OPINION

Turning weakness into strength

We know what the problems are, in the world and in little Greece. There are ways out, thanks to technology and because many Greeks are now very highly educated. The question is whether there is a political force with the courage and standing that will allow it to make bold proposals. Greece has many shortcomings. As these are very difficult to correct due to inaction, vested interests and fear of the political cost, perhaps the only solution is to turn these weaknesses into strengths. The main problem in the state and society is the system of public administration. According to Eurostat (2005), problems caused by bureaucracy cost the Greek economy 6.8 percent of its GDP. Greece (along with Hungary, Cyprus, Malta and the Baltic states) has the highest administrative costs in the European Union, where the average for member states is just 3.5 percent. Considering that this translates into at least 7 billion euros annually, it is clear that there is a very urgent need to rein in the waste due to a surfeit of laws, a lack of accountability and partisan control of the state system. In 2009 the government is hoping for revenue of 65.5 billion euros in taxes, using a tax collection mechanism that will cost about 1 billion euros. Every government has claimed it will stamp out tax evasion, but none has yet managed to do so. But if the taxation system were simplified and red tape slashed significantly, this would save huge sums and, at the same time, free considerable human resources in the state and private sectors. Another area where major savings could be made is in wage deductions. In Greece, 40 percent of the amount paid out by employers never reaches employees’ pockets but goes straight into social security funds and for taxes. Such a high cost of labor is a disincentive to hiring more staff and results in the exploitation of workers (part-time employment with fewer rights). The solution does not lie in reducing staff rights but in providing a decent welfare system for all – unemployed, students, full-time and part-time workers and pensioners. Then no one will be held hostage to need or fear, but will be working to improve his or her life – not just to survive. Simplifying the system could lead to a reduction in social security contributions by both employers and employees. (However, who among those in the more privileged funds would agree to join a broader state social security fund such as IKA?) Technology today is in a position to break employees’ bonds by giving them the opportunity to work where and when they wish. If the state and private businesses understood this, the savings resulting from reduced transport requirements for both people and goods would allow for a radical reorganization of society at neighborhood level, with better schools, clinics, theaters and public spaces. Naturally, a prerequisite for this would be a good public education and social security system. In the provinces, small holdings would no longer be a disadvantage as farmers would be able to switch to organic farming which is gaining ground in the European market. If the state subsidized people wishing to move to the countryside, it would benefit both rural and urban populations. Moreover, our economy’s unjustifiable dependence on oil and lignite could provide the impetus we need to adopt renewable sources of energy and – in doing so – also create new jobs. It is clear that the old system is no longer adequate. The question is, what shall we do about it?