13 11 / 2012
Ugh I remember this, but I can’t remember who it was! Paul Krugman maybe? Idk if it was him on that episode, but I think he’s talked about it before.
Yes, thank you! I never would’ve remembered that name.
11 11 / 2012
Does anyone remember the in-studio guest on Real Time with Bill Maher who talked about economic effects of deregulation in Ireland? He made the point that American politicians who are all about deregulation and laissez-faire economics should learn from Ireland’s mistake because it fucked up their economy.
Or maybe it was New Rules? I remember seeing a gif set of the conversation and now I can’t find it :(
17 6 / 2011
My hopeless voice crush on Kai Ryssdal compels me to listen to NPR’s Marketplace if I’m around a radio at 6:30 pm. Last night, the program discussed Greece’s precarious financial situation, and today, The Atlantic ran a piece about the lead up to what could be Worldwide Financial Meltdown II: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to Thessaloniki.
The piece traces the crisis back to a downgrade of Greece’s debt in the year 2000 and links to several articles explaining why the sovereign debt implosion will have global implications. We saw it coming, they argue, the evidence was right there in front of us, but we never put the pieces together until it was too late.
I could have told you that this was coming seven years ago, when I spent a few months living and studying in Athens during the spring of 2004 and I learned that Greeks give zero fucks about work, because work sucks and they believe people should spend their time doing things that do not suck. While this attitude can lead to increased levels of individual happiness, on an institutional or national level, it can lead to shit like sovereign debt default.
Some of you may recall that 2004 was also the year that the Greeks hosted the Summer Olympics, and that in the run up to the Olympics, Greece regularly made international news for being woefully, comically underprepared for the Games. Literally no observable work was being done for the first few months I was there (they put scaffolding up around the Parthenon and Erechtheion, and I never saw a soul in or around the scaffolding), except there were big banners everywhere advertising the fact that the Olympics were coming. My study abroad program’s classroom building was right next to the 1896 Olympic Stadium and, apart from the scrub job the workers did on the white marble structure, I saw no work being done there, either.
Then, an international news story about how ground hadn’t even been broken on the new stadium yet. Uproar! Greeks started getting worried that they’d embarrass themselves. So they tore up the sidewalks in my neighborhood and replaced them with new, uglier sidewalks that looked like the tops of red and yellow lego bricks. My neighborhood was nowhere near any of the Olympic events and only really had a couple of hotels (this is the only one that I can think of) that could hold Olympic visitors.
Other not-getting-ready-for-the-Olympics-related things that happened when I was there:
- Construction strike over the fact that, since they were so behind on the Olympics stuff, their workday would have to increase to 5.5 hours.
- Prostitute strike
- Plans to rehab the exteriors of the historical buildings in Plaka (near the Acropolis) were scrapped and instead of fixing the buildings, they just put up a big banner over the buildings with a picture of how the buildings would look if they were refurbished.
- Riots and demonstrations in Thessoloniki over god knows what.
- Instead of repaving the streets in Monastiraki, they just slapped the pavement equivalent of grout onto the roads.
- Big debate about erecting a mosque in Athens. Not only does Greece have a lot of historical hostility toward Turkey/the Ottomans, the Greeks hate outsiders (xenophobia is a Greek word for a reason) and they especially hate the displaced Albanians who live in the Omonia Square area. The Albanians are mostly Muslim, and the Greeks worried that a mosque would attract even more “A-L-B’s” (that’s what they called them, as a sort of mild slur) to their precious Orthodox country. Eventually, they built a mosque for use by Muslim athletes… at the very edge of one of the furthest flung suburbs, but not without much drawn out, impassioned arguing.
Meanwhile, the stadium had not been built. By the time I left in mid-May, there was a pole sticking out of the ground. A really big one! The Opening Ceremonies were scheduled to occur in the first half of August. The situation looked grim.
They ended up scrapping a lot of their restoration plans for non-Olympic venues and not even really following the plans to finish others, but somehow, they pulled it off; the Olympics came and went and Greece was sort of ready thanks to some last minute magic and the blessings of Poseidon.
I learned from the experience of watching Greeks do barely more than nothing from January to mid-May of the year they were hosting the Summer Olympics that the culture of Greece does not put getting shit done at the top of its priority list.
It’s not that they’re lazy; it’s that working isn’t something they value that much. It’s not even their second priority. They value family, food, drink, socializing, and being Greek. Not making, doing, building, connecting with non-Greeks, unless the non-Greeks are interested in listening to why being Greek is great. If there’s anything Greeks love, it’s sitting around and smoking cigarettes while staring at people (or napping. Siesta time there is strictly enforced). If anything threatens their ability to do that, say, a financial crisis, or the Olympics, or some new rule that requires them to work outside of the hours of noon to 3 pm, they will riot. They’re not hard workers without a lot of arm-twisting and the urgency of potential international embarrassment.
To paraphrase something David Sedaris once wrote, they build the Parthenon and called it a day. This current crisis does not surprise me at all, and you can bet your bottom drachma that we haven’t heard the end of this mess.