Corinth Canal and a Vision for the Future

Posted: June 4, 2012 in Greece

The Corinth Canal links the Saronic Gulf with the Gulf of Corinth. Completed in the late 19th Century, it was a mitigated engineering success and, tragically, a commercial failure. It’s now a tourist attraction with it’s hodgepodge collection of ill-suited souvlaki stands, fast food outlets, tourist shops, and abandoned buildings. Uncoordinated development of the area has turned a potentially interesting site into a five minute pit-stop: jump out of the car, cover your eyes until you reach the bridge, snap a few photos, dodge the cars while crossing the street and we’re on our way.

It’s as much a tourist failure today as it was a commercial failure a century ago.

Greece has some natural advantage: sun, sea water, coast-line, islands. But like any collection of assets, they need to be organized in order to produce something of value. These assets attract tourists, but they also create the condition for competitive advantage in solar power and water treatment.

Desalination technologies are desperately needed by the islands in Greece, however, closely knit local cabals prevent the economic incentives that would stimulate the necessary investments. Water boats, such as the Dimitra (picture below) supply islands with water that is pumped into local water systems or sold to individuals. Rumor has it that certain local individuals have a vested interest in keeping this antiquated system alive and actively work through the local councils to prevent newer and more efficient systems from being installed. This is the crux of the coordination problem in Greece, the economy is organized informally to benefit a few and harms the majority. It is not a zero sum game; the benefit to these powerful few is far smaller than what could be realized if the interests of society were taken into consideration.

3 June 2012, on the port of Hydra

With over 2,750 hours of sunshine annually, Greece is the perfect place to re-stock our depleted stores of vitamin D. It’s also an ideal place to install solar technologies. Instead, the local power company, aptly named DEI, seems to prefer less renewable sources of energy.

Creating the right economic incentives and conditions would be a tremendous benefit, however, the country could go further. With a population of 11 million inhabitants, local Universities and Technology Institutes cannot be leaders in research on all fronts; the country is simply too small to have the critical mass in terms of money and research talent. Focus is required, so why not expend energy on the few areas where Greece can both benefit locally and through the export of this knowledge: water, solar power, efficient water use for agriculture, and tourism.

Coordinated research funding and competitive investments would not only bring benefits to Greece through lower costs for water and energy resources, but would create the necessary conditions for competitive advantage from research, through development, to commercialization and exploitation of solar and water technologies.

Unfortunately, contemporary political discource  is full of populist sentiment but noticeably devoid of any vision for the future. The building of the Corinth Canal was the realization of a 2 thousand year old idea that held hope and promise. One cannot fault these early policy makers for lack of ambition and a vision for a prosperous future for their country. Today, Greece desperately needs a successful Corinth Canal.

[music: Shhh – Panthalassa – Miles Davis]


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