America's founding fathers were thought to be against big governements. They held that a necessary evil of government is corruption, and the greater the government the more extensive the corruption. The role of the state should be to regulate the operation of the free market, and act as the enforcer to punish those who break the law, also deterring others from breaking it.
Much later Milton Friedman stipulated that "government is the will of the individual to live at the expense of others". Taken literally this may seem somewhat excessive. But in countries with large governments it is surprisingly accurate: individuals expect the government "to take care of things", and the perenial complaint is that the "government should do something". Government becomes the deus ex machina that will save us all by remedying problems through bloated, expensive bureaucracies.
These thoughts I have had for a long time; indeed at times I may have seemed graphic among friends in blaming the corrupt Greek bureacracy for the evils of Greek society. But i still think I am right, and I still see the public sector in Greece as the perpetrator of many of the country's evils.
The latest manifestation of the state's malfeasance is tragic indeed. The last big forest around over-polluted Athens - Parnitha - burned in its entirety in a fire last week. Already enviromental scientists and other experts are making grim predictions about what is to come for the city. Increased temperatures, floods (as the forest will no longer absorb the water),land corrosion, and still greater pollution. Fires happen of course. But this fire happened in a distinctly Greek way.
What has emerged so far is that the public power company - which has supply lines runnning through the forest - had not properly maintained them. Dirt had accumulated on one of the power lines, and some sparks started the fire. The fire trucks came, but the hose didnt work properly, and they had to go. Two airplanes made two water-drops just before dawn and then . . . nothing happens. It later emerged that the director of the emergency services of Greece (the equivalent of FEMA) is not on talking terms(!) with the head of the fire services because of jurisdictional disputes. Then it emerged that the head of the fire services, who was appointed by the new government, fired experienced and able high ranking officers and in their place hired people affiliated to labor unions loyal to the governing party. In turn, funds for the preparations for the fires of the summer season where allocated to districts according to party affiliation, not objective need.
All the above is typical of how the Greek government works. The huge and ineffective bureaucracy is not independent. Everytime the party in government changes, it changes the heads of the various departments and the new heads change their deputies. The new deputies change those below them, and so on down to the lowest ranking employee. Of course, this serves to buy votes and appoint party loyalists to redundant, overpaid government positions. Thus the bureacracy becomes a political device for granting favors and hiring people. Anyone who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone can get a favor and surely enough he will cast a vote for the party that did him the favor. Such is the cycle of corruption in Greece. And it makes me wonder: had that not been the case, would have Parnitha burned?