Greedy, Lazy and Venal.
The narrative which has sprung up around the crisis in Greece has taken a ethnic-cultural line, just as the French claimed that the financial crisis was an "Anglo-Saxon disease" which has nothing to do with the Continent. Now we hear that the Greeks are "venal" as well as "lazy" and "greedy" even from the commentariat and not just from the Right. We are told that the protests are really about keeping the "Greek Gravy Train" flowing, you will have no doubt heard of the rail workers who are paid £60,000 a year and the shameful way hundreds of professionals are being allowed to retire at 50 - though the average retirement is actually 62. What you won't read about is the way that a lot of Greeks have not been paid in months and even more are unemployed. The same goes for the other racist claims, the Greeks are supposedly a "lazy people" and yet they work around 2,120 hours a year compared with about 1,712 hours a year in Britain and 1,473 hours a year in Germany. Out of the OECD countries Koreans are the only people who work longer hours than the Greeks.
The "out of control" spending in Greece amounted to 44.6% of GDP from 2001 to 2007, which was not a huge deviation from the European average for most of the decade. The relatively high level of public debt in Greece, before the crisis, goes back to the 1980s when the country was still recovering from the military junta that ruled the country from 1967 to 1974 with the support of the US. There is a genuine fiscal weakness in Greece and it is not in public expenditure, it is the low level of tax revenue which was exacerbated by the recession that has led to a consequent fall in tax revenues as the level of unemployment rises. So it should not be a surprise that tax revenue is a lot less than predicted as the cuts hit ordinary Greeks. As the crisis hit Greece there was a jump in spending to 50.4% of GDP in 2009 and that is still the average expenditure in Europe. From 2001 to 2007 the total spending of the EU amounted to 50.7% of GDP, out of the 27 member-states 13 had spent more than Greece.
Then there is the line that the greedy Greeks have eaten the bailout funds and have continued to live in an excess of luxury. It is as if these are the spoiled brats of Europe who must be knocked in line with the rest of us! The austerity measures introduced previously have reduced public spending by €700 million than the IMF and the EU had demanded. €110 billion was handed over to European banks and Greece has been saddled with still more debt and rising interest payments. A bailout is not intended to pay for Greek welfare, it is intended to stabilise the European banking system and drive the Greek economy into meeting austerity targets. The impact will be no growth in Greece for years to come and a significant fall in the standard of living. The Greeks are expected to sign on for a €12 billion loan installment which will prevent a default for the time being, the preconditions for the loan are the austerity measures that were only just passed despite popular opposition.
Greece has not been bailed out, but the banks have been and the European country that has defaulted more than any other in the last century is Germany. Germany was excused from reparations to countries that it had invaded. The loans and occupation costs Germany had pressed out of the countries it had occupied in World War II were not paid back. Especially not to the Greeks. Germany didn't even pay back the US for the loans that were used to pay the reparations levied on Germany after World War I. As Albrecht Ritschl said, Germany was the biggest debt transgressor of the 20th Century. The decision on Greece has been delayed on the next bank bailout in the EU, the package could be around €160 billion which is meant to further the cuts that have already bled public services dry in the country. But it is true that a default on the debt is inevitable, it is only a matter of when and how at this point. The default should have come earlier rather than later, which is what is most likely to happen.
It is undeniable that the Greek government has some responsible for the mess, especially in regards to the collection of taxes, but the links of the crisis to the Greek national character and culture are nonexistent. The crisis is an economic one, it is international in scale and the responsibility of all Western politicians. We should keep in mind that it is Sweden that spends the most out of the European countries and yet there is no debt crisis. The reason being that the tax system is a lot better in Sweden, the same is true of France and Denmark. Greece was welcomed into the Eurozone with open arms before being encouraged to give up the Drachma for the Euro. The situation seems to confirm that a monetary union requires fiscal and political union, whilst the average Greek is being forced to pay for the errors of politicians and the recklessness of the European banking system. Naturally the Right has jumped at the opportunity to use this crisis as a stick to bash the European Union with.