The moral condemnation directed towards the Greeks is the saddest aspect of this financial crisis, and it says a lot more about the givers than the receivers. Just like the smell of burning books, the demonisation of entire populations and a 'we good, they bad' mentality is an unmistakeable manifestation of pathology. Lacking the intelligence or the interest to understand what the hell is going on, the morally outraged resort to silly stories and juvenile good/evil dichotomies to make sense of the world.
Richard Parker, the Harvard economist, has an interesting article in the FT:
Greece desperately needs reforms. Mr Papandreou knew this well before the crisis, as did most Greeks. But the larger problem was the panic that swept over Europe and the easy moralising that financial crises evoke. Greeks were cast as tax-evaders, lazy and anti-business, their government as over-indebted, bloated and corrupt – a situation that required castor oil and humiliation.
But almost none of the moralising clichés were true. Greek taxes were more than a third of gross domestic product, near the European average. And if Greeks were anti-business, why then were there more small entrepreneurs per capita than anywhere else in Europe? Government was not bloated in terms of employees – at a fifth of the labour force, it was about the European average. Corruption was clearly a problem, but our data showed it was concentrated – incomprehensibly to non-Greeks – in the health sector, where minor “gifts” to doctors secured early scheduling of surgeries.
Two more facts to add here. One, Greeks work amongst the highest number of hours of all OECD countries. Two, while there is a lot of tax evasion in Greece (together with high tax rates so that overall tax take is comparable to elsewhere), this has to do with the fact Greece has a relatively large number of small, family businesses. The Germans have as much inherent propensity to tax evade as the Greeks.