OPINION

On Tsipras, Re-think Athens, corruption, Keynes, uncertainty

I am so distressed to see the likes of Tsipras fooling people into things that if they happen will take Greece back to the stone age. He?s promising things that were tested by many countries over and over again with terrible results and repercussions. I think Tsipras is a naive politician who luckily benefited from the weakness of ND and PASOK after they embraced the memorandum, which in my opinion should have been applied in Greece when Andreas Papandreou came to power.

This country was based on sandy foundations that collapsed with a small blow of the wind. We need the basis to be on solid rock so that our kids can prosper and see themselves in this beautiful country which was decimated by ND and PASOK through their corrupt practices. They were terrible managers of this country — complacent, ignorant, self-absorbed and pure stupid in running a country that had the potential to become a beacon for all nations. The country that spread Christianity to the world. A country that had Aristotle.

If Tsipras is elected, the country would be so badly beaten it would take centuries to recover from the poverty. I think the wise people of Greece should come to the rescue of this country because this is the last opportunity we have before we plunge into the abyss and never come back in one piece. I am saying this because I am scared of the worst — civil war. There is so much at stake; we can?t let a naive, immature Tsipras run the country to hell. We need the austerity measures to build ourselves properly. We lived beyond our means, which created a bubble that has now burst. It is my conviction that if we leave the EU and thus the euro our lives would be so bad we would all leave Greece like the Greeks did in the 1940s. I admonish people to realize the gravity of the situation by abstaining from voting for Tsipras.

Samaras and Venizelos are bad managers but are certainly better than Tsipras. And since we only have these bad politicians in place, we need to vote for them because they can keep us in the EU and the euro.

Please, people of Greece, wake up before it?s too late.

John Elka

(Ex-professor of accounting and economics at an American university)

Letters page appreciation

This is one of the best letters pages to date.

From Nikos Retsos on SYRIZA to Peter O?Hara, ?does anyone in Greece stand for reform?? In fact I think you ought to invite Peter O?Hara to make his letter into an article (pay him) and publish it.

John Dimitropoulos wrote: ?The Greek system has been propped up by foreign loans since the adoption of the Euro.? Actually since 1821. The scaffolding was never taken down, just painted different colours. The Greeks imagined the scaffolding to be Ionian/Doric columns as at the temples to finance. Actually it was (balsa) woodhenge and the tide finally came in.

All the Greeks are tax criminals (potentially) and, yes, Greece does seem to be heading back to 1942.

Finally why doesn?t K do some serious investigative reporting on necessary reforms rather than continuing to beat the tired old drumbeat of ?Greece must stay in the euro??

Even Mr Cameron is preparing the UK for the ?breakup scenario?.

Excellent letters page, K, but please can we have some more realistic reporting on the consequences of an exit rather than a persistant ignoring/denial of such a possibility? I think we have reached the stage now where the plausibility of an exit is all too real.

Thank you K.

Philip Andrews

Sacrifices not a lost cause

The European Union doesn?t work. It doesn?t work for Greece and it doesn?t work for France nor Holland nor even for Germany.

Yet the dreamers in Brussels want to push this crazy dream and sacrifice their own people for this dream. The system is no longer working. They haven?t seen the writing on the wall. When the blind lead the blind all fall. Greece and all Europe needs to stop quickly because the situation will not improve — not in Greece nor in France.

Elroy Huckelberry

Re: ?Re-think Athens?

This looks fabulous — if it ever gets off the drawing board. If Greece leaves the EU — which it seems it will be doing at the rate it is going — what EU subsidies will pay for it?

Yvonne Meyer

Re: Corruption

It is quite shocking to see these numbers! The big question really is what can be done about it. Which agency, what phone number can one call to complain, when someone asks for a bribe? Who will hear me and not put my complaint in the next drawer where it will collect dust? And then there is the issue of: How can I prove it? It will be my word against the others, especially if the amount is not a big one.

The huge challenge would be a wonderful candidate to start a campaign for public education, teaching us to do the right thing, show us how, let people see that it is wrong and what wider consequences it has both for those that expect a bribe as well as those that pay it.

The corruption problem shows most certainly, at it’s finest, that there is a serious problem in enforcement of the law, which is by no means confined to corruption, and that one of the most critical things lacking in this country is public education!

We talk about social crisis. Change takes time, of course, but we haven’t even started any kind of steps to foster change. Isn’t it time?

As informative and well-written as this article is, where is the information I need to make a difference?

