Sacrifices for a cause

I have lost count of the number of times since the end of the dictatorship that citizens of this country have been called upon to dig deeper into their pockets to stabilize the economy. During the Simitis governments (1996-2004) alone, 87 new taxes were imposed and an additional 10 trillion drachmas (29.3 billion euros) brought into state coffers, supposedly to achieve fiscal adjustment, that is to reduce the state deficit below 3 percent of GDP to enable the country to join the European Union’s Economic and Monetary Union. If it were only taxes. The national currency was devalued three times: first in 1983, then in 1985 and again in 1998, resulting in inflation and poverty. In 1983 Gerasimos Arsenis, as national economy minister, froze wages, causing a division in the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE). In 1985, his successor Costas Simitis not only froze wages but reduced them by 11 percent in real terms. No other post-dictatorship government had dared do as much. Even Constantine Mitsotakis’s infamous claim that a freeze in wages meant a 14 percent net gain in income paled before the burdens that fell on the people between 1985 and 1987, since the reduced incomes were further exacerbated by inflation. Obviously I do not refer to these examples to justify Tuesday’s announcement of an increase in VAT charges by 1 percentage point, or taxes on tobacco and alcohol. Every indirect tax is unjust simply because it increases inflation and affects consumption. I simply mention them to note the futility of so many struggles, since the promised stabilization of the economy has never been achieved. I think it is that very lack of credibility on the part of governments that makes people so angry and desperate when called upon to make fresh sacrifices. If these new taxes can improve the economy then they will restore the lost honor of politics.