Monday 27 August 2012

Acropolis Museum Full Moon Event: Friday, 31 August

Οn Friday 31 August, the Acropolis Museum in Athens is holding a full moon special event. It starts at 21:30 (09:30 pm). 

More information available here:

Sunday 26 August 2012

“Greece is not lost!”

This morning I woke up to see the FT running this main headline (on “Greece not lost say Merkel and Holland.”

Yet judging by the policies forced through by France and Germany these past 2.5 years, I honestly wonder if this is not the case: if Greece is not lost.

These policies have been so far removed from what passes as rational debt restructuring and economic recovery that one can only conclude that either the Eurozone has made a series of monumental errors, or is actually in investing in Greece’s destruction.

A summary of main errors:

·       The “structural reforms” in the first bailout (May 2010) do not convincingly account for the interest costs of Greece’s debt. The expenditure cuts and revenue generated do not equal interest costs. They do not make a provision for either higher interest rates, which were already very visible in January 2010, or for a cut-off of lending due to lower credit ratings.   

·       The Eurozone component replaced cheaper debt with more expensive debt, and a longer debt maturity with a shorter debt maturity. Greece’s average interest rate of all debt prior to the bailout was below 3.5%; the Eurozone priced its loans at 5%. The weighted average maturity was 7.8 years; the Eurozone replaced it with 5 years.

·       The first bailout allowed Greece to run deficits to 2015, but assumed a return to the markets in 2012.

·       The first bailout replaced debt discounted by the private sector by at least 25% with full face value, plus interest. An opportunity to reduce the debt by at least EUR 60 billion was lost. This was also a tremendous give-away to the banks. Coincidentally, French and German banks had the highest debt exposure to Greece at the time.

·       The first bailout occurred in May, when the Troika knew full well that the official debt number did not include all the hidden debt in the system, which was in the process of being consolidated.

·       There is no prioritisation of “liberalisation” or “reform” issues in the first bailout. Many of these are unworkable or have no economic benefit – for instance taxi liberalisation – and have never been done in Germany, France, or the United States, where a system very similar to the Greek one remains in place. Much of this useless regulatory experimentation has little to do with the real business world.

·       Greece rapidly became the enfant terrible of the German and wider European political system, with politicians outdoing themselves to insult Greece, using “facts” which in most cases were untrue. As long as Greece was the black sheep, European politicians thought they could stop the contagion from spreading. Contagion has now reached their doors, yet they seem unable to open their eyes to the facts.

·       The second bailout was kicked off with a disastrous German insistence that the private sector take a 50% “haircut” on its Greek government bond holdings. This was disastrous for two reasons:

·       The first was that the private sector was already offering a 25% discount voluntarily. Having a 50% haircut rammed through, while keeping official debt senior and without a haircut, has challenged the most basic assumption in the international financial sector in terms of sovereign lending. One of the main reasons private investors now shun most European sovereign debt is precisely because of this.

·       The second problem was that only in Europe can you have a EUR 100 billion “haircut” which actually doesn’t add up to EUR 100 billion. This amount does not include the EUR 20 billion cash “sweetener” given to the banks, and a further EUR 40 billion given to the Greek banks for recapitalisation. This additional EUR 60 billion was of course added to Greece’s sovereign debt. So the net benefit of the second bailout was a EUR 40 billion bailout, which is equivalent to less than 3 years of interest on Greece’s “new” debt of EUR 320 billion.

·       The second bail-out was accompanied by a requirement to privatise EUR 50 billion in assets, comprising EUR 15 billion in state companies and EUR 35 billion in property between October 2011 and December 2015. This Eurozone demand ignores the fact that there has not been another privatisation programme in history which met its targets given this time frame, asset value and economic environment.  And since every week another German politician is trashing Greece or speculating about a Greek exit, it becomes obvious that privatisation will be much more difficult than originally planned. This was clear even to journalists on the eve of the Eurozone decision.

·       The problems at the institutional level remain, as recently seen with the EUR 3.2 billion ECB bond redemption implemented last week. Greece did not have EUR 3.2 billion, so it sold treasury bills at a 4-month interest rate of 4.43% to repay the ECB at full face value. The ECB, however, purchased these in the secondary market, with at roughly 25% discount. So Greece winds up paying 4.43% interest for 4 months to retire this debt, while the ECB (which lent EUR 1 trillion to private banks at 1%), makes windfall profits.

Honestly speaking, you probably couldn’t design a system this bad if you tried. 