Michaela Toth

Very lucid text

A very lucid text that goes to the heart of the problem. Though I realize that the current suffering of the Greek people must be far greater than here in Portugal, the impression I get is that the Greek people aren’t being completely informed about the consequences of funnelling their desperation and anger into voting for anti-euro parties. An empty stomach is not the best advisor, but do your best to keep your heads cool. Best of luck, from Portugal.

Nuno Santos

Re: ?Re-think Athens?

How many times has Omonia Square been rethought and rebuilt? Give it 2-3 months and it becomes filthy again! You walk by it and you smell and see urine, drug addicts, homeless people, thieves, illegal immigrants, and street sellers. Can’t you see that the problem is not the design or the buildings?

My advice to Athens Municipality and to the government is not to waste any more money, especially in this crisis period, but to use this money to:

1. Deploy all 24 hours thousands of police officers to stop every person in downtown Athens and catch every illegal immigrant (3-6 months) and you will never have any illegal immigrant — send them all to the newly built detention centers and then back to their countries. And I am speaking here only on illegal immigrants. Legal immigrants are welcome to build with us.

2. The same police force should take out from the streets all those drug addicts and also put them in dentention centers (which can be built with the money intended to be used to rejuvenate Athens) where they will be given all the necessary help and therapy to get back to a normal life.

3. The same goes for homeless people.

4. Thieves will disappear due to the enormous police presence.

Then what? Athens will become a safer place. Tourists will start coming back to see the historical city, Greeks will move back into the center, and business will thrive again, where shops will reopen.

This is the main problem, and it should be solved from the roots. Athens got lots of bad publicity from all this, tourists are not coming any more, and Greeks are leaving it. Athens is beautiful and there is no need to rebuild it. What is needed is to get rid of the factors which led Greeks and tourists to leave it, thus killing business.

Please send my proposal to the committee.

I. Gerousis

Unite and survive

The unfolding crisis and unprecedented socioeconomic and political upheaval currently taking place in Greece is of major concern not only to all Greeks and Europeans, but to the entire Hellenic diaspora as well. We stand united in this time of need and solidarity with Greece, to support its international image and be ready to invest in our homeland. The austerity measures have been painful and harsh, but Greece cannot escape paying for what has been a 30-year continuous party of excess spending, cheap credit and hyper-consumption, fuelling artificially inflated economic growth. This problem is not just akin to Greece, but to all of Southern Europe, even France.

In Chinese, the word ?crisis? is composed of two words; ?threat? and ?opportunity?. In Modern Greece?s 20th-century history, it has faced a radical political turnaround and crisis; however, it has recovered and regenerated. The Greek sovereign debt crisis is one of the state?s and also one of society?s. It begs a complete transformation in the social contract between politicians and citizens, from one of ?I vote for you and you hire me or my children in the public service? to one where the citizens of Greece and the government are seen as one holistic force. The problem that has plagued Greeks throughout our ancient, Byzantine and modern history is the inclination to be divided and disunited. The recent collapse of coalition talks does no more than to emphasise this fact and how we inflict even our own pain and make matters worse.

Greece needs to be united at this point, not only as a nation, but as a people whose future is in the European Monetary Union. The choice is clear, euro or drachma; reform or more of the same; investment or exploitation; development and modernisation or impoverishment and isolation. The harsh austerity measures mandated by the troika in the two consecutive bailouts need to be renegotiated by Greece and made more strategic. The Greek government cannot use these measures as a way to escape the crisis; it needs to develop its own growth, modernisation and contingency plans. Nevertheless, to remain in the euro, Greece will need to make harsh reforms that the public has not faced for a very long time. This can be considered as an infringement on state sovereignty, however outside of the euro and with the drachma, Greece will have little to no power at all.

The immediate steps the Republic should take to return to a sustainable fiscal footing is to completely reform and clean up the state administration. The number of MPs in Parliament should be cut, so should the number of deputy and non-deputy ministers and the number of ministries. Civil servants should be cut where required, whilst these savings must fund immediate and sorely needed upgrades to the Greek administration?s IT systems to promote greater efficiency, transparency and accountability. The parliamentary immunity laws need to be scrapped, allowing for corrupt MPs, past and present, to be prosecuted under Greek law. Most importantly, Greece should collaborate with the newly established permanent EU Commission Office in Athens and receive technical support to establish a new and effective tax collection agency, with proper and transparent systems. A massive review and anti-corruption investigation of all facets of the Greek administration should place a particular and immediate focus on the current tax agency and prosecute all those who have demanded bribes and been corrupted, contributing to the current crisis of Greek public finances.

