Friday, February 17, 2012

An angry Greece

It's striking, how the dominant feeling of the world right now seems to be anger.  From the political churnings in the US, medical rights battles in Congress, to the fear-mongering over Iran's nuclear program, and the Falkland's anniversary... well, you couldn't be blamed for wanting to stay home.

And of course, one of the angriest spots on the planet right now has to be Greece.

I can't say I blame Greek citizens for being angry -- as in the US, they are finding that the future prospects for a lot of people have been limited by the poor management of the folks in charge.  Financial bleakness is not a light topic -- people who have spent their entire lives doing "the right thing," going to school and working hard, are suddenly finding that there aren't prospects for them.  Meanwhile, they are being asked (and "asked" is really not correct) to accept cuts to their public benefits that they did not anticipate.

Yeah, I really feel for our friends in Greece right now.  In times like these, who can handle a 20% cut to the minimum wage?

Who can handle not being paid in four months, and staying at your job because there is nothing else to do?

I remember a funny conversation with my lovely Greek flatmate, Taz, last year (yes, a nickname -- no one should name their child Taz).  I had just started to hear about the possibility of Greece being yanked from the eurozone, and I was asking him how he felt.  And he seemed unconcerned.

I couldn't understand it -- how could you not worry about losing your currency?

"We are Greeks.  We don't need the euro.  We don't need Europe."

I have got to hand it to him, he was being stoic -- but how could he not?  Losing your financial footing to such a huge degree doesn't even seem real (as I would learn a few months later when the US had its credit downgraded, presumably because our Congress just couldn't imagine such a thing happening).

My thoughts are in Greece right now, as the rioting, protests, and violence rumble onwards.  This is one of the most eloquent passages I have read recently, which I share with the caveat that I, too, deeply dislike violence:

"How can we ask of people that they accept meekly the ferocious cuts in living standards that the austerity measures imply? Do we want them to just agree that the massive creative potential of so many young people should be just eliminated, their talents trapped in a life of long-term unemployment? All that just so that the banks can be repaid, the rich made richer? All that, just to maintain a capitalist system that has long since passed its sell-by date, that now offers the world nothing but destruction. For the Greeks to accept the measures meekly would be to multiply depression by depression, the depression of a failed system compounded by the depression of lost dignity."  I am with ya, John.

And people are protesting more insidiously than violence -- a hacker recently took down the web sites of the prime minister, the police, and the parliament.

It's tough -- I spent some time a couple of years ago analyzing loans made by the European Investment Bank for eco-infrastructure projects in Africa, and was horrified by what I found -- terms that it would be accurate to describe and economic enslavement.  Another flatmate of mine, the former deputy education minister for Sierra Leone, agreed with me, saying that you cannot trust loans and bank deals made from abroad.  So though comparing sub-Saharan Africa to Greece may seem like comparing apples to oranges, I look at the IMF's involvement with the EU terms of engagement for Greece, and am deeply skeptical.  

I have seen myself how infrequently doing transnational business like this actually results in prosperity for the debtor.

And I starting to wonder if Taz wasn't right all along.  Does Greece need Europe?

UPDATE: This was published today, and worth a read if you are also starting to question the conventional wisdom around reduced government spending and growth.

(image via -- worth a look.  Great graffiti here that helps explain citizens' views)

1 comment :

  1. I actually hate that the protesters are the only ones people describe as being "violent". What Euro banks are doing to the Greek people is more violent, will do more lasting harm, and will certainly lead to more deaths than any number of violent protests ever could.

    That citizens are reacting in kind to the violence wrought by the banks and finance ministers is understandable.


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