Articles in THE CONVERSATION about GREECE
The University of Warwick is one of the UK’s leading universities with an acknowledged reputation for excellence in research and teaching, for innovation, and for links with business and industry. Founded in 1965 with an initial intake of 450 undergraduates, Warwick now has in excess of 22,000 students and is ranked in the top 10 of all UK university league tables.
Author Marianna Fotaki
Network Fellow, Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University and Professor of Business Ethics at University of Warwick.
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The shrinking of the economy and rising unemployment levels have exceeded those that hit the US in the financial crisis of the 1930s.
The human and social costs have been even more staggering in Greece. Incomes have fallen by an average of 40%, and the unemployment rate reached 26% in 2014 (and higher than 50% for youth). With hundreds of thousands of people depending on soup kitchens, and thousands of suicides in the years 2010-2015, the moral case for debt forgiveness seems just as strong as the technical one based on economics.
The creditors’ offer
Yet in the terms presented to Greece by their creditors there is no commitment to reducing Greece’s crippling debt (which all commentators acknowledge is unrepayable). Nor is there any tangible proposal for rebuilding the Greek economy.
Germany, France, and the EU, aided by the IMF and ECB, continue to insist on implementing policies that have so manifestly failed Greece. They do so to avoid having to justify the massive bailouts of their own financial systems – shifting the burden from banks to taxpayers – if Greece fails to make the repayments.
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But the social and political costs of these policies have put the legitimacy of the entire European integration project in question. By being locked into austerity policies, Europe is tearing itself apart.
This brings to the fore the faulty institutional framework that has exacerbated these issues. European integration was conceived by a set of elites, while many EU citizens have never fully embraced the idea: the EU tends to be regarded as an economic entity rather than a cultural or social one. The “ever closer union” remains an aspiration, while EU institutions patch up compromises between its most powerful members.
The ill-thought and haphazard implementation of the common currency is perhaps the most costly compromise of all. The Greek government is therefore right to ask for generous debt relief to allow the economy to have a fresh start in exchange for reforms that will address the perennial problems of corruption and inequality that bedevil Greek society.
The right decision
Greece has many problems – including unfair taxation (64% of taxes are paid by salaried employees and pensioners), corrupt elites who have governed the country for at least four decades with fellow European governments repeatedly turning a blind eye to their flouting of rules, and the oligarch-owned media which are neither independent nor free. But accepting the bailout would only feed into the system that got Greece into this crisis.
Meanwhile, the newcomer to Greek politics, Syriza, has been told it will only receive the funds agreed under the previous bailout terms if it is ready to implement further policies that will decimate the poor and impoverish the middle class even more. Cutting pensions, many of which are already below the eurozone average when almost one in two of them are facing poverty, would be a mistake.
No country has ever succeeded in emerging from financial crisis by means of austerity. Further austerity would have made the impossibly bad situation that Greece is in worse still. In rejecting the creditors’ further demands, the Greek government stands for the working people of Greece – and Europe too.