This litany of errors is not to say that Europe does not (or did not) actually want to help Greece. I genuinely believe this was the case, although now I’m sure they regret this decision.

But the core problems remains:

·       Europe is trying to solve this crisis replacing debt with debt, rather than accepting a real debt restructuring (which in 2010 would have created major problems for French and German banks, but would have been far more manageable that what has occurred since then).

·       In order to avoid banking problems, they have saddled European taxpayers with refinancing Greece’s debt, but in parallel are doing just about everything possible to denigrate Greece, poisoning the climate in Europe while assuring that key elements in the Greek programme—privatisation—fail.

·       Rather than taking rapid decisions, the “reform” programme takes too long, and is packed with irrelevant “structural reforms” such as taxi liberalisation which will not work in an economic depression or even in a healthy economy.

·       Interest costs have been totally miscalculated.

To be fair, many aspects of the reform programme has met with resistance from Greece every step of the way, as illustrated by flip-flops on the labour reserve and other issues. And Greece under George Papandreou appeared to have even less understanding of economic realities than the Troika did (and does).

Greek society has also not been in favour of real reforms, placing their faith in statist demagogues who do more to deceive than to offer real solutions. And tax evasion remains rampant, a sure recipe for failure.

The next four years will be extremely painful for Greece, as yet further expenditure cuts and tax increases are implemented. The good news is that a primary surplus is in sight, and will focus attention more than ever on the fact that interest costs will probably double in 2013, rendering the Troika’s budget unworkable. A reluctance to accept this now may be replaced with a willingness to see common sense next year.

In the meantime, we can expect a further Greek GDP decline of 6.5% in 2012, unemployment at 25% by the end of the year, and continued business closures. By 2013, fully 10% of Greek GDP and 20% of government spending will be interest costs.

This is the result of Troika policy, and I look forward to seeing what creative excuses Francois Holland and Angela Merkel will come up with next year to justify this and blame Greece in the process.

But remember: “Greece is not lost”.

© Philip Ammerman, 2012

Saturday 25 August 2012

University of Chicago Estimate on Under-Reported Income in Greece, 2009

Kathimerini* recently published the conclusions of a recent study by the University of Chicago which estimated the level of undeclared income by independent professionals in Greece at EUR 28 billion in 2009. This estimate was arrived at by comparing the level of debt service paid by a sample of these professionals (e.g. loan payments, credit card payments) to their actual income. Two of the three professors implementing the study were Greek.
Some of the conclusions of the study are the following:

·       Borrowers were making monthly debt service payments greater than their monthly declared income;

·       Banks were approving loans not on the basis of declared income, but on the amount they believed the independent professional could repay;

·       On average, the real income was 1.92 times higher than what was actually declared as tax income.

On this basis, tax evasion via undeclared incomes in Greece was estimated at EUR 28 billion, assuming that salaries employees have no opportunity to evade tax due to taxes being with-held at source. (There are actually many ways salaries employees and their employers avoid tax, but we can leave this for another post).

The study assumes that if this amount had been taxed, the government would have a further EUR 11.2 billion in income.

This problem is very well known: in this blog, I posted four simple means of eliminating this problem in my article A Consultant’s Guide to Tax Auditing. Part 1: How to Identify under-reported Income of March 14, 2010:

Step 1: Request from each bank branch a list of the 1,000 largest personal accounts, in terms of cash flow (deposits and withdrawals), including the name, address, ID number and tax identification number (AFM) of the account holder.

Step 2: Cross-check the volume of incoming cash to total income declared in the annual tax declarations of these same individuals.

Step 3: If a disparity is detected, freeze their bank accounts until the account holders come in to their local tax office to justify the disparity.

Step 4: Tax the difference between income reported and income incurred at the prevailing tax rate, with the tax to be paid in 12-24 months installments, and the bank account freeze lifted only once this agreement has been signed, and the first payment has been made.

This relatively simple method removes the needs to visits to specific professions, and removes the risk that the members of the Hellenic Tax Authority “adjust” the results of the audit in exchange for bribes.

This is a data-based check, so it can be done quickly, and cannot be changed through the forgery of historical data.

This is also important, because it sends a clear signal to banks that they cannot continue to facilitate large-scale money-laundering and under-reporting of income. The role of even state banks in this area is endemic, and must be stopped.

While some steps in this direction have been taken, there has not been a systematic approach to it. SDOE, the tax police, has made efforts at finding and taxing the most egregious offenders, but it is not at all clear how effective this attempt has been both in terms of coverage as well as actual resources collected. 

