Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Letter from Greece

Mr Aguirre

I recently finished your book using your Christmas discount. Great read by the way! I've been following your blog since the beginning and so far you are spot on regarding the changes a society faces during an economic collapse. My country (Greece) is in slow mode collapse and funny thing is most people don't understand what's going on and where things are really going (debt restructuring/default). I guess ignorance is bliss right?
Anyway, one of the positive aspects of this economic annihilation for the middle class is a growing wave of civil disobedience taking place in the mindset of the common folk and also on the streets. The most successful act of this type is the ''I will not pay'' movement for the toll highway fees which have increased at least 300% in the last few years. According to estimates published by the movement and the government, at least 20% of the drivers refuse to pay the toll, simply remove the barricades by hand and drive on. This of course has panicked the companies operating and profiting from this but also the government which fears a coming wave of general refusal to pay for anything deemed too expensive (which is practically everything in Greece - food, power, taxes, more taxes etc.)
My question to you is: Has a similar movement manifested in Argentina after the collapse? If so, what have been the results?

Thanks in advance for your time,

K.C. from Athens, Greece 

Hi K.C., hope you find my book useful. In spite of the cultural differences, people (specially westerners ) are surprisingly similar, and these latest economic meltdowns seem out of a textbook.
Its surprising, but people can go into denial in ways that you cant believe. I remember a neighbor being interviewed once, she was being asked about the crime problem in her neighborhood, she said “no, we don’t have a serious problem, just the typical crime found everywhere in the world these days”. Yet on the background you could see her neighbor, now a corpse lying on the sidewalk covered with a blanket. Denial is a powerful defense mechanism, it’s the way people manage not to go nuts. Expect a lot of it in the coming years.
Indeed, we have lots of civil disobedience here. Most commonly, people jump through the metal booths or skip paying when using trains.
The greatest problem we’ve had recently was the increase of price of power and natural gas. Some people have refused to pay and for a while you could do that because the increase was of %400 to %800 percent in some cases, and was considered unconstitutional. After a few months people still had to pay and what a lot of people did was have electricians tamper their power meters so as to lie about how much energy they where using.
Taxes are so outrageous, it’s a national sport to avoid them. I can tell you for sure, most medium and small business simply wouldn’t be able to stay open if they paid all the taxes they are supposed to. The government already expects you to do this, so they rise them even more to compensate. The result? A country that operates on the border line of illegality, usually on the illegal side. Not good, not serious, and foreign investors are turned away from this sort of complications.
At a larger scale, we have what I wrote about recently, people just taking over a lot of land (private or public) and quickly building their homes there with brick and mortar (just a single room, but that’s a structure none the less) or demanding payment or a home somewhere else in exchange for leaving the squattered property. During 2001 and 2002 we saw this in the form of “give up the food or we loot”. Supermarket managers preferred to give up some food bags to each looter and spare the place from getting completely trashed.
As you see, it gets complicated fast.
Some civil disobedience sure is healthy, specially when the taxes are abusive. But if the problem isn’t brought to a legal context, that paths leads to loss of respect for the law and ultimately systematic corruption.
I stop paying abusive taxes, the guy next to me stops paying taxes HE considers abusive, soon enough you have someone stealing a public bank owned CIT truck claiming he’s just trying to get his stolen 401(K) back.
In my opinion, the healthiest path if you want to make a difference is activism ( support what you believe in, go to rallies ) and political involvement. I know, politics suck, but that’s a preconception we have to overcome. There’s no other peaceful way of changing things. You can at least support candidates than you feel represent your ideals the best. 
We've had moderate success when civil disobedience was done, but as I said before, it can be complicated in the long run.

K.C. take care buddy, try following some of the advice in my book, it will serve you well in the years to come.



Don Williams said...

The UK's Financial Times has reported that much of Greece's problems are due to a deeply corrupt government that let the Rich evade taxes. I don't live in Europe so I can't confirm the truth of this.

I tend to blame the Wealthy for a nation's problems -- because they have the money, the power, own the politicans and run things. So I do not pity the Rich if the poor retaliate after much provocation.

Unfortunately, the Rich have the money to buy armed protection of one kind or another. So the mob usually ends up turning on the middle class that is not so protected.

I find it incredible that Argentina still has unpunished billionaires.

Don Williams said...

Of course, no one among America's wealthy has paid for our financial collapse either. It was unrealistic to expect Obama to punish the very people who coughed up $750 Million to elect him.

