Thursday, May 5, 2016

Everything Has Been Said Already. Perhaps Not By Everyone.

I have been asked why the frequency of my articles has declined so much since the beginning of the year and I remembered a cute anecdote. The event was a speech on a subject which I do not remember but there was a panel of almost a dozen people who afterwards were asked to make their comments on the speech. When it became the turn of the last panel member, this man said with a totally straight face: "Everything has been said already but not yet by everyone". There was a second or two until the audience realized what the man had just said and then they broke out into roaring laughter.

For quite some time now, I have had the feeling that just about everything has been said about Greece by now. The discussions are becoming rather repetitive. The arguments for/against the memoranda have been exchanged endless times. The same goes for debt relief, primary surplus and all the rest of it. I miss the times when I was looking forward to reading a new article by Yanis Varoufakis expecting that I would learn a new perspective. The man now publishes zillions of articles and I hardly ever read one of them. As I said, everything has been said already.

It is almost 6 years now since I have been waiting for that magic moment where someone would stand up and present a long-term industrial development plan for Greece, particularly for the Greek private sector. A plan which would be designed by Greece but which would also carry the full support of the EU. I had high hopes that Mr. Papandreou would come forward with such a plan. Afterwards, I had high hopes that Mr. Samaras would do it. Frankly, with all the early hoopla about SYRIZA and after having had several exchanges on the subject with Yanis Varoufakis, I even had high hopes that SYRIZA would come up with such a plan. That hope, too, has now gone to history's waste basket but the truly discouraging fact is that I don't even see any such initiative being put together by the largest opposition party. Even though that party is now led by a designated Wunderkind who was expected to reform and turn around the entire country in no time.

I have now been back in Greece for 2 weeks after a 6-month absence. The conversations/discussions with friends and neighbors, once the highlights of my stay, have become somewhat stale. As I said, everything has been said already.

My sense is that there will have to be a game-changing event if things are expected to change in the foreseeable future. I haven't thought what that game-changing event could/should be but without it, Greece will continue as a slow-motion disaster.


  1. Klaus: "Frankly, with all the early hoopla about SYRIZA and after having had several exchanges on the subject with Yanis Varoufakis, I even had high hopes that SYRIZA would come up with such a plan"

    you no doubt were allowed as valuable voice in his comment section, from my pretty limited perspective. Otherwise it seemed to be heavily censored.

    But does he really have time to reflect on a not so relevant--notice no harm meant, not my opinion, thanks for your work--voice on matters, if he can publicly meet with celebrities like Noam Chomsky in the NYC public library by now?

    To pick up on a series of comments I left on Iannos Glivanos blog on 'Greek identity' today. Irony alert: Nothing to worry for you Austrians, seems Chomsky got the message that French and German banks (mainly, only?, he doesn't specifiy) profit from (maybe?) some type of economic neo-colonialist exploitation of Greece. An expert from the field of banks no doubt would be helpful in this context. No? On the other hand, I have come to distrust my own former on the surface left-leaning economical celebrities in this context. After being drawn into the debate by someone on a US blog I follow alerted me to his economical wizard or prophet: Yanis Varoufakis, whom I hardly had paid attention to at the time.

    I am worried about the support for the AfD over here, and admittedly slightly worried about Austria too, once again. ...

  2. Very same feelings/experiences here.
    Only noticeable change compared to a year ago: Greek population is now disillusioned (which is good) but to an extend (extremes are the speciality of Greeks, as you might know), that is quite worrisome.

  3. Klaus: Despite all the talk of a crisis, life goes on in Greece. There are lots of (hidden / undocumented) savings to live from, substantial black market earnings, high house ownership, E50+ bn of unpaid bank loans, .....

    The real crisis is in the Government Finances, the real people kept the pre-crisis life styles to a high degree intact.

    So why bother with long-term planning, industrial development, and such hassle?

  4. In a way I can see your point. There are always several months between our stays in Greece and then we stay anywhere from 1-3 months at the time. So I tend to compare every period with previous periods. The last period in the fall of 2015 was most surprising: I had expected total chaos after 9 months of SYRIZA and with capital controls. Instead, everything in my environment seemed to be quite fine and quite a bit better than before.

    In this period, since 2 weeks ago, I have given up trying to understand. Mind you, I cannot talk about all of Greece. Perhaps the part of Greece which I am exposed to is a minute and not representative part. BUT: I am always comparing the same part.

    Thessaloniki seems to be booming. Streets full of cars burning expensive gasoline for not finding a parking place, shoppers all around, bars and cafes overcrowded, etc. etc. Some tavernas along Sofouli which had been empty before are beginning to fill up again. I don't recall the Cosmos Mediterranaum Shopping Mall that busy for a very long time. Easter in the village was great. Croweds having a good time all over.

