Sex, Lies and Default

Could it be that the public sector provided the Greeks with both economic security and disposable time, which they took advantage of to have frequent sex?

If Silvan Shalom gets his way, Sunday could become part of the weekend - and the weekend is a good time for trivia games. So here's a riddle you could have pondered over yesterday: Which country's citizens have sex more often than those of any other country?

If you think it's France, because of their image or their tolerance of the peccadilloes of their leaders, you're wrong. A survey conducted by condoms maker Durex among 26,000 respondents in 26 countries places France roughly in the middle of the list, with 70% saying they have sex at least once a week.

Striking Greeks - Bloomberg - July 2011

If you guessed Brazil, you're nearer. Brazilians are in second place, with 82% of respondents claiming to do the deed at least once a week.

But first and foremost, at quite some distance from the rest of the heaving pack, is a small country that isn't usually associated with unbridled eroticism: Nevertheless, 87% of the Greek respondents claimed to have intercourse at least once a week.

The Durex survey was conducted in 2006, well before Greece's woes were exposed. The crisis, therefore, hadn't had time to effect Grecian amorousness. It is entirely possible that subsequent events in the Greek public domain have had a dampening effect.

One of every four Greeks works in the civil service. The pay in the public sector has been generous, especially in some places, with the talk being that a cleaner in the Ministry of Finance earns about as much as top management at other ministries. Greece's public servants usually stay on the job until they retire - and they retire early, with generous pension support.

The Greek public sector is extraordinarily inefficient; yet until recently, it drew some of the most talented young people in the land. Could it be that the public sector provided the Greeks with both economic security and disposable time, which they took advantage of to have frequent sex?

But now the party is over. And the austerity measures that Athens has adopted - the lowering of public-sector pay by 15% and pay at government companies by 30%, and the limits imposed on raises and bonuses - have sparked massive protests in the streets. The public sector will shrink, fast. Only one of every 10 civil servants who retire this year will be replaced. The next survey Durex conducts may find the Greeks in a much less passionate frame of mind.

Shushing the rating agencies

The sex life of the Greeks is the last thing on the minds of the world's leaders. But they are losing sleep over the state of the Greek nation because of Greece's tremendous debt to savers and banks the world wide, and fear that a Greek default will bring down the whole European Union.

This isn't hyperbole. Everybody understands that Greece is bankrupt. It can't repay all its debtors on time. And what Greece is actually doing is seeking a way to reschedule its debt without declaring itself formally bankrupt. That's because formal bankruptcy will trigger a maelstrom and nobody knows how it will end.

The European leaders are so terrified of such a scenario that they are even threatening freedom of speech. Germany has been threatening the credit rating agencies lest they define what's happening in Greece and elsewhere as bankruptcy. Some fear the next to be strong-armed will be the press. That renders the credit rating agencies something of a joke. They should have warned the world about Europe's deteriorating, but didn't. Now that they want to talk, they're being gagged.

Sooner or later, most of the pundits concur, Greece will be declared bankrupt under some arrangement or other. What remains to be seen is where the next European crisis will strike - Portugal, Ireland, Spain or Italy.

More and more experts think countries like Greece and Portugal have no choice but to back out of the euro bloc. By adopting the euro and forgoing their own currency, they can't depressurize through depreciation. Economic pressure gets shunted off to bonds - and the possibility of default.

Warning for Israel

Israel doesn't have debt like Greece, but it's all a warning to us. We have much in common with Greece, and roughly the same domestic output per capita. Yet it failed at managing certain economic parameters and is sliding into the abyss.

Which parameters? The answers lie in the competitiveness report of the World Economic Forum of 2011, which rates 134 countries, including basket cases in Africa, Asia and South America. Greece is in 77th place for the competitiveness of the domestic economy. (Israel is 22nd. ) Greece is 105th in the war on cronyism in government decisions (Israel is 34th ). Greece is 106th in ethical corporate conduct (Israel: 24th ). Greece is 120th in efficiency of corporate boards (Israel: 62nd ).

Yet when it comes to restraining the power of the people ruling the market, Greece is in 67th place; Israel 117th.

We have worryingly similar trends in some fields. But at least the Greeks had plenty of sex while they tumbled down the slope.