America's politics is run like a Sports Bar -- in which the voters are a pack of drunks encouraged to cheer for the Democrat Football Team or the Republican Team -- and to ignore how that bar bill is getting high. A "divide and conquer" scheme run by the Rich for the Rich.

Double Tapper said...

Where the rule of law is weak or ignored, squatter arise. It is a universal phenomenon.

Class warfare is so easy to get people excited and vengeful and hostile. However, people are NOT equal in looks, lifespan or earning potential. Some rich people have gotten theirs the old fashioned way - stealing it or inheriting it. There is nothing you can do about. Mostly. Vote good candidates. Where it is safe, out criminals. Prosecute white collar crime.

There is no easy solution for our financial problems. The only thing I can suggest is to consume less and save more. Go against the trend. If you think your country is going down the shitter, do the opposite of what fellow inmates are doing.

EN said...


Mayor bulldozes through tolls

It may have seemed like an unusual scene from one of the TV series that he has starred in, but there was nothing make-believe about the decision of actor-turned-mayor Apostolos Gletsos to take command of a municipal bulldozer in central Greece yesterday and knock down the barriers at the side of the national road to allow residents to bypass a toll station.

Gletsos’s buccaneering was the latest move in an ongoing argument between residents of several villages and towns in central Greece and the Peloponnese who are opposed the growing number of tolls and the increasing charges that drivers have to pay to use the Athens-Thessaloniki highway.

Gletsos, famed for top roles in Greek soap operas, drove the bulldozer through the crash barriers on either side of the Pelasgia toll station, near the town of Stylida, where he was elected mayor in last November’s local elections. The budding politician said the action was designed to allow drivers to steer their way around the booth without paying the toll charges, which are set to rise to 2.60 euros from today.

Locals have complained to Aegean Motorway, the company managing this section of the road, and to the government that they are totally reliant on the highway because there are no country roads they can use to get to other towns or villages. The government had supplied some 1,000 Stylida residents with a discount card that allowed them to pass through the tolls for only 0.50 euros but this offer ended at the beginning of the year. Charges are due to increase today at another three toll stations apart from Pelasgia.

Gletsos said that he would not abandon direct action until residents of his municipalities are provided with “free and unfettered” access. A local prosecutor yesterday launched action against the mayor for his action.

Yesterday in the Peloponnese, a local organization formed to protest toll charges hailed as a success a campaign on Sunday, when members forced some tollbooths to allow cars to pass for free.

KC said...

''The UK's Financial Times has reported that much of Greece's problems are due to a deeply corrupt government that let the Rich evade taxes. I don't live in Europe so I can't confirm the truth of this.''

I will confirm that. The system in Greece, is corrupt beyond belief. Worst part is it is designed in such a way, by the corrupt politicians and judges, that you cannot function legally in any meaningful fashion. If you do so, you will be destroyed by the system. If you try to ''bend'' the illogical/immoral laws, then you are unlawful. There is no way out of this, it is madness!
Things are bound to get very bad, very soon, because people are fed up...

KC, Athens, Greece

Anonymous said...

Don Williams:
Thats correct, Greece's problem is rampant corruption. In the case of tax inspectors they are bribed to look away. Its not just the rich, but whole sections of society such as doctors pay no tax. The politicians are on the same gravy train, fabricating statistics to hide the extend of borrowing (the cause of Greece's economic crash). Greeks have an easy lifestyle and early retirement and the the German tax payer is having to bail them out. Retire at 55 in Greece, 67 in Germany. Nice.

Anonymous said...

retire at 55? Only for the small-change parasites in the public sector- who have been some of the loudest complainers recently because they're going to lose everything that theyve been given over the years. The politicians (the big-time parasites) of course bought these peoples' support with borrowed money, and the poor bastards actually working for a living are expected to pay the bill. But for people in the private sector this 'retirement at 55' is a fantasy. The government pension they have been paying into doesn't cover any expenses, so if they don't have enough saved up, they just keep working.
There has been an effort by the even bigger criminals (the banker/politician class at the EU level) to isolate and demonize greeks as part of an even bigger political picture- they have the same scenario playing all over europe and need to get people mentally 'adjusted'. throwing the
greek people on the fire (we couldn't care less about the politicians) is just a small part of that strategy.

Anonymous said...

Having in mind what the anonymous friend 4:31, wrote,
here is a must read link on a realistic article against the anti-greek campaign of the international media.

" the propaganda of the mainstream media provides Europe and the Netherlands with a convenient scapegoat to exploit."