till 3 AM drinking and smoking), as well as a modest seaside country house.
In parallel with this phenomenon of tax aversion is a sense of entitlement to La Bella Vita engendered by generations of socialist and communist political parties promising the moon in order to get votes, without any sense of how they would pay for their Marxist ideals. Even if they didn’t get elected, these parties have set the tone for whoever ultimately did win the election, to make sure that these base desires for a free lunch were met. That’s why so many Greeks get to retire at 50 years old after 30 years of service and on a full pension.
Compounding this is the aforementioned layabout youth, who see work as a dirty word. As my young cousin once said, “If work is so good, why do they have to pay you to do it?”. My cousins who own manufacturing businesses can’t get Greeks to apply for entry-level apprenticeship jobs, and are forced to hire legal and illegal Albanian immigrants, hungry for work. Yet a common Greek complaint is that youth unemployment is astronomical and that Albanians are stealing all the jobs. Sound familiar? It isn’t uncommon for Greek parents to keep their unmarried kids at home till their 30’s or even 40’s, supplying them with cigarettes and money for a good time. Talk about enabling.
The Greeks continue to teach us lessons. On the other hand, I don’t see huge parallels between Greece and countries like Canada, the US, Germany and Britain. Yes, we have massive debt. And yes, we have some entitlement mentality. But we also have very substantial cultural differences. The Greek situation should nevertheless be a warning that these things can get out of hand and should not be taken for granted.
I’m eager to hear the comments from my cousin George, an ex-pat Canadian working in Greece for the last 10 years.