I have commented on several occasions about my personal economic indicators for Greece. Every spring and fall, we spend a couple of months in Thessaloniki and I have developed the habit of looking out for things which - albeit totally non-sophisticated - strike me as being indicative of how the economy is coming along. One of these personal economic indicators is the commercial traffic in the harbor of Thessaloniki.
That commercial traffic had been increasing significantly in the last couple of years. Where I used to count perhaps 3-4 ships in previous years, last year there were always at least 10 freighters, including some very large ones.
We have now been back in Thessaloniki for over one week and --- I see hardly any freighters in the harbor of Thessaloniki! I have certainly not yet seen as many as 4 at one time, not to mention 10 or even more. What is happening here???
Another personal indicator is life in the villages. We spent Easter in my wife's village near Kavala. Off the bat, the village seemed somewhat empty compared to previous visits. The one hotel was closed. Quite a few shops had closed. And, above all, some buildings had obviously been deserted.
On the positive side was the story of my wife's nephew, Giorgos, a graduate of a technical school and now 29-years old. Giorgos had taken over his father's business about a year ago. Essentially, a one-person earth-moving business with some sales of building materials on the side. Where Giorgos' father had considered "working" as sitting on his machines and moving earth, Giorgos considers "working" as doing business, as looking for jobs, as farming out jobs to others when he has no capacity on his own. Of course, Giorgos is - like his father was - an extremely hard worker and he also sits on machines and moves earth. BUT - he spends a good portion of his time knocking on doors to get orders. Most importantly, whereas his father had waited passively for customers to pay their bills, Giorgos spends time collecting them. In the evenings, Giorgos and his fiancée - who is taking care of the sales shop during the day - browse the internet for jobs which are tendered in the area.
When Giorgos' father did not get orders, he had nothing to do and there had been some extremely slow times since the crisis. Giorgos, on the other hand, is extremely busy and when he told me how much money his business made every month, I was stunned. Giorgos says that there is no crisis. Instead, money is lying on the ground and one only has to make the effort to pick it up. There is no unemployment, he says. Those who don't have work don't want to work, is Giorgos' opinion. Those who wanted to work but couldn't find work have left the country, Giorgos says.
Giorgos gives work to several people. They are Greeks and not Albanians, he says. Two of them have university degrees. He employs them officially under short-term contracts; they get between 30-50 Euros/day, depending on the type of work they do, plus insurance. I asked Giorgos if he officially declared all his revenues. He hesitated, thought for a moment and then he said: "If I did that, I would be bankrupt within a year."
Giorgos has the view of a "worker", a small-town operator who can drum up business when he tries hard. He says he doesn't feel too good for anything. When he had a slow period in the winter, he found someone who had a lot of manure to be removed and he found someone else who needed manure. So Giorgos got into the business of transporting manure.
I told Giorgos that, perhaps, the situation if different for a bookkeeper in a large city. If he loses his job and there is no new job as a bookkeeper, he can try as hard as he wants but he will not find work. Giorgos' response: "I would knock on 20 doors every day and ask people if I could do anything for them. I would find some people who needed something."
I discussed this with my neighbor in Thessaloniki. In his view, the overall economic situation is as bad as ever. But, he hastens to add, the situation might be a bit better in the villages. In the villages, he says, there is always something that can be done. If nothing else, one can start cultivating a field. My neighbor is not surprised that Giorgos feels that there is work for everyone but he stresses that this represents the narrow view of a small-town operator and is absolutely not reflective of the country as a whole.
The World Bank's Doing Business Report compares roughly 190 countries in terms of competitiveness. Back in 2011, Greece ranked as Nr 109, the lowest ranked country in the Eurozone, in the EU and in Europe altogether.
There have been up's and down's since then but, overall, Greece improved its position significantly: the 2018 report ranks Greece as Nr 67. So much for the good news.
The not-so-good-news is that Greece is still behind everyone else in the Eurozone, in the EU and in Europe altogether. It pains particularly when seeing that Greece's neighbors outperform Greece: Albania (65), FYROM (11), Bulgaria (50) and Turkey (60).