Opinion

Ode to a Grecian urn

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on November 27, 2017

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Reciting Keats?

Not exactly.

Then it must be about Greece

Reports say suicide, HIV and infant deaths have soared in post-crash Greece. The country that has seen drastic spending cuts, mainly in the social sector, thanks to the financial meltdown it witnessed in 2009-10.

The bailout funds from the European Union and IMF came with strict riders. One of the conditions, if you remember, was to privatise government assets worth €50 billion by end 2015. The government had also agreed to spending cuts worth €28 billion over five years.

How bad are things now?

Worse. Data from Eurostat show that one in five Greeks was jobless in 2013. Rising pension and wage cuts are taking a toll. In most government institutions, apart from massive layoffs, salaries were cut by about 30-40 per cent. And left with no choice, many people are killing themselves. Remember Apostolos Polyzonis, who set himself ablaze in end-2011 after his bank recalled his loan, leaving him with virtually nothing? He became an accidental mascot of the anti-austerity movement in Europe.

But critics say that austerity measures were the only way to save the country from the sovereign debt crisis.

Nowhere in the world have austerity measures helped. If you're interested, read Austerity, The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth, Professor of Political Economy at Brown University. Blyth says austerity makes the debt only bigger and bigger, and never solves anything. Austerity policies have only worsened these problems.

Are you saying the austerity measures have delivered no good at all?

Well, the bond payments are sort of in control. A sovereign default, forgive the jargon, was avoided. But the public cost of such measures far outweighs the benefits. Take the crisis in Greece's public health for instance. A report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which examined the impacts of cuts to healthcare, revealed startling data.

Tell me about it...

To start with, programmes such as distribution of syringes and condoms have seen budget cuts of 10 per cent in 2009 and about 25 per cent in 2010. This has led a dramatic rise in new HIV infections among drug users, from 15 in 2009 to 484 in 2012. The number of tuberculosis cases increased many times since 2009.

Thanks to cuts in mosquito-checking programmes, malaria is back with a bang. After an absence of 40 years.

Furthermore, cost cutting in hospitals (down 26 per cent) and drug spends (by €2.37 billion) have made it impossible for around 800,000 people to access medicines and health services.

The study says such situations have led to increased instances of depression in people (from 3.3 per cent in 2008 to 8.3 per cent in 2011). Suicide deaths are up 45 per cent from 2007 to 2011.

Which means more Polyzonis-type episodes…

Sadly, yes. Were you saying India should also impose heavy cuts in social spending?

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Published on March 05, 2014
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