The Prophets of 1962
What supporters of aggressive privatisation can learn from the likes of JFK, Khrushchev, Carson and others…
The eyes of the world are now firmly fixed on London as the thirtieth modern Olympiad and all the drama and raw emotion associated with the games is well underway. Meanwhile back in Greece, the birth-place of the first Olympics dedicated to Zeus, brotherhood, peace and the ‘hellenikon’, Troika inspectors have recently come door-knocking. Whilst to the West in nearby Spain the situation unfortunately appears to be unnervingly teetering with a sense of eerie déjà vu only all too common for many in Greece. It seems then that over the next fortnight London might not be the only city in Europe beset by drama and overcome by raw emotion.
Amidst this backdrop, Greece’s current coalition government sits poised to continue implementing an economic program involving further austerity measures. A two-part concoction that includes spending cuts to social services and the sell-off of some of the nation’s public assets. Measures incidentally, which as yet have arguably failed to alleviate Greece’s economic pain. An inconvenient truth that when raised is often met with a proverbial shrug of the shoulders and the claim that there simply is no other answer.
This tired old refrain sung by proponents of austerity, reduces the complexity of the crisis and usually goes on to describe austerity as an act of medical treatment, whereby all Greece has to do is simply swallow the medicine it has been told it must and everything will eventually get better. However, for Greece (and others for that matter, such as Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain) the medicine being prescribed is proving more than just a bitter pill to swallow. This so-called medicine is leading to side effects that in many ways, are proving just as detrimental, if not worse than the original disease it was intended to combat.
If one wants an analogy that truly captures the harsh reality (particularly the social cost) of the current Euro-zone crisis, austerity should not be envisioned as a curing therapy but rather as a misguided and condescending paternalism whereby Greece and others, are taught a lesson by being forced to sleep in a bed not entirely of their own making. Greece certainly played ‘a’ part in making its current economic bed, but it most certainly did not play the ‘only’ part. A distinction very rarely acknowledged. A case perhaps, where the truth for some, ironically is also proving a similar bitter-pill to swallow?
Analogies though will not change the dire circumstances Greece currently finds itself in. Five years of economic recession, one in five people unemployed, compounded by decades of corruption, cronyism and nepotism, are all alarm bells that clearly suggest that Greece needs major internal structural reforms. This however, is not the issue. No one is denying that Greece is in a precarious situation that needs to be urgently addressed. Rather the issue at hand is ‘how’ this precarious situation is actually urgently addressed.
In spite of the pressing situation in Greece, or rather very much because of it, if there is one thing Greece can truly not afford, it’s to be lead astray by panic. In such circumstances matters of urgency are often confused with the need for rushed decisions that in turn often lead to rash responses. Calling for cooler heads to prevail therefore is not burying one’s head in the sand, it is simply a reminder to proceed with caution.
Yes Greek and EU political leaders are charged with a responsibility and should be expected to act decisively to resolve the current crisis however, such actions should always be taken after critical evaluation, not as knee-jerk reactions. In addition, such actions should always be taken with human dignity as the ultimate bottom-line index. Simply put, ‘urgent’ should not be the harbinger of the economic version of electro-shock therapy. Nor should profits be put before people.
The EU would do well to remember what the ‘U’ stands for in its acronym – ‘Union’. Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain are members of this unity project and by rights, partners in the European enterprise, not lifeless specimens to be economically experimented on, nor subjects to be politically patronised. Similarly, the Troika would do well to remember that these countries are not uninhabited entities, they are states, more importantly, states comprised of individuals, individuals in turn who qualify as citizens. Citizens that live, breath, hope, dream and feel. Citizens, who very much feel the very real impacts of the austerity measures ‘work-shopped’ on their behalf and imposed upon their lives from behind closed-door summit meetings. Finally, the governments of these countries need to remember that in a democracy the constituents to be served are the people, citizens and residents, not lobby groups and corporate interests. In a world where the constituency lines for many modern democracies appear to be blurring, this is one fact with no shades of grey. It remains as black and white today, as it ever was – citizens’ needs, must and always must, trump corporate want.
More than just romantic demagoguery, or naïve idealism, to have the reverse situation, i.e. the persistence of the less appealing aspects of the current status quo, where many citizens increasingly feel disenfranchised from the decision-making processes of their societies, disconnected from their leaders who are either really, or perceived to be only serving their own self-interests and uninspired by a future that shows little to no signs of relief and hope for many; is to then also persist in cultivating a situation that runs the serious risk of sowing the seeds of discontent and ultimately exacerbating an already volatile crisis that as yet unfortunately shows no sign of abating.
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