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The Crushing of Greece Brought Near: If Britain Were Greece February 29, 2012

Posted by Garibaldy in British Politics.
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Fascinating and depressing piece of the BBC website describing what the effects of the cuts in Greece would be in Britain (I’m using their term; don’t know if it means the UK including NI or not). Well worth a watching to better understand the scale of the attack on the lifestyle of the Greek working class.

If Britain were Greece

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1. CMK - March 1, 2012

Thanks for posting that Garibaldy. It’s a useful antidote to the BBC/Guardian smugness about Greece, as if what’s happening there could not be replicated in Britain. I think the UK’s public debt is growing and structurally unsustainable over the medium term. They also have to borrow to meet mushrooming Private Finance Initiative commitments that stretch out decades into the future. They’re following us in decimating their public sector in the name of that mirage: ‘government doesn’t create jobs, businesses do’. While they might not endure a Greek style collapse the pre-conditions for one are there. Once the speculators in banks and hedge funds have loaded up on cheap cash from the ECB’s hush-hush quantitative easing programme they’ll start betting again and you can sure that the UK will come under speculative attack. It won’t be the first time that has happened but it will be the first time it has happened in the context of a quasi-depression across the European periphery and serious questions being raised about France.

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2. EamonnCork - March 1, 2012

Very interesting piece. Hard to watch it and not think of the likelihood of a similar outcome for Ireland.

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3. Micheál - March 1, 2012

A realy good – if worrying – piece!

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4. Garibaldy - March 1, 2012

Frightening piece alright, and hopefully not a vision into the future as well.

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5. Jim Monaghan - March 2, 2012

http://internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article2477

http://internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article2497

In a years time we could be Greece.If only the poor were as united as the rich

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6. Bartley - March 2, 2012

Pensions cut for retirees under 55, oh the humanity!

I jest ;)

Seriously, this presentation underlines the very real and oft-underestimated value of Croker.

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LeftAtTheCross - March 2, 2012

It’s a jest that is misplaced. For frontline public service staff in particular, is it realistic to expect guards, teachers, nurses, firefighters, paramedics etc. to be working into their late 60s, given the physical demands of the job. As an office-based worker myself, in my late 40s, I don’t especially relish the prospect of trying to keep it together for another 20 years either. People wear out, physically and mentally, the resilience just isn’t there for everyone. The other argument is that apart from fleeting moments of full employment, it makes sense in many ways to retire workers and create work for the upcoming generation.

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Bartley - March 2, 2012

Sure, for the minority of public servants still in very high stress front-line/first-responder positions in their 50s, it may make sense to transition them out of those positions.

That doesn\’t neccessarily mean a straight switch to a life of leisure though, there are many back-room slots, desk-jobs, training gigs, policy formation positions, even clerical jobs … all manner of productive positions off the front-line that the burned out could re-deploy into and put a second wind into their working lives.

Its simply not feasible for retirees to spend longer on an unfunded pension than they ever spent working, without either imposing crushing taxes on the generation coming after them or an assuming ever-increasing pool of productive workers (a la Ponzi).

Sure its good to keep the stream of new blood coming in, but it simply makes no sense financially to pay the fomer incubment more for doing nothing than their replacement gets for a full workload.

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LeftAtTheCross - March 2, 2012

What’s the proportion of frontline to backroom jobs in the public sector I wonder? Is it even mathematically feasible to transition people into desk jobs, let alone issues about reskilling people who might be excellent in the hands-on frontline job but aren’t cut out for office work, let alone the constant downsizing of admin functions across the public service and the tendency to privatise those functions through outsourcing.

On the issue of “no sense financially”, that’s a very atomised way of assessing what is and isn’t viable. Efficiency and financial performance aren’t the only metrics for treating an economy and a society as a whole. One simple example is the benefit of releasing able and healthy older workers into what could be loosely labelled the social economy, doing work which might otherwise have to be paid for by the state. Swings and roundabouts.

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7. Jim Monaghan - March 2, 2012

It costs money to keep young people on the dole with the danger of their lives being permanently ruined. Better to entice older people to retire. In many cases they have their mortgaghes paid and their kids reared.
I am surprised that people look at the costs of retirement in isolation from unemployment.
Oh another statement on Greece

http://www.swp.ie/content/international-socialist-tendency-greek-solidarity-statement

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8. Bartley - March 2, 2012

LATC:

The key question is not the proportion of all public servants on the front-line, just the proportion of those in their mid fifties.

As nice as the concept of releasing workers into the social economy sounds, the idea doesn\’t stand up to any kind scrutiny. First off only a tiny proportion are actively involved in leading scout groups or coaching GAA or whatever. More importantly, if small number that are involved suddenly decided to chuck it in tomorrow, the state wouldn\’t countenance paying salaries to their replacements.

