Wednesday, March 10

Outside Edge: Pay up for the glory that was Greece

In the FT, bit amusing, what the Greeks can do to earn some money. Mind you, carrying this argument forward, I think we can do much from India's perspective by asking people to pay royalty on Zero, the numbers, chess, loads of astronomy and astrology (every horoscope will get an Indian royalty cheque), medicine, metallurgy, town planning and sewage (how about asking for a royalty from every pipe and bog manufacturer? or asking for a penny every time you visit the loo?), so on and so forth. Or from the Brits, they can charge for every tennis racket, or cricket ball or seat, or how about the game of golf or the joint stock company and and and, should promise to be much fun :)


As Greece faces up to the agony of its financial crisis, there can be only one way out. The country must look to the wisdom of its ancestors; not to learn from it, but to sell it.

Greece’s problem is that it has borrowed more than it can afford to pay back. Yet as the cradle of western civilisation, it has an enormous store of riches, perhaps the greatest the world has ever seen. All it needs to do is work out how to monetise those assets.

Much of the best physical capital of Ancient Greece has, unfortunately, already left the country. The Elgin Marbles are in London; the Venus de Milo in Paris. What is left is often not particularly marketable. Renting out the Parthenon to Germany to use as an ammunition dump, as the Turks did in the 1860s, might strain the already tense relations between the two countries just a little too far.

Happily, however, Greece’s stock of intellectual capital is vast, and just waiting for a smart enough lawyer to exploit it. Ancient Greece is a treasure trove of patents and brands, from sportswear to movies.

After recent precedents set in intellectual property cases in Europe and the US, it should not take a Socrates to establish Greece’s right to profit from those ideas. The rest of the world has been living rent-free off the innovations of the ancient Greeks for too long. They have been giving us gifts for centuries; now it is time to give something back.

All Greece needs to do is levy a small royalty on every comedy and tragedy, on every Pythagorean triangle, and on every piece of rhetoric and sophistry. (This article might be liable for a few cents).

If you were to describe this source of revenue as a cornucopia, you could be pursued by copyright lawyers seeking payment for another Greek concept. Attempts to put a tax on every pair of parallel lines would risk a legal tangle; Egypt can also lay a claim to Euclid of Alexandria.

However, there could be no defence for Nike against a demand for compensation for its theft of the brand equity of the goddess of victory. The company might also be forced to include some educational materials in every box of shoes, to inform ignorant teenagers about the debt they owe to Greek culture.

A special punitive rate might be charged for egregiously punning newspaper headlines such as “Acropolis now”.

Admittedly, some of the details may be a little complex, and careful, painstaking public administration has not been one of Greece’s greatest strengths, back to the days of Pericles and Cleon.

Still, those clever people at Goldman Sachs were a great help in coming up with ingenious financial solutions for Greece, and they will no doubt have the perfect plan to get it out of its current mess.

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