OPINION

The case for migration

The years of plenty, from which Greece is nursing the mother of all hangovers, were a short interval in a long history of hardship. In all, the «good years» date from the 1980s, when the country’s first nominally socialist government came upon the unprecedented windfall of European structural funds and international loans to spread wealth around, resulting in the Greeks getting hooked on credit. The last decade was even more spectacular, with eurozone membership introducing cheap credit for the first time, opening the way for spineless politicians to sell jobs and favors, while predatory banks binged on a gluttonous public – until the country, the banks and the citizens found themselves so short of cash that only an emergency rescue plan could stave off total collapse. Now, as every Greek contemplates reality, it is clear once again that this is a hard and poor land – a land that has always encouraged its more adventurous children to seek their fortune abroad, either as merchants, mercenaries, sailors or settlers. The young Greeks who today contemplate seeking their fortune elsewhere are certainly not the first to do so. Even during the past decades, many of the best and brightest who had the opportunity to study abroad chose to pursue a career outside Greece, seeing greater opportunity in their adopted land not only for economic reasons but because few countries were as discouraging for young, well-educated people as Greece was – even in the good years. Until the 1980s, the Greeks left their country in great waves, seeking a better life in America, Australia, southern Africa and European countries such as Germany, Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands. From the earliest years of Greek history, there are records of Greeks traveling and settling all across the known world. Now the great economic crisis has made us all remember that Greece is not rich enough to provide all its people with the standard of living they became accustomed to in the past three decades. Indeed, the abrupt awakening has made us realize that the country was never in a worse state: We not only have to battle with a rocky land and its meagre resources, we now face a mountain of debt and a public administration and public sector packed with highly paid, mostly unproductive and sullen fellow citizens. This public sector will sink the country as private businesses go bust and more private employees lose their jobs, even as civil servants keep theirs. With no feasible growth plan in sight, no reasonable person can hope that Greece will be able to work its way out of this mess. Under these circumstances, and with our long tradition of migrations, it is only natural that many Greeks are thinking of seeking a better life elsewhere – indeed, this may be the nation’s only hope. Greece is too poor in natural resources and at the same time too disorganized to find ways to get around this problem (unlike Denmark or Switzerland, for example). Unfortunately, the past few years also encouraged a sense of complacency and a culture of complaint, which undermined any sense of discipline and hard work. Now there is a surplus of talent and a dearth of jobs. The obvious solution is for Greeks to look for opportunities outside of Greece, for countries where their skills can benefit both themselves and the society that will welcome them. If these Greeks one day return to Greece, they will bring with them not only their skills and experience but, even more importantly, they will bring back a new mentality – one that understands the merits of hard work, discipline and social conscience. If enough such people return one day to work here, then maybe they will create a nucleus for all those who want a Greece that’s better than the one that let us down so badly. Greece has failed. There is no reason that it should drag down all those whom it did not provide with meaningful jobs and opportunities. In these global times – as Europeans – we all enjoy greater freedom and far better education than our forefathers, who risked everything when they sailed into the unknown. When talented people leave, there is always the danger of a brain drain; this is not the case in Greece, where there are far more qualified people than there are jobs for them. The Greeks have always been at home in the world and the world has never been more open to their talents. Without the burdens of a political class, an economy and a society which failed them so badly, their efforts will bring greater rewards. And when they do well, Greece will benefit.