Monday, November 21, 2011

To be successful

I am reading Jason Manolopoulos's Greece's Odious Debt - an accessible successor to Mark Mazower - and one that reminds you that attitudes to things like tax collectors depend on history. (In Greece for instance Manolopolulos argues that under Ottoman rule not paying taxes - essentially poll taxes on Christians was highly honorable. This still influences Greek tradition.)

Chapter Two however starts with one of the best quotes I have ever seen:

To be successful, keep looking tanned, live in an elegant building (even if you're in the cellar), be seen in smart restaurants (even if you nurse one drink) and if you borrow, borrow big.
-Aristotle Onassis

Seldom have I seen a business/political philosophy so diametrically opposed to mine stated so clearly. And exemplars abound - think Angelo Mozilo in American finance or Andrew Peacock in Australian politics.

Just a fabulous quote and a world view that seems to work for the people who hold it if not for the rest of us...



Insider said...

Excellent John,

Just need a dose of bread and circuses for the 'sheeple' and the illusion is complete!

Anonymous said...

Another quote that sticks in the memory is one made by a major US cable industry executive*:

"It is better to pay interest on loans than taxes on profits"

* If anyone can remember his name, I'd be much obliged. His company had a massive, debt-fuelled, expansion in the mid-1990s, cabling up large areas of the mid-west of the US (IIRC).

Anonymous said...

Your worldview would not pay off very well in a world without people like Onassis. Takes all kinds to make an economic ecosystem in which you are able to thrive...

Alex Dalmady said...

To some, success is only true if found in the eyes of others. It's a shame, really.


OT: That cable company sounds a lot like Adelphia, owned by the Rigas Family.
John Rigas was sentenced to 15 years for Fraud in 2005.

Anonymous said...

john, Any thoughts on TSL Q3

Anonymous said...

There is another view on all this.

The real problem in that country is that the politicians liked to spend up big, so as to buy votes, using borrowings and EU largesse at every opportunity.

Of course, the treasury officials, being the gutless careerists that they are, sat back and did nothing to stop this madness. Indeed, they conspired with the politicians to cook the books.

Naturally, the public service did very well in terms of pay-rises, promotions and pensions. And, frankly, some of them did even better out of widespread corruption.

As to the latter, one reason why tax collections are so poor is that the tax inspectors routinely settle disputes by accepting bribes of 30-40% of the disputed taxes, on the basis that only say 10-20% of the taxes in question are paid to the treasury.

With that sort of system in place, is it any wonder that the general populace takes a cynical view as to their tax obligations?

Many of the problems in that country could be addressed by dealing appropriately with the public service. Some sackings would be in order. Say, 10,000 or so, for a start.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps that philosophy is successful for .001% of those who try it.
Or maybe Onassis got lucky and thinks the result was due to his philosophy, or intelligence, or some other non-random factor.

theambler said...

I find of a bit of a stretch to say that because Greece was once ruled by the Ottomans, they now feel it is OK to not pay their taxes. This looks like post hoc reasoning of the worst sort.

The simpler explanation is that well off Greeks knew they could probably get away with tax evasion, and did so.

I agree with Anonymous - a few sackings are in order here. The corruption and incompetence should not be pardoned.

Richard said...

My favorite Andrew Peacock story:
When asked about Andrew Peacock's prospects for election as leader of the opposition, Prime Minister Paul Keating observed that a soufflé doesn't rise twice.

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to a recent Reuters report as to official corruption in Greece:

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it provides an illustration of how the Greek public servants operate.

So, to be successful in Greece, you have to have a nice government job which gives you the opportunity to fleece the mugs who pay your salary.

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