Saturday, September 17, 2011

The News from Lake Woebegone Thessaloniki

Tuesday, 13 September

It’s still hot here. A week ago, the temperature reached nearly 110, Fahrenheit, and although it hasn’t been that hot since, it’s still up in the high eighties or low nineties and we’ve turned on the air conditioning every afternoon and every night.

The quiet we encountered when we first arrived was short-lived. It was only because most of the city dwellers hadn’t yet returned from their summer houses in their various villages. But with school now back in session, they have returned, and it’s about as noisy as usual. On Saturday nights, you can hear even toddlers out and about and calling to one another until well past midnight.

News reporters in print and on television are beginning to say, more or less openly now, that the Greek government isn’t working for Greece, but for other interests. That’s tantamount to calling them traitors, which is correct – not only in Greece, either.

Although Greece’s debt is not significantly larger than Italy’s or Portugal’s, the terms of repayment are much harsher, and the government (unlike those other governments) didn’t even try to negotiate the terms, just signed whatever they were told to. In fact, Greece’s budget debt is smaller than England’s. And the main problem with these budget deficits, it now appears, is not items like too many public sector employees (there aren’t more than in any other country, proportionally) or too much paying out of pensions or other benefits. No, those items pale beside the real problem, which is corruption. Just for one example, scores of tons of gold have simply disappeared from Greece. Of course, gold doesn’t just disappear, never mind by the ton! It is transferred somewhere, together with the assorted government certificates and permits and whatnot. Yes, well, transferred by whom and whence?

Thomai came today, returning our call. The main subject was again Christos. She wants to call him and intercede for us. Demetrios gave her Christos’ cell phone number.

Thomai has been to Crete, where she gave a lecture. We didn’t catch what her topic was, or the occasion. Anyway, she says the Athens airport was completely closed down because the Prime Minister was flying. Yes, well, he came here the other day to speechify at the opening of the International Fair, and the City employed 7,000 extra policemen. Seven thousand! Well, to be that scared shows the Prime Minister at least knows how the people feel.

Zisis, her husband, also stopped by the other day. I suppose because he’s our building’s “super”, he took the opportunity to look around, too, more or less discretely. He always does; we’ve learned to expect it.

The internet café where I go is one business that’s thriving. They have all new computers, complete with web cams, and new sofas and plenty of business. Of course such places rely heavily upon adolescent males with time on their hands; and with unemployment so high, there are more than ever of those around now. And I suppose they find it cheaper to pay by the hour than to buy their own games software. And of course, they don’t just sit quietly each at his own computer; no, this is also a big social time for them.

The Collared Doves very quickly realized we had returned and came to our balcony to ask for food. So now we feed them every day, and several sparrows, too. The sparrows aren’t as brave as the doves; they fly away at the sound of our footsteps, whereas the doves walk right up to us. The doves also know which room we’re in when we’re indoors; they locate us and sit outside that particular window or glass door, waiting patiently. Haven’t fed any cats yet, except the kitten in New Syllata. Haven’t seen any hungry-looking felines. Cat population is way down this year, as low as I’ve ever seen it.

Well, time to go sit on my balcony for a while, watch the world go by, knit a few rows…


123 said...

Greece’s debt is not significantly larger than Italy’s or Portugal’s... In fact, Greece’s budget debt is smaller than England’s.

My understanding is that while real debt may be larger in other countries (or similar), it is smaller as a proportion of GDP. It is also smaller relative to the potential GDP in these countries.

Remember, too, that whatever the bailout terms were from the EU, they were much better than the terms offered from the private sector bond market. That is, outside observers see Greece as far more dangerous than the other PIGS countries, and are charging accordingly.

123 said...

For comparison's sake, Greece has public debt comparable to 142.8% of its GDP, Italy is 119.1%, Ireland is 96.7%, Portugal is 93%, the UK is 76.1%, Spain is 60.1%. (The US is at 62.3% - our problem is that we are running huge current deficits with no end in sight, not including entitlement commitments.)

If I'm remembering correctly, part of the issue between the PIGS countries is what their current annual deficits are, too. I believe Greece was running high current deficits (assuming there would be no spending cuts) whereas the bulk of Italy's debt is old, and they have lower current deficits. Spain and Ireland were actually running budget surpluses and had low debt prior to the financial crisis and recession.

123 said...

The European sovereign debt crisis wouldn't be a problem if the countries facing problems could simply devalue their currency (or, have it devalued for them by the market). It seems as if the ECB is also not willing to act in the same way towards nations within the Eurozone as other central banks act towards their unified countries. This is why there is less of a problem in the UK and the US, which have their own currencies and their own central banks responsible for a single, unified state each.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thank you for these perspectives.