Friday, February 24, 2012

Quo vadimus?

One has the greatest difficulty trying to climb into the mind of the bureaucrat(s) who decided to erect this sign. Far from being what they intended, it is a monument, all on its own, to what is bringing down nations that once had more sense.

Examples abound, overwhelmingly, but I need choose just one more:
 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. 
As e-commerce continues to gain ground apace abroad, and even Greeks seem to be warming to the idea of Internet shopping, opening an online store based in Greece is no job for the fainthearted. 
“An online store is more complicated than a regular store basically because of the way payments are carried out,” explained Fotis Antonopoulos, one of the co-founders of, which sells olive oil-based products such as cosmetics, mostly to foreign markets.
All right, so now you have the picture: some enterprising Greeks want to open an online business which markets Greek-made cosmetics from Greek olive oil to the outside world. To do so, one would think that they needed a Website which was capable of being read by the foreigners to whom they were pitching the products, right? Well, the Greek bank they approached to process their online transactions thought better:
[Now] 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.
But this was not the least of their hurdles. For in Greece, at least, opening an online store requires far more in government clearances and permits than even a physical store. Read and laugh (or weep -- it doesn't change the truth of the absurdities which the entrepreneurs had to overcome):
“Most stores begin operating after receiving only the approval regarding their brand name, as the bureaucracy involved takes such a long time to complete that it is simply impossible to keep up with the operational costs, such as paying rent on obligatory headquarters, without making any sales,” said Antonopoulos. 
Antonopoulos 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.
Yes, you read that right -- chest X-rays and stool samples, to open an online Website selling Greek cosmetics.

We have gone far beyond the days of the extortionist Roman tax collectors. That was extortion, pure and simple, in which the sole intent was to enrich oneself by squeezing the victim for more money. But today the burdens are imposed not from any overt greed or intent to do harm, as from stupidity, bull-headedness, ignorance and indifference.

Meanwhile, there are now almost as many people living off money from the Government as there are who pay any money at all to the Government. The former number is increasing; the latter is decreasing (flip the graph upside down). We will soon reach the unsustainable point where the people look to the Government to support them, and there are not enough taxpayers left to support the Government.

(Did I say "soon"? We are already there. All the existing taxpayers cannot support the bloated current Government, which is why it has to borrow at the rate of more than two million dollars every minute of every day.)

One byproduct of this ever-expanding role of the Government providing money to people is that we have spawned a whole new class of faceless bureaucrats. They go to work for the government because no one else would hire them, with their lack of any work ethic, skills, or ability to use common sense rather than be guided solely by what is politically correct. Once ensconced in their positions, they are "accountable" to their superiors in only superficial and meaningless ways (as long as they do not cause terrible publicity).

Faceless bureaucrats decided to put up that "Stay Off the Grass" sign. Faceless bureaucrats demanded stool samples from all stockholders of an online business.

And our lives are increasingly in their hands.  


  1. Greece is a good example of what happens when a society goes down the slippery slope of dependance on a growing bureaucracy. Productivity falls. Rules upon rules increase to the point where nothing can get done anyway. At that point either some sort of revolution occurs so the whole process can start over again from scratch, or another more efficient country moves in, or a leader comes forward who has a clear vision of how to solve things.

    Which way will Greece go?

    Jesus distilled the Mosaic laws down to just two.

    Who will set the bureaucrats straight?

  2. I once saw a sign on Dartmoor that contained only the following message: "THERE IS A FINE OF £10 FOR THROWING STONES AT THIS SIGN"

  3. Dear Mr. Haley,

    You write: "And our lives are increasingly in their hands."

    It sounds to me as though the handwriting is on the wall, although unlike "מנא ,מנא, תקל, ופרסין"* this has been written not by God, but rather by our own collective hands.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer
    *— usually translated mene mene tekel U-pharsin.

  4. Having been stationed in Greece for 1.5 years in the 70's, it appears that the bureaucracy has not changed a bit.

    At that time, in order to get a NATO forces vehicle license plate, you had to visit 4 different offices, get 2 sheets of paper stamped by 7 or 8 different stamps (all in Greek blue ... company must have a monopoly), then pay (at that time) 200 drachma.

    It took a full day and a half to get this done.

  5. Just at the time El Gringo Viejo had to appreciate an empanelment of a jury pool of 400 people in less an hour an a half. It took longer to drive to the Court House and back than to endure the process.
    The point is very well taken however. The sign should be hung in every "public servant's" office in all 57 States of the Democracy.