The return of the little account book

It’s a fact, even though there’s no statistical evidence to prove it: People are buying on tick again. In the poor neighborhoods of Athens and Thessaloniki, this is something that small shopkeepers do not hesitate to confirm. The habit of purchasing consumer goods on credit, which at a more civilized (so to speak) level entails the use of credit cards, has become common in everyday exchange – whether at the local grocer’s or the haberdasher’s. In those places, of course, buying in «many interest-free installments» lacks the glamour of banking credit and takes the more direct, traditional form of debt: the shopkeeper’s little account book. Buying on credit in the year 2003? Nowadays, it’s perhaps not because families can barely afford to pay for their daily bread but rather because they lack the necessary funds to meet new needs, on top of bread, which have become vital these days. Private tuition schools for the children, a small car and decent clothing have all become basic parameters of what is considered to be a good life these days. It’s not a question of comfort or luxury. The fact that buying on credit is back again, coupled with the widespread use of plastic money and paying for goods in installments, betrays that a growing number of people are finding it hard to meet these new needs. The return of the shopkeeper’s little account book is of special significance, highlighting as it does that credit has crept back into small, everyday transactions which should be made in cash and without much thought – an assumption which seems less evident than it used to be. This is not the only sign. Some readers will perhaps recall Kathimerini’s survey of Athens’s poor neighborhoods after the local elections which revealed the discontent, the destitution, the pressure of unemployment and low wages. And it is not just the jobless who are finding it hard to get by. It’s also true of a large number of people who live on the minimum wage. If the European Union and Greece in particular wished to work not just for fiscal stability but also for greater social prosperity, then they should first deal with these souls. They need to take a good look at those impoverishment people who live behind the glossy surface of the two-thirds who live in relative comfort. They have to put social cohesion programs on the same level as the various stability pacts.