Monday, July 4, 2011
We are not Greece
Don’t let the Tea Party nuts convince you that we are, like Greece, on the brink of collapse. We are most certainly not Greece.
In Greece, petty bribery is a way of life. Want to see a dentist, get a building permit, hire a plumber, have a phone line installed, you pay a bribe. According to one study, every Greek pays an average of 1,800 Euros a year in these everyday petty bribes.
In Greece, tax evasion is the national sport. No one pays taxes unless they are employed by the government or a large corporation and therefore have to – not doctors, not lawyers, not small business owners, and not average citizens.
No two sources seem to agree on the minimum retirement age in Greece, but the guesses range from 53 to 61 with those in “arduous” professions, like waitress or hairdresser, able to retire even earlier. Then you start getting a generous government pension or Social Security.
Greece is a small country of about 11 to 12 million people, one-30th the population of the United States. Yet it has one of the highest rates of public employment in the world and public sector employees receive salaries twice as high as those in the private sector, or possibly three times as high if you take bribes into account.
According to excellent article in the Oct. 1, 2010 Vanity Fair, the average state railroad employee receives 65,000 Euros a year ($94,000 at today’s conversion rate), but the railroad runs a 600 million Euro annual deficit.
One really interesting concept in Greece is 13 and 14-month paychecks. These are essentially large end-of-the-year and summer “bonuses” that make up much of the annual salaries of public sector employees. Let’s not try it here.
There are a lot of other statistics I could throw at you, like ratio of debt to GNP (way higher than ours), VAT (sales) tax (21 percent), but you get the picture: when you combine so much corruption and governmental largesse with such a small tax base, lack of revenue and mismanagement, you get the mess that is Greece.
Now the people of Greece are rioting because the country has to enact “austerity” measures. Guess what they are? Raising the retirement age to 65, freezing or cutting public employee salaries and government pensions to more reasonable levels, laying off some public workers, allowing private employees to lay off more workers, selling off publicly owned utilities, raising taxes and actually enforcing tax collection.
That’s pretty much the same things that the rest of the developed, democratic countries of the world, including the United States, already do. Most of these measures will strengthen the Greek economy, allowing it to grow jobs.
Greece is what socialism run amok looks like. The United States government is not socialism run amok, despite the histrionic protestations of the Tea Party ilk.
On the other hand, our large multinational, privately owned corporations and their wealthy owners do look an awful lot like socialism run amok.
Corporations don’t pay petty bribes, they pay very large bribes to elect politicians who will do their bidding, they are masters at evading taxes, and they pay their CEOs and other executives obscene sums even when they grossly mismanage their companies. Their political lackeys reward them for taking most of our jobs overseas. But they can still count on American taxpayers to bail them out.
Our besieged Middle Class can do absolutely nothing about any of that because we can’t compete with corporate money for the loyalty of our politicians. And when we do redress the balance just a tiny bit, like health care reform, the corporations and their political lapdogs go nuts.
In our corporate world, loss is socialism, to be shared by all, but profit is private, to be enjoyed by a few.
Maybe we should do a little rioting of our own.