Oh how naïve was I? It was less than three years ago that I made my first of now countless trips to Greece to report on the growing Greek debt crisis and I still remember the title of the article I wrote to accompany my visit in spring 2010 — “Greece, Too Small To Fail.”
Did it have to come to this, the whole of the euro zone seemingly on a precipice, waiting for one of its smallest members to decide its path yet again?
Back in late 2009 PASOK, the socialist party led by George Papandreou, swept to power. In the early months of the new government I sat in the Greek Finance Ministry and spoke at length to George Papaconstantinou about his hopes and aspirations for reform of a corrupt and unproductive economy and, among other things, about how tax collection would be brought into the twenty-first century.
And now we know the truth — the PASOK government failed in the same way that so many governments in Greece failed before it. The overwhelming mandate and popularity of the Socialists dissolved. Shock and awe faded to nothing. Greece has gone backwards.
I say backwards because back then there was a sense of unity on the surface, this has now been replaced by such a fractious political status quo that literally any scenario is possible. Any scenario from full-blown Greece euro exit to a muddling through with the current austerity plan is possible.
None of the options looks promising. For all the huge amount of analysis I have on my desk right now from all the bright sparks across economics, politics and markets, the only constant is the caveat that any scenario is possible. How sad that it has come to this?
One of my colleagues once accused me of "going native" every time I go on an outside broadcast. By this he meant that all too often I become less analytical and less objective about the hard economics. In many ways he was right.
You see, when you see the misery for many on the ground it’s hard to turn round and remind the Greeks, and others, that they are living beyond their means. Oh how easy it is to call them all tax cheats when you are sitting in a studio in London or New York. Shame on us sometimes for being so shallow.
I have read a lot about capital flight ahead of this weekend’s election. This is very real and I believe has naturally been underplayed by the authorities for obvious reasons but it’s the human flight that worries me equally.
I am lucky enough to have met some bright and extremely patriotic Greeks who fully admit their country needs a radical overhaul. It’s these people Greece needs to help rebuild their broken state but these are very often the most mobile of people. They are the ones who have Green Cards, dual nationalities, job offers elsewhere around the globe.
This brain pool could quite easily become part of a diaspora that exits Greece in dismay at the burden they are being asked to pay. And who can blame them? I, for one, love my country but my family wins hands down every time. If the brain pool exits, what’s left? And please, save me the feta and tourism stereotypes.
- By Steve Sedgwick, Anchor, CNBC