Implementing the systematic approach described above for bank accounts over the past 5 years would quickly and decisively reveal both under-reported income as well as actual financial resources. 

* Thanks to Lefteris Stavroloulos for bringing this article to my attention.

© Philip Ammerman, 2012

Sunday 19 August 2012

Visiting Naxos

My summer vacation this year consisted of 1 week in Naxos, in a beautiful hotel on the Agios Giorgos beach just outside Hora, the main town. Although brief, it did me a world of good.

So many things struck me about what I saw in Naxos, I thought it would be worth sharing in the middle of an otherwise very bleak economic and political landscape.

Hotel Economics
Reservations were done through, which is definitely changing the structure of tourism bookings in Greece and so many other countries. A room for two cost EUR 80 per night, including all taxes and breakfast. Taking into account the hotel night VAT of 6.5% and the commission rate of 18%, and exempting the breakfast VAT calculation, the hotel is clearing about EUR 61.5 per night on the deal, before operating expenses. Anyone who thinks that hotel prices have not been affected by the crisis should think again.

Price / Value Relationship
Excellent. The hotel is a low-built complex of about 35 units, using traditional architecture, very extensive gardens, a swimming pool, common areas, etc. located just 20 meters from the furthest part of Aghios Giorgios beach with an unrestricted sea view towards Paros.

Occupancy and Guest Mix
Nearly full. Guests from Germany, France, Italy, Austria, England and Greece, based on observation, in order from highest number of guests to lowest number of guests. Most were families. What was remarkable was the friendliness and absence of hostility. The anti-German images so common in Athenian press were thankfully absent.

Huge progress made since the first time I visited Naxos in 1998. Every hotel or bar/restaurant takes a hand in organising a concert or event at least one night per week. Our hotel had “Greek night", which meant a buffet dinner and three rembetathes (fantastic music for me, met with indulgent incomprehension but tremendous good will on the part of the foreign tourists). The beach bar on the corner organised an evening rock party on the beach, with Rolling Stones and other covers (can’t do better than that on a Greek summer holiday). Pony trekking, windsurfing, kite surfing, yachting excursions, cooking lessons, concerts at the castle, used book stores: the private sector everywhere seems to understand the need to offer activities. The public sector is, as in my previous post, almost entirely absent.

Local Products
There has been a major effort to promote and use local products. Several hotels and restaurants mention this in their menus, and actually support it judging by the ingredients used. In 1998, the only local product venues in Hora were a cheese-seller and the ubiquitous Kitro Vallindras. This has since expanded, with at least 7 retailers focussing on traditional and Greek products, and doing good business (but with limited seasonality).

A killer – the absolute bane of the Greek hotel and wider tourism sector. Most hotels in Naxos are open from the beginning of May to the end of September, but hit occupancy over 80-85% only in July and August. Having visited Naxos in the off-season, I can attest that nearly everything is closed before Easter and in late October. And having done any number of hotel feasibility studies, I can also attest that seasonality and occupancy are the single greatest detriment to hotel investment plans. This is the main failing of the public sector, and particularly of Greece’s national tourism strategy. Unless it is redressed, for instance through promotional campaigns, better access infrastructure, and real destination management, the Greek tourism sector will continue to operate sub-optimally in financial terms.

Hotel Infrastructure
As mentioned in a number of other posts, the problem is not so much hotel availability as it is hotel overcapacity. This is exacerbated by the fact that seasonality is so low. It would be a mistake to continue to fund new hotel starts using EU Structural Funds. The challenge at this point is to upgrade the infrastructure and services in existing hotels, which is very difficult given how some properties were built, and to expand seasonality. There needs to be a real tourism development plan for the island to address issues such as infrastructure and promotion, and there needs to be a real national tourism development / promotion plan, which is agreed to and implemented rationally.

Taxation and Tax Logic
Also operating sub-optimally. We ate at several restaurants which were giving false receipts or no receipts at all. The hotel provided us with a legal receipt for the room nights, but not for the meals. In Athens, kiosks and small stores given receipts automatically: in Naxos not at all. This is despite the taxi driver complaining about “inspections by SDOE” (the financial police). It’s also clear that in addition to reducing the 23% VAT on restaurant meals, the government needs to reduce the 44% IKA/social security tax in order to promote legal employment, and take measures to redress seasonality. Most restaurants only fill up at dinner; most probably operate successfully less than 2 months per year.

