ECONOMY

The potentially huge social contribution of Greek shipping

The recent debate over the extent to which the Greek economy can benefit from the surplus liquidity of the Greek maritime industry is well founded, but also incomplete. It is well founded because dependence on revenues from Greek entrepreneurship outside the country’s borders is a timeless characteristic of the local economy; and it is incomplete because it ignores one of the most fruitful placements of surplus shipping liquidity in Greece, that is in non-profit-making activities crucial for the country’s progress, such as education, health and culture. The surging demand for the transport of raw materials fueled by the rapid industrialization of China has considerably raised chartering rates and helped Greek shipping profit extensively. The gainful participation of Greek shipping in this process has already become vital for the Greek economy, carrying macroeconomic significance: In 2004 revenues from shipping exceeded those from tourism. The question is whether the earners of this money have a benefactor lurking within. Our answer is that after a certain point the most valuable things money can buy are immaterial: Recognition from your social environment, the sense of assisting your land of origin for years to come, the desire for your name to outlast your physical existence. In those senses – of benefaction, recognition, and desire to leave a mark in your homeland – Greece is the most attractive destination for capital deposits by Greek shipowners, unlike their profit-minded investing activities. When the Economy Ministry invites shipowners to invest in the country it competes with the rest of the world, where shipowners can deposit their surplus liquidity. But if the Ministry of Education (or Culture, or Health) makes similar invitations, it will have to compete with its own administrative inertia and the cumbersome legal framework on which realization of a donation depends. Private universities How is the frequent claim of Greek university deans that there are no resources for prestigious non-state, not-for-profit universities to be explained? Is it ignorance or suppression of truth? Probably the former, judging by the self-oriented thinking that university leaders too often need to display in order to rise in the academic hierarchy. Take a look at Turkey today, 22 years after the creation of non-state universities was permitted. Four non-state universities are among the top 10 choices of the 1.8 million pupils sitting university entry exams every year: Bilkent, Koç, Sabanci and Bilgi. According to their charter, non-state universities are corporations for the public benefit and are obliged to provide scholarships, based on performance and financial need, to some 20 percent of their students. These institutions combine material and technical infrastructure with teaching staff quality similar to that of good American universities, as well as a progressive mentality both in teaching methods and in research orientation, particularly in political science and contemporary history. And the bill? The original expenditure for the creation of Sabanci University, named after the top family of entrepreneurs, came to $100-150 million. Among Greek shipowners there are at least 20 families with similar financial strength to the Sabancis, wishing to do good in their country. Antonis Kamaras is a political scientist.