The overhaul of the social security system is not just a problem with potentially uncontrollable social consequences but also an enormous political challenge for the leftist-led government – among many others. What the attempt to take on this gargantuan challenge has done is make the entire political system answer for mistakes and oversights that go back decades. We are seeing its failure to maintain a healthy balance of workers and pensioners, as the number of the former keeps shrinking while that of the latter keeps swelling. We are also seeing how destructive the deeply ingrained denial of a succession of governments has been in their refusal to do three things: raise retirement ages, raise the level of contributions and slash the size of pensions.
The fact that the entire political system is to blame for this pitiful state of affairs has also killed every argument that could be put forth. So, everyone – in government and in the opposition – is returning to the tried-and-true tactics of populism, whereby we see them challenging each other on who implemented the biggest cutbacks, who is the most oblivious to reality, who has expended the most political capital and so on. But the blame game has exhausted all of our time, courage and patience.
What now? A collision with more austerity seems inevitable and will inevitably be painful. What expenditures will be cut back further? Will the productive part of society bear the brunt of the measures, or will they be passed on to pensioners or the generations to come? The discussions we have heard so far do not suggest that there are real solutions being considered, but rather that the crux of the matter will be relegated to the future and the country’s young people will pay the price. Whichever government is in power in, say, 2018, will be faced with the same challenge to find a solution to this thorny issue. And until then? Society will continue to suffer as the political system avoids taking on the responsibility and the cost. The difference between the past and today is that now we are not alone; we have creditors checking our every move and blocking the usual escape routes.
Greece went bankrupt five years ago, officially, and now, five years on and with everything that has passed since, we are right back at the start, at the initial point of impact, and looking forward to nothing but seeing it being put off for another two years. The arguments remain the same and the culprits are always “the others.”
Even more painful than the proposed changes to the social security system is the recycling of the same old material. Culpability has yet to be assigned; populism is being embraced with unabated fervor; the language that never names the problem, just denies the difficulty of solving it, continues to roll off sundry tongues.
If there is one thing that the social security issue keeps bringing to the fore, it is the prospect to destruction – ever present, ever near.