MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the tag “economic crisis”

10 Things we’ve learnt during the Greek crisis

greek_financial_crisis__svitalskybrosFor those in Europe, the past few weeks have been a constant game of diplomatic war between Greece and the EU. With countless meetings, summits and councils convening in the course of just a month, Greece and its international creditors reached a breaking point. An irreparable rift, even if none admit to it.

The Greek crisis revealed a lot:

1) That there is no real leadership in Europe or its member states. No politician has demonstrated their worthiness of being the elected representative of the people. Not when so many have been named and shamed at how on the onset of a financial crisis they were the first to take their money out, when they are the ones who should have protected the economy and the nation state, let alone the entire union from financial collapse.

2) That politics is indeed a dirty game. We see images of EU and member state officials hugging, kissing and joking around before their “crucial” summits every couple of days, conveying a light-hearted atmosphere. Yet, two hours later, they are at each other’s throats, accusing one another of acting irrationally, unilaterally and unreasonably. The institutions (European Commission – European Central Bank – International Monetary Fund) accuse Greece of departing from the discussions abruptly and breaking off all negotiations, thus abandoning any hope of reaching a compromise. Greece accuses the institutions of blackmail and of handing them a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum for accepting within 48hours their “harsh, absurd and recessionary proposals”. All making one thing clear: that one is out to break the other in an endless tug of war.

3) That solidarity is just a word. With no meaning. No content. Ever since the financial crisis began, “solidarity” has become part of our everyday vocabulary. Everyone is calling for more solidarity. From the EU, from member states, from international partners. Everything is argued to be done “in the interest of solidarity”, yet this is hardly the case. Right now, one state is left fighting for its own survival, pitting itself against another 18 (Euro area member states), who refuse any extension of the current status quo “because there is no will on their part”. However, if after the crucial referendum on Sunday, Greece wants to discuss another bailout programme, “the door is open, in the spirit of solidarity and responsibility”.

4) That the media still has significant power as the fourth estate. Upon the announcement of a Greek referendum on the institutions’ proposals, media immediately conveyed the message that the referendum was a question of whether or not Greece would remain in the Euro. Misinformation that was reinforced and intensified over the week and came to be replicated by EU officials and member state leaders themselves, resulting in widespread fear among the Greek citizens who continue to flock to ATMs, supermarkets and gas stations in what can only be likened to a state of siege.

5) That propaganda is a politician’s greatest tool. “EU leaders urge Greek citizens to vote ‘yes’ to stay in Euro”. This is the featured headline in media around the world, as the institutions launch a last effort to sway the Greek authorities in their direction and accept their proposals. Some even talk of visiting Greece to convince voters first hand. Regardless that this would be a direct intervention into the internal politics of a sovereign member state…

6) That it is easy to say a lot but hard to act on any of it. Like Mark Twain said “action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” The Greek crisis was the issue of at least 87 meetings of European Ministers since 2010, with around a dozen Eurogroup meetings being held in the last couple of months alone. Yet they have all failed and we have reached the point where a country “on the brink of default” is striving for a last minute agreement.

7) That Europe started off as a vision of a united continent, joining its people against a common cause and demonstrating solidarity when the need arises. But today, that dream has perished with Europe appearing more divided than ever. And it is nowhere near the initial vision of its founding fathers. It revealed its ugliest side in the midst of the harshest crisis it has ever faced and continues to squabble over things its people still do not understand. As Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times states, “The current crisis is not just a reflection of the failings of the modern Greek state, it is also about the failure of a European dream of unity, peace and prosperity.

8) That Europe has come to be divided into the lenders and the indebted. Where the indebted are left with no choice other than to borrow from the lenders who profit from the former’s very need to survive. From the hundreds of billions of bailout fund received by Greece since 2010, less than 10% was invested in the country itself, as the majority was used to pay off debts. In the same context, the indebted are forced to bow down and approve every programme presented to them by the lenders as “necessary reforms for economic recovery and debt sustainability”, even if this is diminishes their living standards and would lead to their own suffering. Let alone the economic jargon that no-one other than the ruling technocratic elites comprehend.