Importantly, social spending cuts should be frozen. Already, we have seen mass poverty and increased joblessness cutting swaths through Greek society. The Greek government must choose between its military?s weapons procurement program, costing 5-7 billion EUR a year, or between cutting social spending and starving its own people. Greece actually has more tanks than Great Britain and a fine military already; the new war currently in today?s world is not based on conventional armies but on economics and the power of state treasuries. Annulling weapons procurement for 3 years should help the state make significant savings which would not need to be found elsewhere.

The fact that Greece?s debt to GDP ratio since the start of the sovereign debt crisis and its first bailout in May 2010 has increased from 115% to 160% is despicable and shows a failure — or a lack of — any prominent growth policy by the Greek government. Greece needs to emphasise and heavily promote its 3 key industries to the world: tourism, shipping and olive oil. In its very significant geostrategic position, located in a high-growth region next to Turkey, Russia, Israel and not far from China, Greece must continue to have the Eurozone membership as a cornerstone of its foreign policy but must carve very strong relations with these four countries. Special trade missions should be established; foreign investment should be secured through a transparent privatisation process of unused, non-strategic state assets and real estate, with a priority placed on the sale of Ellinikon, the abandoned site of the former Athens airport on the Athens riviera, with special zoning for residential, tourist and retail purposes.

Special relations between Greek shipping companies and Chinese ship manufacturers need to be carved. Airport landing taxes should be completely eliminated in order to stem the flow of airlines which are cancelling routes to Athens and Greece and to attract key airlines back — it is a shame that there will now be no direct route from the USA to Athens as Kathimerini has reported. For all new hotels constructed, there should be no company tax for their first year of operation in strategically zoned tourist areas, and there should be an emphasis on ecotourism in order to promote a new niche market for Greece. Finally, Greece should be taking advantage of its highly envied position by aiming to make Piraeus the biggest port of all of Europe — bigger than Rotterdam — by attracting Chinese ships to dock at its port as a connection to the EU market. It should secure hydrocarbon pipelines with Russia and receive state royalties, creating a win-win situation for Greece, Russia and Europe.

Most importantly, Greece must realise its power and great, uncultivated potential. Staying in the euro will allow Greece to secure a bright future, much needed development assistance funds and the technical assistance required to establish proper and transparent administrative practices. It means Greece will have a voice in Europe and will have power. It means Greece will once again be at the forefront of change, which in no way will mean exploitation, a reduction in long-term economic wellbeing nor an infringement upon its culture and traditions, as would happen under a drachma and complete collapse of Greece. The hard work must start today — with the politicians and the state — but the opportunities must also be realised today. Greece has the support network not only of its small population, but of all of Europe and of the entire Hellenic diaspora, from the US to Australia. It?s a shame Greece has not taken advantage of the benefits of its EU membership and its global network of migrants; however the dawning reality upon Greece?s politicians must lead to this positive outcome.

Jiannis Tsaousis

Melbourne, Australia

Keynesian stimulus

I would like to add a little bit of info about Keynesian economics to these debates, as both those who are calling for Keynesian stimulus for Greece and those who think it has caused many of the present problems, don?t actually understand what Keynes proposed.

Poor Keynes gets a bad rap unfairly, because politicians today only use one half of his stabilization equation and ignore the offsetting other half. Keynes thought the state should step in when fear paralyzes the marketplace, to provide demand when no one else will and run a deficit, if need be, to do it. But when the crisis ends and demand returns, the state needs to run surpluses and pay off the incurred government debts. That’s so it will be in good shape to step in for the next crisis. Really it’s just common sense.

Unfortunately, politicians now ignore the paying down of incurred debt and always run deficits in good times and bad, as it is a great way to be re-elected. This however is not at all what Keynes prescribed. And the economic illiteracy of politicians, pundits and voters means that Keynes is blamed for the mess we are in now.

In the mid-nineties, we here in Canada followed Keynes? prescription by slashing spending and running surpluses instead of the previous endless deficits (when the Wall Street Journal characterized our then-feeble currency as the «northern peso”). We were thus able to substantially pay down our accumulated debt and thus became well placed to survive this financial crisis. Otherwise we would now be in the same shape as Italy.

Now we are running necessary deficits, but we can well afford to do so and are doing rather well in these tough times. Only the sick US economy keeps us from booming. And all of us, having learned our lesson, know that we want to run surpluses as soon as it is possible. Keynes works if you really do it right.

Unfortunately, Greece is now in a very deep debt hole. Digging deeper will not help. There is no gold or hydrocarbons down in there, only a grave. My only word of encouragement is that when you start to move in the right direction, it?s amazing how rapidly the positive momentum can carry you forward. It is just like in a basketball game, something the Greeks with their championship teams should understand.

Damir Susnjar

Toronto