To Mr. Michael Lewis

Remarks on his article: Beware of Greeks bearing bonds Vanity Fair October issue.

A traveler and journalist born in the state of Louisiana, USA, a historian from Princeton University, an economist from LSE, a trader at Salomon Brothers, a writer who enjoys to expose the wheeling and dealing of Wall Street, traveled to Greece to inquire about its economic failure which, according to his findings, actually turned out to be a moral failure.

In a parallel world of time past but still present in my memory a young man was traveling the other way round, from Greece to the USA.

The liner “Queen Frederica” entered the port of New York round noon. It was a brilliant day of August 1964. As a passenger I had enjoyed a fifteen days voyage from Piraeus to Naples, Palermo, Lisbon, Ceuta, Halifax and finally the much anticipated wonder of New York. The ship docked and the passengers started to descend. The first thing I did was to give to the chief accountant one golden sovereign for good luck I carried with me, a present from an uncle.
-Gold is not permitted to be held by individuals here, the chief accountant told me. He was an old friend of my father.
-O.K. take it back and give it to my father.
It sounded very odd that gold was prohibited to be owned privately in that rich country. Even gold ornaments were 14 karat instead of 22 karats women wore in Greece. Later on I learned that Roosevelt’s depreciation of the value of the dollar during the 30s, a move to actually wipe out the American debt so as to restructure the economy, at the same time prohibited ownership of gold by private individuals. Roosevelt’s move, which was to recur in different forms over and over again saved America from the pains of a protracted recession and a possible social revolt.

I left his office and leaned on the rails looking down at the dock. Some clean shaven imposing Custom’s officials were inspecting the bags of several old women from Sicily. I saw them taking out some herbs, probably oregano and some flower plants. They looked at each other and threw everything in the sea. The same action occurred with the olives and the cheese they discovered in these mysterious bags full of wonderful herbs, plants and food. Every thing went straight into the dark blue black water. An old woman tried to stop them but to no avail. She sat down on the cement and started to cry. I was taken aback. The scene was highly surrealistic and absurd. That stuff was a present from home, a reminder, a connecting point with the taste and smell of the land left behind, a land beloved but poor and devastated from war and civil strife. These women were there to visit sons or husbands, to live and die in another foreign land. I was shocked. I looked at those highly conscientious officials who enforced the law -a law about importing foodstuff and plants which may harm the indigenous plants- to women who never understood why they had seen all these common harmless stuff thrown in the water for no apparent reason at all. They could not and they never did understand the differences between an ancient word and the new technocratic world they came to.

In the mean time, my trunk was unloaded and as it was lowered on the dock it landed a bit faster than it was permitted by the laws of physics and the strength of materials in collision. The bottom broke. Splinters of wood were thrown all around. I rushed down the stairs fearing that the content of the box would have the same fate as the content of the bags from Sicily. As I was looking at the ruin of a trunk one of the tall customs officials came and ordered me to open it. I unlocked the already open container and presto the hidden treasure of Monte Christo was unveiled to his astonished eyes. The custom’s official looked at the content and then at me in utter amazement. From the broken trunk the Iliad, Thus spoke Zarathustra and scores of other printed material faced the New Word. The trunk was full of books, a whole tradition breathing the air of the New York harbor custom’s tradition. There was no exchange of words. The officer made a sign to close the trunk and left.

