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Matt's Greece Travel Blog

How to Solve Greece's Financial Crisis

Monastiraki, homelessThe image of civil servants marching in Athens in protest of the Papandreou governments plan to save the economy brings to mind a bunch of American bankers marching on Washington in protest of having their million dollar bonuses taken away. In each case these are the people who share a great deal of responsibility for causing the crisis. We all know what the banks and investment companies did. But in Greece it is this inflated civil service, which takes such a huge portion of Greece's money and do nothing in return, sitting at desks and counting the days until they can get their pension. Their march in Athens would have been a great opportunity for Athenians, armed with eggs and rotten tomatoes, to strike a blow against every indifferent bureaucrat who ever sent you on a wild goose chase, every rude chain smoking secretary who filed her nails and gossiped on the phone while you waited on line to get her stamp on an official paper, for every tax official who came into your office and shook you down, and every person who held his hand out for a bribe to do something that is his job to do.

It's also little disingenuous for the EU to say that Greece got itself into this mess and we should get ourselves out because really they are complicit by turning a blind eye to the corruption and the fudging of numbers. Everyone knew that much of the EU funds were ending up in the pockets of politicians and businessmen but did the EU cut off the funding? No. Why? Probably because someone in the EU was taking their share of the money on its way to Greece.

But hey... that's all water under the bridge. How we got here is not the problem. It is irrelevant at this point. We need solutions. I feel like I am already doing my part. Sending people to holiday in Greece will certainly help the economy but not save it. But the following suggestions will:

The Church: In Greece they claim there is no separation of Church and State. Oh Really? Well that is great news because the Church has more than enough money to solve all the problems of  Greece. In a country where Bishops, priests, monasteries and even monks have Swiss Bank accounts and investment portfolios it is time for those who claim they are responsible for our spiritual well-being now take some responsibility for our material well being with at least as much care as they take in their own material well being. With probably billions in assets the church should step up and help the people that it has lived off for the last 2000 years. There is no reason for the vaults of monasteries and churches to be full of priceless jewellery, precious stones, gold and historical artifacts, hidden away from all but the highest initiates. Sell them to museums so everyone can see them.

The Government: How many ND and PASOK members have money squirreled away in Swiss and other offshore accounts and why would a government official need an offshore account? The answer is obvious and every Greek knows it. I remember watching the Olympics in Athens and as each country came out the TV announcers said something about the country. When the Swiss team came onto the floor the announcer said "We all know what they are known for". They were not talking about cheese. The year before ND came to power under Mitsotakis a friend of mine who worked for a Swiss bank told me PASOK was going to lose the election. How did he know? Because so many PASOK ministers were opening accounts to deposit as much money as they could before their term ended. Most of the money given to Greece by the EU has ended up in the pockets of politicians, contractors and civil servants. So Greece could go after all these people and even if they did not retrieve the money they could make their lives miserable. Or they could declare an amnesty provided the person gives back half the money. I mean if someone has embezzled 10 million euros they can certainly live on five.

Tax Collectors: This is a business within a bureaucratic service disguised as an audit. It works like this. Let's say I am a tax collector and I walk into your store and ask to see your books. After a few minutes, hours, days or weeks I say to you "Look. I could easily charge you two hundred thousand euros in taxes and penalties but tell you what. Just give me seventy five thousand and I will let it go." Then I take the money, give some to my boss and my partner and move on to the next shop or business. In the USA we call this paying protection. So how do you find these crooked tax collectors? Easy. If they have a villa in the country, a yacht and a couple cars including a BMW chances are they have a Swiss bank account too because you can't afford a BMW and a villa on their salary. They give back half or go to jail. Seems fair to me. I know I could live with just one BMW and a yacht is one of those things you buy and wonder why you didn't just rent one when you needed it.

The Wealthy: What do Jeffrey Bezos, Spiro Latzis, Michael Jaharis, George Mitchel, Mike Lazarides, John Katsimatidis, George Argyros, and Alexander Spanos all have in common? They are all Greek billionaires. There are more of course but these are the ones who can account for their billions. There are others who have to reside on the list of Greek millionaires even though they have as much money and even more but have to hide it. A billion is one thousand million. Think about that. If one of these guys gave Greece a million dollars he would be giving 1/1000th of his money to help his mother country. And what about Greek millionaires? In London alone it is estimated that there are at least 25 Greeks with wealth in excess of 50 million UK pounds. This is just London. What about the USA?  Sure, many of these are the "all the Greek I need to know I learned at Ionian Village" variety. But they still send their kids to Greek class, show up at church 5 minutes before the end, and are most of the time proud of their Greek heritage. They should all chip in. And whatever the foreign Greek multi-millionaires chip in the ones that live in Greece should chip in ten times that amount. According to the tax service there are only 6 millionaires in Greece. That is how many people paid tax on a million euros. But all you have to do is go to Flisvos and some of the other marinas on the Attika coast to see hundreds, thousands of luxury yachts.

