My earlier comments were about the changes we have seen in the Ithaki town of Vathi and the emergence of new businesses in this broken economy. As the week unfolded, I noticed two other characteristics that might serve as a warning signal to those whose internal markets have not yet collapsed:
It seems there are two types in the workplace here – those who have no job and those who have two! The head waiter at Liberty (with a very superior “I’m doing you a favour by taking your order” attitude) is selling tickets in the Strintzis ferry office (and goes out his way to ignore us when we see him for the second time). The head waiter at Sirens turns up serving lunch at a different restaurant in Kioni, some 15 miles further up the coast. We notice other individuals appearing in unlikely places, given their day jobs.
Taxes, taxes and more taxes
Every transaction requires a written receipt. It has become a criminal offence not to produce one. We eat lunch, we ask for the bill, we pay, we get a receipt. We leave a tip, they bring a receipt for the tip. Even a small exchange of coins for some trifling item generates obligatory paperwork. The country is awash with receipts. On Friday we walk to Captain Yiannis to pay for three days of boat hire (our nautical ambitions were wiped out on Thursday by high winds and a choppy sea). Stefanos is just pulling away as we arrive on his moped. He stops and turns around to help us. On the saddle is a bag of money (a substantial amount). I ask where he is off to? “To pay my taxes.” A new office has opened over The Port Authority and business owners are required to visit EVERY MONTH and pay their sales and other taxes in cash. After years as a low tax, no tax economy the tax police are now all over the place and even visit businesses in plain clothes to check that ‘the paperwork’ is being done properly. It has become Kafka-esque and the island is adjusting to a bureaucracy that has arrived too late to save the day. Such over-regulation usually provides even more ‘jobs for the boys’ in the civil services, stifles business growth and dampens enterprise, innovation and risk. And yet without these three, recovery becomes protracted and limited in scope. What the Greeks (and others in Europe) need to do is to encourage entrepreneurs with easy funding on modern terms, low taxes on success and rewards for the creation of jobs and prosperity. We need capitalism governed by capitalists and not by bankers and politicians. Good capitalists self-regulate. Let the good capitalists create our future.