    My neighbor who has been unemployed and without official income for almost 5 years now is planning to buy a new car. Most neighbors are getting ready to move down to their summer residence in Chalkidiki. I could go on and on. Life in Austria is not as good as some of the life which presents itself to me here.

    On the other hand, through conversations with family in the village and their friends, I know that many people are in dire straits. One friend, a painter, had literally run out of jobs and money over the winter and friends had to provide his family with food. On the other hand, one nephew (self-employed, 2 children) complains about financial suffering but, at the same time, they have 3 cars. The other nephew claims similar financial stress but he still drives a Mercedes coupé.

    My neighbor has been telling me a couple of years ago that Greeks still have much 'fat' and they were now living off the 'fat'. At that time, he suggested that the 'fat' might run out in a couple of years. Well, that 'fat' still seems to be there and the way those people who still have 'fat' are behaving leads me to concluded that there is still plenty of 'fat'.

    1. Hi Mr. Kastner,

      It is true i have missed your articles but your points are all understood. Plus we all need a break from the analysis.

      As for the "fat", there real fat has been eaten, the new "fat" is what i call "black fat." Do you, from your experience in Greece, honestly believe that there is a 25% unemployment rate? Certainly not. Some who do black work or business are making as much money as before the crisis and this because they pay nothing to the government in insurance or tax. You can say some Greeks have found new ways to survive. There are some small businesses that are both black and white. It is survival instinct. And regardless of what is going on and although we may meet up together in villages to let some stress release, our country is full of zombified citizens. An to be honest i don't have the mental strength as to explain why.

      Everybody is simply trying to get by and by any means because the weight of taxes and payments to the government are colossal. I just did my latest tax return and consolidation of moneys owed to the government and from last year it went up another 2% based on my un-cleared income. Imagine next year when this new tax/ss bill is passed this weekend.

      As for industrialization plan, in Greece you can not expect any central organization to do this. In my view point this is already happening and it is being conducted by the market itself. The private sector and the healthy companies are doing what is needed to be done for this to happen. The unhealthy companies dying off is not a very bad thing. I view it as a metamorphosis. It helps in a manner to change the way we think and conduct business. I can see this even in the agricultural sector, that groups of individuals are gathering and coming up with ways to improve their outputs, increase efficiency and find ways to export. Although all in the meantime we need to fight everything the government does, who dissuade this entrepreneurship. Even the immigrants closed down the national roads and private sector companies had to suffer, reroute etc.

      The private sector, the healthy private sector workers and employers are heros.

      Truth in your article is that Greece needs a huge game changer. And you know a huge game changer does not need to be a super government, but one that will try to leave things a alone for a while. Just letting the population with one year of breathing room would be enough to make Greece look and feel positive again. And this with not changes any tax laws. Leave them as is and let us adjust. It is the constant changes which is murder on everyday life.

      Enjoy your stay.


    2. Very good point about the "black fat". There must indeed a shadow economy have come into existence of a quality befitting Greek ingenuity. What baffles me most of all is that prices seem to have gone up a bit since our last stay. At least that's my feeling. And that applies to the Gran Massoutis as well as to the Laiki. Also, when I pay my bills in cafés, my sense is that I am paying more than before even though my consumption pattern hasn't changed. So perhaps Greeks are proving once again that they can overcome any crisis or perhaps even grow with one!

    3. Yes Greeks can be very ingenious in evading (and also rationalizing the evasion of) taxes, NOT servicing their mortgages, NOT demanding receipts from professionals and small shops, building (unpunished!) on NO land of their own, .....
      All that helps to shield them from the status of the State Finances, which are in a mess and declining.

      The right conclusion from this state of affairs is that there must be more financial pain, say another 25% off the GDP, before the average Greek will concede to limitations in his lifestyle.

  5. "Conversations with friends and neighbors, once the highlights of my stay, have become somewhat stale. As I said, everything has been said already."

    Very true. This is pretty much how things are. Everything has been said: pro-euro, anti-euro, pro-Greece, anti-Greece, pro-Germany, anti-Germany, yada yada yada. We're all waiting for the game changer.


  6. Dean, Plassaras is the one single comment on the last 8 posts of his hero Yanis Varoufakis ( ? He did feel so lonely over there, that he made a rare appearance at the Financial Times

    back in his true style, just spouting insults and ideological phrase words.

    Yanis, the self styled leader of the European revolutionary masses, and just one comment by an old die-hard like Dean in the last 2 weeks.