Closed professions, an open secret

on . Posted in English texts

The good news is that in Greece there are no closed professions. Or so the presidents of the unions of lawyers, engineers and pharmacists would have us believe. In a bid to back these claims, they argued in Sunday’s Kathimerini that the number of those who practice these supposedly open professions is the largest among Western states. So Greece has 40,000 lawyers, that is, one for every 250 citizens, when in the USA the ratio is one for every 265, in Germany one for every 593 and, in France, one for every 1,403.

Furthermore, in Greece there is one notary for every 3,446 citizens, whereas in France there is one for every 7,287, in Italy one for every 12,023 and in Austria one for every 17,926. Also, Greece has one pharmacy for every 950 people, when the European average is one for every 4,000 people. Belgium has the second-biggest ratio with one drugstore for every 2,450 people. The question, of course, is why Greece maintains such a high number of professionals in these sectors. And, most importantly, how much does this cost the rest of us? By definition, these respected professions are nothing but a private bureaucracy. All are useful: the lawyers, notaries, chemists and engineers. But in essence, they only absorb funds from real production without contributing anything to it. How can Greek society sustain one lawyer for every 250 people when the wealthier French can hardly maintain one for every 1,400? And how can 950 Greeks maintain one pharmacy, when it takes an average 4,000 Europeans for that same job?

The answer is simple: thanks to administrative decisions. By imposing a minimum on price and profit levels, the state makes sure that people sustain these overpopulated sectors. Even according to figures provided by Greece’s pharmacists, the 10.8 percent net profits made by chemists is too large and, worse, it has been set by the state. So no matter what happens, whether they improve their services or not, chemists’ profits are guaranteed by the state and we, the customers, have to pay for them. They are like civil servants running their own shop. That explains their popularity. Whether we want to or not, whether we can or not, the state makes us pay for these professions. This has to change as soon as possible. Regardless of whether one decides to call them "open," "protected" or by any other name.


Published in "Kathimerini" newspaper 10.8.2010