As unique as my country is, I often read about other places that are similarly stuck in the holes they’ve been digging for themselves. But in the United States, the Obama administration has already announced that they mean business when they talk about upgrading the country’s creaking infrastructure, promoting clean energy, and fixing health care (see my previous post quoting Fred Wilson). We haven’t done that – so, the parallel no longer applies.
Today, instead, the Friends of Italy Award of the day goes therefore to Greece, described in today’s Economist in the following terms.
[…] Far more important are problems that no Greek government has tackled. To find out what they are, ask any of the Greek-born scholars, entrepreneurs, artists and other talented types who flourish all over the world but recoil at working in their homeland, much as they love it.
As any homesick Hellene can tell you, their country can be a maddening place for people with drive and flair. The world’s universities are full of Greek academics, but the country’s own campuses are dogged by poor administration, strikes and a state monopoly on higher education. In its university system Greece hews closer to the worst aspects of the Ottoman past (such as bureaucracies that block innovation) than does Turkey, with its fine range of public and private campuses.
In health, schooling and other public services, bad state provision fuels a huge under-the-counter market—creating in turn vested interests opposed to any change. Life is tough for youngsters with energy and talent but no cash or connections. To get anywhere, they spend all day in rotten state classrooms, then trek off to private night schools where the same teachers do a slightly better job in return for money. Anybody who negotiates those hurdles must then face a dismal job market—either a dreary, dysfunctional public sector or a private sector crimped by crooked tax inspectors and crazed regulators.