Its a bit ambivalent. Michael Lewis applying the screws to the Greek population. Fatuous moral righteousness with the cruel guile that only Ugly American can muster.A targeted assassination of an un-people. Not that descriptively the proof is in the pudding. There is truth here in his anecdotes,but its the manner of demeaning the subject matter, of denying them their dignity and engaging in the American trademark of denigrating those who are limited in their ability to defend themselves.Besides, the debt crisis was an American made product; good ole’ American know-how and Yankee ingenuity to export all that good will over the globe.
When Greeks were driving around in Porche’s, and other buying other German and French luxury goods, no Northern powers were raising eyebrows. Think of it as a subsidy for Northern European manufacturing and the three musketeers mentality, “all for one and one for all,” but when the party’s over its easier to kick the drunk in the alley like Anthony Burgess’s Clockwork Orange. Much of all that free money the Greek upper classes were spending was being spent outside the country and sheltered outside Greece. The lower paid peons are complicit in their morass as well, but the alleged leadership of the country bears the heavy burden. Lewis is the go-to writer for Ivy school salaciousness and defending the high moral ground of Western white patriarchy and its less than benevolent forms of dependence….
Again, it comes back to bourgeois ethics as a cultural commodity, and justifying its task of condoning violence in the name of the national interest. And The Christian-bourgeois ethic has always been equal to the challenge. In this illusion, all interference with the liberty of another is wicked and immoral. And the Greeks and their tired old gods fit the bill. The Northern powers now can argue they have been attacked in their liberty, are now compelled to defend outraged morality and attack in turn, through the punishment of austerity to its little colony.
Look at the entire “contagion” issue as a bourgeois war justified as a war of defense. A north-south issue, what Quebec writer Pierre Vallieres called the subjugation of “white niggers” . At heart is the central theme of Bourgeois “liberty” which includes the right, the entitlement, to the occupation of alienating, trading, and acquiring for profit which ultimately involves establishing and reinforcing dominating relations over others. So, it is not surprising, in fact totally coherent that the bourgeois presents himself as being attacked in their liberty. Realistically, Greece’s economic output is less than Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined. Maybe. And this will bring the world to its knees?
Is it possible for righteous north to exercise their complete liberty without infringing the liberty others? The same as it is impossible to be thoroughly bourgeois and not give occasion for wars, just and with “purity of arms” even morale building efforts like aerial sorties against rag-tag Libyans and mercenaries who tend to be non-white. This mentality, the warrior/peacemaker with its contradictory moral side, is the distorted iteration of European Christianity with its code of individualism and selfishness, mixed heartily with a creed of monopoly and privileged domination. Nothing like Greek bashing and related PIGS blaming to divert attention from their own structural crises.
This selfishness is seen in all the defences the Sarkozy/Merkel teams makes of this creed.Thus resolving the debt crises, a veiled form of pacifism, is a method of not confronting the moral guilt of violence, and is a selfish act. They claims, they have a primary duty, a moral right, to saving the skin of their citizens. There is no concern here with whether it is ethically valid for the privileged EU states to consider themselves first. In their philosophy, the Davos Economic summit spirit, properly expressed, it is so.A universal truth. To any other system of social relations it cannot be justified or even sensible. The entire attitude is inconsistent, with at one moment invoking a duty to give life for others , with really intending to sacrifice the lives of others to preserve what little soul they have.
Michael Lewis: As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it.
In just the past 12 years the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms – and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. 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.
Twenty years ago, a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece’s rail passengers into taxicabs: It’s still true. “We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension,” Manos put it to me. “And yet there isn’t a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay.”
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.
The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians and on and on and on.
The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average – and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.
Where waste ends and theft begins almost doesn’t matter; the one masks and thus enables the other. It’s simply assumed, for instance, that anyone who is working for the government is meant to be bribed. People who go to public health clinics assume they will need to bribe doctors to actually take care of them. Government ministers who have spent their lives in public service emerge from office able to afford mansions and two or three country homes.