Environment & Infrastructure
Extensive efforts have been made to keep beaches clean. Limited beach infrastructure has developed: a lifeguard station, portable toilets and showers have been added. There is a lack of parking places and sidewalks. What is a very depressing is the fact that all islands visited or seen have been totally denuded of forests. This is not a new phenomenon, but on an island like Naxos, which is over 50% granite and therefore provides for fertile areas, it is particularly sad. The situation is far worse on Mykonos, Andros or other islands where the bedrock is limestone. The authorities are clearly more oriented towards Blue Flag-style beach certifications than overall biodiversity and environment. 

The Greek islands still retain their charm: walking along Agios Giorgios beach at sunset remains an unforgettable and universal experience which transcends nationality, religion and the bitterness of the economic crisis. This natural beauty provides an unforgettable experience not just to retirees or mature tourists, but to children, teenagers and young adults.

This creates a unique opportunity to develop the Greek tourism product and its integral components the environment, architecture and culture as a cross-generational investment and responsibility rather than as a seasonal or short-term cash opportunity.

This also creates a unique opportunity to build the international goodwill needed to help Greece during this crisis as well as over the longer term.

The failure to recognise this is arguably one of the greatest failures not only of the Greek state, but of wider Greek society and the private sector. (I generalise: there are, of course, important exceptions to this).

While the private sector has made some attempts to improve the cultural and built environment (and has arguably done much to ruin it), the failure of the public sector to invest in this in a sustainable manner over the long term is incomprehensible. Development appears to take place despite public policy, not because of it, and is further undermined by the get-rich-quick mentality in the majority of the private sector. 

This is not to say that the public sector has not made important investments. When I first visited in 1998, there was no health centre, and the port facilities were rudimentary. Now, a health centre is operational (with limited functionality) and the port is better-staffed with port police to handle the peak traffic periods when the large ferry boats arrive. There is a new municipality building (also built with EU money). There is a ridiculous computerised tourist information office with three touch screens (which is a total mistake in approach) and the municipality closes of the seafront street in Hora in the evenings to provide a pedestrian promenade.

But in strategic and practical respects, there is nearly no presence:

·       Information about Naxos is provided by car rental firms or travel agencies. There is no unified website or physical guide to the island provided by either a tourism alliance or the municipality. This means that basic, updated information such as bus schedules or a guide to museums of Naxos is often fragmented or missing.

·       There is absolutely no cultural interpretation. How many tourists know that Naxos has been settled since Neolithic times, and has been mentioned in both Greek mythology as well as classical history? Naxos is associated with Ariadne, yet references to her are nearly non-existent. How many tourists have visited the quirky museum in Apiranthos, which includes some of the most interesting Neolithic and Cycladic exhibits in old wooden display cases? Where is the explanation of the Venetian period of Naxos (apart from its Wikipedia entry)? Why is so much of the Castle still a ruin, and not a museum?

·       Where is the attempt to differentiate Naxos as a destination, and “put it on the map” against other Cycladic destinations? Naxos is known for windsurfing. Why not organise a Naxos Regatta or Windsurfing competition? Where is the Naxos Jazz Festival or the Naxos Cooking Week?

·       Where is the content and information a tourist or a tourism professional can use to sell Naxos internationally or even domestically? Where is a simple, up-to-date hotel guide, ferry boat and flight guide to Naxos? How many hotels have conference facilities? Where can a summer tourist who wants to re-visit the island find how many hotels are open in November during school holidays, or the following Easter? 

·       Why is there no attempt to cross-sell basic information or services, such as a guide to investing in real estate in Naxos, and what a foreign investor would have to do to buy and house? This is a classic function of a chamber of commerce or a municipality, and it is totally absent: this space is dominated by real estate agents who function at various degrees of professionalism and self-interest.

·       Most importantly, if the public sector fails to address this, why hasn’t the private sector, which depends almost entirely on tourism, stepped up to fill the gap in a more objective and professional?

At the end of the day, a post-ideological analysis ignores whether the public or the private sector plays a leading role. What is undeniably necessary for the common good is to generate value for visitors and residents, while preserving and enhancing the culture and natural environment.

What is repeatedly noticeable in Greece is the failure of either side to take a collective, strategic approach to the development of such value, let alone the basic prerequisites to compete internationally. Thus, the infrastructure or services one would expect from a municipality, a tourism chamber or a development alliance are almost totally absent, despite the billions of EU funds theoretically available for such development.

