In October 2000, I founded the “Center for the Development in Southeastern Europe” (KANE) in order to assist businessmen in absorbing funds from the European Union by writing business proposals for new entrepreneurial projects. It was then when I faced corruption in the private sector for the first time in my life.
Many businessmen contacted me offering me a percentage of the money I would solicit for them from the European Union – telling me flat-out that they did not plan on really operating the new business they proposed but on simply getting the huge funds. It was then when I also faced corruption in the public sector for I had seen that in order to have any proposal approved by the government agency involved, one would have to give “a little something” to either the director of the office that administered the EU funds or to the “inspectors” who supposedly checked whether or not the proposed business was indeed operating.
These experiences made me realize that my office would not succeed because I could not and I would not contribute to assist “businessmen” and public “servants” destroying the market in which I lived. The natural question arising is, of course, why did I not report what I saw. The answer is as simple as it is annoying: Because there was no established mechanism to do such a thing. Everyone was in it. Everyone filled his/her pockets and the money that was planned to be going to the development of the Greek market, to creating new jobs, and to increasing cash flow went to illegally built villas, luxurious cars, and/or Swiss bank accounts. After closing down my business and after working in the Press Office of a former Minister of Defense I saw that this “business procedure” was standard practice in Greece at least in the period 2000-2008.
“Naturally” the above kinds of practices not only do not contribute to the development of any market but, on the opposite, they contribute to the collapse of any market. The question is how widespread those practices are and how much do they affect all western capitalistic markets. For those readers thinking “this is a typical Greek thing”, I will have to say that unfortunately it is not. The spread that the corruption had reached, may be, but corruption certainly is not only a Greek thing. In some societies it is simply done by a fewer people for larger sums. Corruption is the weak spot of any free market.
By corruption I do not only mean bribery. By corruption I mean anything that is not done the way it is supposed to be done.
Corruption in the public sector is to put private interests above public interests.
Corruption in the private sector is to put private interests about public interests as well.
Corruption among the consumers is to live beyond your means…. to live on credit… to buy things without having money to do so… but, hey… is that not what western economies are based on? I mean credit. Are we not bombarded every day by hundreds, if not thousands of advertisements, which urge us to buy things we do not really need and worry about paying for it later? Are we not educated to think that, in order to be considered “civilized”, one has to have many things? Are we not trained to believe that what we see on TV or read in a newspaper must be true? Is that not what advertisements are based on? Are advertisements not a pillar of free market societies? Unfortunately the answer to any of the above questions is: Yes, we are - Yes, it is – or Yes, they are.
I welcome the financial crisis in Greece because it forces us to think about the true values of life. It forces us to see that we have brought the nation to the brink of financial collapse because anyone of us is a corrupt businessman, a corrupt public servant, or a corrupt consumer. Maybe we are forced to go back to a time where we could not consume a bunch of needless things, where we could leave our doors open and welcome anyone in our homes because everyone had just the few necessary things anyone else had, where the true wealth was health and knowledge – and not a great number of gadgets, cars, TVs, PCs, and… weight and/or cholesterol.
Is Greece the only nation that lives on Credit? Are the Greeks the only victims to Credit cards and loans? Does only Greece have corrupt mechanisms? Unfortunately the answer to these questions is: No.
I welcome the financial crisis in Greece because, once again, the Greeks force humanity to think about what is important in life.