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LeftAtTheCross - March 2, 2012

I wasn’t thinking of GAA coaching so much as providing childcare to their grandkids the kind of thing which frees up younger people to enter the workforce. You’d be supportive of workforce activation measures such as this I presume? There’s also unpaid homecare of spouses/partners, which relieves the state of the burden of service provision. These things don’t show up on the simplistic cost/benefit analysis you opened with.

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Bartley - March 2, 2012

LATC:

Unpaid spousal homecare is generally associated with retirees in their seventies or eigthies, as opposed to their fifties.

IIRC the average spousal age different is circa 3 years with a standard deviation just north of 6. Which means the spouse of someone retiring at age 55 is likely to also be in their fifties (i.e. ~68% would lie in the range 49 to 71 years).

The case around unpaid childcare is slightly stronger, but that tends to be ad-hoc and intermittent (covering sick-days, mid-term breaks or whatever) as opposed to full-time.

If the state were interested in boosting productivity by providing childcare at those times, there are alternatives that would be orders of magnitude cheaper that financing mass early retirement.

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LeftAtTheCross - March 2, 2012

You say cheaper/dearer, I say that’s a only one measure of whether early retirement is a positive for society. No point in arguing it further, there’s no common ground here.

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9. Bartley - March 2, 2012

Fat fingers!

i.e. ~68% would lie in the range 49 to 61 years

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WorldbyStorm - March 2, 2012

In fairness, various strands of front line staff in PS’s both in Europe and elsewhere do have earlier retirement ages than other staff. Firefighters, obviously, and it’s not simply an issue of being unable to work, though that is a signficant factor, but also a sense that they’ve given over a greater portion of work in a somewhat shorter period of time. That’s unquantifiable perhaps, but as someone closer to 50 than 40 I can see in myself, and I try to keep fairly fit through cycling etc, how attrition increases. The same concept is true of Gardai. I’m not against redeployment, but I can see how it may be tricky.

As regards paying people the same wage for doing redeployed work as their original job, that’s definitely up for debate. Particularly if, as it should be, the pension is generous.

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CL - March 2, 2012

Also what is relevant is the stark difference in life expectancy between upper and lower income groups.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/feb/10/equality-poverty-health-society

‘The former communist east of Germany saw an even more dramatic decline in life expectancy among those on low earnings. In the east, life expectancy shrank from 77.9 years to 74.1 years over the decade to 2010….
The trend towards a longer retirement, therefore, only applies to those with average or above-average earnings. The report also showed an increasing tendency for low-income groups to keep on working beyond 60.’

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,803192,00.html

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10. Bartley - March 2, 2012

CL:

Does that study you cite correct for the impact of out-migration from the old DDR?

Given that such out-migration removes a disproportionate number of the well-educated & dynamic who are likely to live long and prosper. Additionally, in the East German case the population outflow was heavily skewed to the female side.

So I\’d take the vindicaton of Honecker regime with a pinch of salt … its probably more an artifact of the average life expectancy going down when you remove from the poool those most likely to live longest. The folks left behind didn\’t necessarily die at a younger age than they would have done, had the old communist order remained.

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CL - March 2, 2012

My purpose was not to vindicate the Honecker regime, but to draw attention to the established fact that life expectancy for lower-income people, at least in some countries, is lower than for higher-income people and that this growing disparity should be taken into account in discussions of pensions and retirement age.
I’m no expert on the demographics of the countries of the former Soviet Union but there are consistent reports of severe social distress consequent on the neoliberal shock therapy administered after communism’s fall.

“The basis for the unprecedented growth of early mortality in Russia is the result of the worsened quality of life for the majority of the population,” Nikolai Gerasimenko, the head of the State Duma Health Committee, said in a Duma report in 2001. “It is the result of a lingering social and economic crisis, characterized by the rise in unemployment; chronic delays in paying salaries, pensions and social aid; worsening nutrition; a decrease in access to medical care and medicines; and the stress generated by people’s lack of confidence in their futures and those of their children.”

http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/7023-14.cfm

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WorldbyStorm - March 2, 2012

I’m surprised there’s any controversy at all over the differential life expectancy rates for high/low income citizens in this state or many others. Vincent Browne has been fighting the good fight for years about this very issue – indeed he took L. Varadker to task over it on his programme a while ago before the last election IIRC.

Usually right of centre analysts pop back with the issue of mortality impacted by cigarette consumption, lack of certain foods, etc. But it’s telling to me how unkeen various food industries are to see regulation, etc of advertising or perish the thought products themselves that might serve to ameliorate this situation.

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11. Bartley - March 3, 2012

Well, questions of causality are extremely difficult to unravel when it comes to life expectancy.

Is ill-health caused by poverty or does the poverty arise from ill-health?

Would disproportionate rates of alcohol & drug abuse among the poor be reduced if that cohort were lifted out of poverty or had never been poor in the first place?

