Modern Greek Math Just “Don’t Add Up”

You’d think the country that perfected mathematics, from Autolycus’ On The Moving Sphere and Euclid’s Elements, more than 2,300 years ago would be able to figure out when things just don’t add up, as Looney Tunes put it.

But when you’re corrupt or incompetent or greedy or double-dealing and cheating your own country it’s easy to twist numbers to suit your own good, which is what’s been happening for a very long time in Greece, proving that, as economic analysts have said, “There are lies, damn lies, and Greek statistics.”

Nobody in Greece trusts numbers unless they can manipulate them. The head of the country’s statistics agency ELSTAT, Andreas Georgiou, a respected economist trained at the University of Michigan and who worked in a high-level post for the International Monetary Fund – now one of the country’s lenders – is being prosecuted: for telling the truth about the dire economic state of the economy.

Greek leaders don’t want to hear the truth because they can’t handle it. This spring it will be four years since George Papandreou, the then-PASOK Anti-Socialist leader, went hat-in-hand to the IMF begging for a bailout after being elected on the back of his slogan that, “The money is there.”

He was just doing Modern Greek Math, in which it all adds up for the rich and the poor and workers are left with nothing – zero – which the thieves argue isn’t really a number but only a place holder.

But you can’t blame just him. He was handed a book of statistical lies by then New Democracy Capitalist Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis who then slinked off into the dark or under a log or wherever the disgraced live when they leave office.

Karamanlis’ administration had its own shorthand math: they wanted big numbers in envelopes with lots of zeros after them, preferably six-digits because, hey, you have to keep up with the Jonesopouloses and try to match their secret Swiss bank accounts to cheat on your taxes.

Greek professionals have their own brand of math too. Greek doctors report annual incomes of 10,000 euros ($13,500) so they can avoid paying taxes but someone manage to have a big house, a summer home, a few cars, maybe a boat, and can afford to take trips, so let’s hire them to run the Finance Ministry and everything will add up and there won’t be a financial crisis.

None of the hotshot economists at the Finance Ministry, nor advisors to Prime Ministers, who’ve never held real jobs, never missed a meal, never got a late notice from the electric company, never had to stand in line at a hospital, never had to scrounge through the glove compartment of their Mercedes looking for change to buy souvlaki or milk for a hungry child, and never had to worry about paying banks because banks are there to pay them and who can’t balance a checkbook, can add either or they’d know the truth.

And that’s Greece can’t repay the $325 billion in two bailouts from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) because…the money’s not there.

After all that money pouring into the country – 50 billion euros of which went to Greek banks brought to the edge of ruin when Papandreou’s administration – when current PASOK leader and Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister was finance chief despite having no qualifications to hold the job – stiffed investors with 74 percent losses.

That dubious mathematical twist did nothing to put a dent in the staggering $430 billion debt but current Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, a smart man indeed who left the prestigious think tank IOBE to take a thankless job, is now twisting the numbers to make them look good at the same time Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy leader, is ready to let him twist in the wind if it all goes wrong.

After all the financial shenanigans, Greece still has a hole in its 2014 budget of 2.4 billion euros ($3.24 billion) but, using Modern Greek Math, Stournaras has figured that it’s zero.

Or possibly 2.4 billion but what’s the difference? The people in charge of the Greek economy look at a receipt from a souvlaki stand like it is Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Maybe it’s time to put away the computers and go back to basic math. The oldest written texts in mathematics – papyruses – come from Egypt, whose civilization was already 2000 years old when they were written. That’s also where Euclid wrote and devised his mathematical theories.

But let’s go to the master, Pythagoras, who knew more about math 2600 years ago than anyone running a computer in the Greek Finance Ministry. His theorem in geometry figuring out the right-angled triangle is too difficult for any of the math wizards at the finance ministry to ponder.

Since that time on, there has been a tradition in mathematics to always answer the question of why your result is true – except for Greek politicians and ministers who drink from Pythagoras’ cup.

That’s a vessel that allows the user to fill the cup with wine up to a certain level. If he fills the cup only to that level, the imbiber may enjoy a drink in peace. If he exhibits gluttony the cup spills its entire contents out the bottom onto the lap of the immodest drinker. Do the math.