An Irishman on the global economic crisis.
Michael Lewis tale of the Greek financial crisis in Vanity Fair is absolutely fascinating (and unbelievable). It may be the only financial crisis in the world to feature Greek Orthodox monks as the center of attention.
The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2007 has just now created a new opportunity for travel: financial-disaster tourism. The credit wasn’t just money, it was temptation. It offered entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge. Entire countries were told, “The lights are out, you can do whatever you want to do and no one will ever know.” What they wanted to do with money in the dark varied. Americans wanted to own homes far larger than they could afford, and to allow the strong to exploit the weak. Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers, and to allow their alpha males to reveal a theretofore suppressed megalomania. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish. All these different societies were touched by the same event, but each responded to it in its own peculiar way.
As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a pinata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it. In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms-and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece’s rail passengers into taxicabs: it’s still true. “We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension,” Manos put it to me. “And yet there isn’t a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay.” The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses. The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average-and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.
Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds [Vanity Fair]
Great video that explains the financial crisis in a more comprehensible fashion. Part 2 is below.
Today on Del Squacho: a comprehensive guide for survival following the end of the world as we know it. Here’s an excerpt:
Boy, I sure hope you like canned goods, because fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins are probably going to be pretty hard to come by. Sure, you might think you’ll be able to grow/raise all of your own food, but if you’re like most of the people in the civilized world, you have absolutely no clue how to do so. Therefore you will almost certainly starve to death before surmounting the learning curve unless, of course, you supplement your meager diet with Spam and Hot Dog Chili.
It’s a wise idea to start stocking up on non-perishable foodstuffs as soon as possible, because hitting up the local Wal-Mart in the middle of humanity’s death knell is just not a good idea. Not only will things be even more chaotic than Wal-Mart generally is, but you’re not going to be the only person who comes up with the idea. That means fighting through giant, and probably well-armed crowds of people who are doing their damnedest to ensure that they don’t starve to death. If you’ve got a nice stash at home you can wait out the melee, and simply show up a few weeks later and take what you need amidst the broken and mutilated carcasses of your former friends and neighbors.
Pretty morbid, I agree. But an entertaining read! Who knows, it could come in handy. Here’s the link:
How to Survive in a Post-Apocalyptic World [Del Squacho]