10 Ways the Greek People Can Save Themselves
The tragedy that is Greek democracy has entered its final act. Nothing can save the Greek government. Nothing can save the Greek banks. Nothing can keep Greece on the euro. But the Greek people still have the power to save themselves.
Last summer, I penned a column in Forbes titled "Give Greece What It Deserves: Communism." It generated an outpouring of bile from offended Greeks, many of whom blamed everyone but themselves for their troubles. The most recent Greek elections ignited another round of hateful accusations, along with the question, "What would you do to solve the problem?" Here is my answer.
1) Do not look to the government for solutions. As a certain wise president once said, government is the problem. Your best hope is for it to remain hobbled, impotent, and divided. Your worst nightmares will come true if angry Greek voters hand power to extremists of either the left or right.
2) Get your money out of Greek banks NOW. Don't be the last fool whose euro life savings are decimated as they are forcibly converted into drachmas.
3) Stick with the euro after the government brings back the drachma. Let them pay civil servants with drachmas. Let them pay government pensions with drachmas. Let government owned companies pay employees with drachmas. Let them collect taxes in drachmas, and pay bondholders the same way. But as much as possible, run your lives and businesses with euros, dollars, or sterling, which will continue to circulate. When it comes time to pay your taxes, any genuine reserve currency will buy drachmas by the bushel basket.
4) Go on strike against all labor laws and business regulations. If you want to start a business, just do it. Hire employees at will. Pay them whatever the market will bear, ask them to work for as many hours as you mutually agree, and fire them if they don't produce. Pay no attention to any rules and regulations beyond the law of supply and demand. Make the customer king. If Greeks who still know how to work don't get a healthy black market up and running quickly, the whole country will starve.
5) Tar and feather government officials that ask for a bribe or try to shut down your business. Smashing Starbucks windows is idiotic. Direct those inclined to violence to vent their rage at the source of your country's misery. Make a few examples out of government leeches and the rest will leave you alone.
6) Do not let union thugs intimidate you. The Greeks are courageous people, with a long history of resisting oppression. But they are not so good at figuring out who their real oppressors are. If you start or run a business and are threatened by unions because you refuse to accede to their demands, fight back. They are largely to blame for the economic destruction of your country and have no right to tell you how to live and work.
7) Be nice to tourists. Let's face it; Greece is not an export powerhouse. But you can offer the world a nice vacation. Don't spoil it for anyone brave enough to visit. While German taxpayers may be tired of lending you money, German tourists looking for a bargain can fill the void. And instead of their euros getting swallowed by crooked bankers and politicians, you can put them directly into your own pockets.
8) Take care of your own family. Every extended family in Greece has members living off the fat of the government. When that river of largess runs dry, they will come to you for help. Feed their mouths but not their anger, as their cushy government jobs-and the sense of entitlement they create-were a huge part of the problem. If they are still young enough to work, help them become productive by saying goodbye to life on the government payroll.
9) Accept responsibility. The source of your misery is you. You got the governments you voted for. You got the public sector jobs you thought you deserved. You got the bloated pensions you demanded. Don't blame the idiots who were stupid enough to lend you money and finally decided that enough is enough. No one cares about the glory of your ancestors 2,000 years ago. If you want to live in today's world you cannot consume more than you produce.
10) Get out if you can. If the opportunity arises, do what millions of other Greeks have done over the generations, including my grandparents. Vote with your feet. Greeks are incredibly successful and hard working everywhere except in Greece. It's not your genes that are holding you back; it's your political culture.
Democracy becomes a cancer if its powers are not limited. That is because a sustainable democracy requires not just votes, but also governing institutions that protect the rights of minorities against predatory majorities. The disease of voters voting themselves benefits at someone else's expense has infected much of the world. Greece provides a stark example of what happens when a government runs out of other people's money. If the rest of us don't take heed while there is still time, we will all end up like you.
Good luck. As my yiayia used to say "Συν Αθηνά και χείρα κίνει" (which loosely translated means, "God helps those who help themselves.") OK, so maybe it was Ben Franklin who said it. But the advice is still timeless.