From time to time though, a somewhat disturbing talk of "structural deficiencies" of the Greek economy could be heard.
Politicians' promises aside, the real indexes appeared constantly going awry. The country borrowed and borrowed and borrowed some more. Despite fully entering the European Communities (later 'European Union') in 1981, and despite a steady flow of ample European support funds, Hellas seemed stuck in a quagmire: poor infrastructure, increasing corruption, growing dissatisfaction of the have nots, "lost" opportunities, "missed trains" remained immune to the supposedly advancing "Europeanization" of Greece. Grandstanding events, like the financially disastrous "strategic project" of the 2004 Olympic Games, served the short-lived purpose of buttressing the Potemkin village of Greece's borrowed prosperity, when, in reality, they heavily added to the red ink slowly drowning this country.
Fast forward to September 2009.
On the eve of a general election, and with Greece sinking in the angry seas of the world economic implosion when most developed countries show signs of recovery, our politicians are at it again. While the incumbent prime minister admits to a certain degree of discomfort due to the dire economic straits, without though really telling us how are we to climb out of the hole, all of his opponents see no reason to toy with reality. In recent days, we have again heard it all:
1. Greece has "inherent wealth" that is being presumably being wasted or mismanaged (what exactly this "inherent wealth" is remains a mystery).
2. Greece has "untapped resources" that can be energized to provide wellbeing to the masses, increase pensions, provide for free schools and universities, and give cost-of-living adjustments to all.
3. Greece needs to "redistribute" wealth through taxation and the balance sheet will miraculously recover (no mention of the irksome fact that only a small fraction of Greeks actually do pay taxes to their personal grief and permanent marking as utter idiots).
4. Greece only needs to focus on "sustainable development," based on a "green" philosophy, to advance quickly across the divide and into the riches of the promised land.
5. Greece possesses enough "public assets" to fuel a comfortable standard of living provided the "rights" of workers are not tampered with and nobody goes unemployed, including those who are filling non-performing positions and collecting paychecks and benefits for essentially doing nothing.
6. Greece is "blessed" with beautiful nature and super friendly people, so it needs just a little nudge to catch the very top of the international tourist industry and start collecting royal profits (no mention of the hundreds of illegal landfills dotting the Greek countryside or the gas chamber atmosphere of Athens and other large Greek cities or the crummy 'rooms FOR let' mentality).
7. Greece could jump-start a "new growth phase" by re-nationalizing (!) loss-making or dead enterprises and expanding its already all-embracing public sector that is consuming the lion's share of the €150 million the country needs to borrow daily.
What absolute, blasphemous balderdash spewed out by unthinking, perilous amateurs!
While our political contestants are exclusively busy with this nonsense plus other “catchy” election slogans, committee meetings on who's going to run for parliament, open air rally dates, and the all important issue of how a televised debate of political leaders will be organized, the deeply alarming facts of non-virtual reality remain beyond the immediate priorities:
1. According to the Bank of Greece, the increase of the total of Greek liabilities (government and private borrowing, deficits daily realized by public 'utility' corporations, household insolvencies, etc.) has dramatically shot up, extending well beyond the sum representing the Gross National Product for FY08. The situation is expected to worsen rapidly by the end of FY09. Greece continues to borrow like mad; at the beginning of this year, we -- government and private citizens -- owed a bloodcurdling €363 billion to foreign lenders, a staggering amount for a country the size of Greece approaching 150 percent of GDP.
2. Our domestic market is chocking from the effects of the global economic collapse. Unemployment is rising fast as more and more smaller enterprises bite the dust, while the few larger ones quickly re-trench in an effort to protect themselves. The total of bad checks for the first six months of 2009 reached €1.954 billion, up from €1.291 billion year-on-year. The amount of post-dated checks was estimated last June to have reached €350 billion, an unbelievable figure reaching the edges of the country's total debt. It is quite obvious that a large segment of these checks has been drawn against non-existent payer's money and thus forms an enormous risk for the Greek banking system.
3. The Greek public sector -- huge, largely unproductive, corrupt to the bone, with a voracious appetite for borrowed money -- continues its creeping advance. As our house is literally coming down around our heads, central government and the notorious local governments, hives of dirty politics and bribery, keep on hiring against any last shred of logic and the EU's persistent calls to stop this creative "creating jobs". There are no reliable statistics, but it is a common secret that the large majority of Greek "workers" are, directly or indirectly, in the pay of the state. The existence of such a grand army of "public servants" affects the very viability of the entire Greek system: a monster bureaucracy weighs down on the country with its demands for resources and having first say on “growth;” the monster won't retreat because any attempt to reshape or reform it will expose its real nature as a liability in need of discarding along with all of its employees.
4. The overall picture becomes even bleaker when one chooses to look at individual sector debts. Only last week, for example, suppliers stopped supplying almost all Greek public health system hospitals with vital supplies, like prosthetics, because the hospitals get but they don't pay. The government should thus find more than €700 million pronto so that deliveries may resume. Public "utilities" are all mostly in the red. Mass transport is in the red. It is almost impossible to find any government-controlled economic activity that does not end up in waste, fraud, and brutal mismanagement.
5. Even more frighteningly, arid, straight jacketed mindsets that have fed this dead end handling of our economy are far from softening and, if anything, they are hardening further at the emerging specter of the catastrophic consequences of the global economic collapse as our bankrupt political "managers," and their flocks of sidekicks in the public sector unions, prepare for a fight to the death over their precious entitlements, their access to the treasury, and their demand to be the first to abandon the sinking ship -- but not before carrying off with them all of their spoils. These battalions of political appointees, feeding off the trough of public borrowed monies, are among the most persistent enemies of change and, in practical terms, an insurmountable obstacle to anyone who might be thinking of forging a way through the straits and toward even the most nominal recovery.
On the eve of elections, the Greek political class, with statistically insignificant exceptions, displays a dangerous departure from the harsh realities that surround us.
While those who dare mention that there is, indeed, a crisis hesitate and retreat from articulating the truth, or the wicked measures that are needed to barely keep the boat afloat, those who aspire to take hold of the helm are in even deeper self-delusion or, at least, they sound as if they are. If the latter is the case, and their aim is to dress things up in palatable “people pleasing” platitudes in order to secure the much-desired ticket to power, their responsibility is infinitely greater than that of those who allowed us to reach such rock bottom in the first place.
Using myths as means of politics in order to shape policies that mock every basic tenet of good government and rational management is a crime against any political community. Unfortunately, yet again, Greece stares right in the face of more vacantly disposed “saviors” who promise a long list of goodies and showers of borrowed public money -- which we won’t be able to pay back, ever -- on everything but the kitchen sink. To call this “irresponsibility” is the greatest understatement in a century.
Our condition has reached critical levels. The country sputters, its continually shrinking productive potential leaving no room for hopeful thoughts or expectations of better days. Our politicians put off the pain of reform with the sole purpose of winning reelection. None from among the “ruling elite” seems concerned with the ugly fact that the longer we take to begin massive, pitiless reform, the less chances we have to survive as a “Europeanized” country in the perennially backwater Balkans. As things stand right now, recovery will take longer and longer, if it ever arrives.
The coming elections, and the pronouncements we hear from every corner of the political spectrum, give us little hope that there can be even a long delayed awakening. And many Greeks -- many, many more than even the most pessimistic of futurists would be willing to admit -- will go hungry and broke, victims of the deadly brew of myths, policies, and politics that has ruled Greece for the longest time.