Athens chose olives, and is still paying for it.
The story goes that ancient Athens had become such a fabulous city, that both Poseidon and his niece Athena vied to be its patron.
The competition was threatening to send the gods to war, but then Athena suggested they have a competition. Whoever would give the city the best gift would be the winner and the city would be dedicated to them.
Poseidon agreed. And so all of Athens gathered to receive their gifts. Poseidon went first. He raised up his trident and struck the ground at Erekhtheis, and a frothy spring gushed forth.
The people oohed and ahhed.
Athena on the other hand, knelt to the ground and planted a seed in the earth. From that seed grew a wonderful olive tree. The people ate of its fruits, cooked and lit lamps with its oils, and benefited from its many medicinal properties.
The people were torn. But then someone tasted the water from Poseidon’s spring, and it was salty – he was the God of the Sea after all.
And so it was unanimous. The olives were the best gift by far, and the city was named Athena.
Poseidon however was pissed. And so he took the Greek people to the court of disputed returns on Mt Olympus, where he precented them with an exorbitant bill for the spring he had built.
The Greek people were indignant. We didn’t ask for your stupid well anyway and it doesn’t even work. Why should we pay for it?
But then Poseidon presented a contract and work-order signed by one of Athens’s governors (who was notorious for taking kick-backs, and had since retired to a suspiciously opulent island villa).
The people of Athens could see the scam unfolding, and so they appealed to Zeus. Zeus looked to Poseidon for an explanation.
“It’s obvious what is happening here,” said Poseidon. “The Greek people are lazy. They’ve spent too long living the high-life, and now that it’s time to pay their debts, they cry like babies.”
“So what should they do?”
“They must pay their debts. Let them sell their assets if they have to. Let them sell their ports and their maritime fleets. Let them sell their beaches even.
… And look, I just happen to have some buyers lined up over here.”
“And how will they live if they sell everything that makes money?”
“If they reduce the size of the state – cut back on spending, reduce public sector wages, sell off assets – then they will become much more efficient. They will then grow their way out of their problems in their new, agile super-economy.”
“Has something like this ever been done before?”
“Dozens of times. In the South America Debt Crisis. In the Asian Financial Crisis….”
“And has it ever worked.”
“No. Not once. But it’s bound to work this time.”
Zeus knew the people of Athens were being screwed, but he had bigger problems at hand. Cities across the continent were wanting to leave the union. Separatist parties on the right and left were springing up like wild-flowers.
The debt might be unfair, but what happens if you just let cities walk away from their debts? German investment banks might have a difficult reporting season.
Athens had to be made an example of.
Zeus said, “I will lend Athens the money to cover her debts. But in return, she must sell her best assets at fire-sale prices, and she must raise taxes and cut spending and other things you would exactly recommend not doing in a crisis.”
The people of Athens were outraged. They took to the streets, but confusion quickly took the place of anger.
Who was to blame? The bankers? Probably. The elected officials who had sold them down the river? Definitely. Zeus and his austerity measures? They definitely didn’t seem to be helping.
And what was the solution? Asking politicians to fix the problem was like asking a toddler to clean up their own mess. (Just lots of tears and more mess).
And the Greek people had been a mercantile people for centuries. They knew the benefits of trade. They weren’t isolationist. They didn’t believe that cutting themselves off from the rest of the world was going to help matters, but they didn’t know what would either.
Despair and mistrust grew. The country became paralysed, while more and more of her assets were sold off to foreign interests.
Poseidon meanwhile picked about a bunch of stunning beaches at bargain-basement prices.
I forget the punchline to this story. Or maybe there isn’t one. Greek stories have a habit of being tragic.
I’d love to say that things have gotten better since the last time I was here. But they haven’t. Austerity measures are still in effect and still don’t seem to be helping (6 years down the track!)
No one knows who to blame. No one knows who to turn to for a solution. Despair is spreading from a despair for the current situation to a despair for humanity and civilisation itself.
And I don’t know if there are big-money conspiracies at play (though its certainly easy to see evidence for them if you’re looking.) But it was corruption that got Greece into this mess, so it doesn’t surprise anybody that the greatest fire-sale in history is also rife with corruption.
It’s just one loss after humiliating loss.
And seriously, beaches are being privatised. Can you believe it?
I’m not going to pretend to have the answers. I don’t even think I can finger the problem.
But if this is what globalisation looks like, it’s no wonder the whole project is coming off the rails.
Should the people of Athens gone with the salty spring?