A Greek colleague of mine told me I have no right to have an opinion on Greece unless I lived there. I think its nonsense. I haven’t lived in countless other places and I still have an opinion on them. Nobody has lived on the Moon, but we all can have an opinion about it. By the same logic, most Greek who have not lived in Germany have no right to an opinion about it – they most obviously do. So I do have an opinion about Greece. And in my opinion, there is no Greece.
In a bizarre show of loss of touch with reality, the vast majority of the Greek, including their own government, believe they can say “OXI” to the rest of Europe. They decline all offers of help because they come with demands to demonstrate willingness to be helped and to do their share, and still want to remain a part of the EU and the Euro zone. The age-old truism that you can’t eat the cake and leave it whole does not seem to be able to “land” in Greece. But it will land, and it will be a very rough landing. As of last week, Greece simply ceased to exist. Having failed on its credit obligations, it has become a failed state – in line with other bankrupt countries like Zimbabwe and Sudan. Like the fathom image of the sun on your retina after you close your eyes, the Greek government and people are still there, but as the economy grinds to a halt and the institutions collapse they, too, will disappear.
As the country dissolves further and further and more and more services and parts of society cease to function, a torrent of refugees (there is no other word to describe it) already leaves Greece. For now, these have been largely the young, and even they are reluctant to leave, preferring to live on their parents couch off the pensions of their grandparents. As the reality of living in a failed state with no prospect of improvement in the coming decades will become clearer, all who are able to leave will leave. The real Grexit will be the mass migration of Greek who are capable of doing so. With the young and able leaving, the ones left behind are the sick and the elderly – which already triggers a downward spiral of an economic downfall and even higher migration rates.
The Greek economy has been sick for a while. Main cause are loans that were not covered by assets. Whether the Greek who took the loans or the Germans and the French who provided the money for the Greek banks to loan are to blame is by now rather irrelevant. Other countries have been able to overcome similar problems – Ireland, Cyprus and Iceland have all rebounded from a recent debt crisis. The ills of the Greek society are much deeper though and thus Greece, unable and (or?) unwilling to mend its ways, is rapidly disappearing. The Greek people are ill in the most literal sense of the word – Greece has the highest rates of obesity in Europe. What I find most astounding is that Greece has also the highest rates of smoking in the world. The adult Greek smokes an average of 3 000 cigarettes a year. A 5 to 6 BILLION Euro goes up in smoke in Greece every year – literally. If the Greek would quit smoking, they would have saved some 30 BILLION Euro since the start of the crisis in 2010. Talk about simple and efficient measures to help the economy – I’d say the EU should demand a ban on smoking as a condition to an emergency aid package.
It does not take a genius to see that the sick and ageing population, combined with an unprecedentedly low birth rate and mass-migration of the youth will lead to the disappearance of the Greek people within a couple of decades. Besides the human tragedy that envelops as we speak, this process is a unique opportunity. Greece, its economy (or lack of it), its demographics, its demise, are an illustration of what lies ahead for most of the rest of Southern Europe with Italy as the next in line. All the ingredients to repeat the Greek tragedy on a larger scale are present there. Greece is an opportunity to study ways to prevent or at least reduce the impact of the fall.
I doubt we will be able to learn the lessons from the Greek crisis. Which is sad, because its not only Italy that is next – it may very well be that the whole Euro zone, the EU and even all of Europe are bound to go down the same road. Worse of all – there are serious signs China is headed the same way. The Chinese economy is, like Greece, poisoned by irresponsible loans and is full of Potemkin villages. China has an ageing population of chain-smokers and, like the Greek, the Chinese view themselves as a cradle of civilization that must be if not admired then at least respected by the rest of the world. We might survive Greece disappearing and may even overcome Italy collapsing. But what are we going to do when China goes “boom”?
The Greek like to say they “invented” democracy and claim the rest of Europe should respect their democratic choice. They conveniently forget that in ancient Athens, only adult free male citizens were allowed to vote. Most significantly, citizens who failed to paid a debt were automatically stripped of their voting right (Atimia) and this disqualification was inheritable. The Greek should study their own history a little better before preaching about democracy. Next time a Greek says “democracy” – say “atimia”.