Overdue bills, debts, constant new settlement schemes that simply intensify the anxiety and kick the can further down the road: Thousands of self-employed professionals, pensioners and private sector workers are up against the wall not because they don’t want to pay, but because they can’t.
Is there a difference between the two? Yes, and it’s huge. The “I won’t pay” movement that emerged in the early years of the crisis (with the support of the present government) purposely flouted the law in order to express its opposition to bailout-imposed austerity and provided a shield for citizens who put their individual interests above the public good. Members of the movement raised tollbooth barriers and challenged other services, encouraging civil disobedience with ersatz pride and plenty of prejudice.
A great deal of the self-employed professionals lamenting their inability to make good on their commitments are not refusing to pay up because they believe the country’s public debt to be disgusting and shameful, but, rather, because the measures introduced by the government are wiping out even those who have the best of intentions. When social security contributions are set at way more than double their revenues, turning professionals into hostages of the state and their taxes into ransom, they cannot believe in the necessity of the measures or put any hope in getting some relief from promised countermeasures.
“I can’t pay” is not the slogan of the so-called Indignants – it is simply a statement of fact made by people defeated by bills.
The inability or unwillingness of successive governments over the decades to curb tax evasion is one side of a problem that is now simply growing under the pressure of a wave of new taxes. Speaking to Kathimerini earlier this week, Nina Olson, a taxpayer advocate with the Internal Revenue Service of the United States, said that in order to make taxpayers conscientious, tax evaders need to understand that someone else ends up paying their dues. She also said that taxpayers need to feel that there is some reciprocity, that their taxes are being turned into streets, schools and hospitals.
“The state needs to explain,” she said, describing the step that Greece has still not managed to take.