Welcome to the Jungle
I want to tell you a story. I want to tell you a story about a little country that, like many many other developed countries in the Western world, ran up a huge bill. It ran up this huge bill because it had so many civil servants that when foreign officials a few months ago asked just how many there actually were, the answer was «we don’t know, but we’ll find out for you.» This reply captures the essence of this little country. Now, if this wasn’t enough, we should add another reason as to why it ran up this huge bill. Over the past 30 years, this little country — ok, let’s get it out in the open and call it Greece — decided to find a way to maintain political families in power (yes, yes, let’s not mince words and cry nepotism) and these families came up with a cunning plan. They would implement a system of quid pro quo worthy of the Starling-Lecter Awards whereby the quid actually meant quid as in mullah and the quo meant votes. People would rush to a politician’s campaign office asking for a government position in exchange for a minuscule cross on the electoral ballot next to the candidate’s name (crosses are le plat du jour, no electronic voting system here). If said candidate made it to office, then civil servant position was secured. As simple as one, two, three.
To spruce things up even more and make people want to become civil servants, politicians upped pay and with every passing election gradually opened up unnecessary vacancies to be filled by their diligent working ants, most of whom people term here as testicle-scratchers (which isn’t meant in a sexy way, in case you were wondering). Now, with every change in government came a demotion and transfer in top-ranking civil servants, leaving the country in a permanently inconsistent flux when it came to getting things computerized in the 80’s and 90’s and completing much-needed infrastructure works. Instead of using European grants wisely, MP’s and contractors would hike the prices of such works and pocket the change worth millions of Drachmas and later Euros. Of course things moved at a snail’s pace, requiring further EU subsidies to be allocated to the same works that should have been completed during a previous government’s tenure.
And so the money kept coming in and kept being pocketed by the 300-headed Lernaean Hydra lurking in the Parliament that generously and wantonly handed it out to civil servants, contractors, farmers (that’s a whole different story) and most anyone it could please. Let’s not forget this was extra money given by the EU to enable Greece to stand on par with its EU counterparts, meaning that Greece already had a nice cash intake from taxes.
Then one day the ants woke up and smelled the roses. An epiphany of epiphanies befell them and they discovered the power of striking. They wanted more? They took to the streets in droves, effectively paralyzing the entire nation until their demands were met. The government, of course, was all too obliging to accommodate if they wanted to stay in power so, slowly, a whole new social class was born in Greece known as the civil servant who had the financial stability to make retailers happy with their custom and governing officials with their vote. And so years went by and mothers encouraged their children to seek out a position in public service which once, according to septuagenarians, was considered degrading in the 50’s and 60’s. The new social class grew and coveted more, the government gave and one fine morning someone put a lid on it. The problem was that the chef who put that lid on was a foreigner.
More on that to come soon, courtesy of your friendly Reaper.