Eurozone crisis: Try the Greek yoke on, Herr Hansen
29 February 2012
What would the life of an average German official be like if the Federal Republic were forced to follow the same draconian austerity measures it is currently imposing on Greece? With the help of some experts, Cicero tries to imagine it.
Let’s call him Eric Hansen. Hansen works in public education in a small town in Hesse. Now and then he takes the young people in his care to the nearby town of Marburg to play in the bowling centre.
In the future, however, Mr. Hansen must consider very carefully whether he wouldn’t prefer taking the kids for a walk in the forest – the tickets for the bowling centre might be too expensive, because Hansen must save where he can. Just like the rest of the country.
Let's look at the hypothesis that the Hans Böckler Foundation put together with the help of the Institute for Macroeconomic Policy (IMK) in order to understand how the pain of Greek austerity might feel for us in Germany.
Just the beginning of Greek austerity
Eric Hansen's monthly salary would shrink from €3,250 to €2,760. His health insurance, in contrast, would increase by €530 per year, while VAT would go up from 19 to 22 percent. Hansen, who likes to smoke a cigarette in the evening with his beer, will have to pay a tax increase on alcohol, cigarettes and petrol of 33 percent.
A tense mood prevails among Hansen's colleagues. In the public sector, the government announces, 460,000 jobs will be cut. German pensioners will have to reckon on €1,000 less a year. This idea is controversial, considering the protests that the announced freezes have already sparked in Germany.
Why are Eric Hansen and the others being left to languish like this? Because, if the demands made on Greece were to shift to our latitudes, the Federal Republic of Germany would have to save some 500 billion euros over five years. IMK expert Henner Will has added it all up and concluded that the troika – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund – has underestimated the impact of austerity.
In 2011, when Greece was presented with the necessary austerity plan, the official calculation was that the country’s gross domestic product would contract by 2.6 percent. In the end it contracted by all of five percent, and that was only in 2011. And this is just the beginning of Greek austerity.
Country sunk to third-world status
The numbers are dramatic and they speak for themselves. If things go on like this, the Greeks will save themselves into destitution. The more this this off-key chorus on the Greek question has more members, the longer the show will drag on, the more the future of the euro, Greece, and therefore the European Union will become an article of dogma. How does the story end? No one knows.
A glance at Greece might point the compass straight and allow the conclusion that for the Greeks the end of the story has long been foretold, the disaster complete, and the country sunk to third-world status.
In the meantime, our theoretical Eric Hansen has lost his job. The educator had to make some compromises with his unemployment benefits. The state retains €600 per year. That’s how Eric Hansen is saving the euro.
Translated from the German by Anton Baer