UK Prime Minster David Cameron, and his fellow pro-austerity politicians across Europe have issued stern warnings about the election of an anti-austerity government in Greece this week. But the rise of anti-austerity movements presents a far greater threat to them, than us.
In 2007/8, two European nations stood on the brink of insolvency – Greece, and Iceland. The proposed remedy for both was a bank bail-out, a central bank loan and austerity. While Greece’s political elite embraced austerity, Iceland rejected it. A glance at the outcomes explains the election of an anti-austerity, socialist government in Greece this week.
First, a look at Greece. The Greek government accepted an £88bn loan from the IMF and the European Central Bank (and the Austerity measures attached) in order to bail out its banks and stay in the Euro.
- The economy of Greece has shrunk every year since.
- The Austerity Programme has turned a financial crisis into a humanitarian crisis.
- By 2013, 11% of the population were living in ‘Extreme Material Deprivation’ without heating, electricity, or enough to eat.
- Unemployment is now over 27% and continues to rise each month, while youth unemployment is now over 59%.
- Unsurprisingly, crime has soared – with burglaries rising by 125% in 2011.
Such impoverished conditions, coupled with the political scapegoating of immigrants and the poor, laid the ground for a resurgent fascism.
In 2013, Greek police launched Operation Xenios Zeus last year as part of a crackdown on immigration. This operation, named after the Greek God of Hospitality delivers anything but that to anyone on Greece’s streets who ‘doesn’t look Greek’. In the first 7 months of the Operation, Greek police arrested more than 85,000 foreigners – yet only 6% were arrested for unlawful entry. While 94% of those arrested were lawful residents of Greece, in many cases they suffered violent assault by the police in the process. The operation became nothing more than a means to vilify and bully foreign looking people.
Tourists to Greece have also been caught up in these arbitrary arrests. In January 2014, a Korean backpacker was seized by Greek police as an illegal immigrant, despite showing them his passport and itinerary. When he asked for proof of identity of the police officer arresting him, he was punched in the face.
In the same month, Christian Ukwuorji, an African American travelling on a US passport was walking through Athens on his holiday when he was seized by police. When he showed police his US passport, they confiscated it and beat him so severely he was hospitalized.
Greece has previously enjoyed a low prevalence of HIV, but since the economic crisis new infections have sky rocketed; in 2010, the new infection rates shot up by 57%. These rises were entirely attributable to the austerity crisis. In 2010, heroin use grew by 20%. In areas where the state funded needle swap programmes were closed, HIV infections among drug users shot up 1,450%. As the social security and healthcare systems failed after 40% budget cuts, some desperate Greek addicts were deliberately infecting themselves with HIV in order to access just $890 of financial support each month and admittance to a drug rehabilitation centre.
But instead of addressing austerity, authorities blamed sex workers for the rise.
Greek police began raiding brothels and forcing sex workers to undergo HIV tests. In February 2013, the police published the names and photographs of 17 sex workers arrested and testing positive for HIV, branding them a danger to public health. One of the sex workers committed suicide as a result, unable to face her family.
Austerity has been a disaster for Greece. But how did Iceland fare?
Iceland refused to use tax payer cash to honour debts run up by the private sector, jailed the bankers responsible, kicked out the Prime Minister and put him on trial for his part in the crisis, and invited its citizens to write a new constitution.
- Iceland’s economy has enjoyed seven straight quarters of growth averaging 5% a year
- Iceland now has an unemployment rate of just 3%, around half that of the UK and on a downward trend.
- Pensioners receive back around 5% of their average net income as pension.
- Wages have continued to climb since 2011 and are now at an all-time high.
- Icelandic society is peaceful and free of social strife.
There is an alternative to Austerity, and it has proven far more successful. In fact, there is no case in history where Austerity caused growth in a time of economic crisis. Greek voters are joining Iceland and much of Scandinavia in opting out of neoliberalism, in favour of social democracy – and if they are equally successful in the implementation of such policies, it will be yet another nail in the coffin of this morally and literally bankrupt ideology. It is time for the UK electorate to follow suit.
You can buy my book “Austerity: The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy” at the retailer of your choice below:
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