Oddly enough, the financiers in Greece remain more or less beyond reproach. Virtually alone among Europe’s bankers, they did not buy U.S. subprime-backed bonds, or leverage themselves to the hilt, or pay themselves huge sums of money. The biggest problem the banks had was that they had lent roughly 30 billion euros to the Greek government – where it was stolen or squandered. In Greece the banks didn’t sink the country. The country sank the banks.
The morning after I landed I walked over to see the Greek minister of finance, George Papaconstantinou, whose job it is to sort out this fantastic mess. Athens somehow manages to be bright white and grubby at the same time.
At the dark and narrow entrance to the Ministry of Finance, a small crowd of security guards screen you as you enter – then don’t bother to check and see why you set off the metal detector. In the minister’s antechamber, six women, all on their feet, arrange his schedule. They seem frantic and harried and overworked … and yet he still runs late. The place generally seems as if even its better days weren’t so great. The furniture is worn, the floor linoleum.
He’s open, friendly, fresh-faced, and clean-shaven, and like many people at the top of the new Greek government, he comes across less as Greek than as Anglo – almost American.
When Papaconstantinou arrived here, in October, 2009, the Greek government had estimated its 2009 budget deficit at 3.7 per cent. Two weeks later, that number was revised upward, to 12.5 per cent, and actually turned out to be nearly 14 per cent. He was the man whose job it had been to figure out and explain to the world why. “The second day on the job, I had to call a meeting to look at the budget,” he says.
“I gathered everyone from the general accounting office, and we started, like, this discovery process.” Each day, they discovered some incredible omission. A pension debt of a billion dollars every year somehow remained off the books, even though the government paid it; the hole in the pension plan for the self-employed was not the 300 million euros they had assumed but 1.1 billion euros; and so on. “At the end of each day I would say, ‘Okay, guys, is this all?’ And they would say, ‘Yeah.’ The next morning there would be this little hand rising in the back of the room: ‘Actually, Minister, there’s this other one-hundred-to-two-hundred-million-euro gap.’”
This went on for a week. Among other things turned up were a great number of off-the-books phony job-creation programs. “The Ministry of Agriculture had created an off-the-books unit employing 270 people to digitize the photographs of Greek public lands,” he tells me. “The trouble was that none of the 270 people had any experience with digital photography. The actual professions of these people were, like, hairdressers.”
By the final day of discovery, after the last little hand had gone up in the back of the room, a projected deficit of roughly seven billion euros was actually more than 30 billion. The natural question – How is this possible? – is easily answered: Until that moment, no one had bothered to count it all up.
“We had no Congressional Budget Office,” explains the finance minister. “There was no independent statistical service.”
The party in power simply gins up whatever numbers it likes, for its own purposes.
Once the finance minister had the number, he went off to his meetings with ministers of finance from all the European countries. “When I told them the number, there were gasps,” he said. “How could this happen? I was like, You guys should have picked up that the number wasn’t right. But the problem was I sat behind a sign that said Greece, not a sign that said the new Greek government.” After the meeting the Dutch guy said, “George, we know it’s not your fault, but shouldn’t someone go to jail?”
As he finishes his story, the finance minister stresses that this isn’t a simple matter of the government lying about its expenditures.
“In 2009, tax collection disintegrated, because it was an election year.”
“The first thing a government does in an election year is to pull the tax collectors off the streets.”
Now he’s laughing at me. I’m clearly naive. Read More:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/michael-lewis-on-greeces-budget-woes/article2210067/page2/
When modern medicine failed, desperate patients turned to the village medicine man and his promises. A Western doctor visiting Egypt a few years ago, for instance, was shocked to find that villagers preserved and nibbled on crocodile heart as a cure for impotence, as the local medicine man had advised. When medical research falls short, few argue that one should turn to the village medicine man rather than to further study of chemistry and biology. But in economics, buffeted by politics and public opinion, the temptation to find someone who offers fast and easy solutions, the economic equivalent of the medicine man, proves almost irresistible in promising to cure suffering and loss.These crises of our times create an urgent call for good economics: the intellectually demanding, hard core theory and empirical work that provide the underpinnings for sound economic policies. These policies will not offer quick, painless solutions to the world’s economic woes. Alas, for Greece and other nations, there is no viable crocodile heart cure. Read More:http://www.philipnielsen.gr/2011/10/porsche-cayenne-and-greek-crises.html