Footing the bill

Many Greeks feel that they are paying the price for other people’s mistakes and are finding it hard to cope with the thought of higher taxes this year and the next. Many middle-class citizens, who had got used to living beyond their means, now feel the ground shifting under their feet. Their concern is justified, as living standards will no doubt drop in the years to come. We need to do some clear thinking about how our politicians and political parties have managed public funds. But we also need to re-examine the criteria on which we choose our political representatives. For decades, we have tolerated a political system that siphoned money from the state treasury without any consideration of future needs. Politicians made large-scale recruitments at the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) and the Athens metro, an otherwise healthy corporation; they created an unnecessary rural police force; they awarded early pensions to vast privileged groups; they handed out all sorts of benefits without rhyme or reason. The truth is that too many of us were too busy having a good time to ask: «How are things going to end up? Our debt is growing; we produce nothing; we spend a lot and live well beyond our means.» Sure, we should not demonize our fellow citizens who sent friends and acquaintances to obtain a job in the civil service. They were only mimicking their politicians and the others around them who grew up dreaming of a permanent state job and, if possible, early retirement. That’s how Greece’s mainstream parties built up vital patronage, but now it’s time to foot the bill. Because now they have little to offer to the spoiled voters: neither jobs nor help via some dodgy subsidy. For their part, the people who work for the private sector feel that they are the only ones threatened with unemployment. They feel they have to pay absurd taxes because some irresponsible politicians destroyed the economy and because government officials are as keen to impose taxes as they are reluctant to slash state spending. At the same time, they feel stupid to have voted in a deputy or minister for his pleasant-sounding sound bites when all he did was oversee an orgy of waste. The crisis is a telling reminder of Eleftherios Venizelos’s words that «people often like to hear but not to see.»