9) That democracy is a concept that has faded in the modern world. Politicians (overuse) the term to justify actions that in essence cannot be explained. They hold meetings behind closed doors with unelected officials who are not accountable to anyone. Yet it all comes down to one thing: “a clash of democratic mandates — pitting Greek voters’ desire to ditch austerity against the voters (and taxpayers) of other EU countries, who want to see their loans repaid and are loath to let an unreformed Greece continue to benefit from EU money.

10) That instead of joining forces against a common enemy – the threat of terrorism and ISIS that is gathering like a black cloud over the region – we are instead devouring our own flesh, wrangling with each other and by ourselves destroying the very consensus we are trying to create. And as such we become a people divided – both within our continent and within our own countries. This internal strife is actually worse than any foreign enemy.

Welcome to the Middle Ages, 2013

Need-HopeSo, what seems to be the biggest problem during this past decade?

Is it famine?

Is it poverty?

Or is it politicians?

Is it empty promises that lead to nothing? Austerity policies pushing for more cuts, lower wages, and a soaring unemployment that simply cannot be controlled?

It’s all of the above. It’s the bad handling of policies by a group of people whose only concern was to take care of their own lives. And now, leaders from all over the world are gathering every so often, in one bustling city or another, in order to, as they proclaim “find ways to combat” youth unemployment, or the recession, or the financial crisis in general.

What no one admits though is that we live in a 21st century, that all the more looks like the Middle Ages. In order to survive, you have to already have money. You have to have a financial capital behind you so that you can go out and look for a job, and afford to take on two, three, even five internships at minimal (or even absent) pay, before landing a full-time job.

You have to have the professional experience and skills for permanent employment simply in order to get an unpaid traineeship.

And what’s worse: everyone expects you to be grateful for it. For simply offering you the experience. Or simply because you have a job – no matter how badly paid that is, how many hours you work, how exploited you are.

We live in an era were only the wealthy survive. The middle class does not exist. And the lower ranks are ignored.

We live in a society where in the midst of an economic crisis and in a state on the verge of default, bankers and civil servants have the audacity to demand bonuses and higher wages, when the private sector employees are sacked without even compensation.

And then, the very people whose debauchery and later recipe of austerity led to this very situation, are the ones who declare that unemployment will be reversed if the same policies continue, with a few structural reforms for good measure. Reforms that further lower people’s living standards.

People ruling, or rather, the ruling elite, live in their own gilded towers, in a bubble. They fail to understand the concerns of the “ordinary folk”. They fail to walk in their shoes, because they have elevated themselves so far up that they have lost touch with it all. And if a politician has no contact with his/her “polis”, the people who elected him/her, then s/he loses all credibility. And all you have out there is just another selfish “official” only aspiring for more (personal) power.

In € / $ / £ / ¥ / руб / ﷼ we trust

1in_god_we_trustHave you ever truly noticed that the US dollar features the wording “In God we trust”? Why would you need to explicitly state that on a piece of paper used so commonly for transactions of all sorts, legal or illegal, ethical or not? Does that not make you wonder to whom exactly you are pledging allegiance? Is it not in money that this trust lies?

MoneyWith the global economic crisis being the order of the day and reason justifying all the negative trends occurring, money has once again entered the spotlight. Not that it ever left. It was just depreciated for a while, as people began to implant the idea in their head that “money doesn’t buy everything”, and “there are more important things in life than money”. But are there?

This crisis has clearly demonstrated otherwise. For when entire countries surrender their sovereignty to foreign lenders in exchange for liquidity, then there is something wrong. Because the moment you run out of money and are forced to depend on outside help in order to keep your economy running, then you indirectly allow them to infringe on your rights and dictate how you should manage your affairs. With the simple threat of cutting-off cash flows hovering over your head.

Mark Twain had said it well: “The lack of money is the root of all evil”. Think about it and you will see how right he was.

