Sunday, October 9, 2011

Letter to Ekathimerini on Foreign Investment

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I wish you and all other Greek newspapers would have a commentary on your front pages every day explaining to Greeks why foreign investment is the only chance for Greece to uphold at least part of the standard of living which could be built up in the last decades.

Explain to your fellow Greeks that their country has always been an importer of foreign capital; that these capital imports have reached phenomenal levels since the Euro; and that going forward Greece will continue to need foreign capital for many years to come.

As long as that foreign capital came in the form of guest-worker remittances, things were fine because that capital from abroad didn’t need to be repaid. As long as it came in the form of EU grants, things were fine because those grants didn’t need to be repaid.

Since the Euro, the foreign capital came in the form of debt which is now asking to be repaid. That won’t work.

I have heard Greeks expressing fears that foreign investment might lead to another age of foreign occupation. Please educate Greeks that only 47% of Deutsche Bank is owned by Germans, and only 29% of Siemens. Please educate Greeks that the remarkable development of East European economies is primarily due to the fact that foreigners invested their capital there (for local production and wealth generation).

Please remind Greeks that the destroyed Central Europe would not have had a chance after WWII if the Marshall Plan had not provided the necessary capital from abroad.

Please educate Greeks that the source of their standard of living is ultimately capital imported from abroad (for many years now in the form of loans). From 2001-10, the net inflow of foreign debt was 288 billion EUR; an average of almost 30 billion EUR per year. Explain to Greeks that without that foreign capital there wouldn’t be all the cars and motorbikes on the streets; there wouldn’t be all the shops and restaurants with (still) high prices; there wouldn’t be so many state employees collecting good incomes and/or pensions which they could spend on cars, motorbikes, shops, restaurants, etc.

Please explain to Greeks that when money flows into an economy from the outside, it generates wealth which this economy would otherwise not have. When money no longer flows into an economy which needs it badly, wealth can no longer be generated. When money is withdrawn from this economy, wealth will convert to poverty.

Please educate Greeks that whenever they buy an imported product, they are adding to the country’s need for foreign capital; that they are adding to their country’s foreign debt when that capital comes as debt and not as equity. The Greeks may think “no, I am not paying for imports with foreign debt; I am paying with the income which I get from my job in Greece”. Please explain to them why this is not so.

Please also explain to Greeks that every time they buy an imported product from, say, Germany, the job for the manufacturing of that product is in Germany (and not in Greece). Suggest to them that when buying imported products, they should always ask themselves “do I want the job for the manufacturing of this product to be in Germany or in Greece? Should the income taxes of this employee be paid to the German state or the Greek state? Should his income be spent in Germany or in Greece?”

Challenge the Greek government all the time with questions about foreign investment initiatives: “What are you doing to attract foreign investment? Are you talking to potential foreign investors to find out what their wishes might be? Are you checking what other countries which attract foreign investment are offering to those investors?”

I have said it many times before and I repeat: there are only 3 solutions for the Greek economy --- foreign investment, foreign investment and, again, foreign investment.

Finally, explain to Greeks that foreign investment is not only about money. It is about transferring to Greece know-how from abroad; know-how which Greece badly needs.

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