Until very recently, I’ve been almost instinctively gloomy about Greece. It seemed to me that the combination of unpayable debts, deflationary cuts in spending and a febrile national political culture was the perfect formula for further political and economic trouble.

But maybe the Greeks will surprise us. The first stages of economic reform seem to have been pushed through with impressive speed and resolution. Late last week, parliament voted to increase Greece’s pension age – an important step both for controlling spending and for improving the country’s image in the rest of Europe.

There is a second parliamentary vote scheduled for later this week, and that will coincide with major strikes – so it may be too soon to declare victory. But, still, it’s an impressive start. And it’s also an important reminder that many of the big economic success stories of recent stories started when countries were forced to undertake major reforms because of brushes with national bankruptcy: think China in 1978, India in 1991, most of Latin America in the 1980s and Britain under Thatcher.

Still, Greece is also still capable of throwing up impressive examples of ludicrous government waste and sleaze that scandalise its creditors in Germany and elsehwere. I particularly liked this tale of the minister and the phone sex line.

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