As it is with great aunts the world over, mine also knows everything about everything and in next to no time (inevitably) she was giving me a clear analysis of the situation in Greece. She subscribed to the notion, as do so many others, that this mess is the fault of the lazy and corrupt Greeks. The gist of it was that they brought it all upon themselves.
Now, every grown man knows that the only thing more frightening than a great aunt is a mother-in-law, therefore I took the only course open to a man in my situation and replied “yes auntie”. Her comments did get me to thinking though, about the whole Greek debacle. As I sat there, head nodding on autopilot, I began to compare the predicament of the Greek people to that of my great aunt, because she shares something in common with the Greeks.
Like most Greeks pensioners, my great aunt lives off a very small pension. Something she often makes clear to all in the family... and any member of the public who fails to show her the respect she feels is her due.
However, great auntie has a soft spot; she dotes on the children of the whole extended family. Any child who hasn’t yet reached their teenage years is guaranteed to be showered with gifts by great auntie, even though she can’t afford it. There is no end to the presents she buys the little ones in the clan and for that they all love her dearly. Unfortunately, even though she can sniff out a bargain quicker than a City commodity trader can sniff a line of charlie from an expensive call girls tummy-tum-tum, her meager pension just isn’t enough. We’ve had to go so far as to create an effective family system of subsidies by slipping notes into her wallet and handbag at any opportunity since she’s too proud to accept money directly.
So what has my great aunt got to do with Greece? Well, as I sat there listening to my great aunt's lecture, I started thinking what would happen to her if, like the pensioners in Greece, her tiny monthly pension was cut by a third. She’d be turfed out of her home is what would be done. She simply wouldn’t have the money to pay her rent, let alone buy pressies for the kiddies.
This is the narrative that we have been sold these past years, as if the Greeks are completely and utterly at fault for this mess. Yes, there is systemic corruption in Greece. Yes, they have problems with collecting taxes, but does that justify the collective punishment of a whole nation? If so, how much is enough? Since this crisis began many, many years ago, Greece has:
- Seen GDP fall by a quarter
- Unemployment is over 20%
- Pensions have dropped by a third
- Half of the youth eligible to work are unemployed
- Nearly 20% of Greeks cannot meet their daily food needs
- 65% of the elderly are starving
Surely by now, even the most ardent of capitalists has to wonder if this Kafkaesque reality that has come about is in anyone’s interest.
Side note: If you'd like to read a clear analysis of the current situation in Greece, then the best one out there is this article published on the TwentyFour Asset Management blog.