To what extent do the better-off live longer because they can purchase better healthcare, or would the same cohort tend to enjoy longer than average lifespans under a system of bureaucratically rationed healthcare?

One thing is for sure though, it would take a severe case of reality-denial to believe that the citizens of the former USSR and DDR arent immeasurably better off being free, despite the upheavals that accompanied the fall of communism.

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ejh - March 3, 2012

Provided we forget about the regions of the former USSR which even now possess undemocratic and repressive political systems.

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Bartley - March 3, 2012

Yep, I guess they must really miss the democracy and freedom they enjoyed from the Twenties through the Eighties ;)

Seriously though, its completely unsurprising that opportunists steeped in the deeply cynical faux-democracy as practiced in Soviet times decided to re-brand as nationalists in order to grab power for themselves and continue the repression.

Anyway, to lighten the mood on a fine Saturday afternoon, some classic 1980s humour …

http://www.youtube.com/embed/P4-tZqYzh84

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WorldbyStorm - March 3, 2012

Hard to disagree with you re USSR there Bartley.

re poverty casuality, in a way it doesn’t matter. One sees health outcomes go up significantly for those who aren’t in poverty or on low incomes. Given that there is sufficient mobility for some people to move from one strata to another that suggests that this isn’t an issue intrinsic to those who are impoverished but rather that impoverishment is the problem – albeit on many different levels.

It’s a bit like unemployment, when in the 2000s there was near enough full employment in the technical sense almost all but a very small cohort were… employed. I suspect it’s the same, given the opportunity, somewhat higher incomes, more time (a particularly important element) and so on people will eat better, have space for exercise or activity, and so on.

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ejh - March 3, 2012

There’s an old internet proverb which says: “just because you’re using a smiley doesn’t mean you’re not being an arse”.

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CL - March 3, 2012

Life expectancy is class-based; this needs to be considered in discussions of pensions and retirement.

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12. CL - March 3, 2012

‘One thing is for sure though, it would take a severe case of reality-denial to believe that the citizens of the former USSR and DDR arent immeasurably better off being free, despite the upheavals that accompanied the fall of communism.’-Bartley

Nobody is arguing against freedom, but neither should the consequences of the imposition of capitalism be ignored.

“The result was an unmitigated disaster. In the first year of reform, industrial output collapsed by 26 percent. Between 1992 and 1995, Russia’s GDP fell 42 percent and industrial production fell 46 percent—far worse than the contraction of the U.S. economy during the Great Depression. Worse, pace Dr. Sachs, it has yet to recover. Since 1989, the Russian economy has halved in size, and continues to drop. Real incomes have plummeted 40 percent since 1991; 80 percent of Russians now have no savings. The Russian government, bankrupted by the collapse of economic activity, stopped paying the salaries of millions of employees and dependents. Unemployment soared, particularly among women. By the mid to late nineties, more than forty-four million of Russia’s 148 million people were living in poverty (defined as living on less than thirty-two dollars per month); three quarters of the population live on less than one hundred dollars per month. Suicides doubled and deaths from alcohol abuse tripled in the mid-nineties. Infant mortality reached third-world levels while the birthrate plummeted. After five years of reform, life expectancy fell by two years (to seventy-two) for women and by four years (to fifty-eight) for men—lower than a century ago for the latter. Currently, deaths so greatly exceed births that the Russian population is falling by about one million per year. If these trends continue, in the next thirty years Russia’s population is expected to fall from 147 million to 123 million—a demographic collapse not seen since the Second World War.2

“Economic reform” has also brought the mass abandonment of children. By the end of 1998, at least two million Russian children were orphaned—more than at the end of the Second World War—and only about 650,000 live in orphanages. The rest were homeless. A year after leaving orphanages, one in three becomes an alcoholic, one in ten commits suicide. In what was once the second industrial power in the world—where schools turned out far more scientists and engineers per year than the United States—ten million children currently do not attend school.

This human catastrophe, which mainstream economists call “bumps on the road to a market economy” is more accurately summed up by Professor Stephen Cohen of New York University as the “endless collapse of everything essential to a decent existence.” –

http://monthlyreview.org/2000/02/01/the-necessity-of-gangster-capitalism

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Bartley - March 3, 2012

CL:

While there\’s merit to your description of social collapse in the fomer USSR, you seem to see it through a prism of capitalism being imposed from the outside on an unwilling populace.

Did it really play out that way?

Did the IMF force a rebranded communist like Yeltsin to sell out much of the country\’s resource wealth and industrial base to for a song and a bottle of vodka?

How much of the social collapse was due to unleasing the pent up demand for alcohol that had been made artificially scarce during the Gorbachev years?

What about the prior destruction of traditional social fabric via collectivization in the countryside and forced communal living arrangements in the cities? Once the repressive yoke of communism had been lifted, there was little of the traditional kinship bonds for people to fall back on.

