Excessive Bureaucracy: Choking Greece's Economy

Mark Perry.

Greece has more economic problems than just excessive government debt and a 21% unemployment rate, it's got an excessive government bureaucracy that is choking off private enterprise and small businesses.  Or maybe it's more accurate to say that it's because of the excessive government bureaucracy that Greece has excessive debt and 21% unemployment.

Here are two anecdotes of excessive bureaucracy in Greece that "get at the very heart of how Greece landed up in its current condition and why rapid change is unlikely":
Anecdote 1: "It took 10 months, a fat bundle of paperwork, countless certificates, long hours of haggling with bureaucrats and overcoming myriad other inconceivable obstacles for one group of young entrepreneurs to open an online store.

Fotis Antonopoulos, one of the co-founders of Oliveshop.com, and his partners spent hours collecting papers from tax offices, the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the municipal service where the company is based, the health inspector’s office, the fire department and banks. At the health department, they were told that all the shareholders of the company would have to provide chest X-rays, and, in the most surreal demand of all, stool samples.

Once they climbed the crazy mountain of Greek bureaucracy and reached the summit, they faced the quagmire of the bank, where the issue of how to confirm the credit card details of customers ended in the bank demanding that the entire website be in Greek only, including the names of the products.

“They completely ignored us, however much we explained that our products are aimed at foreign markets and everything has to be written in English as well,” said Antonopoulos.

Eventually, Antonopoulos and his associates decided to use foreign banking systems like PayPal, and cut the Greek bank, with which they had been negotiating for three months, from the middle. “It’s their loss, not ours. We eventually solved the problem in just one day,” explained Antonopoulos."

Anecdote 2 (via Tyler Cowen): "A number of contacts in Greece described their experiences trying to open a business or buy property, which involved high fees, several trips to different tax offices and months of navigating bureaucracy. This gets at the very heart of how Greece landed up in its current condition and why rapid change is unlikely.

This is best encapsulated in an anecdote from my visit to Athens. A friend and I met up at a new bookstore and café in the centre of town, which has only been open for a month. The establishment is in the center of an area filled with bars, and the owner decided the neighborhood could use a place for people to convene and talk without having to drink alcohol and listen to loud music. After we sat down, we asked the waitress for a coffee. She thanked us for our order and immediately turned and walked out the front door. My friend explained that the owner of the bookstore/café couldn’t get a license to provide coffee. She had tried to just buy a coffee machine and give the coffee away for free, thinking that lingering patrons would boost book sales.

However, giving away coffee was illegal as well. Instead, the owner had to strike a deal with a bar across the street, whereby they make the coffee and the waitress spends all day shuttling between the bar and the bookstore/café. My friend also explained to me that books could not be purchased at the bookstore, as it was after 6 p.m. and it is illegal to sell books in Greece beyond that hour. I was in a bookstore/café that could neither sell books nor make coffee."

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