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Grexodus, not Grexit: the Greater Greek Tragedy PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Monday, 02 March 2015 09:27

Flag of GreeceThis Greek Tragedy is not one that most economists currently comprehend – leastways not those focused today on debts and delayed payments.  The greater Greek Tragedy is found in its ever-increasing exports – of people.

Economists may fret about Greece’s bond repayments and commitment to the rigours of austerity medication but the future of the Greek economy cannot be measured by speculative probabilities of staying within the Euro.  A modern Greek Tragedy is unfolding as thousands of bright young people pack their bags and seek new pastures.

The Greek diaspora is massive – proportionally greater even than the British.  The free movement of people is a hallmark of any progressive civilisation.  But when austerity measures have cast more than half of young people into unemployment, the loss of more than 150,000 graduates from a population where only five million are available to contribute to national wellbeing does not bode well for the future.

The figures are stark.  Classically just over half the Greek population is not available to work; this proportion of children, pensioners and those in poor health is little different to other countries.  So, of around 11 million people, the entire economy must be supported by around five million – but only 3.6 million Greeks are currently employed.  1.4 million are without work. Nearly half of those (0.64m) are aged less than 35 years.

Estimates of the scale of the Greek exodus vary.  Some counts suggest that 75% of the 200,000 emigrants since 2010 are graduates – a brain drain that hardly encourages investment in new start-up enterprises.  Add to that the lack of bank funding for small businesses and the ever-tightening noose of welfare cuts, and it’s no surprise that well-educated young people are flying out.

There’s no doubt that this is a crisis in the making but, in her book The Resilience Dividend, Judith Rodin makes a very important generic point about the essence of any recovery.  Most folks may imagine that the focus would be on getting back to the way things were.  Judith’s work shows the significance of taking stock of a crisis and then moving on in a way that is more resilient to future shocks.

Greece is hardly the first country to experience Brain Drain and there is massive body of evidence showing how to reverse the trend.   Today in Greece it may all seem like wishful thinking.  It is one thing to understand that, as economist Paul Blyth notes, “Austerity as an economic policy simply doesn’t work” but quite another to find a way out of ‘the creditors paradise’.

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) 2014 book Brain Gain shows how cities and regions all over the world have recognised the need to move on and develop successful economic futures.  They may have first been shaken by a crisis and only then stirred into action, but these clues may be learned and applied on a national scale.  Judith Rodin pointedly asks whether we really need to wait for a fully formed crisis before taking action.

But still, for Greece, the reality is that Greece is only Greece because everywhere else imagines (or pretends) that they are not Greece and are determined to stay looking that way.  And it is in that perceived differentiation that Greece will find its future – by not becoming somewhere else.

Fortuitously, technology has arrived to enable a new course and turn the Greek exodus into an incoming tide of talent and investment.   The busted banks won’t lend – but who needs banks in this Sharing Economy era?  The Greek diaspora is huge (no small tomatoes) and the injection needed for new ventures calls for radical thinking: a state-encouraged version of Kick-Starter crowd-funding.  If supported by renewed effort to further invest in digital infrastructures to sustain economic growth & administrative efficiencies and eliminate corruption, the new business models in a more future-proofed economy would fit that modern design revelation: ‘build it so they will stay’.

Historically Greeks have been great travellers – that’s how western civilisation spread.  It’s time now for everyone to focus on making Greece the new, the most prestigious, the most desirable and attractive destination.  Only when this patient can breathe again can we all have any hope of survival.



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