Thursday, August 19, 2010

Greek lessons

Surprise:

The austerity measures that were supposed to fix Greece's problems are dragging down the country's economy. Stores are closing, tax revenues are falling and unemployment has hit an unbelievable 70 percent in some places. Frustrated workers are threatening to strike back.

The feast of the Assumption of Mary on Aug. 15 is the high point of summer in the Greek Orthodox world. Here in one of the country's many churches, believers pray to the Virgin for mercy, with many of them falling to their knees.

The newspaper Ta Nea has recommended that the Greek government adopt the very same approach -- the country's leaders have to hope that Mary comes up with a miracle to save Greece from a serious crisis, the paper writes. Without divine intervention, the newspaper suggested, it will be a difficult autumn for the Mediterranean state.

This dire prognosis comes even despite Athens' massive efforts to sort out the country's finances. The government's 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.

...

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.

The country's unemployment rate makes this trend particularly clear. In 2009, it was 9.5 percent. This year it may rise to 12.1 percent and economists expect it to reach 14.3 percent in 2011. Those, though, are only the official numbers, which were provided by Angel GurrĂ­a, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Greek trade union association GSEE considers those numbers far too optimistic. It considers 20 percent to be a more likely figure for 2011. This would put the unemployment rate as high as it was in 1960, when hundreds of thousands of Greeks were forced to emigrate. Meanwhile, purchasing power has fallen to its 1984 level, according to the GSEE...