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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Tensions Rise in Greece as Austerity Measures Backfire"

How's austerity working out for Greece?:

Tensions Rise in Greece as Austerity Measures Backfire, by Corinna Jessen, Spiegel: ...Athens' ... draconian austerity measures have managed to reduce the country's budget deficit by an almost unbelievable 39.7 percent, after previous governments had squandered tax money and falsified statistics for years. The measures have reduced government spending by a total of 10 percent, 4.5 percent more than the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) had required.
The problem is that the austerity measures have in the meantime affected every aspect of the country's economy. Purchasing power is dropping, consumption is taking a nosedive and the number of bankruptcies and unemployed are on the rise. The country's gross domestic product shrank by 1.5 percent in the second quarter of this year. Tax revenue, desperately needed in order to consolidate the national finances, has dropped off. A mixture of fear, hopelessness and anger is brewing in Greek society.

Nikos Meletis ... used to earn a good living at a shipbuilding company in Perama, a port opposite the island of Salamis. "At the moment, I'm living off my savings," the 54-year-old welder says...

Meletis is a day laborer who used to work up to 300 days a year; this year he has only managed to scrape together 25 days' work so far. That gives him 25 health insurance stamps, when he needs 100 in order to insure himself and his family -- including his wife, who has cancer. "How am I supposed to pay for the hospital?" Meletis asks. Unemployment benefits of at most €460 ($590) per month are available for a maximum of one year -- and only if he can produce at least 150 stamps from the past 15 months. ...

While 77 percent of Greek shipping companies indicate they are satisfied with the quality of work done in Perama, nearly 50 percent still send their ships to be repaired in Turkey, Korea or China. Costs are too high in Greece, they say. The country, they argue, has too much bureaucracy and too many strikes, with labor disputes often delaying delivery times.

Perama is certainly an unusually extreme case. But the shipyards' decline provides a telling example of the Greek economy's increasing inability to compete. ...

Prime Minister George Papandreou's austerity package has seriously shaken the Greek economy. The package included reducing civil servants' salaries by up to 20 percent and slashing retirement benefits, while raising numerous taxes. The result is that Greeks have less and less money to spend and sales figures everywhere are dropping, spelling catastrophe for a country where 70 percent of economic output is based on private consumption. ...
The entire country is in the grip of a depression. Everything seems to be going downhill. The spiral is continuing unabated, and there is no clear way out. The worse part, however, is the fact that hardly anyone still hopes that things will improve one day. ...
Menelaos Givalos, a professor of political science at Athens University, has appeared on television, warning viewers that the worst times are still to come. He predicts a large wave of layoffs starting in September, with "extreme social consequences."
"Everything is getting more expensive, I'm hardly earning any money, and then I'm supposed to pay more taxes to help save the country? How is that supposed to work?" asks Nikos Meletis, the shipbuilder. His friends, gathered in a small cafeteria..., are gradually growing more vocal. They are all unemployed, desperate and angry at the politicians who got them into this mess. There is no sympathy here for any of the political parties and no longer any for the unions either.
"They only organize strikes to serve their own interests!" shouts one man, whose name is Panayiotis Peretridis. "The only thing that interests me anymore is my daily wage. A loaf of bread is my political party. I want to help my country -- give me work and I'll pay taxes! But our honor as first-class skilled workers, as heads of families, as Greeks, is being dragged through the dirt!"
"If you take away my family's bread, I'll take you down -- the government needs to know that," Meletis says. "And don't call us anarchists if that happens! We're heads of our families and we're desperate."
He predicts the situation will only become more heated. "Things are starting to simmer here," he says. "And at some point they're going to explode."

I'm not sure what the answer is for Greece, they're in a tough spot, but this does work against the argument that austerity -- even when there is a very strong case for it -- is stimulative. I suppose it could be argued that things would be even worse without the austerity measures, but it's hard to imagine how.

    Posted by on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 09:44 AM in Budget Deficit, Economics | Permalink  Comments (37)


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