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Greece: views on the crisis

GlobalPost asks 7 Greeks of varying backgrounds about their country's recent troubles.

The previous government hired up to 100,000 people. We need to bring people back into the political process regardless of their political affiliation. So we just put 5,000 civil service positions on the internet and started hiring people based on the best [curriculum vitae], something unique in Greek history.

What’s going to happen is a shift at how people look at themselves. In the States, if you’re poor, it’s your own fault. In Greece, you’re a "kakomoiris" [a poor, helpless guy]. And if you win, you must have stepped on someone; you’re a crook. The good part of this is that it protects the weakest portion of society. The bad aspect is you’re never weaned off and there’s no stigma if you don’t enter the workplace till you’re 30.

I think George’s days are endless. He doesn’t sleep much. The first six months were exhausting. Thankfully he’s in good physical condition. He says, “I may be a one-term prime minister. So be it. But I need to do the best for the country and take the political cost.” Here’s someone who’s not fluffing it, he’s taking it on the face. Maybe in 10 years the Greek people will recognize what he did.

Constantinos Antonopoulos, CEO of INTRALOT, a firm specializing in automated gambling games.

Constantinos Antonopoulos. (Iason Athanasiadis/GlobalPost)

A few years ago, I was under a lot of pressure to buy these exotic toxic products that I didn’t get. If someone with a mathematical background like myself couldn’t understand them, I was thinking that something was wrong. But at the time everyone called me conservative and not a good businessman because I wasn’t leveraging the company enough. I was being advised to take debt to the company and give value to my shareholders. Why should I do that, I thought? The next day they would all sell and leave.

And that’s what was happening on a grander scale in Greece: we were living by borrowing money. We followed the western style of growth by leveraging the country, the companies and the people but without producing as much as the others. And this in a society where our parents’ generation considered getting a loan shameful.

If the U.S. wants to take that model, that’s fine, because they have their own currency and can devalue. But we can’t pull it off.

If we take Greece as an enterprise and examine its balance sheet, sales are less than expenses and there’s a big debt. But if I could bring an American CEO, of the type who like to save companies, and task him with turning the country around, he would love his job because there’s a lot he could do.

You don’t need a million people in the public sector. And Greece is not like Portugal where most of the money’s on the table: it has a gray economy that makes up 40 percent of its real economy and incredible unexploited assets. Legalize the gray economy and you have a larger GDP and greater tax income. Everyone here is a freelancer who tax evades — not just electricians and plumbers but also doctors and lawyers.

This country has signed a contract with the IMF and the EU that we will deliver something within three years. We did this once before, signing a contract with an independent international body called the IOC [International Olympic Committee] in order to deliver a large project [the Athens 2004 Olympics] against regular, quarterly inspections, complete with yellow and red cards.

This "company," Greece, achieved a similar situation six years ago. We passed a special law that allowed investments to be run efficiently without involving searches for antiquities and other this-and-that. So now we need to run another Olympic Games. What we need is people from the private sector to run things.

Say we accomplish 100 projects successfully, the psychology of the entire investment community will turn. Greece is the most beautiful empty land; bureaucracy has turned it into Jurassic Park! Imagine having those Four Seasons resorts in our islands for which permits were never granted! The crisis has changed the people’s mentality and everything that was untouchable before can now be done because the people are panicking.

The paradox is that they’re telling us that a society cannot live without a banking system. Yet it’s that same banking system that’s attacking our economy! Nobody is shorting Greece for Greece’s sake. They’re attacking the euro to drive it lower. Even in Brussels, no one is admitting it but they all want a weak euro.

They pretend the reason for the drop is the wealthy northerners bailing out the weak south but $1.50 to the euro is also bad for exports. Don’t forget that Greece is holding just $8 billion of CDS loans — that’s peanuts!

Giannis Giokas, 31, is one of the youngest members of parliament and represents the Communist Party. The son of schoolteachers, he donates his salary to the Communist Party. Greece has the most vigorous Communist Party in Europe. It holds 22 out of 300 seats in parliament.

Giannis Giokas. (Iason Athanasiadis/GlobalPost)

We in the Communist Party of Greece believe that people are not responsible for this deficit and debt. The crisis is an opportunity in order to move faster on implementing tough measures that hit workers and are being put in place in Portugal and Spain too.

Greece is caught in a struggle between two great powers and rival economic systems — the spending model of the U.S. and the thrift-based system of Germany. Our country is in the crossroads between the Middle East the Balkans and North Africa and where the contradictions between multinational companies and big capitalist countries come through.

In the past two years, billions were given from state budgets to support banks and other big monopolies through direct support or tax breaks. The 22 million euros given by the previous government to banks could have gone to education, salaries and pensions. We don’t agree with the idea that the banks are too big to fail, especially when they are still making millions in profits.

The idea that somehow it’ll be in the favor of the people if we return to growth and development is another illusion. Between 2002 and 2008, Greece had a high development rate that was above the eurozone average. But that time coincided with the greatest attack on social, educational and labor rights.

It’s time to discuss another way of development that’ll serve people’s needs and not the capitalist class. We call it a people’s economy, where the means of production will be under social and not private ownership — and the economy will be centrally planned because crisis is inevitable in an economy characterized by anarchy.

The Communist Party is fighting for the disengagement of our country from the EU and organizations like NATO because we don’t think that its engagement is in the favor of the Greek people. Any recovery under present conditions will be weak and will prepare a more acute future crisis. Wars, famines and other crises will continue and become even more pronounced in the future.

If this crisis has shown something, it is the historical limits of this system as described by Marx and Lenin. The big question is, what will it be replaced by? Will it be a more adjusted form of capitalism?

It’s a tradition here in Greece to adopt the worst measures during the summer because people are in a holiday mood. But when September comes and they have to buy things for their children to go to school, they will realize how bad the situation is.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/europe/100708/greece-economic-crisis-financial-shipping