Today, charm, improvisation and good will are no longer enough, while exhortations for solidarity and a large social state have clearly failed in Greece. The previous development model was based on a weak currency (the drachma), a sun-sea-sand tourist product, a Socialistic worship of big infrastructure projects, and tax evasion, and has clearly failed. It remains to be seen what will replace this, or if the voters and public officials of Greece accept that something different is needed.

(c) Philip Ammerman, 2012 

Sunday 5 August 2012

Reflections on a Night in Athens

The Tower of the Winds and Lycavittos

Yesterday evening I took the Metro to Syntagma Square and from there walked down Ermou Street into Monastiraki and Plaka. It was one of those typical mid-summer Athens evenings, where luckily the temperature was not too high. There were a good number of people out, tourists and Greeks, enjoying a Saturday evening and the mild weather. The Olympics were on flat screen TVs everywhere, but few people were watching. In Thisio, the Nigerian fake Vuitton brigade was out in force, as were panhandlers and peddlers of all kinds and nationalities.

One of my favourite walks is from the Roman Agora up the northern flank of the Acropolis to Theory Street, and from there westward to the main entrance of the Acropolis, then down to the Herod Atticus Odeon and Dionissiou Areopagitou Street. It’s not something I often have time for, but yesterday evening turned into one of those stolen moments in time, when life went from the unending series of deadlines and commitments to an evening of freedom for reflection.

Let me preface my writing with the fact that this is the section of Athens which the Municipality and various government ministries, particularly the Ministry of Antiquities, do their best to preserve. The historical responsibility as well as the seriousness of successive generations of political administrations should not be in doubt. So when discussing this area, we are discussing the “state of the art” as regards Greek and to a certain extend European cultural heritage. Their success is reflected in the fact that millions of people, Greeks and tourists, visit and work in this tiny area every year, without major damage to historical monuments which are an integral part of Greek and world civilisation.

Acropolis North Wall from the Roman Agora

The Persian Menace
As you look up at the northern curtain wall of the Acropolis, just to the left of the Erechtheion, you see the remains of column drums from the Old Temple which were used to rebuild the wall after the Persian destruction of Athens in 480 BC. Legend has it that Pericles placed these columns there to remind Athenians of the dangers of complacency and as a reminder of the Persian threat.

I often wonder what equivalent reminder Greece should place as a reminder of the dangers of domestic political corruption and the morally bankrupt statist approach behind the present debt crisis and in the very real “occupation” of the Greek state. It has always been easier for Greece to rally against a foreign invader: it has always been more difficult to manage the Greek polity in times of peace. This fundamental challenge is no closer to being resolved today than it was in the days of the Peloponnesian war or the power struggles of Periclean Athens.

The Mercouri Foundation

The Squandered Legacy
A little way further up the hillside, Polygnotou Street takes you to the right, where the Agora lies slumbering. The Melina Mercouri foundation building is on the left. This part of the centre reflects the squandered legacy of what could be. Magnificent buildings lie in ruin. Others have been taken over to house a vast apparatus connected with the Ephorate of Antiquities or the Ministry of Culture, which I have never in my life, night or day, seen to actually operate. There are private “Museums” and “Foundations” which never open (certainly not at the height of the tourist season, which would somehow be too logical); there are tens of other state buildings who’s purpose is unclear. What buildings have been renovated are defaced by graffiti or litter. It is impossible to think of the historical centre of Paris or London in the same way.

Let me be clear here: the actual budgetary cost of this is one reason Greece is bankrupt today. But the opportunity cost is far higher.

Colour Guard Retreat at the Propylea

Opening Hours
This is repeated when one actually reaches the height of Theory Street, and the entrance to the Acropolis. At 19:30 on a Saturday evening in August: the Acropolis is closed. It’s been closed since 15:00. This means that at the height of the tourist season, the hundreds of visitors streaming up the hill cannot visit a major monument to world civilisation. Instead, they can buy a bottle of ice water being sold illegally by a Pakistani immigrant.

Not a single thing stirs. The souvenir store and cantina outside the entrance are locked up. Inside the gates, a guard sits, his feet up, staring into space.

Up above, on the Propylea, the honour guard (barely visible in my photo) marches down the steps, having taken down the Greek flag. A solemn and moving moment, which none of the tourists or Greeks around me actually notice or understand.

If the Greek government could find a way to operate its monuments and physical infrastructure such as ports even half as efficiently as Public or Goody’s (both Greek companies) operate their stores, I believe the Greek state could be earning at least EUR 10 billion more in gross income each year. This is roughly half of Greece’s general government deficit, including interest costs.

Try one more thing: try to find the opening hours of the Acropolis online doing a Google search. Let me know what you come up with.

