Greek to Me

A certain short-sightedness surrounds American university Greek life. Fraternities and sororities undoubtedly have some benefits, but they also tend to perpetuate a “live for the moment / party while you can” mentality. For, as Mark Wills sings, you will soon have “a mortgage and an SUV and all this responsibility” and you’ll wish you were back on fraternity row.

The nation of Greece has exhibited the same myopia as the fraternities and sororities its alphabet names. The Greeks have lived for the moment, so to speak, spending feverishly on entitlements and benefits while investing sparingly in the future. The rest of Europe and the IMF (including the United States) now get to foot the bill. A modern Greek tragedy, if you will.

The most striking statistic that I have seen in this tragedy: Greece’s public sector employs 40% of its total workforce. No wonder taxes and public debt are high, productivity is low and a move to cut government spending leads to blood in the streets.

Besides the obvious lack of humanpower, why else is Greece’s private sector so weak? Why does the Greek economy generate sub-3% growth rates in non-recession times while ours and other nations grow at plus 4%? Simply put, Greece is not open for business.

Take the 2010 World Bank “Doing Business” survey. Greece ranked 109th in the world in ease of doing business generally; 140th in starting a business; 147th in employing workers. Its best ranking? 43rd. The category? Closing a business. What an accomplishment. 

With the pending European Union bailout, the Greeks will live to protest another day, but it will take more than a bailout to right the ship permanently. The Greeks must muster the individual sacrifice and collective determination of their ancestors to check their public sector and catalyze their private sector.

Greece will need the courage of Thermopylae to wean its citizens from the nanny state. An intangible public debt crisis may not be impetus enough. It may take a force the power of Persia to achieve the feat.

The question for us half a world away is: What are we learning from Greece’s and Europe’s weaknesses? Do we believe we are immune to their trials? Do we know we aren’t and just not care? Do we see traces of their plights in Albany, Sacramento and other bigger-spending, slower-growing U.S. states?

It’s Greek to me why Team Obama wants to lead us toward a tax-and-spend social democracy the likes of which are crumbling under their own weight overseas. Surely someone on the squad understands the unfolding Big Fat Greek Economics Lesson. Surely someone wants to learn from Greece’s grief before it becomes our own.


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