A need for justice

Last Tuesday, as Standard & Poor’s was downgrading Greek bonds to junk status, in Washington top Goldman Sachs executives were being lambasted by members of a Senate subcommittee for being «unethical» and for making money out of the misery spawned by the subprime crisis. As Greece’s debt fell to the lowest point, Goldman Sachs stocks rose. The root of the problem in both cases is the debt that cannot be repaid: In Greece, the whole country was consumed by the mad borrowing of governments and citizens, whereas Goldman Sachs bundled subprime mortgages into complicated packages that no one could understand and sold them to unsuspecting investors who then lost money. The significant difference between the two cases is that Greece now teeters on the brink of catastrophe and its people have no idea what’s in store for them, whereas Goldman Sachs executives made a bundle out of the crisis, allegedly betting against their own products. As occurs in every crisis, those who ultimately pay the bill are those who did not share in the party. In the case of Goldman Sachs (as well as other giants of the international credit system), it wasn’t only those who had extra cash to invest who lost money, it was also homeowners who saw the value of their homes’ value plunge, while their debts multiplied. Many babies were thrown out with the bathwater. This is the fate of Greeks today. Some made money out of the wild days of waste – including Goldman Sachs with their exorbitantly priced tricks for hiding part of the public debt, construction companies and civil servants who did not do the work that they were paid to do. Others luxuriated in the fake plenty, angling for their own personal benefit. But most people fought to make ends meet with low salaries and pensions, in a society where undeclared money and lawlessness continually pushed prices upward, where the general sense of injustice made people feel that there was no point in complaining, of seeking justice. They – the majority – are now the ones whose income is reduced, whose taxes are raised, who are in danger of losing severance pay when they are fired, whose country is the subject of ridicule. This is where the great danger lies with regard to the austerity measures that will be adopted. Injustice lies at the heart of Greece’s crisis. We are a society that accepted unacceptable divisions: between those who worked like dogs and had to borrow to make ends meet, and those who made money with minimal effort; between those who obey the law and those who get away with anything, exploiting the law to their own ends; between those who avoid every obligation and exploit every benefit, and those who pay taxes and social security contributions. The greatest injustice, though, is the chaos in the public administration, which swallows up a great portion of every salary, ostensibly for tax and social security payments. We do not know what the IMF, European Union and European Central Bank inspectors saw in their visits to Greek ministries but it surely would not have been in step with what one expects of a country that has been a member of the EU since 1981 and whose people, the vast majority, have paid so many billions in taxes and social security contributions. Whoever is serious about seeing Greece stand on its feet must not concentrate on fiscal measures alone. They must make a priority of simplifying every procedure in the public administration and also ensure that the law is obeyed without exception (and without the criminally lackadaisical attitude of today’s politicians, judges and police). If this is not done immediately, the reduction in citizens’ incomes will have no benefit. On the contrary, in addition to creating a deep recession, which will make recovery even harder, it will strengthen the conviction that the sacrifices are all in vain. If citizens do not believe in a more just society arising from this crisis, they will not tolerate the austerity measures. In this case, interest groups will clash continually and the country will fall to speculators and confidence tricksters. But with greater debt than before and no hope of salvation.

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