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The destruction of Greece – the slow-burn decline of a nation

Summary:
Herman Van Rompuy, the former European Union president told us all we needed to know about democracy in the EU when he spoke to a a gathering in Louvain (Belgium) in 2010. In his speech (September 8, 2012) – A Test of Solidarity – Von Rompuy said that the Eurozone meant a “loss of sovereignty for all”. He went on to wax lyrical about the need for solidarity – “Solidarity is a duty, not only a right”. Unfortunately, his behaviour when in power, and the policies pursued by other EU bosses was not consistent with their narratives. Their constant claims that solidarity and convergence marked the aspirations of the EU was never borne out in reality. In the case of Greece, the Troika inflicted such harsh policies that, not only has the material prosperity of the nation been trashed, but now,

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Herman Van Rompuy, the former European Union president told us all we needed to know about democracy in the EU when he spoke to a a gathering in Louvain (Belgium) in 2010. In his speech (September 8, 2012) – A Test of Solidarity – Von Rompuy said that the Eurozone meant a “loss of sovereignty for all”. He went on to wax lyrical about the need for solidarity – “Solidarity is a duty, not only a right”. Unfortunately, his behaviour when in power, and the policies pursued by other EU bosses was not consistent with their narratives. Their constant claims that solidarity and convergence marked the aspirations of the EU was never borne out in reality. In the case of Greece, the Troika inflicted such harsh policies that, not only has the material prosperity of the nation been trashed, but now, evidence is emerging that the underlying physical and mental health of the people has been significantly damaged. One step short of genocide. The slow-burn destruction of Greece and its people continues.

As a reminder, on March 13, 2012, the ever pontificating Van Rompuy told the European Parliament that:

One front is fiscal consolidation. Another is the growth and employment agenda. Some claim that these two are contradictory. It is our job to make sure that they are not.

This was the sort of disgusting blather that these European officials pumped out on a regular basis to make it look like they were empathetic to the people whose lives they were devastating with their mindless economic interventions.

History tells us that the likes of Van Rompuy failed to do his job when evaluated by his own criteria.

But that didn’t stop him retiring with a sizeable pension. He should have gone to prison for professional incompetence.

Two news items caught my attention this week about Greece.

The first, concerned the way the Greek banksters are being supported by the state to consficate houses from workers in trouble.

As background, this UK Guardian article (July 9, 2018) – If you love Greece, help us get rid of Alexis Tsipras and his zombie party – by former Greek MP Zoe Konstantopoulou, summarised the way that the Greek prime minister and his party (Syriza) has betrayed the Greek people.

It provides a long list of what Tsipras and his mob have been up to apart from overseeing a harsh fiscal austerity program that has devastated the nation’s economy:

1. “Tsipras had vowed to destroy media oligarchs” – he reinforced their power.

2. “Last October, representing a bankrupt state, he spent $2.4bn to buy F-16 fighters from the US.”

3. “He then praised Donald Trump for continuing the ‘tradition of democracy and freedom’ that was born in Greece.”

4, “Tsipras built close relations with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel”.

5. He “agreed to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia – a regime that has been accused of bombing children in Yemen”.

6. He “lifted Greece’s veto to Nato expansion in the Balkans.”

7. “He also signed agreements on refugees, bluntly violating international humanitarian law.”

8. “Since 2015 he has implemented a shameless privatisation programme, selling our ports, airports, sea-shores, railways, electricity, water and gas companies, archaeological and cultural sites, theatres, court-houses, goldmines and other profitable enterprises for a pittance. None of his neoliberal predecessors dared go this far.”

9. “In 2017 his government launched the electronic auction of homes of families unable to pay their debts to banks, using unconstitutional methods and police violence.”

10. “To please the troika, he even criminalised protests against the auctioning of homes.”

On January 15, 2015, the Thema news report – Tsipras: “No home will end up in the hands of banks and that’s final” – said it all.

