In my last post
, I had raised – once again – the urgency of developing a long-term economic development plan for Greece. A most interesting debate among two readers with the pseudonyms of Tsigantes and Canutely King ensued. The debate is too interesting to leave it buried in the comments section, which is why I reproduce it below.
There is no development plan in Greece because of the simple fact that we still have ND and PASOK in power. Please note that, since 1974, neither party has come up, not even once, with a development plan and it is safe to conclude that none of the politicians in these two parties have that competence. Meanwhile, I also believe, with the writing so strongly on the wall considering their future, that beyond what they can pocket from privatizations now in the short term, they have no interest in making a real development plan.
Meanwhile, Mr. Stournaras is up to his ears with the bigger budget and EU / Troika picture and has no time.
It is important to remember that ‘elite’ parties in Greece – ND and today’s PASOK – are not stocked with the best and brightest. The financially elite families in Greece traditionally placed the least clever of their children in politics, i. e. the ones deemed incompetent to run the family business – either for lack of brains or because of character problems.
As for the IT professor who doesn’t know about memory sticks…. He is obviously a party man saying what has to be said to support the government’s case. No doubt he also received his professorship through the same party channels. Please wake up and stop being so naive about the pitiful ways of Greek ‘power’! You can take for granted that nobody in a position of power here academically, judicially, etc. is the best in their field in Greece. All these positions have long been the ‘prizes’ of the top parties to disburse among its most loyal members.
Meanwhile, Tina Birbili, an engineer in her 30s and Minister of the Environment under the last PASOK government who oversaw various university planning boondoggles of PASOK professors, is today representing Greece, in its moment of greatest crisis outside war, at the OECD. Need I say more?
Of course there are competent IT people here! They are in the private sector! Greek companies have been working for the EU for years and internationally.
Tina Birbili, who is a physicist & environmental economist, is 42. That’s only 3 years younger than the Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem who is tipped to take over from Jean-Claude Juncker as the Euro-Group czar. Dijsselbloem is also an engineer (agricultural), but unlike Ms. Birbili he doesn’t have a PhD from Imperial College London or anywhere else.
Unlike most politicians Tina Birbili did have appropriate qualifications for the Minister of the Environment job. Unlike her replacement, Giorgos Papakonstantinou – who has an LSE economics PhD, perhaps that’s where he found out how to copy memory sticks.
If I were a Greek then I would not be worrying about whatever Birbili is doing at the OECD – which is just another think tank. I’d be much more concerned about having, as the next Euro-Group czar, an agricultural engineer with no ministerial experience prior to becoming the Netherlands Finance Minister in November 2012!!
If you think Greece is bad in respect of jobs for mates, take a look at the Obama administration, or the one before that (G. W. Bush) or the one before that (Clinton)…
I’ll stay out of the memory stick/IT Professor debate; except to say that most IT professors and professionals (of which I am one, of 40 years standing) wouldn’t have a clue how to definitively determine when a memory stick was formatted or copied. The people who may know will be found in military intelligence or similar.
Yes Greece is ‘bad’, but maybe not as bad as we sometimes think. Does any other EU country have a long term economic development plan? The only countries I can think of that might are Poland and Estonia. Cameron commissioned Michael Heseltine (a Europhile and eventually Thatcher’s bête noire) to produce one, which he did. It calls for decentralization and ‘more Europe’ so it is unlikely to be adopted. Britain has spent the last 150 years centralizing and ‘more Europe’ is blasphemy for many (most?) Brit’s.
The main thing the Greek government must do is to create an investment friendly environment (like Ireland did before it went on its property binge) and keep its fingers crossed – and not go on a property binge.
I agree with you about the investment plan.
I also have no problem with people being young if they are competent. But it is unwise to assume that further degrees describe competence – I say this as a University professor (in Spain, Belgium and before that in the UK, Germany and NL) who sits on the marking board every year, passing students’ extremely mediocre work (most students are mediocre, especially at PHD level, because they tick all the correct boxes). Degrees don’t guarantee anything – it is what you do afterwards.
