College is over, guys

Most people look back on their college years with nostalgia. Those were carefree and uncomplicated days, but three times a year, the sensation of nonchalance was brutally interrupted. In late May, early September and mid-January, the backgammon board, students? favorite pastime, would slam shut. Traffic at students hangouts would halt. Students would stay up late to study, not party. Pressure from professors would intensify, or at least it felt that way. Every year before exams, we?d try to figure out which professor was soft and which was strict, while trying to root out which topics were most likely to come up. Some would slam the ?system? for being too tough as others preached that in another world, exams would be made redundant altogether.

This is more or less how Greece?s ministers must feel these days. They either have to make up for lost ground or quickly come up with a cheat-sheet. In contemporary political lingo, of course, cheat-sheets are known as ?alternative measures.? Sure, we failed to open up closed-shop professions to bolster growth, but instead we may impress foreign officials by imposing severe pension cuts.

For the past three years, Greek politicians have behaved much like college kids. Every troika inspection was followed by a period of relaxation, often coupled with allegations against ?the system.? Then we?d face ?intensified pressure,? as foreign officials returned to Athens to assess progress.

But what goes around comes around. That even applies to the bare pass mark, often described by students as a ?democratic achievement.?

A recent study showed that 86 percent of university and technical college graduates failed civil service entry exams in their field of expertise. The 14 percent who passed had attended private tuition classes.

In the real economy, the lack of a systematic effort in between troika visits shows up in other areas. It shows up as a fiscal deficit, which we try to finance with extra taxes, or as a recession, which generates unemployment and wrecked businesses. No matter how many cheat-sheets we put together, no matter how many ?alternative cuts? we come up with, the bill simply will not go down. It?s only passed on to the future generations.

Extending the deadline of fiscal targets is like deferring exams for the following year, save one difference: The cost of the extension is passed on to other people. That?s the only thing our politicians aim to bargain for. Alternative cuts do not reduce costs; they simply puts them on the shoulders of those with even less bargaining power: Young people.

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