Mark Steel: Starve the Greeks and they'll feel better

May 19, 2012

Up until now the argument has been that there's no alternative. We have to slash public spending and wages because there's so much debt that otherwise there'll be chaos, absolute chaos.

The joy of this method is it saves having to make a case for your actions, so it ought to be used more often. Journalists accused of phone hacking could say, "I had no choice but to listen to a dead soldier's voicemail because otherwise there'd be chaos, absolute chaos. Just look at Greece, they didn't hack any phones and look at the mess they're in, there was no alternative."

So to stop the debt engulfing us we have to do things like shut down libraries. Because a glance at our economy tells you the biggest area of expenditure is libraries, the bill for rubber stamps alone coming to twice as much as the defence budget.

It was excessive lending that led to the credit crisis, and what's the only place that exists solely to lend ― libraries. Lend lend lend they go, the filthy heaps of financial ruin that they are, one Catherine Cookson paperback after another floating out of the door with not a thought for the impact on the balance of payments deficit.

Then this argument was applied to whole countries. The Greeks HAVE to accept the bailout terms of cuts in wages and spending, because there's no alternative. Most people must have assumed the Greeks were just wantonly blowing all of Europe's money, saying, "Let's get Elton John to scrub the Parthenon. He'll charge two million a day but the Germans will cough up so who cares."

But it turns out Greece includes some of the poorest areas of Europe, and these are the areas that will be affected the most by the proposed agreement, with reports that people could actually starve.

So if they caused the crisis by not starving, what were they eating? Are there regions of Crete where villagers have been living off emerald flan? Are they saying, "We thought the state-funded puddings made from grated Van Gogh paintings would go on forever."

So now they must be told: "If you don't starve there'll be chaos, so the quicker you start starving the better." Maybe muggers will adopt this approach, and instead of pushing pensioners against a wall they'll tell them, "Give me your wallet, otherwise the whole of Europe will fall apart and it will be your fault."

But now the situation is changing, because across Europe it's being suggested the poor shouldn't be the ones made to pay. In Britain, for example, it's been revealed the national debt is equivalent to the amount the richest 1000 people have become richer by in the past four years.

Presumably they can't be made to give it back, as they'd scream: "Please don't make us go back to the pitiful way we had to live in 2008, that's too cruel."

But there may be a way round that, by politely pointing out, "Sorry Mr Ecclestone and Mr Abramovich, but there's no alternative."

[This article first appeared in The Independent.]

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