I was free to enter the land of the brave.
The impression left for me was that I entered a country with law and order, where people did not care about old women or outdated traditions but enforced what was beneficial for the common good. This was a well governed land according to the rules of a modern state.
A few days latter, at Boston, I was almost arrested for ordering a beer. It was after hours the tall clean shaven policemen informed me. This was another stark reminder that this land was ruled by the law, and nothing but the law.
A year later I traveled south, to the University of Virginia. My first walk down the main street was an exploratory move in the small town of Charlottesville. I walked on the pavement towards the National Bank of Virginia to open an account. Walking up towards me was an old bearded Negro. Today it is politically correct to call him an Afro-American, but for me the connotation of the name, was, and still is nothing more than a time honored name and not a metaphor for slavery and suffering. The American South and its memories was another world. There tradition ruled as it ruled in Sicily or in Mount Athos.
….Revered Memory, mother of all Muses, of all arts, of all humanity, please forgive ignoramuses who profess to be historians and critics of men and their acts, but have no self-knowledge. You, revered Mother, who all historians artists and politicians as leaders must worship, please look upon our deeds with pity and love and forgive us for we cannot forgive ourselves except when we fall to the mercy of Oblivion….
The old man stopped looked at me and made a step sideways getting off the sidewalk and stood on the pavement of the road. I was taken aback. My upbringing commanded that younger people had to step aside and let an older person pass. And this was what I did. I let the old man pass and he looked at me in incredulity and aporia.
I was in the American South. Since that incident, I experienced several more similar or much more humiliating moments for my morals. Some fellow- students took me to a place in the middle of nowhere with black women in cages to be prostituted to young southern gentlemen. The truth is that I never thought that Americans are slave owners, monsters with no respect for their elders and morally degenerate. I knew I was in a different place with different traditions and mores. Some American were worst than others and even barbarians for my taste.
A year latter I traveled to Texas. The journey was long and I passed through Louisiana. At one point, it was early morning; we moved away from the highway and came to a small village. The place looked devastated. Houses burnt some people who were around were living in sacks. In my mind images of areas in Athens came alive, areas inhabited by refugees from Ionia after the defeat of the Greek army by the Turks in 1922. I can still see them, small cottages made of tin and bricks but still clean and whitewashed with asbestos.
-What is going on here, I asked my friend?
-The remnants of the Civil War. We are still struggling to heal wounds since 1865.
Old wounds heal slowly. They may heal from the outside but keep the traces of the perpetrators and their motives deep inside, Traces which come to fore, when conditions reveal our unstructured emotions.

Tradition reveals the character of each nation. The heart of Darkness is the darkness in us, the secrets created by that darkness feed our fears.
In another universe forward in time, a former Goldman Sachs trader was in modern Athens visiting ministers and tax officials trying to understand why modern Greece, a member of the EU was broke.
“Greeks cheat, they refuse to pay their taxes”
At the same time American, English and German newspapers carry articles about the Tea Party and the revolt against taxes and corrupt Washington elite.
Scandals ooze from the front page of Greek newspapers, scandals ooze from the front page of the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and of the books of the eminent economist who was interviewing Greek crooks.
British MP were cheating on state funds, French politicians get political funds under the table. Berlusconi is PM of Italy. Thousands of Germans tax evaders are caught by the authorities through buying cds with their names from a renegade bank official.
The traveler had a particular scandal in mind. He wanted to investigate, first hand, the Vatopaidi scandal. For that purpose he took a trip to the historical Mount Athos, a place whose history starts in 960 A.D. Since then, the Mount Athos monasteries exist as an independent entity prior to the establishment of the Modern Greek state. They have their own inner government, property and autonomy from the Greek state. So, it was there that the eminent journalist and economist tried to find the greatest scandal of the recent period in Greece.

Here is one important observation from his article :
“Clearly one part of Ephraim’s strategy was to return Vatopaidi to what it had been for much of the Byzantine Empire: a monastery with global reach. This, too, distinguished it from the country it happened to be inside….. In the general picture the Vatopaidi monastery was a stunning exception: it cultivated relations with the outside world. Most famously, until scandal hit, Prince Charles had visited three summers in a row, and stayed for a week each visit.”
The “Secret of Santa Vitoria” was a novel written in the early 60s about an Italian village during the German occupation of that country. The secret was about the wine of the village. All knew where it was hidden but no one told. At the same time they professed that they knew nothing about is. Nobody told the secret of Vatopaidi to Mr. Lewis. They all professed that it was a great scandal. The Secret of Vatopaidi is that the Semetis and Karamanlis governments in agreement with the Patriarch of Constantinople decided to create a Center for Orthodoxy at Mount Athos. The monasteries are under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Patriarch and not of the Greek Church. All knew that Vatopaidi would be turned to a center for projecting the glory of Mount Athos and Orthodoxy. The Patriarch said nothing about the “scandal”. He said nothing, because the Patriarch accepts the validity of the Byzantine and Ottoman property titles for the Monasteries and the Church for reasons of continuity and particularly for the protection of the rights of the Patriarchates of Jerusalem and Alexandria as well as the protection of the existence of the Orthodox Church in Constantinople. The scandal of Vatopaidi was a scandal of cowardice from the part of the political elite which did not come forward to make the project public.

There was one political risk. Turning the money necessary for the project to the hands of the monks was not the most acceptable thing to say to the public. Local and other interests may have objected to the plan. A possible reaction from Turkey for reason of cultural competition may have emerged. The Greek public, although it respects the Athos monastic brotherhood is in general hostile to money flowing to the Church.

