A response to readers

My recent commentary, «Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice» (June 25), drew numerous responses from readers asking me to be more specific about the measures that Prime Minister George Papandreou’s government could have taken. Let’s leave out the pre-election promises made by the Socialist party or the missteps made during its first months in power. Also, let’s assume that Greece can only keep its head above water by sticking to the rules of the memorandum with the International Monetary Fund. But why does the government not introduce its own measures to streamline the economy and stimulate growth? Here are some examples: The government was right to introduce new parameters on income tax based on evidence of presumed income. But these seem to be too low. Also, it should have imposed minimum criteria for taxing businesses and self-employed professionals. Moreover, it has not overhauled the tax system to improve the collection of taxes and settling cases of outstanding debts to the state. It has put up with clandestine labor and tax dodging. It has not exploited the huge amount of public property and, more specifically, the Olympic venues which have been left to rust. It also has not streamlined the structure and function of public administration. There are ways in which the government could bolster productivity and, at the same time, save on resources and personnel. It should put administrative staff under the Interior Ministry and move surplus personnel to understaffed departments. Furthermore, the government has done nothing to solve the problem of wasteful corporations like the Hellenic Railways Organization. It has not provided incentives – or at least scrapped the counterincentives – for productive businesses. It has not taken steps to promote sea tourism and to create so-called tourist villages. It has failed to exploit the mineral wealth in northern Greece. The list is long. You don’t need a Nobel Prize winner to explain some basic housekeeping or how to exploit your comparative advantages. But it does take an understanding of public interest, political planning and political will. The government has regrettably put the troika direction-finder on autopilot. All energy and determination is being spent implementing the memorandum – making the government seem quite comfortable with outside supervision.

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