COMMENT

Paying heed to the critical mass

By Alexis Papachelas

Today I will concede part of this column to a friend who has been severely hit by the economic crisis, without however giving in to the temptation of portraying himself as an indignant victim. This person has always believed in the need for far-reaching reforms and is deeply frustrated by the lack of progress. He recently sent me the following e-mail:

“I want to speak of the anthropological dimension of the Greek bankruptcy. I think that the clientelist and parasitic system that dominated Greece for decades (as of 1980 the left has been a pillar), set the standard of mediocrity in the administration and the government, and as a result Parliament and public affairs are in the hold of the lumpen part of Greece and the underworld. We have to understand that it’s not that they do not want to regenerate this country but that they can’t. This system can only breed monsters. Unfortunately, the creative Greece that could dig us out of the crisis is under a peculiar type of occupation. Worse of all, excess taxation is draining the people’s last reserves (from the age of prosperity), which any reasonable person would use to induce growth and not in order to continue feeding the parasites. It is a complete deadlock.”

His outburst was followed by two footnotes:

“This year I have to pay (but won’t) a huge tax – even though I have no income – on the basis of my real estate assets. Our assets have already been taxed but I’m being asked to pay again because of the expenses criteria introduced by the government, which is essentially a wealth tax.”

I really don’t know how to respond to that. It is, of course, absurd to pay taxes when he has no income and when it is absolutely certain that he is not tax dodger. As to whether our political system has received the message from the crisis and changed the way it thinks and operates, I don’t want to and cannot lie. Sure, there are exceptions, people who fight against an absurd system, against corruption and against a partisan system that is programmed to reward the political acolytes.

My friend’s frustration echoes that of a big chunk of Greeks who paid a disproportionate price for the crisis because they did not, or could not, hide their incomes. These are people who did not live off state coffers. Now they have been knocked out and are waiting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

The share of people who have managed to maintain their cool is getting smaller, because despair is the surest path to the political extremes. Time is running out for the political system to convince this critical mass of people that they truly want to change and rebuild the country on healthier foundations.

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