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A Tale of No Growth

How one Greek beat cancer – and cheated the economy out of a boost...

HERE'S WHY economists and policy makers are all jackasses, says Daily Reckoning founder Bill Bonner.

Let's look at an economic disaster area: Greece. It has a per-capita GDP of about $29,000 compared to nearly twice as much for the US. One out of four Greeks is unemployed. Half of young people are jobless. And the country is broke. Only the kindness of strangers in France and Germany keeps the lights on.

An economist would use a technical term to describe it – "basket case".

But let's look more specifically at a Greek... let's look at Mr Stamatis Moraitis. Recently, he was the subject of an article in the New York Times. A remarkable man, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 1976.

Given nine months to live, he decided to economize on his own funeral. In the US he figured it would cost $2,000 to put him in the ground. In his native Greece, on the other hand, he could be planted for less than $200.

This seemed like such a good deal, Mr Moraitis couldn't afford not to take advantage of it. But as it turned out, his penny pinching seems to have saved his life. Thirty-six years later, he's still alive.

Yes, the Greek beat cancer. The poor grave diggers got no tip. The undertaker delivered no bill. The children got no inheritance. There being no deceased, his house was not put on the market; so, no sales commission was earned... no remodeling was done... no new kitchen was ordered... and no moving company was engaged.

In short, Mr Moraitis cheated the economy out of a boost. Not only that, but reading further, we discover that Mr Moraitis lives on a poor island, Ikaria. Not only that, he seems to have disappointed economists at every turn. He didn't build a new house; he moved into a small, cheap, old house with his parents. No new furniture. No new appliances. No new granite countertops.

The man is practically an anti-consumer. He makes his own wine and tends his own garden. No wonder the Greek economy is so weak!

Despite having terminal cancer, he sought no medical treatment. No chemotherapy. No radiation. No drugs. In short, he threw no bones to the housing industry. None to the health industry. None to Home Depot. Nor to Best Buys. Nor any other buys.

Pity the poor islanders. Ikaria is a small place, with just 10,000 Greeks. A bum economy. And nothing to do. No malls to go to. Few jobs; unemployment on Ikaria is about 40%. Want a fancy restaurant? Forget it. Want a fast car? Nowhere to go with it on the island.

So, what do residents do? Well, they tend their gardens. They drink a lot of wine. They visit with each other... often until late at night.

The New York Times:

 '... their daily routine unfolded...wake naturally, work in the garden, have a late lunch, take a nap. At sunset, they either visited neighbors or neighbors visited them. Their diet was also typical: a breakfast of goat's milk, wine, sage tea or coffee, honey and bread.

'Lunch was almost always beans (lentils, garbanzos), potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion or a spinach like green called horta) and whatever seasonal vegetables their garden produced; dinner was bread and goat's milk. At Christmas and Easter, they would slaughter the family pig and enjoy small portions of larded pork for the next several months.

'Local women gathered in the dining room at midmorning to gossip over tea. Late at night, after the dinner rush, tables were pushed aside and the dining room became a dance floor, with people locking arms and kick-dancing to Greek music.'

They spend their days in the sun and their nights in merriment. They beat cancer. And they seem to live a long time; Ikaria has one of the highest concentrations of 100-year-olds in the world.

But their economy is not growing.

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Bill Bonner has co-authored a number of New York Times Bestsellers including Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Markets and Messiahs. In his own opinion, Bill's most recent title, A Modest Theory of Civilization: Win-Win or Lose, is his best work yet. Bill also founded The Agora, a worldwide community for private researchers and publishers, in 1979. Financial analysts within the group have exposed and predicted some of the world's biggest shifts since that time, starting with the fall of the Soviet Union back in the late 1980s, to the collapse of the Dot Com (2000) and then mortgage finance (2008) bubbles, and more recently the election of President Trump.

See full archive of Bill Bonner articles

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