A Taxing Situation

The local tavern was so sure that its bouncer was the strongest man around that they offered a standing $1,000 bet. The bouncer would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and hand it to a patron. Anyone who could squeeze one more drop of juice out would win the money. Many people had tried (weight-lifters, longshoremen, etc.), but nobody could do it; then one day this scrawny little man came into the tavern, wearing thick glasses and a polyester suit, and said in a tiny squeaky voice, “I’d like to try the bet.”  After the laughter had subsided, the bouncer said okay, grabbed a lemon, and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains of the rind to the little fella.  But the crowd’s mocking turned to silence as the guy clenched his fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass. As the crowd cheered, the tavern owner paid the $1,000, and asked the small man, “What do you do for a living?  And the guy said, “I work for Revenue Canada.”

This past week, Europe and Greece reached a rescue deal to keep the Greeks in the Union and on the Euro.  But the success of the agreement depends on the Greek people swallowing an even-tougher austerity plan than the one they overwhelmingly rejected in a national referendum just two weeks ago.   A little background…

Premier Paul Tsipras was swept into office last January on the promise that his left-wing party would undo the austerity measures imposed by the previous right-wing government – those put in place to secure bailout loans from the European Union in 2009 and 2012.
But these socialists soon discovered that they could not make the credit card payment due in 2015, resulting in the banks closing and prices skyrocketing.  So Greece had to go back for a third bailout loan from Europe, this one larger than the two previous ones combined.  Once again, Europe agreed to let the Greeks borrow more money to avoid a Grexit (a Greek exit from the Eurozone), but this time Greece also had to put up some collateral – a number of its ancient sites and offshore islands.  Needless to say, when Premier Tsipras returned home, his liberal party was livid with him.  And in Athens, unionists and pensioners took to the streets in violent protests, especially against the Germans.  They accused Prime Minister, Angela Merkel of being like Hitler and her Christian Democratic Party of being like Nazis, with plans to take over their country.  But Tsipras explained that the other European nations held an economic knife to his throat and the Premier managed to get enough votes in parliament (with the full support of conservative members) to pass the measure.

So how did Greece get into this predicament in the first place?  One word, taxes, or lack thereof.  According to the United Nations, Greece is the worst country in the world when it comes to collecting taxes from its citizens.  The Washington Post reports that eighty-five cents of every dollar earned or spent by the Greeks is done so under the table.  And since 2010, only $19 million of $13 billion owed in back taxes has made its way into government coffers.  This is because the Greeks (from their days of tax avoidance under the Ottoman Turkish Empire) still consider paying taxes immoral and their patriotic duty to avoid so doing.  As a mater of fact, the head of the new Department of Taxation in Greece resigned because citizens threatened to break his legs.

The bottom line?  What Greece needs are tax collectors like that little fella who works for Revenue Canada.