Here is Alex Tsipras speaking to a gathering in Rhodes prior to being elected:

The destruction of Greece – the slow-burn decline of a nation

In his pitch to the voters he criticised the New Democracy Prime Minister, saying:

… the accident of Mr. Samaras being re-elected will not happen in Greece, so he cannot copy his friend, the Spanish Prime Minister (Mariano Rajoy), by throwing thousands of bankrupt borrowers onto the streets, out of their homes …

No home will end up in the hands of banks and that’s final …

Of course, he lied about that.

He won office on an anti-austerity, oversaw a referendum that voted to end austerity, and proceeded, unabashed to inflict the sort of austerity that the conservatives would never have dreamed of being able to enforce.

The more recent Jacobin article by Stathis Kouvelakis and Costas Lapavitsas (October 6, 2018) – Syriza’s Repressive Turn – shows how far to the right the so-called Greek socialists have become.

It provides more detail on the way that Syriza has sided with the banksters against the people.

We learn that:

If once Syriza itself raised the slogan “no homes in the hands of banks,” today it is cracking down on protestors trying to stop the auctioning of houses. New laws threaten prison for those who interfere with the auction process — in fact, arrests of the government’s critics have already begun.

The article provides a detailed analysis of how bad the Greek banking sector is some 8 years into the crisis.

The second article (September 20, 2018) – Historical Monuments and Museums transferred to Greece’s Privatization Fund – was about privatisation of monuments.

We learn that the:

… Greek Finance Ministry issued a decision ordering the trasnfer several historical sites and buildings, museums, monuments and historical buildings to the Super Privatization Fund.

The press release from the Finance Ministry said that “the transfer of public properties to Privatization Fund was one of the 88 lender’s prerequisites for the conclusion of the 4th review of the Greek program.”

This harks back to 2011 when the article in the Economist Magazine (May 16, 2011) – Sell, Sell, Sell – which referred to renewed calls for an even more expansive privatisation program in Greece than is already under way.

I wrote about that in this blog post – I’ll buy the Acropolis – where I indicated I might be interested in purchasing the Acropolis.

At this time, the German press had demanded that the Greeks sell their islands and even the Acropolis. This mantra became standard IMF/Europe Finance minister’s talk.

The Euro bosses were uncategorical in telling Greece that they would only bail the nation out further if they sold more public assets and impose harsher “structural” reforms.

After the emergency meeting in Luxembourg recently, the Prime Minister of that nation was quoted as saying:

Urgent measures are needed in Greece in order to reach its fiscal targets … [including an] … increase the volume of privatisation ..

And the Dutch press were writing:

… more radical measure: creating an external agency run by the EU to take charge of selling the assets.

So think back to Van Rompuy and his ridiculous claims about solidarity and the regular statements coming out of the European Commission about convergence of outcomes.

The European Union (particularly the Eurozone) is not even remotely performing according to the official narrative.

It is a corporatist, anti-democratic structure that inflicts massive costs on nations while mouthing meaningless epithets about solidarity.

Those two strands (banks and privatisation) provide background to the human tragedy that the European Commission and others have created in Greece.

The deteriorating state of health in Greece

I read a recent article in the British medical journal The Lancet (July 25, 2018) – The burden of disease in Greece, health loss, risk factors, and health financing, 2000–16: an analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016.

The analysis, which reports on a major study of the “negative health consequences” that followed the “substantial contraction of health-care expenditure” which accompanied the austerity programs inflicted on the people by the Troika and its agent – Alex Tsipras’ Syriza.

We learn that as a result of the colonisation (my word) of Greece by the Troika, “most of the budget” was allocated to “debt payoff” and as result there was a massive “contraction of national gross domestic product”.

Health expenditure fell from 9.8 per cent of GDP in 2008 to 8.1 per cent in 2014.

But those figures fail to disclose the full impact because GDP was also contracting quickly over the same period.

The OECD published a report on Greece (July 7, 2015) – OECD Health Statistics 2015 – which concluded that:

Per capita spending on health in Greece contracted for the fourth year in succession in 2013 leaving health spending 25% below the level in 2009 in real terms …

… the Greek health system was one of the priority areas for … cuts in public spending. Annual government spending on health has reduced by more than €5 billion in 2013 compared with 2009 – a reduction of almost a third in real terms.

