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The Greek public sector monster
by Thanos Kalamidas
2011-09-23 08:21:29
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The information I get from Greece is limited to what I read online and occasionally what I hear from my friends. I have no connection with any state official therefore I have not any inside information but I know how deep is the Greek problem and I didn’t find out yesterday or the year before. There is a talk about the state/public sector problems since I was young back in 1970s and even during the period of the dictatorship in Greece.

The public sector became the place politicians could exchange favours and create a patroness relationship with their voters, a position in the safe public sector for a vote or better a whole family’s votes. That was another key element, the public sector could guarantee for decades a safe working position where nobody would ever move you – except of course in the case of criminal behaviour – nobody would ever bother you and with a steadily increasingly salary year after year. Actually sometime in the 1980s the public servants became a class of their own in the Greek society representing something like the upper working class or a lumpen middle class that enjoyed the privileges of the middle class but dealt from the state as the middle class.

In a country of ten million when the power of the public sector raised to one million this started changing not only the social structure and balances of the state but also the economics and politics. The tenth of the nation had the power to elect governments and representatives. The public servants gradually got the power to influence things and the Papandreou father era back in 1980s is the example when the socialist party (PASOK) mainly based on the power given from this public servants class. It was natural then when this in-between class realized the power they were holding they felt part of the power and naturally they were corrupted. Despite me mentioning strongly the 1980s era the problem didn’t start then and the socialist government is not responsible for the big part of the problem. The problem has started from mid 1950s and we became aware in the mid 1970 but it was 1980s when the public servants realized the power they hold and they started using it including creating a monster surrounded with corruption.

This is the part we all Greeks know and have lived the sequences in our relationship with the public sector even if that was limited like mine who lived most of my life abroad. Of course there are laws and they are very clear but who would touch the public servants when their defined bosses the politicians had created a parasitic and dependant relationship with them covering the most atrocious behaviour. Bribing became a way of behaviour towards to the all mighty public sector and if you combine that with the political power the public sector gradually built and finally became aware you will get the monster created and that instead of dealt as an abomination it became part of the Greek life style. The mark point that made the Greek public sector gigantic and therefore intolerable for the Greek state was when all institutes; organizations or services in connections with the state took the status of public services and started enjoying the privileges of public servants including the privilege of permanent employee with guarantied life time work and income. That in mid 1980s included even industries and companies that were nationalized in the name of public security and interest; companies that otherwise would have bankrupted and disappeared or replaced from others more profitable always motivated from the market and competition. And unfortunately for Greece there are tens if not hundreds of companies like that with and only aim to employ more public servants in exchange of political favours and due to the political power the public servants built in their parasitic relationship with the politicians all these years.

Before you run to easy conclusions remember that this gigantic public sector is not only Greek privilege with all the side effects it carries. With France leading, Belgium, Holland even Germany and Great Britain dealing with exactly the same problem. The only difference is that they avoided to include every single organization that was connected to the state the uncontrollable nationalize of the industry and institutions and of course they limited the bureaucracy. Who you think elected Sarkozy in and Cameron in Britain or who do you think hides behind Merkel’s power in former East German areas of Germany than the public servants? Actually and despite other problems one of the few European states that have manage to keep the public sector under control is Finland but that for different reasons that have a lot to do with historical semantics and this is not the time to talk about.

So from one side you have a monster that eats all the state money leading the whole country into despair and debt but the same time you gradually have a huge percent of the population limited into the public services for decades and an economy that is gradually focus to their needs becoming an industry itself and creating a carousel that produces nothing and eats from its own flesh without that meaning that the people who consist the class of the public servants are working class. The Greek government is now in a very difficult crossroads, having to layout nearly half of those public servants creating a new situation with thousands of new-poor used sometimes for generations to live in the privilege of safe work and income and most of time unfit to deal with the free employment market especially in times of hard recession with unemployment unofficially reaching over 20%. The politicians, the actually responsible for this mess are called now to do something and not just do; short out the problem here and now otherwise what comes is much worst.

Huge but necessary challenge but again it must be a limit on what you are allowed to layout. Does that include education and health sector? And to what point? Apart of hurting the only chance for the future and the states obligation to its citizens’ right to health care you creating a new reality since the as it is natural the private sector will rush to offer its services in the needed part of the life and suddenly health and education will become a profitable market privilege to the few that can afford it.

IMF and the European commission demand changes from the Greek state and under the circumstances the Greek government is forced to do them but the IMF and the commission also trying to avoid a social arrest scared that besides the economic situation also that can have a domino effect over the rest of the European states. But looking the situation through numbers and ignoring the social semantics only leads to a dead end all the decisions and the whole work to destine into failure with uncalculated sequences not only for Greece but the whole Europe and all that without talking about a Greek collapse, the Greek bailout rules and the Greek bankruptcy.

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