There’s a common thread between the appropriation bills being voted on in the House of Representatives this week and the Greek debt crisis, which also appears to be coming to a head this week: conservative austerity ideology that drives cuts to government services for working people and public investments that create jobs and expand the economy.
Bill Daley, the Washington legislative director for Alliance for a Just Society, saw the effects of austerity economics first-hand during a recent visit to Greece, the latest of several trips he has made to the country. He details what he saw in an interview for OurFuture.org.
“The first thing I really noticed was the number of motorcycles,” he said. “It was just overwhelming.” Why? “They can’t afford cars,” he said.
The absence of cars is just one of many signs of how the decaying Greek economy has affected average Greek citizens. Two statistics also help tell the story: The unemployment rate in Greece was measured at a staggering 25 percent in February of this year. (That compares to 5.5 percent in the United States and 4.8 percent in Germany during the same period.) Its per capita gross domestic product, which was about $31,700 U.S. dollars in 2008, had fallen by almost a third; at the end of 2014, it was about $22,600, according to the International Monetary Fund.
In January we wrote about how Greek citizens gave the Syriza party a resounding mandate against austerity policies foisted on the country by the IMF and the economic heavyweights among Greece’s European Union neighbors, led by Germany. “The International Monetary Fund assumed the Greek government could impose austerity without significant impact on economic growth and unemployment,” Terrance Heath wrote then. “The results were disastrous. … The burden of austerity cuts fell mostly upon middle- and working-class Greeks. Three million Greeks are living on or below the poverty line. Nearly every family has suffered. Many have survived by queuing up at soup kitchens, and scavenging rubbish bins for food.”
Daley points out in the interview that House Republicans have approved a budget resolution that anticipates taking $5 trillion dollars of federal spending out the economy over the next 10 years. In addition to the impact of such a cut on struggling households who rely on a range of government services, “that would be a nightmare for small businesses,” he said, because they depend on the economic vitality that results when people have good jobs with good wages, or at least adequate economic support to afford the basics if they don’t have a job.
“The stakes are huge. If that budget is implemented, we will face the same kind of problems that they’re facing in Europe … They do not have a healthy economy, and we won’t either.”
The lesson we need to take away from the Greek crisis is that “we need to invest in our economy,” he said, and that includes investing in “taking care of one another.”