Been down so long it looks like up to me. The title of Richard Farina's cult 1966 novel is an apt description of the current state of the Greek economy. After many years of decline and despair, it seems the mood is improving.
Greece registered 84.1 in the European Commission's December survey of sentiment. That is well below the European Union's long-term average of 100, but close to the current euro zone level of 87. The last time Greeks were this optimistic was in January of 2010, just about three years ago, when the single currency average was 95.1.
It could be a blip, like the 83 reading in February, 2011. The country has certainly not emerged fully from the traumatic adjustment period. The reported unemployment rate remains 26 per cent and GDP is 19 per cent below the peak. Still, Greece may finally be moving on from the period of shock and complaints. Sentiment in the industrial sector was the highest since September of 2008, before the crisis began. That suggests that the country's potential wealth creators see opportunities.
Of course, it will take years – and many adjustments to labour practices and government policies – before the former high can be regained. But it would be unfair to expect too much. Like an athlete who no longer has access to steroids, Greece will have to work harder in the future to do as well as it did when it could take advantage of performance-enhancing foreign credit.
At least the supply of raw materials needed for fairly rapid growth is ample. Labour can come from the skilled and massively underutilized work force. Thanks to all the red tape and corruption, efficiency can be increased without much investment. And the EU provides a huge market for additional output from this small economy.
Down so long, even moving sideways may feel positive for Greece. But perhaps the country really is moving in the right direction.