Given Greeks’ talent for entrepreneurship, why is Greece itself so hostile to business?

By: | Post date: 2017-05-23 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Modern Greek

I had a wonderful comment about this in a similar post, and because it was a comment and not a post, and because Quora has a very recalcitrant notion of what should be searchable, I can’t find it.

My fellow Greeks Nikos Anagnostou, Yiannis Papadopoulos, Bob Hannent, Konstantinos Konstantinides, Pieter van der Wilt, have all illuminated different facets of this question:

  • Greeks are small-scale entrepreneurs: they get family-sized operations, not big business (Nikos, Bob, Pieter)
  • Greeks are culturally suspicious of big business (Nikos)
  • Greece is choking in bureaucracy, which is self-perpetuating (Bob)
  • Greeks want a cushy public sector job rather than a risky private enterprise job, and patronage rather than risk (Konstantinos)
  • The Greeks who were truly enterprising left the country (Yiannis)

The Greeks who get out of Greece, and aren’t dragged down by the unenterprising culture of their fellow Greeks, do prosper. But they don’t prosper immediately: it takes a generational shift. In Australia, I have a cousin who is doing haute couture and has just moved to LA, and a cousin who owns a chain of McDonalds franchises; but they are second generation. Their parents? Small business owners, the lot of them.

(And yes, I’m an academic manqué turned civil servant, but God knows, my parents were pushing me to be a lawyer.)

In Greece? My uncle in Salonica, who has passed on, was a civil servant in the Electricity Company. One of his sons has been unemployed for six years; his estranged brother is an accountant. As an accountant, he’s one of the few of my cousins who’s financially on the way up.

When he got into the private sector, my uncles’ and aunts’ reaction was one of dismay. (You got it: more than half are civil servants, and the rest are small businesspeople.) “Oh, poor [Redacted]! Having to slave away 9–5! Why couldn’t his father have provided for him while he was still alive, and gotten him a decent job in the public sector!”

I’ve discussed where that attitude came from with friends, and I think even with Dimitra Triantafyllidou here. (Would that I could find that comment here.) Some of it is longstanding, but some of it is more recent—the gates into the civil service were flung open by the Socialists in the ’80s, and made it a default choice in society.

I may have been impressionable in my view of this (I know Achilleas Vortselas was more sceptical in that comment thread); but a revelation to me, during my last two visits to Greece, was that the only relative I met who expressed any interest in what my life was like in Australia was my cousin’s husband, who was the one remaining farmer in the family. It made sense to me that a farmer (who was doing well out of subsidies, and had bought up more land and property) would have kept that sense of enterprise which his civil servant relatives had lost. And that that sense of enterprise should be aligned to a sense of curiosity about the world, which his more complacent relatives had lost.

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