Reforms Now!

Nicholas Economides
By Nicholas Economides
Inertia has been a key feature of the Greek State for many decades. It is not just the result of laziness but is also deliberate and calculated. Everything possible is done not to harm existing interests, be they of unions, of oligopolies, and of various petty party favors. For decades, public life has been dominated by corruption and appointments of mediocre party hacks in the vast public sector, even at key positions of the Fire Department, the Police, and Military.

Does Greece lose in competition with foreign countries? It does not matter! We can use borrowed money. Do we lose under pressure from Turkey? It does not matter, “justice is on our side”! The chorus repeats: it is the fault of the Americans, the Germans, Trump’s, Turkey’s, etc. It could not be our fault, we are infallible! The psychological state of mind in Greece is: “justice is on our side,” but “the big interests” are against us, therefore we cannot accomplish anything. If only we could make Merkel like us; if Biden gets elected, all will be solved. Therefore, why should we bother working hard? We can let things stay as they are. Huge long run mistakes in foreign policy are not even discussed. Agreements on the maritime Exclusive Economic Zone with Italy and Egypt were delayed for decades without reason.

Greece faces repeated defeats in foreign policy because it does not have a lobby in the United States, while Turkey spends $80-100 million a year for influence in Congress and the White House. Greece needs to spend yearly at least half the amount Turkey spends, a tiny amount when there is a serious discussion of spending $3 billion for a single military ship, an amount over 60 times larger. As long as Greece does not have a lobby, we remain in a state of fatalistic psychological analysis emphasizing personalities and not policies. Greece is relying on the political influence of Greek Americans and Greek American organizations. These organizations do heroic efforts to influence American public opinion and politicians, especially in conjunction with Armenian, Christian, and Jewish organizations. While the activism of these public interest groups is necessary, it has limits. They are no substitute for a full-fledged Greek lobby. In that context, the frequent commentaries in Kathimerini that applaud the “very significant” political influence of Greek Americans create false hopes.

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Nicholas Economides is a Professor of Economics at NYU Stern School of Business.