Advancing a Free Society

Which Way Greece?

Friday, February 10, 2012

One question that rarely arises about Greece is “where did all those hundreds of billions of Euros really go?” I think most visitors could easily answer that they were not all squandered on pensions and inflated government staffs and salaries. The Greece of 1975 was changed into a simulacrum of northern Europe by all sorts of vast public-works projects — new bridges, port facilities, freeways, museums, light rail, the Athens subway and airport, new agricultural projects, as well as hundreds of luxury hotels well outside Athens and thousands of upscale vacation homes dotting the Greek coastline for 1,000 miles. Suddenly, by around 2002, a Mercedes seemed far more common in Athens than in most cities in California, and yachts in the harbors looked about like those in Newport Beach.

Whether due to Hellenic accounting fraud that masked an enormous rip-off, or a cynical German mercantilism that wanted to sell its cars, trucks, and machines to the indigent whose borrowing was to be backed up by EU guarantees — or to both — a tiny country not particularly known for labor productivity, tax compliance, transparency, or a robust private sector for a moment obtained a glimpse of life as it is lived in Northern Europe.

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