Two random thoughts about Greece and Italy

Having done a flying visit through the Mediterranean, I’m scarcely in any position to make far reaching comments about the towns or countries I visited.  Nevertheless, I do feel competent to offer two very specific comments, one about Greece and one about Italy.

Throughout our visit to Greece, there was a nationwide taxi strike taking place.  The air in Athens was unusually clear, thanks to the decreased traffic.  Transportation was slightly more difficult than it would have been with taxis, but certainly not impossible.  Everyone on the cruise ship seemed to manage fine using Hop On Hop Off buses (in Athens), private buses, private tours, cruise tours, and public transportation.  In other words, the missing taxis were inconvenient, but not an insurmountable problem.

As best I was able to understand, the taxi drivers were protesting the fact that the Greek government, in an effort to expand employment opportunities, was making taxi licenses more readily available.  In order to show their disdain for this maneuver, the taxi drivers stopped working during peak tourist season.  Let me rephrase that:  During a total economic collapse in their country, the taxi drivers walked away from the money.

In Italy, too, people blithely walked away from money.  Let me explain:  August is the top tourist month in Rome.  If I had a store in Rome, I’d keep it open, just as I’d keep my store open here in America on December 26.  Only a fool closes shop when customers are banging at the door.  And believe me, tourists are customers.  They are desperate to spend money.  A lot of people on the cruise ship get off only to buy things.  They have no interests in the sights, traveling only to bring home foreign goodies.

Rome apparently has a lot of fools.  An enormous number of businesses were closed for all or part of August.  Nor am I talking about businesses that cater solely to the Rome community, such as law firms or insurance companies.  I’m talking about stores and restaurants, the kind of businesses that could benefit from an excitable, well-funded tourist trade.

I know that, despite acting foolish, neither the Italians nor the Greeks are actually fools.  Instead, they are citizens of welfare states.  They know that, no matter how much or how little they work, they’ll still have medical care, housing, food, education, free museum admissions, retirement care, etc.  The money earned for work is gilding-the-lily money.  It’s nice, but one can survive without it.  In theory, this freedom from want (want of health care, want of shelter, want of food, etc.) is a wonderful thing.  In fact, though, it is a disincentive to productivity which, inevitably, creates less productivity.  The downward spiral keeps on going.  Less productivity means less government revenue.  Less government revenue means the government has less ability to provide the health care, housing, food, education, free museum admissions and so on.  Suddenly, you end up like Greece or England:  no money, no benefits, and a citizenry that’s forgotten how to work.

Yes, I recognize that these are overarching generalizations, and that causation and correlation are not the same thing.  Nevertheless, it does seem to me that there’s a pattern here of walking away from economic opportunities because there’s no risk.  Oh, wait!  That’s wrong.  The risk is that the economic opportunities won’t come back.

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  • Gringo

    The Euros might reply that they are spiritually superior to the money-grubbing Americans, who are out to make as much money as they can. Just as the latifundia owners in Latin America didn’t have to grub for money like the materialistic Yanquis- they already had plenty to  live on. (Their peons, who were often literally starving to death, might have liked some economic  growth to trickle down to their level.)
     
    The Euros claim that the poor are better off in Europe than in the US because there is less inequality of income in Europe compared to the US. Yet the average poor person in America has more living space than the average European: 439 square feet of dwelling space per American poor person versus  396 sq. ft. of the average European.
    Europeans do not like having the above fact mentioned to them in response to their bleatings about “horrible inequality” in the US. Not at all.
     http://www.timbro.se/bokhandel/pdf/9175665646.pdf   EU vs. US: look for “dwelling space”

  • SADIE

     
    If I got this right…Greeks and Italians bite off the hand that feeds them and then not satisfied –  they chomp on their own to hands. Perfect – only thing left to do is cut off the nose to spite the face.
     
    Voila! A new tourist attraction. Of course, without a nose to “smell” the money and “no hands” to take it, they can always kicks themselves in the ass, once they make room for the foot by removing their heads.
     
     

  • Charles Martel

    SADIE is obviously a retired forensic pathologist.

  • SADIE

    Not to mention, a lousy proof-reader.
     
    they chomp on their own to hands. Make that two hands.
     

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    So now we got goon like SEIU Taxi Unions? Really?

  • Charles Martel

    A friend of mine who is Italian-American told me of his first business trip to Milan years ago. At a very tony cocktail party, he began discussing economics with a handsome, silver-haired Italian executive. Somehow the conversation fell to the ins and outs of tracking money and my friend commented about the need to keep good books. To which the man responded, “Yes, but which set?”

    Italy—which has a grasp on how to live life that is far superior to that of the Greeks—will probably be calling on that second set of books much more often over the next few years.

    As for the Greeks, who cares? A miserable peasant people whose enviousness makes them perfect socialists—and deserving victims of the same. 

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