Corruption, clientelism, tax evasion, stealing in every way and form has one objective alone: to gain more money. And it is acknowledged that the more you have, the more you want, and the more you want to preserve what you already have. No matter how you have gained it.

In this day and age, money can buy anything and everything. From material goods, to land and property, to people (as regards their support, for instance), to even citizenship. This latter one is the new controversy spreading in the EU. Granting citizenship in exchange for money. If you invest several million in a country, you will be handed over its citizenship, allowing you free and unlimited access to the rest of the Common Area. This is not a unique case. It is widespread and certainly unethical. But when you need the money, how are you going to say no? It’s like the Godfather making you an offer you can’t refuse…

Even celebrities do it. For example, recently as in the case of Gerard Depardieu, who in order to avoid paying high taxes in France, went on over to Russia where he was readily granted citizenship and made investments there. Easy no? See, when you have money, the whole world is your red carpet. And you can go around choosing what real estate, painting or island to buy simply for your pleasure. And all the while you PR yourself as a philanthropist, despite never doing anything to actually help the people/children who are starving at the other end of the world.

Money may buy everything you need and more, but it can never buy honor, respect, or morals. At least these are still priceless. (Even in the presence of a MasterCard).

“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” – Ayn Rand

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: No Fair

10+1 reasons why alarm clocks aren’t good for you

3183362-old-fashion-alarm-clock-ringing-shaking-and-jumping-like-mad
 1.      #economic crisis
Because every time you break an alarm clock while trying to shut it off means, besides having to get up, having to go and buy a new one. And that costs money. And who’s got that to spare?
 
2.      #painful
Because it hurts when someone throws it at you – accidentally or intentionally.
 
3.      #snooze
Because snoozing alarm clocks doesn’t really help. It makes you sleep less and annoys you even more. So in the end you wake up unnaturally tired. And irritated.
 
4.      #frightening
Because the sudden beeping, ringing, or whatever it is your alarm clock does, disrupts your natural (often peaceful) sleep pattern to the extent that you may even risk a heart attack from the scare!
 
5.      #hide_and_seek
Because nowadays phones are used as alarm clocks. How many times do you wake up trying to find where you hid your phone in an attempt to muffle its sound? You’re already late! Who has time for games?
 
6.      #ringing_in_ears
Because in your sleep you can’t often distinguish between the alarm ringing or someone calling, resulting in a list of unanswered calls you’ve snoozed. It’s even worse if you try to answer the alarm clock instead of the phone!
 
7.      #embarrassing
Because alarm sounds nowadays are so similar that you may wake up at dawn, thinking that someone is stealing your car and rush out in your pyjamas (if you’re wearing any) to check. Really?
 
8.      #company
Because wouldn’t you rather be woken up sweetly, with a tender kiss or a lick in the face? Get a companion, a partner, a pet. In the long term it’ll also be there when you’re not asleep!
 
9.      #disruption_social_relations
Because what if you’re trying to sleep on your day off and your roommate/neighbour’s alarm clock is right on time (as usual) and wakes you up too? Is it really worth the row with your roommate/neighbour? Again?
 
10.   #no_sense
Because alarm clocks have no sense of time. 7:00 is either am or pm depending on a dot. Seriously? Can you afford to lose your beauty sleep over that?
 
And finally:
 
11.   #lazy_is_not_an_option
Because alarm clocks remind you there is something you need to do…
 
Also part of the Daily Prompt: The Satisfaction of a List.

Τι είναι τα λεφτά;

Το ΔΝΤ, η Ευρωπαϊκή Κεντρική Τράπεζα και το οικονομικό σκέλος της Ευρωπαϊκής Επιτροπής, ασχολούνται όλο με λεφτά. Και απ’ότι φαίνεται, από τα χέρια τους περνάνε πολλά, μα πάρα πολλά λεφτά. Μιλάνε για χρέη δισεκατομμυρίων (μερικές φορές ακόμα και τρισεκατομμυρίων) και απαιτούν μέτρα και περικοπές εκατομμυρίων ευρώ από τη μια μέρα στην άλλη χωρίς καν να λαμβάνουν υπόψη τα εκατομμύρια πολίτες που θα στερούνται τα πεντάρικα, δεκάρικα και εικοσάρικα τους.

