The failing Greek economy has been a tragedy played out on the world stage for what seems like forever. Europe’s moustached loafers, once the envy of all hard-working northern Europeans and the subject of many an incredulous holiday-maker’s anecdote became the lazy, feckless swine who were endangering the stability of the noble Euro. Then as they began to protest against the austerity imposed for their own good by the wise Troika, they became the petulant children who were obviously never mature enough to have economic sovereignty in the first place.
Now the Eurozone is finally starting to show signs of growth and the Greek economy’s contraction is slowing despite the austerity, It is time for another renaissance because it’s occurred to me that Greece had it right all along.
Entrepreneurism is now the buzz word on everybody’s lips from the EU to the World Bank, from TED to Forbes. Governments across the world are trying to be seen to encourage entrepreneurial spirit; our young are being primed to make their own solutions. The apprentice, Dragon’s Den, How I made my Millions, Shark Tank; we are obsessed with start-ups. Sergey Brin, Richard Reed, Richard Branson, Zuckerberg and the divine Steve Jobs; entrepreneurs are the new movie stars.
Greeks are the leaders of entrepreneurism in Europe, at least. The economy has always been based on small and medium businesses with the vast majority of shops in the high street family owned. It is a given that if you want to earn a decent wage you need to do it for yourself, even doctors treat the health system as a side job with their own practice and consultancy being the real business. The truth is, getting a good job in a big company and working your way up has never really been an option in Greece. The only big companies would be the supermarket chains, banks and well, that’s about it. European commission figures show that in 2009 Greece had just about the highest levels of non-farming self-employment in the union at about 29.9% of employed population. What this means is that more people per capita are actively involved in the country’s economy, not just clocking in and out but with a real vested interest and the power to make change and as they are the most heavily taxed in most cases, they also have more say over the policy of the country.
In Britain, Margaret Thatcher under the mentorage of Freidrich Hayek, won at least one election based on the promise of making more home-owners knowing full-well that once the populous has a vested interest in the country’s tomorrows, they will become better citizens. I ask you, what could put your heart closer the core of the nation’s future than your own business. A true symbiosis of state and citizen. Big companies may be able to cajole or bully 100% from their workers, maybe with promotional prospects employees may go that extra mile but when it’s you name above the door and your house that’s been mortgaged, you give heart and soul.
Now the world has realised that when corporate industry is too risk averse or short-term stock value oriented it is down to the people on the street to innovate and make solutions. Many of the titans of ITC have start-up funds like Google Ventures and MS Bing fund, even individuals are getting in on seed funding via crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Crowdcube but little of this investment is getting to Greece.
Greece not only works but still has lessons for the rest of the world’s economies. A steady salary and dress-down Fridays may make people happy to go to work but put their name on the letterheads and they’ll build you a nation.