The Lancet article reports on results drawn from the 2016 “Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study”, which provides for new insights into “the disproportionate decrement in the health of Greeks as compared with regional populations from 2000 to 2010 (pre-austerity era) to those from 2010 to 2016 (post-austerity era), which was concordant with decreases in national health spending.”

Previous research has shown that with “the onset of austerity measures … [there have been] … adverse health trends, increasing out-of-pocket health expenditure, and unmet health-care needs … tuberculosis rates have risen among native-born Greeks … HIV incidence nearly doubled from 2010 to 2012 … Increasing rates of major depression and suicidality have been documented … along with stagnation in maternal, infant, and child mortality.”

However, those wanting to deny any association between the imposition of austerity and negative health impacts claimed that the data supporting those conclusions was weak.

The study reported in the Lancet article, however, used the comprehensive GBD dataset which is less open to criticism.

The results of the study are summarised as follows:

1. “all-age, all-cause mortality rate in Greece was 1174·9 …. deaths per 100000 in 2016 compared with 997·8 in 2010 and 944·5 … in 2000.”

2. The “annualised increase from 2010 to 2016” was “five-times greater … with evidence of continuing acceleration” than pre-austerity.

3. The annualised increase “for all-age mortality was … threefold higher in Greece post-austerity than the … rise seen across western Europe for the same period …”

4. “Mortality trends in Greece were especially unfavourable in adults 15 years or older, with the largest increases seen in those aged 70 years or older …”

5. “As for specific causes of death, adverse effects of medical treatment, self-harm, and several types of cancer stood out as consistently increasing in Greece across all ages …”

The study produced this graph, which shows the relationship between Per-capita government spending on health (vertical axis) against
annual Mortality per 100000.

It is a stunning indictment of the impacts of austerity.

The destruction of Greece – the slow-burn decline of a nation

The authors suggest that some of the impact they detect arises because there has been an:

Acceleration of population ageing since 2010 … due to the massive emigration of early to mid-career educated professionals in pursuit of financial stability, in what has been referred to as brain drain.

Their further analysis of that possible impact cannot “support ageing” as the “only culprit”.

So the economy has lost a cohort of skilled, younger workers which will undermine its future. But the health deterioration is mostly separate from that compositional shift in the population.

The contraction in health spending has been damaging though.

The authors indicate that:

Since the implementation of the austerity programme, Greece has reduced its ratio of health-care expenditure to GDP to one of the lowest within the EU, with 50% less public hospital funding in 2015 than in 2009 … This reduction has left hospitals with a deficit in basic supplies, while consumers are challenged by transient drug shortages … Concurrently, nearly a quarter of the population lost health insurance from the national health-care programme due to longstanding unemployment, while more than 20% reductions in the minimum wage reduced consumer buying power.

They conclude that while it is difficult separating the impacts of the spending cuts from other possible factors (“unhealthy behaviours” etc), the “austerity measures” have accelerated the “steep changes in health loss indicators since 2010”.

They also note that the Greek health care system was somewhat inefficient before the crisis but that:

… the number of individuals with unmet health-care needs nearly doubled since 2010, with a considerable fraction reporting health-care cost as the main reason for not receiving the recommended health-care services … These reports point to a potential additive effect of the economic crisis to existing deficiencies in health services.

Overall, the study concludes that “there is evidence of a disproportionate decrement in the health of Greeks compared with regional populations, which parallels the course of the economic crisis.”

Conclusion

One of the major responsibilities of government is to ensure health care improves over time as technology makes new treatments possible.

In Greece, the Government has deliberately undermined the health of its population by enforcing the policies of the Troika.

I wonder if citizens in Germany would tolerate what has been imposed on the people of Greece. I doubt it.

More studies will follow with further evidence of the damage the EU and its corporatist mates have inflicted on the nation of Greece.

If there was ever any doubt of the need for nations to exit the Eurozone, and the EU and expunge these traitorous faux-Left governments from power, the Greek tragedy is there for all to see.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2018 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Bill Mitchell
Bill Mitchell is a Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia. He is also a professional musician and plays guitar with the Melbourne Reggae-Dub band – Pressure Drop. The band was popular around the live music scene in Melbourne in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The band reformed in late 2010.

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