What Greeks do to each other

In Athens, musician Antonis Perris (60) was taking care of his mother (90) for 20 years. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer with schizophrenic fits. In his blog he wrote: “Nursing homes don’t accept patients who are such a burden. The problem is that I was not prepared … when the economic crisis hit.” Apparently it was impossible to sell the house and rent somewhere cheaply. He took her to the roof of the apartment building and then took her along in a jump (Athens News May 24).

Dutch reporter Ingeborg Beugel reports about it in NRC Handelsblad today, June 2. Her article of three columns gives many other examples of a country falling apart. Her article is impressive, and she has been on Dutch television this last year in frequent reports about the plight of the Greek common people.

Yet, check whom she blames: “The Greek people has been a victim of thirty years of corrupt governments and bad financial policies by Greek politicians and Brussels.” She also holds that the euro was a miscalculation, only useful for the North and not for the South. She claims that the European democracy has fallen victim to the financial markets. “Either Europe listens to the voice of Greek people [that this austerity needs to be renegotiated] or we better abolish the idea of a democratic Europe.”

I beg to differ. Now, you need to understand that I propose a new economic theory so that it is easy for me to disagree with Ingeborg, and my rational argument doesn’t weigh much against her compassion. Yet, let us try to see where we can get.

Surely it is Europe that held the Greek government accountable to the eurozone rules but it are the Greek themselves who subsequently took the measures that caused Antonis Perris to take his mother in that jump. There are rich Greek people who could have helped Antonis. Earlier I referred to the incomes of Greek parliamentarians who might take a 50% cut. There is no need for the Greek to prey on each other. It is their own lack of solidarity and mutual respect when they do so. It are the rich and educated Greek who are unpatriotic, who haven’t listened enough to Tsitsanis, Theodorakis, Irini Pappas, Georgios Dalaras. It are the Greek themselves who voted for those corrupt governments. Grow up, accept the responsibility.

The Greek people might be indignant about the tax evasion in Italy too: “Italians evade taxes to the tune of €120bn a year, according to Istat, the national statistics agency, a significant part of a black economy that accounts for at least 17 per cent of gross domestic product.” (Financial Times Jan 8 2012).

Stephen King explains some reasons why the rich might be taxed more (Guardian, May 1 2012). I suppose the Greek orthodox church can be regarded as very wealthy.

Thus, dear Ingeborg, I am very much in favour of your argument about helping the Greek common people, but the argument becomes stronger when put within a sound economic analysis. The Greek people could kick out those corrupt politicians, grow up, accept responsibility, share their burden, and adopt, for example, the economic plan for Europe, that would help the whole continent and not just Greece. The argument can become so strong that the rest of Europe joins in and becomes grateful to Greece for the moral fiber that it shows.

It so happens that I am almost 60, that my mother is 91, and that my third name is Anthonius. I am deeply touched by Antonis’s plight and curse all who isn’t. Are we people or beasts ?

PM 1. The comment by Christine Lagarde of the IMF (who doesn’t pay tax) about taxes and the plight of children in Greece and Niger might be honest but remains a faux pas. My worry is that I haven’t had a reply to my letter to the IEO of the IMF.

PM 2. Greek professor Yanis Varoufakis is defending his “modest proposal” for eurozone bonds all over the world. The world wants to hear what the Greek think themselves and he gets that ear. I disagree there too and I think that he is creating noise. Consider the example of a young delinquent beating up an old lady. The proposal is to take away his beer. Will this punishment stop the delinquent ? Unlikely. It is better to take away his beating bat. In the same way the eurozone bonds that Varoufakis proposes take away the German and Dutch advantage of lower interest rates while the real problem consists of their export surpluses. See this earlier discussion.

PM 3. There is now some discussion about a Northern euro versus a Southern euro. But it suffices to put a tax on countries with an export surplus which funds get invested in deficit countries.

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