This arcane story brings to the open the complex relationship of modern Greece with its historical past. This is an interesting case study for a historian of empires and the consequences upon their remnants after their fall. Ahmed Davutoglou, the Turk FM knows very well what he is doing by introducing the doctrine of the common cultural heritage of the Ottoman Empire with its neighbors and thus ushering from the back door the theme of Neo-Ottomanism.

The perennial question of Church and Monasteries’ property, a complex question which involved Byzantine heritage and Ottoman rule is not yet resolved in Greece. This is one of the reason the country has no a land registration system which keeps records of who owns what in Greece. The Church has land claims on state property, the state has claims on Church alleged property, and individuals have similar claims. The forests are not identified as forests, the low pasture land is disputed as crop land, forest land, or land for urban or tourist development. This mess was never cleared up. For some, especially the left, the solution was to expropriate all Church and Monastery property and distribute it to farmers. This was done partially since the days of King Otto in the 1830s and later on when the State assumed the responsibility of paying the salary of priests. Scandals with Church and Monastery properties were as frequent as bribing a policemen to tear up a parking ticket in New York City. Monks, Bishops, Mayors, and other official have sold and made money from these conditions for ever and ever. Greece, is true, has not organized the state and the government structure in an efficient and transparent manner. But this is more a matter of let old dogs lie instead of an organized ponzi scheme as more well organized societies seem to breed.

This is not what a scandal is all about. Why, I wonder the well informed journalist did not investigate the Siemens scandal. A well organized corruption case world wide set up by a huge German company? Is it because it was the moral Germans bribing the corrupt Greeks to get a piece or the economic action of the country? Or why did the eminent economist forget to have a look at the case of Morgan Stanley Bank organizing the other high tech economic miracle of getting the money of Greek Social Security and turning them to securitized bonds.

According to Lewis the Greeks are:
“Individual Greeks are delightful: funny, warm, smart, and good company. I left two dozen interviews saying to myself, “What great people!” They do not share the sentiment about one another: the hardest thing to do in Greece is to get one Greek to compliment another behind his back. No success of any kind is regarded without suspicion. Everyone is pretty sure everyone is cheating on his taxes, or bribing politicians, or taking bribes, or lying about the value of his real estate. And this total absence of faith in one another is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing makes any sort of civic life impossible; the collapse of civic life only encourages more lying, cheating, and stealing. Lacking faith in one another, they fall back on themselves and their families.”

Lewis goes on relentlessly scratching the wound to the bone.
“But there’s a second, more interesting question: Even if it is technically possible for these people to repay their debts, live within their means, and return to good standing inside the European Union, do they have the inner resources to do it? Or have they so lost their ability to feel connected to anything outside their small worlds that they would rather just shed themselves of the obligations? …….But the place does not behave as a collective; it lacks the monks’ instincts. It behaves as a collection of atomized particles, each of which has grown accustomed to pursuing its own interest at the expense of the common good. There’s no question that the government is resolved to at least try to re-create Greek civic life. The only question is: Can such a thing, once lost, ever be re-created?”
As for the obligations of the Greeks no historian may dare to pose such a question, except if he was studying basket weaving at Princeton. Their responsibilities for themselves and for their fellow men were fulfilled while they tried to defend their liberty against Italy and Germany. A ravaged country after war and occupation, as that village in Louisiana, the Greeks ravaged themselves in a civil war: the first bloody encounter of the cold war which remained cold only because of the atom bomb. Nonsense, you can say, Korea went through the same horrors. Look at Korea. It is a country in good standing and with a solid economy.
True at first glance, but also false. There is also a North Korea there with a crazy dictator and a nuclear bomb. The comparison is invalid.

There is a good question for Lewis the historian: How people who fought as valiantly as the Greeks (Churchill said that from now on we shall say not that Greeks fought as heroes bur that heroes fight as Greeks) turned out to become the people Lewis the journalist describes them as crooks, liars and unable to say a good word for another Greek? I pose the question to Lewis the sensationalist.