The Acropolis and the Herod Atticus Odeon (foreground)

The Empty Athens Festival
I crest the hill and walk down to the Herod Atticus Odeon. This is one of my favourite places in Athens, where I’ve seen Miles Davis, George Dalaras, Placido Domingo, Coriolanus, and many other artists and performances. To my vast surprise, it too is closed. The “Athens” component of the Athens-Epidavros festival is now over: the last performance was on July 27th. Apart from a few tourists taking photographs, the entire place is empty.

I just wonder exactly what logic is behind this. There’s good weather in Athens from May to October, 6 months of the year. The height of the tourist season is June to September. How is it possible that this place is closed? How is it possible that according to the Festival website, there were only 9 evenings of performances at the Odeon in June-July 2012? That’s 4.5 evenings per month.

Even in a financial crisis, there are ways of managing a venue to bring in revenue, particularly given the presence of corporate sponsors and tourists in a city of 4 million inhabitants. And yet, if I were to ask the receptionist at any of the major hotels we do business with, they would not be able to tell me what’s playing—because even if the “Athens Festival” had something playing, it would not have made the effort to market this via a simple email newsletter to the major hotels, embassies, companies and other potential client groups in Athens.

The Acropolis Museum: Stunning, and Closed

Dionissiou Areopagitou Street
The steps at the Herod Atticus lead south to Dionissiou Areopagitou Street, where the former Minister of Defence (and much else besides) Akis Tsochatzopoulos owns a house allegedly bought with bribery money. Skai News recently estimated that he must be implicated in bribery of over 2 billion Euro.

A little further is the Acropolis Museum—truly a stunning achievement. It’s closed.

And a little further back to the north is the Thissio district, which has been turned into a vibrant café area. Tonight it’s absolutely full. There are thousands of people packed into the open-air cafes and sitting up on balconies and rooftops. The contrast with the silent precincts of the Agora or the Acropolis or the Herod Atticus could not be greater.

Sunset over the Agora

It is this contrast between the state and the private sector in Greece which leaves me more disappointed with each passing year. I speak now not ideologically, but based on simple comparisons and results.

·       Why is it not possible to manage world-class sites in Greece with a little more vision and commercial benefit, without damaging the site or risking exploitation?

·       How is it possible that even now, three years into the gravest economic crisis Greece has known, the Greek government is still not examining the easy alternatives to valorising Greek culture and Greek heritage more effectively?

·       Why have previous initiatives, such as the “full moon” openings, or the vast knowledge of cultural management from other countries or organisations such as UNESCO or the Metropolitan Museum or the Louvre not continued or utilised?

·       How is it possible that organisations such as Goody’s or Public can stay open 2 shifts per day, even granted that private sector payrolls and working conditions are difficult, when major cultural sites such as the Acropolis can barely manage one?

·       How is it permissible that there is no easily-detectable website for the Acropolis? When, after much searching, you actually find the “Odysseus” site of the Ministry of Culture (also paid for with EU money), how is it possible that the site is in English and Greek, but not German, French, Spanish or Russian, given that these are major tourism source markets?

·       Is it surprising that according to a European Commission study, Greece has among the lowest economic contributions from culture in the European Union (1% of GDP in 2003)? Since this is entirely under national control, what measures is the Greek government taking to improve this revenue?

·       Given that tourism is so important to the economy, and given that Greece has agreed to support EU anti-counterfeiting laws, why are there Nigerian street vendors selling fake Vuitton bags every 100 meters on lower Adrianou street between Thissio and Monastiraki? How can this possibly still continue?

Obviously, I know the reason why all this is happening. I’m just shocked and disappointed that even now, there has been no visible change whatsoever.

The Greek state is locked in its primal archetype as the guarantor of cultural goods, delivered through public sector workers and a vast network of related organisations, institutes, foundations and companies linked to the Ministry of Culture, staffed by apparently very mediocre managers (to be polite), and without any kind of strategic vision which might actually improve the situation for Greek citizens and the 15 million tourists that visit Greece each year.

In the meantime, hospitals have run out of drugs; pensioners are starving and forced into massive bureaucratic contortions to receive basic medical care; unemployment has hit 22% (but the union members guarding the Acropolis can only work 1 shift); youth unemployment approaches 50%; the government has over EUR 6 bln in unpaid bills; thousands of companies are closing; and Greece still has the highest debt-to-GDP in Europe.

We can blame many people for this situation, but I don’t blame the Persians.

© Philip Ammerman, 2012