ABSURD BICYCLE SCHEMES
Not that long ago, people in Greece and Cyprus prided themselves on being self-sufficient. My grandparents had a house in a remote village in Greece where they grew chickens, rabbits, bees, vegetables, fruits and nearly everything needed for their weekly existence. Part of this was in their garden; part was in a "perivoli" a few hundred meters away. They had a wood-fired oven that they used for cooking. To get fresh water, they would go to the village spring.
The village was largely a non-cash, barter economy. Electricity and running water didn't arrive in the village until the 1960s. In fact, many of the people in the region supported the 1967 military dictatorship because it was the first time they perceived a government actually doing something in terms of infrastructure: building roads, a dam, etc.
That same sense of independence, frugality and thrift was a defining characteristic of the immigrants that made their way from Europe to the United States. Both sides of my family tree emigrated in the 1900s. Some on the Greek side actually came back to Greece to fight in the Balkan Wars.
This sense of independence is alive and well in many parts of the United States today. There are millions of people who see any form of dependence on the government as anathema: the first step on a slippery slope towards slavery.
It took the massive government-sponsored reconstruction after the Great Depression to normalise the idea of government welfare programmes in the United States. This process has been continuing. The result is an every-larger Federal Government, which along the way has not only become the largest single financial enterprise in the world, but one which, after 9/11, has also deployed some of the world's most powerful surveillance and control technologies in the name of public safety.
A few weeks ago, the government of Cyprus announced a bicycle subsidy scheme. The idea being, as part of our move towards the green economy, the government would partially subsidise the cost of bicycles for anyone who applied. If I remember correctly, the subsidy amounted to EUR 200 up to a EUR 1000 purchase, and was open on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Let's let that sink in for a minute.
Anyone, irrespective of their income, or whether they already have a bicycle, can get EUR 200 to buy a bicycle.
Predictably, the scheme closed because demand exceeded the supply of the grant budget available.
What I want to know is:
1. Are we so abjectly destitute that we cannot afford to buy our own bicycles?
2. Are we so inurred to the idea of the granny state that we find it perfectly acceptable to receive a subsidy?
3. Do we really want to subsidise bicycles that cost up to or over EUR 1,000? Is this the meaning of the green transition?
4. Why isn't the subsidy means-tested, so that at least those families that can't afford a bicycle get one?
I will leave aside the practical considerations: Who will actually change their habits and bicycle to work? Where are the bicycle paths? etc. Who will bike in the +30 degree heat and +40 degree humidity that predominates in most Cypriot cities for at least 4 months per year?
I will leave aside the other considerations: Cyprus has a very limited public transportation system. Did anyone bother to calculate how much carbon dioxide would be removed by expanding public transport? Or other policy initiatives?
What strikes me is the sheer government over-reach, and the apparent social acceptance of this.
We have subconsciously become wards of the state. No subsidy is too outrageous as long as we participate. And in participating, we accept all the other outrages that the state has engendered.
For example, the malfunctioning energy mix used by the Electricity Authority of Cyprus, which not only creates high costs for energy generation, but also high penalties for not using renewable energy.
For example, the granting of de facto monopolies on so much critical infrastructure in Cyprus -- ports, airports, electricity -- where competition is limited, costs are high, and costs are passed onto companies and citizens, again penalizing the poorest.
For example, the growth of public sector employment at salaries far higher than the private sector equivalent, and with terms of employment that essentially preclude any kind of productivity or reform.
Take a look at the macro and fiscal indicators:
1. Cyprus government expenditure grew from EUR 3.6 billion in 2000 to EUR 9.7 billion in 2020;
2. Cyprus public expenditure as a share of GDP grew from 34% in 2000 to 47% in 2020;
3. Cyprus government debt grew from EUR 5.9 billion in 2000 to EUR 24.8 billion in 2020 (not counting central bank operations);
4. Cyprus public debt-to-GDP grew from 56% in 2000 to 119% in 2020.
It is a total misidentification to describe Cyprus a market economy (let alone a tax haven) when nearly 1 out of every 2 Euros spent in the GDP is public expenditure, and when despite this, we are still incurring a steep annual deficit.
Speaking for myself, I would never dream of going to the government to get a subsidy to buy a bicycle. It should be an admission of total moral failure. It would literally smear everything I have been raised to consider honourable.
Yes, we need a green transition. Yes, we need a public sector. But not this way. Buy your own bicycles. Have a shred of self-respect.