Dinner table conversation last night turned to the UK elections. With my daughter and son present (aged 13 and 9) it then turned into a very general introduction to the concepts of hung Parliaments and budget deficits; in essence, the austerity that will need to be imposed upon the British fiscus made this a good election to lose.
Greece was used as a perfect example of what happens when there is an expense overhang (not the same thing as a Parliament being ‘hung’). My son was very quick to spot the inevitable consequence of ongoing deficits. He hasn’t yet signed up for his first proper loan, but even at the age of nine, the downside of perpetually negative cash flow is crystal clear to him. Perhaps I could hawk his insights to a few governments around the world.
I shared with them something I was told last week by a friend – usually well-informed about such matters – that only eight Greeks declare an income in excess of 1 million euros per annum. I later tried, unsuccessfully, to find the source of that intelligence on the internet. Thanks to the Financial Times I was able to establish that fewer than 5,000 Greeks declare annual incomes of more than 100,000 euros. However, more than 60,000 Greek households have investments in cash and securities exceeding 1 million euros. The two bits of data are clearly contradictory.
It is not uncommon, it appears, for specialist medical practitioners to claim to earn less than their receptionists.
The ideal world, we are told, has German engineers, Swiss trains, French lovers and Italian designers. To this list one can now add Greek accountants; while their actions on a collective basis have ruined Greece, on an individual level they’ve saved their clients billions in tax payments.
I’ve had a Cape Town-based Greek accountant since the mid-90s. I’ve never earned enough money to have a tax ‘problem’, so I can’t vouch for his aptitude in matters of this nature. However, he has the most fabulous bedside manner, which is a huge plus when you’re being told bad news. Yes, the numbers side of businesses is important, but it doesn’t take the demeanour of an undertaker to do the job effectively.
So, the unconventional solution to Greece’s problems is to re-train its rioting workforce as accountants, for export to the rest of the world. Think about it, they have a head start on anyone else using spreadsheets – the Sigma sign (Σ) is used to denote ‘the sum of’.
If you end up with a Greek accountant you would certainly have more fun. And, you may even pay less tax.