When it’s time to pay the bill

When it’s time to pay the bill

Most Greeks who reach the checkout and find themselves a couple of euros short of paying the bill will most likely mutter something about forgetting their debit card at home, right? They’ll probably be embarrassed at the idea of the cashier knowing that they’re struggling and even more so at having the scene witnessed by other customers. That said, those customers will probably have found themselves in a similar situation and know that it can happen to anyone, by no fault of their own. Yet the struggling Greek will still feel bad, not just because of the predicament they’re in, but because it is obvious, they can’t hide it.

For the prices of basic goods to drop, the political leadership needs to care about the person who ends up having to take items out of their shopping basket

They’ll probably feel embarrassed too if people ask about their holiday plans and they have nothing on the cards because everywhere is just too expensive. Or if they’re asked about their child’s extracurricular classes, which they feel guilty about depriving them of because they can’t afford private tuition. Or why they’re not eating healthily, when the reason is that healthy food costs more than junk.

They should not be embarrassed. Greeks are, officially, according to Eurostat, the poorest nation in the European Union after the Bulgarians, while also having among the highest prices in the eurozone for fruit, eggs and olive oil, even though we’re one of the top producers of all three. And this is in tandem with a huge rise in the profit margins (greedflation) in industry, services (commercial and tourism), construction, entertainment and leisure, private health and, of course, banking, according to the governor of the Bank of Greece, whom no one can accuse of being a leftist.

Much ink has been spilled over the paradoxes of capitalism in Greece, where feta has become more expensive than in Belgium: The small size of the market facilitates oligopolies and greed among the cartels, the Competition Commission is understaffed and not doing its job, as are the agencies tasked with keeping a check on such phenomena as profiteering, corruption, intransparent practices, clientelism, leeching off the state etc. There are many explanations and excuses.

One unpopular observation is that for the prices of basic goods to drop, the political leadership needs to care about the person who ends up having to take items out of their shopping basket at the till because the bill is higher than anticipated. And to care, they need to know, either because they’ve experienced it or they have taken the time to learn that, say, the mother of the French writer Edouard Louis scolded him for revealing in an autobiographical book that his family was poor.

And even if we assume that the leadership genuinely cares for regular folk, it will also have to be prepared to challenge all sorts of vested interests – and that is much harder to do than making cute TikTok videos.

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