Tina Birbili is known amongst professionals in Greece as having landed a very plush, i. e. wildly overpaid, commission to design bicycle paths at the extremely large main university campus which is off-limits to cars anyway. This was a PASOK appointment and later she received much media attention for her ‘green’ intervention. I invite you to visit the campus to view these paths. Basically you will wonder where they are. Or even the need, since the campus is crisscrossed with decommissioned roads and is basically one big ‘path’ and largely empty forest area.
I do question the appointment of an engineer to an economic think tank. Especially now.
There are plenty of highly experienced economists in Greece with far better credentials for this post, and the appropriate skill set (statistics, etc.) – who are presently jobless! Unfortunately for them, they have spent their lives in economics rather than in party politics.
Greece is a small country and so top appointments in all public sector fields are infiltrated by politics. In my view too much, even tragically so. This is not to say all appointments are inappropriate, but that it is political pot luck. For example, Greece’s greatest living architect, by staying out of politics, has only been given occasional temporary junior posts as a tutor of the lowest rank at the polytechnic of Athens.
However I saw the same and even worse, especially in Belgium. And as you say, all administrations appoint their friends.
In the Greek universities this has unfortunately led to lower standards. In the Greek hospitals it is different, though departments with corrupt heads tend to be demoralized.
Basically the private sector is where the hope for Greece lies. Our country is NOT rotten from top to bottom; it is only rotten where it meets the state sector.
The best of Greek talent and brains is in the private sector.
For example, Greece until 3 years ago was rated no 5 worldwide in terms of the quality of its doctors, healthcare and access to health care. At least half of Greek doctors train abroad in the highest levels of medical education, mostly privately, or through Onassis scholarships or armed forces funds.
Unfortunately, the private sector is the sector of greatest frustration, since any kind of work that could benefit Greece as a whole comes up against the political favors/kickbacks system and usually fails or is bastardized. This certainly applies to all professions in the engineering and construction sector and science.
However, great strides can be made at the local level, such as when the port of Mytilini installed the newest and greenest sewage disposal system in the late 90s and won a European award. Or when a small town near Veria in northern Greece backed the vision of its trained librarian and has produced probably the most educative, much loved and inspiring library in Europe!
Meanwhile Greece is at the forefront in Europe with alternative medicines and cosmetics, herbal knowledge and medicines, herbs and food products, organic farming and agricultural tourism, pilates, yoga, tai chi centers, green building knowledge… Please note, once again, all businesses that can be kept small & private, flying under the government radar.
The easiest area to succeed in is Import/Export and exporting services. This on the whole can avoid government interference, provided the company stays small! If it grows, it starts attracting the attention of government parasites who act more or less like Mafiosi ‘protection services’. To succeed in Greece, you must be small – or grow so big that you can hire a self-protection department to deal solely with government ministries!
By feeding on the private sector, feeding on its own state commissions in the form of kickbacks, feeding off the money from all the bureaucratic payments & paperwork put in the way of private sector business, feeding on EU business commissions (famously Siemens and defense contracts), the governments of the last 35 years have been so sated with illegal wealth that it actually didn’t matter to them that they sacrificed Greece’s shipping industry – no 1 in the world and Greece’s number one sector – which simply moved its companies out of Greece.
As for large scale investors from outside, most have given up and gone away millions poorer and after 5-7 years, since successive governments quarrel between themselves on who gets the illegal spoils. The same reason applies to European investment funds (highways, etc.) which were infinitely delayed on take-up because of inner kickback fighting. The money was allocated for the Athens metro 25 years before work began! (See Siemens scandals, then …..and now in 2012, when following the decision of the German court that Siemens pay Greece fines of x billion €, Venizelos in the first act of the present government awarded Siemens the contract for the next 2 metro extensions exactly equal to this fine. This was awarded in a contract competition of one aspirant. Which no doubt is a Germy-pleasing EU move, but according to the EU’s own competition rules is illegal).
Finally, Greece has numerous Chambers of Commerce and private sector business chambers and committees. But their hands are tied and they are forced to avoid mentioning the elephant in the room for libel reasons and their own survival!
In sum, there is enormous competency, far-sightedness and energy in the private sector here. But the way forward is always blocked. Greece is much blessed and not a poor country by any means, and there is no reason, given good governance, it could not be the Switzerland of the Mediterranean.