[Greek expatriate Loukas Nakosmatis] describes the two Estonian women he hired as waitresses.
"They are hardworking, honest and never late," he says. The group of Greek men falls silent for a moment. "Strange country," says [fellow Greek expatriate] Elias.
...When it was time to slash the government budget, Estonia's cabinet ministers started with their own salaries.
"And they weren't making very much to begin with. I mean, these aren't the people who are filling their pockets, [says Naphtali Peral.] "Some of them are really smart, capable people, who could earn a lot more in other jobs!"
Peral owns a small language coaching company. He gives courses, trains managers and advises film producers looking to work in the Baltic countries. Peral is from Almería in Spain's Andalusia region, where he completed high school and attended university. He says that a few of his fellow students were truly dim-witted -- and they were the ones who went into politics.
"And what did our politicians do the minute they were in office?" he asks. "They ordered themselves an official car. Likely a BMW … preferably with a chauffeur. And they smeared gel into their hair, bought dark suits and were constantly on the road, dedicating buildings, touring sites or giving important speeches that someone else had written. But in that time, they could just as easily have worked for the country and for the people who voted for them.'
...[In Estonia, meanwhile,] the business climate is fair and open, and you can trust the police, politicians and bureaucrats."
[Peral] says that he established his company here in only half a day, mainly online. The record for establishing a company, he adds, is only 18 minutes. In other words, the government doesn't say: Hey, Peral, who do you think you are, starting a company, just like that? No, he says, the state actually encourages entrepreneurship, and says things like: So you have an idea, Peral! Go for it! And then he says that it takes him 20 minutes to prepare his semi-annual tax return...
"When we had finally escaped from Soviet socialism, we were sick and tired of government centralism," [says economics minister Juhan Parts.] "We wanted precisely the opposite in all respects: We wanted a transparent state. A country that isn't constantly intervening, nationalizing businesses, placing a bureaucracy above everything and imposing rules on people in every respect."
But doesn't the government have to help those on the losing end of social change?
Of course, [Parts] says, it's important to help a society's losers, the ones who are left behind. It would be wonderful, he adds, to have a fantastic healthcare system and offer social guarantees for every emergency. "But you have to have the money. We don't have it. Our average monthly income is €800. So we have to reflect on what's important for a society's development. It's the top performers, the successful ones. Ideas! Companies! Products! If all you do is administer, nothing comes of it. The state must clear the way for those who want to achieve something. That's the function of the state."
...The government announced a harsh austerity program. The government bureaucracy was thinned out, healthcare and social services were cut back, and even the streetlights in Tallinn were switched off at 3:30 in the morning. Businesses reduced wages by up to 40 percent, with the promise they would be increased as soon as the economy improved. The government did not pump borrowed funds into the economic cycle. Instead, it did what economists call internal devaluation.
In the middle of this year, two rating agencies, Standard & Poor's and Fitch, upgraded Estonia's credit rating. The country had a budget surplus of €115 million in the first two quarters, and it is expected to virtually balance its budget for the entire year. Government debt is about 6.6 percent of the gross domestic product, as compared with 120 percent in Italy, 160 percent in Greece and 80 percent in Germany. In the first two quarters of 2011, the Estonian economy grew at an annualized rate of 8 percent.