Austerity is more than a media term

The world becomes increasingly complex. The international systems we have created – to regulate the behaviour of states, to regulate commerce, to provide finance for the world, to feed the starving, to make access to information universal – each one, as they are laid down, and inter-connected, makes the world more difficult to understand, and begins to exclude the non-elites behind. Why does each undertaking – be it the law, banking, development or medicine – create its own words, and speak in its own language? To befuddle outsiders, to hike the price at which it sells its common-sense, to create an aura of authority …

In the jargon of the global financial crisis, the antidote to sovereign debt is a period of austerity. This may be the right policy response, but let us understand, and respect, its true meaning. Listen to this outstanding and deeply saddening radio programme to appreciate the impact of austerity on the bones and the morale of men and women, young and old, in cities and villages somewhere else in Europe. Austerity in Athens feels like anger, it feels like hopelessness, it smells like tear gas. This is the price people are now paying for the reckless implementation of a complex economic and political experiment.

“Other crises had a name” explains a Greek poet, and a life time tax payer. “… this thing is nameless, this thing is algorithms, I do not understand them and the the more I read them the more I listen to the news the less I understand.”

Greeks wail and gnash their teeth, but they can see no enemy. They have no one to hate. In the Occupation, they fought Germans. In the civil war that followed, and still scars, right fought left. Now the enemy is invisible – it is nowhere and everywhere. It is indefinable.  Stricken Greece finds herself reviled by the rest of her European family. She is a client of an international fund, each month the government invents new taxes, and backdates them. The Greek middle class is being stripped of its savings and incomes while the rich move their money, much of it untaxed, overseas. Greece might find relief outside the EU, but life on the other side of the walls of Europe looks even more frightening. It will take decades for her to pay off her debts. Adults worry not just about their children’s future, but about their grandchildren. And while they worry about their grandchildren, their children are rioting.

“I am full of ‘why’s?” says the poet “I have not a single answer”.

PS: expressions of patriotism are a constant in the report – young and old talk about the special destiny of Greece, her suffering, their pride and love for their country. Aren’t we seeing this in each EU member state, as the crisis threatens a nation’s sense of itself, and its sovereignty? European solidarity has been absent. People love their countries, in varying degrees, but this is plain fact in every European member state. People’s memories are with their country, and – it appears – their hopes for the future too. Nation states are the units of control and identity people feel comfortable with. Yet Europe’s leaders have since 1957 been driving a project of ‘ever closer union’ which implies the dissolution of nation states; this project looks set to leap forward. What a long shadow WWII has thrown to contort Europe so.

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