The geopolitics of Greece

I found this short essay worth a read.  Excerpt:

The lack of capital generation is therefore the most serious implication of Greek geography. Situated as far from global flows of capital as any European country that considers itself part of the West, Greece finds itself surrounded by sheltered ports, most of which are protected by mountains and cliffs that drop off into the sea. This affords Greece little room for population growth, and contributes to its inability to produce much domestic capital. This, combined with the regionalized approach to political authority encouraged by mountainous geography, has made Greece a country that has been inefficiently distributing what little capital it has had for millennia.

Countries that have low capital growth and considerable infrastructural costs usually tend to develop a very uneven distribution of wealth. The reason is simple: Those who have access to capital get to build and control vital infrastructure and thereby make the decisions both in public and working life. In countries that have to import capital, this becomes even more pronounced, since those who control industries and businesses that bring in foreign cash have more control than those who control fixed infrastructure, which can always be nationalized (industries and businesses can move elsewhere if threatened with nationalization). When such uneven distribution of wealth is entrenched in a society, a serious labor-capital (or, in the European context, a left-right) split emerges. This is why Greece is politically similar to Latin American countries, which face the same infrastructural and capital problems, right down to periods of military rule and an ongoing and vicious labor-capital split.

Despite the limitations on its capital generation, Greece has no alternative but to create an expensive defensive capability that allows it to control the Aegean Sea. Put simply, the core of Greece is neither the breadbaskets of Thessaly and Greek Macedonia, nor the Athens-Piraeus metropolitan area, where around half of the population lives. The core of Greece is the Aegean Sea – the actual water, not the coastland – which allows these three critical areas of Greece to be connected for trade, defense and communication. Control of the Aegean also gives Greece the additional benefit of influencing trade between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Without control of the Aegean, there simply is no Greece.

The essay is interesting throughout.  I thank a loyal MR reader for the pointer, sadly I misplaced your name in the move back from Germany.

Comments

I made a couple of edits:

Situated as far from global flows of capital as any country that considers itself part of the West, Hong Kong finds itself surrounded by sheltered ports, most of which are protected by mountains and cliffs that drop off into the sea. This affords Hong Kong little room for population growth, and contributes to its inability to produce much domestic capital. This, combined with the regionalized approach to political authority encouraged by mountainous geography, has made Hong Kong a country that has been inefficiently distributing what little capital it has had for millennia.

Situated as far from global flows of capital as any European country that considers itself part of the West, Chile finds itself surrounded by sheltered ports, most of which are protected by mountains and cliffs that drop off into the sea. This affords Chile little room for population growth, and contributes to its inability to produce much domestic capital. This, combined with the regionalized approach to political authority encouraged by mountainous geography, has made Chile a country that has been inefficiently distributing what little capital it has had for millennia.

'Ultimately, Greece needs to find a way to become useful again to one or more great powers'.
'It is only a question of when, not if, the Europeans pull the plug on Athens'
Analysis made by STRATFOR. Sorry but that sounds suspicious, and i would not call it 'Realpolitik'.
USA-EU conflict? Just lobbying in order to sell some weaponry?
By the way I know that Greek Macedonia, Thessaly and Athens-Peraeus are interconnected by land, and very little commerce between them is done by sea.

@ john haskell,
neither chile nor hong kong have been there for milenia (ok, ok, some mapuche was there, no doubt, but the point remains). Histories of graft are tough to overcome. Hong Kong and, to a much lesser extent, Chile "bypassed history" in a lot of regards.
Also note, before the Panama Canal, shipping from Asia and Pacific America (read: California Gold Rush into this) rounded Cape Horn. In it's day, Valparaiso was a major port, rivalling any in the world. There is no Grecian paralell to Valpo circa 1850

norway = north sea petrofields.
norway circa WW1 was an impoverished backwater

I don't know about Chile, but Hong Kong is nothing like Greece geographically.

@ IVV- what geography suggests, history cements

"norway = north sea petrofields.
norway circa WW1 was an impoverished backwater"

Most of the world circa WWI was an impoverished backwater. And does anyone really think that Norway, absent its natural resources, suddenly reverts to Greece?

@Bill, Greece's military spending is high because of Turkey -- a larger neighbor and NATO member that has nearly gone to war with Greece at least 3 times since the founding of NATO.

IMHO that has contributed to Greece's deficit/debt problem, but, is not really a driver of their larger economic or political splits.

Yes, blame geography for political and cultural problems.

Whats new?
They had colonies all over the Aegean and Mediterranean sea. They went for Turkey because they need it to have an entry to the the silk road. Or someone really belive Helen was that worth?

@DK,

Everyone has "nearly" gone to war to negotiate disputes. (I like how you said: Greece and Turkey have "nearly" gone to war--love it.)

Neither Greece or Turkey's interests are in going to war and they are both members of Nato and have extensive commercial interests that would be toast if either engaged in hostility. The last war was in 1919-22 at the end of the Ottoman empire. They did dispute Cyprus, and that has been resolved. They both had a history of military dictatorships that justified their existence with the Orwellian need for an outside enemy, but neither have that form of "government" now.

I "nearly" didn't respond to this.

The labor-capital split is a distraction from the truth. Land ownership and control is the real game. In Greece the wealthy own the best land - whether residential (luxury mansions overlooking Athens) or commercial (ports). Often the property has been in the same families for generations.

The only solution is to impose a Land Value Tax, capturing the wealth of the land. Unfortunately Greece will never impose a Land Value Tax because the rich landowners are too friendly with government.

Contrast with Hong Kong, where land & property taxes account for over 35% of government revenues.

Tyler might like to know that Germany also raises a lot of income from property, not through taxation but simply because the government owns a lot of prime commercial land.

Greece is not alone. For example Haiti's post-earthquake reconstruction efforts are being held back by disputes over land. In Haiti, a small group of very wealthy landlords control most of the country. They are unwilling to relinquish any power or land, even though millions of people want to rebuild.

This must surely be a joke? The essay is littered with outright errors of fact (to refer to just one example, his account of the Peloponnesian wars is simply shocking, and you can check this for yourself here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peloponnesian_War), let alone the numerous errors of judgement.

Tyler, I am sure you can repeat the 'Greece is doomed' mantra without having to quote intelligent-sounding but really-quite-ridiculous essays. Don't succumb to the curse of the infovore-namely believing in things that simply sound serious.

Tyler,

Why don't you put the author's name in your blog posts?

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