There’s more than enough depressing news available – seemingly everywhere – about Greece right now. There’s no need for me to add to the pile. So (if anyone still reads this thing), please enjoy this wonderful rebetika instrumental.
Markos Vamvakaris, Mh me Peismatoneis (1938)
In six charts (at the Economist). Explains a lot, doesn’t it? It’s remarkable that so many Greeks still describe the Euro as a “good thing,” despite the EU’s continued insistence upon failed policies. Then again, I’m sure lots of Greeks remember how many zeros were printed on the old drachma, never a good sign for a currency.
The Iraqi National Museum was reopened today, 12 years after it was looted in the wake of the U.S. invasion. Today’s opening came as a response to ISIS’s destruction of antiquities in the Mosul Museum, many of which were priceless Assyrian sculptures from the royal palaces. The U.S. is primarily to blame for the looting of Iraq’s museum. The museum was second behind only the Central Bank on a list of sites to secure, but we did not do so. Some 15,000 objects were looted in a mere two days, most of which remain missing. Museum staff – on their own initiative – hid thousands of the Museum’s most important artifacts in a location known only to them at the time. If they had not done so, the damage would have been much worse. The U.S. officer charged with recovering these objects has written an article in the AJA and a book about his efforts: Matthew Bogdanos, Thieves of Baghdad.
An article in the NYT today focuses on Greece’s microeconomic needs, rather than the macro needs that are more often stressed in the media. The author points to three central factors: regulation, fear, and size. The first refers to the notorious byzantine regulations and structures embedded in Greece today. It remains remarkably difficult to start a business in the country due to red tape, closed professions, and clientelism, even now. Fear refers to political uncertainty and the lack of ownership over structural reform and the austerity program. But it’s the final point that is key here, in my opinion – size. Here, the author is referring to the fact that Greece could never achieve an export-led recovery due to the fact that its businesses are overwhelmingly small, family-run operations. In fact, if one looks at the data, Greece is that mecca of small business that American politicians are constantly lauding (America is no such thing – the percentage of workers employed by companies with over 250 employees is higher here than in any other developed country, by quite a margin). As a result, Greece’s businesses were in no position to take advantage of reduced labor costs or devaluation and therefore could never be expected to lead an export-led recovery. This microeconomic perspective explains, in the author’s opinion, the Greek “divergence” from other peripheral European countries that implemented austerity programs.
I am not an economist, but the author’s latter point – on small businesses – is quite obviously a valid one. Anyone who knows anything about Greece knows this – the place is dominated by family-owned businesses and economies of scale are quite rare. Yet the author also advances the argument that SYRIZA does not intend to address problems pertaining to regulation or inefficiency. This is patently false. Tsipras and Varoufakis seem quite interested in doing so – and have stated directly that they want to modernize the public sector, root out corruption, and tackle tax evasion. We shall see how they do; it will be no easy task. But it is not accurate to claim that Syriza’s platform in no way will address the microeconomic problems Greece faces.
The civil war in Syria has unleashed looting on an epic scale there, and the rise of ISIS has only made the situation worse (and extended it to northern Iraq). After oil, looted antiquities are now the largest source of revenue for ISIS. The State has formulated a method for extracting antiquities, contacting dealers directly, and selling prestige objects to wealthy foreigners. So to those Western, Chinese, and Arab elites who are purchasing looted antiquities: know that you are scum who are contributing to the evisceration of an entire region’s cultural heritage and funding directly a “state” that regularly beheads people, executes individuals by throwing them from towers, and enslaves so-called apostates or captives it takes in battle.
We can only hope that the work of Syria’s Monuments Men – which is significantly more dangerous than the work done by WWII equivalents – bears fruit.
Here’s the article.
Archaeology, politics, and crisis – from Yannis Hamilakis.
“With the country about to go to the polls, Alexandromania and national treasure-hunting are proving too seductive to be abandoned.”