 Παράδειγμα η Ελλάδα που βρίσκεται τώρα σε ένα ασφυκτικό κλοιό πιέσεων για να επιβάλει στους πολίτες της επιπρόσθετα και ακόμα πιο επώδυνα μέτρα. Ο κατώτατος μισθός των €500 είναι πλέον «μισθός πείνας», ενώ οι περικοπές από παντού και η αύξηση της φορολογίας ρίχνουν ακόμα πιο βαθιά έναν ταλαιπωρημένο λαό στην απελπισία. Τίποτα πια δεν είναι δεδομένο. Αν έχεις δουλειά σήμερα, δεν σημαίνει πλέον ότι θα την έχεις και αύριο.

Η αβεβαιότητα πλημμυρίζει πλέον τη ζωή και την καθημερινότητα μας και μας γεμίζει με φόβο και αγωνία, στοιχειώνοντας ακόμα και τα όνειρά μας. Ακόμα και οι συντάξεις ατόμων που μια ζωή δούλευαν για να απολαύσουν τους καρπούς των κόπων τους, τώρα κινδυνεύουν να χαθούν. Αν δεν βρεθεί αντίστοιχο μέτρο που θα επιφέρει τα  €300 εκατομμύρια που ζητά η Τρόικα, οι συντάξεις θα κοπούν. Και ο ολοένα αυξανόμενος αριθμός του 27.7% των Ελλήνων που βρίσκονται στα όρια της φτώχιας και του κοινωνικού αποκλεισμού θα ανεβεί στα ύψη. Πως δηλαδή θα πληρώνει φαγητό, ενοίκιο και φόρους ένας πολίτης που δεν θα έχει δουλειά αλλά ούτε κανένα εισόδημα; Τα λεφτά δεν πέφτουν από τον ουρανό, ούτε τα βρίσκουμε στο δρόμο. Για τους περισσότερους εν καιρώ κρίσης τα λεφτά, ακόμη και για βασικές ανάγκες, είναι από δυσκολεύρετα μέχρι ακριβοθώρητα. Η δουλειά από εργασία έχει γίνει πια δουλεία. Εκεί οδηγούν τους πολίτες όλοι αυτοί οι πολιτικοί αρχηγοί που δέχονται και επιβάλλουν μέτρα για εξοικονόμηση εκατομμυρίων ευρώ «για τη σωτηρία του κράτους». Όταν όμως από ένα ξεθωριασμένο σκοινί συνέχεια κόβεις την άκρη για να μη ξεφτίσει, στο τέλος απλά δεν θα υπάρχει άλλο σκοινί. Τα έργα για την ανάπτυξη που θα βοηθήσουν την χώρα να ορθοποδήσει και να ξαναβρεί την αξιοπρέπεια και την αυτοπεποίθηση της γιατί δεν γίνονται; Γιατί δεν επενδύεται και κάτι στην ανάπτυξη, και οι μόνες εξελίξεις πια είναι οι περικοπές μισθών και συντάξεων, και το κλείσιμο και οι χρεοκοπία όλο και περισσότερων καταστημάτων και εταιριών;