What I wrote thus far can be construed as the following argument
1) Greeks have a long and complicated history.
2) The social and psychological repercussions of historical events and upheavals caused amoral, unsocial and conflictual reflexes for survival and social behavior.
3) Consecutive disruptions of social and economic continuity due to war, foreign interventions, civil wars and violent political changes have supped the indigenous beliefs and traditions and created a motley of ideas and ideologies which fractured the social cohesion of the country.
:: therefore the recent irresponsible, immoral, unsocial Greek behavior understood as the outcome of extraordinary experiences should be interpreted under this analysis and the economic behavior of the Greek state should be given the benefit of the doubt. At the same time its efforts for change should be supported with all practical means.
I could write several books and use extensive bibliography to defend this argument. However, I shall refrain from doing so. What I am proposing instead, is to take up the story from another point of departure. If I arrive in New York City and go round interviewing people about their economic behavior, their tax forms, their relations with other people, their opinion about politician, do you think that I shall find very different results from those Lewis discovered in Athens?
I am afraid not. And for the proof of it I shall mention that in a recent poll about taxes, Danes responded the same way as Greek tax-dodgers. They would also try to avoid taxes, if they could. The issue of taxation and civic responsibility is a complex phenomenon involving trust, utility of taxation, political culture and economic effectiveness. Should I conclude that American or Danes are immoral, crooks, and lack a civil society? Certainly not.

Still the story of my staying to the USA is not over.
At that time 1964-69, a bloody war was going on, the Viet-Nam War. For five years I heard the news from the rice fields and the jungles of Asia. Fellow students were in the ROTC program to fulfill their patriotic duty and others were trying to avoid the draft. The Democratic convention in Chicago was a great shock for me since I was an admirer of H. Humphrey. The violence and the determination of the antiwar movement, a middle and high class rejection of the war as a life and death experience made me realize that the USA was going through a painful social and political transformation. At the same time the 1968 uprising of young people in Europe was a political phenomenon which shook politicians and elites in the West.

Meanwhile in Greece we were experiencing another nightmare from our recent past, a military dictatorship bringing alive the civil war of 1944-49. The USA was trying to stop the expansion of communism in Asia and the army in Greece was trying to stop a Greek economist trained at Harvard to establish socialism in Greece, I mean the father of the present Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou.

The Americans who came back from Viet Nam had a sorry welcome. The Greeks who emerged from the end of the military dictatorship inherited an occupied Cyprus, the homeland of father Ephraim, and a Greek-Turkish conflict which led to an arm’s race with our one thousand year old enemy and neighbor. At this point we must stop and ponder the Greek economic disaster. An arms race which absorbed 4-6% of our GDP per year while the European average during the cold war was 3% and now is 1,7%.
Arms bought for security and for balancing Greek international relations. Arms which brought huge profits for the producing countries like the USA, Germany, France, England, the middlemen and the politician who approved the contracts. Here we place a footnote: that infamous Greek economist who planned to establish communism in Greece, as an elected prime minister in 1981, bought 100 American warplanes.
Before I forget, I must mention that economics’ professor Buchanan, a Nobel prize winner, who taught at UVA ( I took his micro-macro-economics classes ) was telling us that he would propose to President Nixon to terminate the draft and establish a mercenary army on the grounds of sound economic policy. The politics of the proposal were obvious but the argument was economic.

One Greek economist branded as a communist agitator turned prime minister. An American economist introduced a plan which permits the kind of wars which still go on. Imagine the USA having a draft system for military service. I wonder if there ever was an Iraq or an Afghanistan invasion.
History is always on the march, be it an economist or a politician who start the ball rolling, or more accurately a social move, a grassroots resistance, a reaction to the ongoing policies of the elite in power. Elite or pluralism as a view of the political structure of a country, history in not waiting for analysts or journalists to write retroactive books and present arguments about the morality or the futility of acts as the Greek debt or the subprime ponzi racket conceived and executed by the genius of Wall Street. The view from Vatopaidi scandal or the tax evasion of the Greeks brands a whole nation as a degenerate set of individuals who lost any sense of self -preservation and plunged into an abyss of hell on earth.
At the time of my fist visit to the USA I perceived the country as heavens on earth, the land of opportunity, the land of people with strong moral convictions and believers in hard work and competition. This was the feeling at the University and around the people I came across. The country was solving the race problem with Johnson’s “great society” program, and people seemed to have a primordial faith in their country irrespectively of the Viet-Nam war divide. They believed in their country as a great country which had to offer new and fruitful ideas for the good of the world.

