We need audacious targets

For Greece to escape its predicament, it is not enough to reduce salaries and pensions, slash spending and reform the social security system and labor market. We will need bold ideas, leaps of faith and new strategies; we must overturn current thinking, so that we can turn weakness into economic revival. As things stand, very few people believe that the fiscal measures attached to the 110-billion-euro loan agreed with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union are enough to increase our production, spur growth and save us from bankruptcy. There is no escaping the fact that Greece does not produce enough to be able to use its exports to create a surplus that would help us pay our debts. (As members of the eurozone, we cannot devalue our currency, so we couldn’t make our exports more competitive anyway). The strong euro and the negative publicity that Greece is getting internationally for its debt and protests will lead directly to a decline in tourism and foreign investments. In these spheres, Greece has only weaknesses to show. What it does have to offer are its services, its beauty and its climate. Since we will have to find solutions that demand little money, let’s see what can be done with what we have (beyond selling off our real estate). Our National Health System has many (perhaps too many) good doctors. But it is crippled by disorganization and an inadequate number of nursing staff. Mismanagement leads to massive waste of funds, with unchecked procurements inflating costs, while disorganized accounts departments don’t chase social security funds for payment. It leads also to the wasted efforts of good doctors who work under difficult conditions for low wages, and inadequate treatment for patients. This confusion creates a breeding ground for corruption. The solution does not lie so much in cutting costs (and certainly not in slashing doctors’ salaries) but in the radical reorganization of each hospital and the system as a whole. With the specialized doctors we have, and with so many new hospitals, Greece could offer high-quality medical services to people from other countries. Excellent organization, sufficient numbers of nursing staff and a surge in our doctors’ research and publication of papers would allow Greece to market itself as an alternative for people whose countries offer either inadequate or very expensive treatment. If we were to get such an infusion of paying patients, our National Health System could provide better services to Greeks and be a source of revenue. Something similar could be done in education. If our universities oriented themselves to attracting foreign students, either through new, English-language institutions (such as the much-heralded one in Thessaloniki or private institutions) or through the creation of autonomous departments in existing universities, we could increase our turnover and make the system viable. This would be a monumental task, demanding strict evaluation of staff, the adoption of attractive study courses, new infrastructure and – perhaps most importantly – an end to militant student groups’ control over our universities. These changes are very difficult but have to be made in any case. In the social security domain, Greece’s problems appear to be insurmountable. We just do not have enough people working to be able to support our pensioners, and the burden on our budgets will just keep getting heavier. But what if Greece – with its fine climate and suddenly superior medical services – could attract pensioners from abroad, offering a pleasant home for their later years? Not only would their pensions provide an infusion of funds into local economies, they would also create new job opportunities, perhaps in pleasant, undeveloped rural areas. Increasing our population with people from abroad and improving our services will not only help us sustain a welfare state but will improve it and make it more productive. We have the people and the infrastructure to make such leaps. What we need is the will to set audacious targets and the determination to reorganize our society. We need to relocate public servants to make the best use of them, to accept evaluation of our work. We must look beyond our narrow interests and national borders, so that we can think and create our way out of trouble. We need to make «Greek» synonymous with quality – so that we can dare to hope.