Club Owners and Mafia Thugs: Anyone who has been in a crowded Greek nightclub and gotten the bill at the end of the night has come to the realization that these places make a fortune. They have to. A successful club has to pay a fortune in kickbacks and protection or risk death and destruction. But if the Mafia cut their payment demands in half, the clubs could drop their prices and then people would have more money to spend onother things and even help the poor. Of course the Mafia are not going to reduce the cost of their payments, and if they did the clubs would not drop their prices, and even if they did, the people in the clubs are just going to drink more and not give their money to the poor. So just go right to the thugs and the money they were paying for protection from the police now goes to rescuing the economy.

Even parasites know the advantages of having a healthy host so all the above need to do their part.

Adopt a Neighborhood: Those of us who have lived or traveled in the USA have seen the adopt a highway program. The local chapter of the Kiwanis Club has volunteered to keep a 5 mile stretch of Route 1 clean as a public service. Individuals and groups should do this in Athens. Just take a square block area and keep it clean. Paint over graffiti (keep the stuff that qualifies as art), pick up garbage. Make phone calls when the city is not doing its job. When some nut in Kypseli poisoned some of the stray dogs the neighbors went ballistic and called the cops every day and complained. The police finally sent patrols that walked up and down Fokionos Negri to protect the dogs. They still do it. Why? Because people showed that they cared. They didn't sit around complaining about what a terrible thing it was that someone poisoned the dogs. They did something about it. And if the cops had done nothing the neighbors would have found the guy eventually and hung him from a mulberry tree. So those of us who can't afford to donate a million euros to rescue Greece can still do our part by making our small area of Greece clean and safe. We can invite the less fortunate among us to help and in return feed and give them whatever money we can. I have friends in Athens who have adopted people from the neighborhood. When the economy turns bad it is those on the bottom rung who are hurt the most.

Musicians: How much money did George Dalaras make last year? Every musician who is living comfortably should spend the next year only doing benefit concerts to raise money for the poor. Same with Athletes.

The EU: As I stated before the EU was well aware that things were not as they seemed in their southeastern outpost but so many people were profitting that they just ignored it and now it has come back to haunt them. So they should at least help with the bailout, especially since so many rich Europeans have summer homes in Greece and those who don't have summer homes or millions still come every summer to escape their own miserable climates. So if they want that to continue, they have to step in.

The Americans: Yes even the USA should do their part to help Greece through this crisis. I can think of two good reasons right off the bat. The first is because it was the American government that during the cold war came up with the bright idea of moving all industry from the towns and villages of rural Greece, into the cities so that workers could be watched and kept from organizing. This caused the depopulation of the villages and is one reason why we have the mess that is now Athens. The second reason was that the USA insisted on Greece spending 3 billion on a massive high tech anti-terrorism security system for the 2004 Olympics complete with eye-in-the-sky blimp. Despite the expense American sports lovers still did not have the courage to come and sat on their couches watching the best Olympics ever, as we in Athens wondered how on earth are we going to pay for this. We are still wondering.

Of course the problem is how do you keep all this money that my plan generates from going into the pockets of the same people who caused the problem, much like the Wall Street and bank bailout in the USA rewarded those who caused the problems. Well you just have to have faith that the Greek people will rise to the occasion in a time of crisis as they have in the past. You have to hope that those who used their power to stuff their pockets with the money that was meant for the Greek people have come to the realization that they were wrong and want to make amends. You have to hope that the embarrassment of having to be rescued by the EU like some 3rd World African country suffering from a civil war, drought and poverty is enough to overcome the selfishness that is the character defect of so many in this country that otherwise has so much going for it.

Of course all these measures are just a drop in the bucket when you consider that Greece's debt is something like 300 billion. But it's a start.

And what can you do to help solve the Greek financial crisis? Come to Greece and bring a friend or two.

For an understanding of the crisis be sure to read John Psaropoulos's New Athenian

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Hotel Attalos, Athens, Greece

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