25 June 2011

Letting things slide

Greeks are furious over the crisis rocking their country.  Disbelief has given way to anger, one minister describing it as 'the darkest page in [our] history.'

No, not that crisis.  This one:

"Nearly 70 people have been named in Greece in connection with an alleged football match-fixing scandal.  They include two Super League club presidents, club owners, players, referees and a chief of police.  They are charged with a variety of offences including illegal gambling, fraud, extortion and money laundering.

The investigation began after European football's governing body Uefa published a list of 41 match results from 2009-10 which they believe to be suspicious. 

Among the 68 suspects named by judicial authorities on Friday were Vangelis Marinakis, Greece's top football league official and chairman of champion club Olympiakos Piraeus, and Avraam Papadopoulos, national team and Olympiakos defender.  Late on Friday, a court order banned all 68 from leaving the country."

But really, sports cheating scandals are hardly anything new.  And they happen all over the world. What's so special about this one?

Every people, after all, has its share of cheats and liars in high places.  Power corrupts, as they say; absolute power corrupts absolutely.  All too true, but not every people tolerates this sort of behavior to the same degree.

Thus the gigantic difference in corruption levels between parts of the world.  For Indian-level corruption to exist, just about everyone, from the lowest to the highest rung, must be willing to let it slide.

Surely not, one may protest.  A fish stinks from its head, no?  You think no rich or powerful Swede or Japanese or German has ever abused his power?  Of course he has, just like many rich and powerful Egyptians or Armenians or Greeks.  But the vast majority of the 9 million Swedes who aren't the shady public official, as soon as they get wind of the scandal, will raise hell until he's in prison.  Guaranteed.  Most of the 83 million Egyptians, 3 million Armenians and 11 million Greeks won't.  They'll simply look the other way.  As often as not they already have a hand out themselves.  'I won't make noise about yours as long as you don't make noise about mine.'

For a very corrupt democracy to exist, most people have to agree that's the way things should be.  Even regular Joes like me and you.   Did you want a receipt with that?  Are you sure?  (If you say 'no,' the tax-man won't have a clue about this purchase...and I can charge you 10% less.)

In a word: complicity.  On a massive scale.  Because in some places, most people say, You know what?  Yes.  Yes I would like a receipt with that.  Places like Singapore, for example.  Or Finland.  Or Australia. 

But most Greeks do not.  Just like most Italians (at least in some parts of the country).  And most Indians.

Surprise at the current Greek debt crisis rattling the Eurozone is not shared by everyone.  Some suspect that the Greek character has long accepted things the Swedish character, for example, has not.  Many have even commented on it, but few have gone so far as to publicly state that these character differences could run very deeply indeed.  Deeply in the Greek and Swedish veins.  Perhaps even  to the DNA level.  Those who do believe it runs this deep are fairly sure the Eurozone project was doomed from the start.  Greeks, like it or not, will never be Germans, until they start fiddling with themselves in the petri dish.

Lyberaki, Antigone and Paraskevopoulos, C. J. 2002. “Social capital measurement in Greece”. In OECD–ONS International Conference on Social Capital Measurement, 25-27 September, London.

Nor should we demand that they be.  Before the Eurozone sucked them in, Greeks were rolling along just fine, happy to run their country as they saw fit.  The occasional devaluation crisis, to be sure (maybe a bit more occasional than some of their neighbors), but always, sooner or later, a re-bumping back to their natural economic level.

The current attempt to stuff the square peg of Greece's character and culture into the round hole of Germany's is simply not going to work.  The EU's pig-headed decision to prolong the Greeks' agony rather than push for their quick (and inevitable) default and exit from the Eurozone is simply unconscionable.

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