And then, it was that sudden murder, the murder of Robert Kennedy, and later on the other bloody incident, “the murder round the cathedral”, King’s murder. I must admit that these horrors come back to me only under a conscious effort to place events in a time series. I had suppressed all these from my memory: they were so unbelievable at that time that still remains there as a plot of a movie. It was a moment of earthly hell in the land of the brave.
Time passed and I left that land of opportunity and came back to serve in the Greek Army. That was an experience in social and political behavior of a tortuous past: a bloody and horrible past still present upon the land of the Gods. I served and observed. I served and lived through the discharge of the obligations of the Greek students who attempted to fight the military junta. You see, the Greeks are still responsible people. They can fool you very easily. Beware of Greeks bearing bonds, maybe they bear bombs or an explosive new narrative that may surprise you.
All these came to pass. I moved on to become a businessman and returned to the USA to get involved with land development in Florida.
What a revelation! The visit to the true heart of the new World, the business world, the primordial urge for profit, destruction and creation.
Miami, the meeting place of the Protestant North and the Catholic South. Buildings were left unfinished, gaping as an incomplete symphony of profit. The explanation was: A real estate bust, a collapse of the market, because of the unchecked race for infinite development. Buildings rose upon the prospects of a new gold rush in real estate.
The hotel we were staying, my Greek partner and I, was full of rich widows who spent lavishly on clothes and beauty salons. Some of them were also looking for young men to satisfy the last strain of their libido. The area was a spectacular melee of death and expected fortune making out of all this arrested momentum, this ejaculation in a sterile womb.
Time past and time present are perhaps present in time future, as Eliot lamented. And he did lament not for a waste land but for the poet turned contractor, a historian turned Wall Street trader.
I traveled back and forth for many years and suddenly I discovered that there was a problem in the USA with banks, small local banks which catered to land development. The score was 2,500 failed banks. It was a slump but nothing more than a blimp on the world’s economy. Perhaps it was a precursor to what happened in 2007 after the con men in Washington relinquished their obligations to the American public.
Still, at that time we were fighting the cold war. An economic turndown, I thought, was not a positive sign for this struggle. The West could not loose on the economic front, the goons from Moscow would have a field day on that.
The eminent historian turned economist, using impeccable credentials and a fair competitive style was admitted to Salomon Brothers through the back-doors of Buckingham Palace. Money, as everybody’s dream, was the target of a healthy aspiration for a young American. This was not a moral slip, the moral degradation was all on the head of a Greek petit political apparatchik getting a job within the Greek government’s prytaneion (whoever does not know the term should study the ancient Athenian political system, it means a free lunch at the expense of the state). At least the Greeks did nothing more than honor their own tradition. It is another matter if their services to the demos were more or less services to their own aspirations. At that time the newly elected and old Trotskyist, whi turned Prime Minister of Greece was borrowing lavishly to jump start the Greek economy according to the Keynesian theory. He was doing exactly the same President Obama is doing now to avoid a double recession.
Another horror came along in 1987 when a Monday noon the market collapsed. I was there watching and wondering about the possible outcome of that disaster. It was an unfortunate event but not the end of the world. The system pulled itself together and things calmed down.
So the world was turning as it was used to do and all of a sudden we came to a new age. The barbarians from the steppes fell on their own faces and the experiment of equality and human progress according to the scientific trope of the Marxian critique of the manufacturers of Manchester went awry. The New York Yankees won the game. It was an inside game between the orthodox and the reformists and the orthodox won.
