From the TUC

This is what austerity leads to…

05 Apr 2012, by in International

Zoe Lanara, international officer of the Greek trade union confederation GSEE, sent us this news about the suicide of a Greek pensioner yesterday morning. It explains the human side of the dry word “austerity” which sometimes implies a rather gentler restraint on living conditions than Greek people are facing.

Stunned, Greece mourns Dimitris Hristoulas, 77, who shot himself in front of the Parliament right on Syntagma (Constitution) Square in Athens. The suicide occured shortly before 9am, as people went about their business. He died from a single shot to the head. Within hours, dozens of notes and flowers were pinned to the tree under which he had stood.  Citizens rushed to Syntagma to pay their respects including priests, despite the stigma attached to suicide by the Orthodox church. Once more, Greek riot police are making heavy use of chemicals to prevent access to Syntagma (even right now).

The tragedy casts into sharp relief the human cost of the crisis that has brought Greece to the brink of the abyss, pushing Greeks to desperation. Hristoulas, a retired pharmacist described as an ‘upstanding and progressive’ family man left a handwritten note likening the government to Greece’s first cabinet under German occupation in WWII.

“The collaborationist Tsolakoglou has literally deprived me of any ability for survival which depended on a decent pension that I alone paid for 35 years with no subsidy from the state. As my advanced age does not allow another more dynamic way to react I cannot find a solution beyond ending my life in dignity before I begin foraging through rubbish bins to survive and become a  burden to my child. If a fellow Greek were to grab a Kalashnikov though, I could be right behind him. I believe that our young people who are left with no future, will one day rise up in arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma Square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945 in Milan’s Piazza Loreto.”


6 Responses to This is what austerity leads to…

  1. Tom
    Apr 8th 2012, 4:58 pm

    Of course, it’s not a hard argument to make that chronic overspending during periods of economic growth, an economy tied to a doomed-to-fail currency and an historic inability or unwillingness to collect taxes were equal factors in leading to the necessity for austerity. It’s not that cut and dried.

  2. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    Apr 8th 2012, 11:04 pm

    But the austerity Greece is facing ISN’T necessary. It won’t even achieve its stated objective of balancing Greece’s books, because it is destroying the prospects for the growth which is the onl thing which will balance the books.

  3. Gareth
    Apr 10th 2012, 9:15 pm

    That is rather a gross simplification, Owen, in both senses of the word “gross”.

    Do you see roads for Greece which do not look necessarily “austere”? There surely are none.

    The bond markets chose not to fund Greek deficits. That is a necessary consequence of choices made by Greek politicians and the inability of the Greek people to form stable state institutions to which they are willing to pay taxes.

    German taxpayers are unwilling to fund Greek fiscal spending. See above. Would you lend your life savings to the Greek government? I certainly would not.

    The least bad choice available to a sovereign Greek government would be to leave the Euro, but let us not pretend that will immediately provide the sunny uplands of economic growth and prosperity to the Greek people. It would be very, very hard.

    And let us also not pretend that the “austerity” faced by Greek is in any way comparable to the austerity faced by the UK. We discovered the end game of currency union with German central bankers back in 1992, and have moved on a bit since.

  4. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    Apr 10th 2012, 9:57 pm

    Well let’s start with what we agree on: leaving the euro wouldn’t be pretty for Greece. And the austerity they face is very different from the austerity in the UK. But there I suspect we part company. I doubt that there is a palatable solution that the Greek people can implement themselves; I think they’re dependent on what others choose to do. But those others – principally northern European politicians – can choose an alternative that would work better. The Marshall Plan after WWII was designed originally for Greece, and that is the sort of initiative needed now. You will probably respond that it is unrealistic to expect north Europe’s electorates to countenance that, but you could make the same point about the US electorate 70 years ago, and it’s just as realistic to ask whether there is an alternative that works. Because the austerity Greece faces isn’t a solution, they’re just in a downward spiral.

  5. Gareth
    Apr 10th 2012, 11:41 pm

    A Marshall Plan for Greece? What should they spend it on? An army of tax collectors asking for bribes? Or more German exports? Greece lacks good governance not good roads, and the latter cannot substitute for the former. Or do you envisage a coup d’etat, the EU annexes Greece and replaces their governance structures wholesale? How democratic!

    The best thing the EU high command could do – democratically – for Greece would be to kick them out of the Euro. But that will necessarily involve painful austerity for the Greeks.

    All options for Greece are necessarily painful at this point and you are kidding yourself if you believe otherwise.

  6. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    Apr 11th 2012, 6:37 am

    Gareth, the Greek government needs two things: a decent tax collection system and a balanced budget. I suspect we agree on that, yes? But what’s happening to Greece right now is going to deliver neither, and throwing them out of the euro won’t deliver them either.

    On tax, it isn’t the ordinary working Greek people who are evading tax. Just like in the UK, they don’t get the option, because their income tax is deducted at source and their consumption taxes are included in the price of the goods they buy. The tax evaders are the professionals and the rich who have scope to do so. But the current austerity measures in Greece are making the ordinary workers and pensioners suffer – how will that lead to better tax collection policies?

    On balanced budgets, tax collection is a vital element, but so is growth. So far, Greece is moving further and further away from being able to balance its budget because austerity is driving the economy deeper into recession, faster than the Government can cut ordinary people’s living standards and services. So, again, where’s the solution?

    All austerity is doing in Greece is punishing the people who didn’t cause the problem. It won’t work, and it’s causing tragedies like that of Dmitris Hristoulas.