Greece’s largest morning circulation newspaper, Kathimerini, published the following Op-Ed on Saturday, August 28, 2010.
English translation below:
Light at the End of Greece’s Difficult Tunnel
By Andy Manatos and Andy Athens
Saturday, August 28, 2010
It may be difficult to see now, but there is light, bright light, at the end of the obstacle-filled economic tunnel through which Greece is now passing. In fact the light at the end of this tunnel is significantly brighter than at its entrance. How can this be?
The answer has two parts. The first part of the answer involves the fact that Greek people prosper in economies that are based on the merit of the individual or company – economies like those in America and Australia. For example, a Pew Foundation study found that in America, (an economy three times larger than China’s) Greek Orthodox citizens have higher income and education levels than all other religions, except for members of the Jewish faith.
But, one might ask, is Greece still the wellspring of such successful people or did America and Australia train Hellenes to perform so well? Relatively recent Greek immigrants to America and Australia outperform second and third generation Hellenes, proving that Greece is still the wellspring such performance.
In Greece, historical developments caused the economic system to become less based on merit and to become filled with a range of corruptions, thereby limiting the areas in which Greeks can flourish and lead the world. The fact that the Greek people could achieve a good standard of living amid decades of such corruptions is, in itself, a testament to their extraordinary abilities. As well, Greece’s ability to have already reduced by 40% its deficit compared to last year is another indication of an ability to accomplish difficult things. The elimination of corruptions in the Greek economy will unleash the country and its people.
There is no doubt in our minds that Greece will soon be one of the world leaders in some technologies and other fields. Look what happened to the Jewish people, who are much like we Greeks. As Israel’s economy has stabilized in recent decades, Israeli technologies have moved to the cutting edge.
The second part of the reason that there is bright light at the end of the tunnel involves decades of pent-up demand for involvement in the Greek market by successful businesses owned by Hellenes outside of Greece. And, once they show that foreign companies can prosper in the Greek economy others will follow.
One of many examples of the pent-up demand for access to the Greek market is the Ameresco Company, owned by George Sakellaris. It is the number one American company for improving energy efficiency and reducing the carbon dioxide footprint of major facilities, including the US Capitol building. Its work costs these facilities effectively nothing. The amount of savings in fuel expenditures generated by the improvements Ameresco puts into place within a facility are so great that they cover the cost of the newly installed energy efficient equipment in addition to providing continued savings in fuel expenditure for the facility owner. Applied to Greece, this system could create many future-looking Greek jobs paid for, neither by Greek citizens nor the government, but by Euros diverted from the pockets of Middle Eastern oil producers.
Prime Minister George Papandreou is taping this pent-up demand for access to the Greek market by successful Hellenes in the three meetings he held with them in recent months. We have seen this demand over the decades as we arranged for various Greek Ministers to get together with America’s top Greek-American businesspeople. Their reaction is similar to the Diasporas of Ireland and Israel that played a significant role during those counties’ times of trouble.
One might ask if these companies want so badly to go to Greece what’s stopping them. The answer is that these business leaders have seen virtually everyone lose money who tried to take their business to Greece. The various corruptions in Greece’s economic and bureaucratic system, that they didn’t see in other foreign markets where they were successful, stopped them. However, if current reforms are fully implemented and Greece becomes a meritocracy, you will see hundreds of top notch businesspeople, Hellenes and non-Hellenes, investing in Greece.
If the corruptions disappear, so will Greece’s brain drain. Hellenism’s best and brightest will stay in Greece, and many who left will return like a moth to a flame, bringing with them high paying jobs and cutting-edge new Greek companies.
Since the “Golden Age”, Greeks linked merit, reward and excellence. With merit of performance in mind, Greeks were the first to create organized athletic competition. Additionally, the Greeks were the first to have merit and democracy choose their leaders rather than brute intimidation or inheritance. Alexander the Great expressed Greece’s merit-based criterion when he bequeathed his kingdom “to the strongest.”
Converting Greece to a more merit based economy isn’t easy. But Greeks have never shied away from difficult necessities. Mirroring the typical Greek reaction, author Nikos Kazantzakis said, “Though my teeth clattered with fear, I bound my forehead tightly with a red handkerchief to hide the blood, and I returned to the assault.” Whether fighting the Axis forces in WWII, preparing for the 2004 world-leading Olympic Games or struggling through today’s IMF/EU imposed economic transformation, Greeks somehow meet Kazantzakis’ challenge to “reach what you cannot.”
Andy Manatos – former US Assistant Secretary of Commerce, President of Manatos & Manatos, and President of the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH)
Andy Athens — former US steel industry leader, first and longest-serving President of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad and Chairman of CEH.