But contrary to the fairy tale discourse, the game was not among the kids of that block. It did not end with the good guys win and all lived happily ever after. There were other kids from other blocks watching the game from other parts of the world. These kids got the message and started to play too.
Winner takes all, was the message to be carried across the whole wide planet. And so some erudite folks from Harvard and Wall Street thought. And so it was for some other folks in other parts of the planet as in Greece. With a sight of relief all relaxed and happy turned to the “here and now”. This American slogan became the battle cry of the trotskist, newly elected Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou who turned every old fashion morality and tradition upside down.
Still I went back. Believe it or not I was back there, in the South. I was there when the Berlin wall fell and the world became ours. And then I exclaimed: “May God save us”. I, an agnostic invoked God’s help for what was coming. And it was coming fast and for sure.
The eminent trader was making money at Salomon Brothers and I was reading Plato. What a waste of time!!! Richard Rorty, on the other hand, was hammering the ontico-theological exemplar of Western philosophical tradition, pronouncing orbi et urbi his American neo-pragmatism. “There is no rational foundation for any values, all we have is irony, contingency and solidarity, and this is the description of our human tradition.” Rorty spelled out in philosophical jargon, which he repudiated, that there are no exemplars, no standards, no meta-values. How do you expect Greeks, or for that matter anyone in Wall Street to consider the common good, the civil society? Actually he was a prophet without a beard and no thunder from Mount Sinai. As I objected, and I still object, to these views, I must admit that he was right about the world we built. This is an ugly and grim world, which is in no way able to survive in a civilized manner in the near future.
Irony was a Socratic device to attack ignorance. Ignorance was attacked by flattening Sadam’s tinker-toy army and bombing the Serbs. Contingency permeated these historical events. The only solidarity I could discern was among the rich liberal democracies trying to keep their victory as the only response to a grim reality, the reality of the markets, globalization and a new proposal coming from the discarded by our sociologists theological model of Islam. A dire proposal funded and abetted by the immense success of Wall Street and its “moral fiber”.
Back in Greece, all were proceeding in a very unusual way. Greece was becoming globalized. Hundred of thousand of illegal immigrants were swarming in the country offering cheap labor to a closed economy with the highest social security contributions by workers and employers in the world. The system broke down. At the same time the EU was coming alive and Europe was thriving with the cheap money thrown round by the “prudent” banks. The German unification was going according to plan and in the USA an American genius, named Clinton repealed the Glass-Steagall Act.
“…the credit boom had pushed the country over the edge, into total moral collapse.” Wrote M. Lewis in his article: Beware of Greeks bearing bonds, in the October issue of Vanity Fair.
It was an inspired moral act in the economic sense of ethics. The only superpower was flexing its economic superpower disposition permitting commercial and investment banks to start the ball of derivatives, swaps, subprime loans rolling. It was an act of solidarity to the manufacturing part of the economy. Since all well paid jobs were moving out of the country, we can substitute lost income from Wall Street’s con schemes.
“The Greeks were enjoying a spending spree with cheap loans and the banks were creating loads of money by securitizing their shaky loans.”
Doug Noland wrote on Oct. 18 2010 in the Asian Times; “China surely doesn’t “want to impose a deflationary adjustment on the US”. Nor do I believe it is a case of Germany imposing deflation on Greece. The markets – too long accommodative of Greek borrowing profligacy – finally said “enough is enough”. German policymakers were complicit for failing both to ensure adequate controls, or to impose discipline much earlier. The belated market reaction was, as they tend to be, abrupt and quite harsh.”