Τα εκατομμύρια που ακούγονται να ζητούνται από τη μια χώρα και την άλλη, και τα Ευρωπαϊκά και Διεθνή Ταμεία που δίνουν δισεκατομμύρια για τη σωτηρία τους, γιατί δεν λαμβάνουν υπόψη και τον απλό πολίτη που πιθανόν δεν γνωρίζει αλλά ούτε και θα μπορεί να φανταστεί για τι υπέρογκα ποσά τίθεται θέμα συζήτησης; Πως μπορεί μια χώρα στα όρια της χρεοκοπίας να βρει τόσα εκατομμύρια σε τόσο σύντομο χρονικό διάστημα, τη στιγμή που χρόνια ολόκληρα το σύστημα έκλεβε τα παιδιά της και οι λίγοι καταχράζονταν τα λεφτά των πολλών; Στα μάτια των αστέγων, των ταλαιπωρημένων και των νέων που δεν βλέπουν πια μέλλον στον ορίζοντα, τα λεφτά δεν είναι πετραδάκια διαθέσιμα να μαζευτούν. Είναι κόποι και σκληρή δουλειά. Κι ας βγαίνει ο κάθε πολιτικός να λέει πως η Ευρωζώνη μπορεί και χωρίς την Ελλάδα, και να ζητούν απερίσκεπτα να χρεοκοπήσει ένας ολόκληρος λαός, μιας χώρας που έμαθε στον κόσμο τι εστί δημοκρατία. Πως μπορεί όμως αυτό όλο που βιώνουμε σήμερα να είναι δημοκρατία τι στιγμή που λίγοι κεφαλαιοκράτες – η άρχουσα ελίτ – καθορίζουν και υπαγορεύουν το μέλλον ολόκληρων χωρών, ενώ ταυτόχρονα χιλιάδες πολίτες ξεχύνονται στους δρόμους φωνάζοντας εναντίον των αποφάσεων τους; Ενάντια σε καθεστώτα που παρότι λένε έχουν το συμφέρον της χώρας πάνω από όλα, πάλι κατά κάποιο περίεργο τρόπο διασφαλίζουν και τα συμφέροντα αυτών που ήδη έχουν τα εκατομμύρια. Όχι τα πετραδάκια, αλλά τα ευρώ.

(26 Φεβρουαρίου 2012)

We’ve paid for politicians’ dreams and lost our own

Everyday the only thing we hear about on television is how the economy worsens, how EU or other high-ranking officials are calling for more measures, how another austerity package is to be adopted, how spreads rise, stocks fall and credit rating agencies downgrade one economy after another. To an ordinary citizen none of this makes sense. About a year ago, it is doubtful whether people knew what a spread is, or that credit rating agencies even existed. And now, this has become part of our daily lives, of our everyday news and most of all, of our most dreaded fears and concerns. “What if this gets worse, how will I be able to pay my bills?” – this is the most frequent question the citizen of today is called to answer. Because, given the situation, things don’t seem to be getting any better. Only worse. By the minute. And yet one thing no one seems to be able to answer, or at least answer in a satisfactory way, is how on earth did those elected officials, that earn more money in a month than an entire household earns in a year, manage to get our countries into such a terrible mess?  And why is there no better way to get out of it, than depriving citizens of hard-worked money? Of taking away the jobs they worked years to get, the education they spent to get there and the sacrifices they made to create a descent life. And all this, while at the same time, shattering the very dreams they built in the process.

The vision of a European integration was for Europeans to be united as one. And contrary to what it appears, or what Eurosceptics and others seem to think, Europe does work. It does. All of Europe is currently suffering a state of no money, no jobs, and lots of worries. It’s just those high ranking officials at the top – the very same making statements every so often about how bad this crisis is, how it is spreading across the Eurozone like a plague with no remedy, and how further tougher measures need to be taken in response – that seem to be the ones better off. Because a millionaire is still a millionaire, even if he loses a few thousands. But a low-paid worker is on the brink of poverty when he loses a few tens. So does anyone realize that by continuing to cut wages, reduce subsidies, and increase taxes, the ordinary citizen is suffering?  How is all that supposed to help exit this crisis? A crisis for which the ordinary citizen is not to blame. Why is it the hard-working shop owner’s fault if the people representing him have abused their power and misused public finances for their own gain? How is it our fault if their dreams have been realized on our expense, leaving absolutely nothing for us? And now, it is our dreams that have been taken away from us, not theirs.

An ancient Chinese curse wished that “we may live in interesting times”. Our times are anything but interesting. And the rapid succession of dramatic events seems to be simply aggravating an already exasperated people that take the streets in their thousands in order to avoid another known saying, that when you stop dreaming, you stop living.

(04 December 2011)

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