I was recently having a discussion with a group of executives who work at the European Investment Bank (EIB), one of the world’s biggest public lending institutions – bigger even than the World Bank. One of the people I was talking with was working on development programs designed to help countries in Africa and the Pacific.
None of the EIB officials I spoke to had a clear idea of the mess that Greece is in. I told them that the country is in deflation, at -2 percent for 15 months in a row; that the economy has seen a reduction of 20 percent in foreign investment; and that there are essentially four systemic banks whose collective rate of bad loans is as high as 40 percent.
Their response was to say that “instead of spending time in Africa, we should come and work here. Things are actually worse over here.”
It was during the same conversation that I got their opinion on how they see Southern Europe in the future. And the truth is that it did not look good. Young people from the area applying for a post at the EIB, they told me as one example, often have very little in the form of work experience, not even an internship of a few months. Employers almost by default turn to candidates from Europe’s northern countries who are more likely to have a six-month internship or some other form of work experience on their record. Their unanimous conclusion was that in a couple of years, the EIB staff will no longer be able to train bankers from the European south.
Discrepancy and inequality can take many different forms. Depriving young people of their future is perhaps one of the ugliest. This is not just about sacrificing an entire generation; rather, it is about undoing the necessary conditions for the reproduction of a society, of a nation. And the problem is more intense in the European south.
You do not have to be a parent to be concerned. Every Greek has to ask him or herself who is going to work in the short-to-medium term in order to produce wealth and a competitive advantage, so as to keep the economy and society in working condition.
For the time being, Greece’s exports and industrial production have been steadily declining. At the same time, domestic demand is having to be met through an increase in imports. It is a self-perpetuating cycle of decline, and not just because the trade balance is getting worse but mainly because the whole process is having a paralyzing effect on the minds of the people and on the morale of the entire nation.