The eminent journalist was taking interviews in clandestine meetings listening to the tax evasion schemes of Greek businessmen. He never asked about the tax system in Greece. He never took an interview from a ordinary businessman in Greece. If he had done so he would have congratulated all Greek businessmen and written a saga for their courage to invest and work in a land were the tax system changes once a year and you have to keep tons of records for years and years. The Greek tax system is geared to get as much as possible from anyone with any means possible, and this has nothing to do with morality, it has to do with the axioms: “All business is morally bad, all businessmen are evil, and all profit is immoral. Whoever dares to produce of make a profit is a bloody capitalist who sucks the blood of the oppressed proletarians.” What the eminent journalist failed to understand was the ideological fragmentation of the Greek society. He thought he had discovered the fountainhead of corruption but did not look for the spring of that phenomenon.
Dear Michael, instead of pointing the finger at the Greek crooks, start to look at your own clean shaven face in the mirror. For the mirror shows the present and the future of your condition. The Greeks are teaching a bitter lesson to the globalized mass democracy and economic conundrum of the present post-modern world. Beware of the Greeks bearing their present to your own future.
Historical people as the Greeks of the Israelis are people with idiosyncratic behavior. As in Israel rabbis fight rabbis about arcane interpretations of the Torah so Greeks still fight Greeks about King Konstantine’s rift with Venizelos in 1915. The ideological views of the Greeks are as complex as the dogma of the Trinity. The plain fact is that the economic landscape of the Greeks was never market oriented and the neo-liberal doctrine was anathema for most of them. (The Greek Shipowner’s saga is a case to be studied on its own terms ).
What the eminent moralist from the USA failed to understand was not corruption, which is ubiquitous, and spreading as a cancer following the maxim: “here and now”, the Greek character or Greek morals, but the reason of this behavior. And the reason besides all the above is the authoritarian Greek state itself, structured and perpetuated by a power system based upon state handouts, which, an anemic private sector was forced to provide at any cost.
All along these years the super banks, “too big to fail” and their ponzi pyramids were providing the necessary oil for the running of the USA’s economic machine while the workers and the middle class of America were struggling to spend the loans of the super inflated value of their real estate properties, while at the same time they were loosing productive jobs and an indigenous robust economy. The writing was on the wall…Asia was emerging out of its ancient heritage to take its place in world affairs as it was doing five centuries ago. The moral USA and Europe on a spree of fictional profits were riding high until the sky fell on their heads. The immoral and crooked Greeks were borrowing at will, enjoining the fruits of the risk models of Goldman Sachs and the trading of trillions by computers. The herd instinct of the investors was pushing, the soon to be destitute middle class, to the edge.
In a recent article, the eminent investigator of Wall Street practices is questioning propriety trading. Although investment banks say that they shall not be involved in propriety trading anymore, Lewis discerns a possible new scheme for new sagas of “moral” profit making. He ends with the following remark: “If so, it isn’t a future at all. It’s just the past, repeating itself.”
Greeks should have kept with their past. They denied their perennial poverty and conservatism and embraced a brave new world of consumption and debt. This new world is a world of high risk, complex dealings, sheer and naked deceit from well trained politicians and managers the con men of marketing.
Reality is hard. Dreams come true only when truth is in us and not another man’s fancy. When our dreams are the make belief story of the other guy, then what is left is the pain of misery and a deep resentment. Even if we know we did not exercise prudency and we failed to be our own keepers we feel that something went wrong with the world. Indeed something went wrong with the world. The keepers were crooks, the trustees deceived us.
Millions of lives are ruined all around the world. Generations to come are enslaved in this ancestral economic sin. Eminent and successful historians, economists and journalists investigating this sin came to the conclusion that the Greek people, poor for centuries, but who stood up to Hitler, now have turned to immoral crooks and had no belief in themselves. If this is the case, then we need to rethink our methods for studying social phenomena. On the other hand we just see another empirical verification of the proverb: oh! Tempora, oh! Mores, or Heraclitus’ maxim: Everything changes.
The above tirade boils down to the following argument:
1) We live in post-modern condition. This means that we have lost our faith in the experiment of modernity that is, rational ordering of society and the way we conduct our lives.
2) Moral exemplars and values have lost their foundations.
3) The collapse of state socialism and the globalization of the “market” have shaken the established mores and economic practices of states, societies and individual.
4) The diffusion of economic practices and models of behaviour from the “too big to fail” establishments to the politicians and social groups has transformed large and small society to the “here and now” hedonistic model. Hedonism is the correlative of the infinite, the unstructured, and chaos. Hence, the hasty and trite generalizations presented as profound truths about the Greek economic disaster from the eminent journalist.
:: Greece and Greeks have followed blindly the above transformation. They have followed the patterns of a radical change which led them to the abyss and at the same time is dragging the instigators to the same and even worst hells. Greeks do bear responsibility for their predicament, but no more and no less than their proper measure of guilt.
Beware of Greeks bearing bonds, because bonds may herald your own bondage.
On the other hand, a philosopher who loved and admired the new brave world is still trying to fathom how that world of his youth, turned out to elect Presidents who bomb and invade countries with no prospect of gaining anything, contrive economic gimmicks to prop up their economy and spread worldwide the virus of corruption from the high echelons down. I shall not call the millions of American homeless and jobless immoral and crooks, far from it. They were betrayed by their trustees.
I shall never forget the lady who lost her job and all her life savings as a worker at Enron. She said that she had to start all over in her sixties. Similar is the fate of the Greeks.
Contingency rules the world of the mortals. Irony is an achievement of the civilized intellect. Solidarity is either an animal instinct or a philosophical utopia.
Nicholas A Biniaris 21/10/2010

P.S. Marxists friends of mine have a hearty laugh with all the above. For them capitalism is just showing its ugly face again. A class struggle across the world is coming soon to your own neighbourhood. Greek corruption is nothing more than a symptom of the disease called capitalism. Morality and character have nothing to do with the case. For my self, as a classical conservative I reserve the right to read Aristophanes’ comedies against imperial wars and money depreciation and try to fathom the irony of history.
P.S 2 For a more thorough and comprehensive answer to your investigation please read very carefully the talk of Mr. Lorenzo Bini Smaghi member of the Executive Board of ECB on October 14 2010. You can find it on the ECB’s site.

Ioannis Alevizos