Your point about scientists and engineers is well made, but having worked with several who were educated in Soviet times, I\’ve yet to hear one say a good word about that era.

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CL - March 3, 2012

The empirical evidence, detailed above in the article from MR, is irrefutable that the neoliberal shock doctrine imposed on the people of Russian caused an economic and social catastrophe. I’m not arguing that people wanted this to happen or not, just outlining the evidence that it happened. And the resulting increase in deprivation adversely affected life expectancy, and all other available social indicators.

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13. Bartley - March 3, 2012

Well, there are many factors that correlate with life expectancy, of which income is but one.

For example, research has consistently shown that men who are married tend to enjoy lifespans longer by circa 1 year than their single brethren. Again, the causality is an open question, but no one would suggest increasing the pensions of the romantically challenged in order to compensate.

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EWI - March 3, 2012

Going over an optimal amount may not do much good, but going under to the extent that pensioners cannot afford to keep properly fed and heated, maintain a car to go to town etc. certainly does have an effect.

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WorldbyStorm - March 3, 2012

Well that’s it exactly EWI. And it’s not just pensioners.

I’ve been reading about Amazon.com’s work practices in some locations, and hair raising stuff it is – impoossible targets, lack of breaks have at those locations only been the least egregious of the issues that have occurred [same complaints have been raised in the UK as well at one site]. For those on low incomes in jobs like those it’s near enough insulting [by the way, I'm not suggeseting that's what you intend or are doing Bartley by raising this issue in a very fair way] to expect their health should be as good as someone who works in an office, has a degree of autonomy in their job and career [or has a career], has a significant degree of disposable income, time to access and prepare properly nutritious food, access to their own transport, sufficient breaks/holidays/time off to integrate exercise into their lives in a functional sense and so on.

Each of those is a factor which is influence by being low paid [or no paid for others]. It not low pay per se but everything that comes, or rather doesn’t, with it.

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EWI - March 3, 2012

There was a well-publicised case last year of Amazon, rather than improving the conditions that workers were sweltering under in one of their warehouses, instead parked a number of ambulances outside:

http://teamsternation.blogspot.com/2011/09/amazon-warehouse-ambulances-wait.html

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WorldbyStorm - March 3, 2012

Christ.

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CL - March 3, 2012

‘After five years of reform, life expectancy fell by two years (to seventy-two) for women and by four years (to fifty-eight) for men—lower than a century ago for the latter.’-MR above.
To suggest that this has nothing to do with the economic situation and is caused by the personal habits of the afflicted is ludicrous.

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14. CL - March 3, 2012

-In 2010, the service spoke to 2,500 people judged to be contemplating suicide. Last year, Greece’s first euro bail-out failed and the country’s unemployment rate rose by half in the space of 12 months, climbing from 13.9 to 20.9 per cent. As more and more people confronted redundancy and destitution, the plaintive calls to Klimaka more than doubled: 5,500 people thought to be at serious risk rang in 2011. –

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/greece/9107647/Greece-sinks-to-its-knees.html

These increases in calls from people contemplating suicide are correlated with the worsening economic situation. However these correlations do not imply causation; there are other factors besides economic trauma that enter the equation: the personalty and habits of the callers have to be considered; are they heavy smokers, are they drinking too much, are they making bad choices as to diet? do they have a positive outlook? do they exercise? are they married? do they have a significant other in their lives? And what about genetics? is there a ‘suicide gene’?
Left-wing attributions of individual dysfunction to economic causation are way too facile. (insert a smiley)

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Bartley - March 4, 2012

CL strays just a tad off-topic …

From a discussion of the impact of the fall of communism on life expectancy among the newly free population of the old eastern block during the nineties, you jump to a single cause of death (very emotive granted, but not hugely significant from a statistical point of view) in a country that hasnt been seriously threatened by communism since 1948.

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15. CL - March 3, 2012

Have these unfortunates contemplating the final exit because of alleged economic trauma read Norman Vincent Peale’s ‘The Power of Positive :Thinking’? or its update ‘Flourishing’ by Dr. Maureen Gaffney?

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WorldbyStorm - March 3, 2012

Or worse again, Terry Prone.

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16. CL - March 4, 2012

CL strays just a tad off-topic …Bartley

As the title of this thread is ‘The crushing of Greece…I thought I was getting back on track after a digression to exemplify a point: that socioeconomic status affects life life expectancy. Some more evidence, this time from the U.S.
‘Between 1980 and 2000, those in higher socioeconomic groups experienced larger gains in life expectancy than those in more-deprived groups, contributing to the widening gap.’

http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/4/969.short

Those who are calling for an increase in the retirement age because life expectancy has increased ignore these class-based disparities.

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CL - March 4, 2012

In fairness, bearing in mind the insight of the great economist, Nassau Senior, that the improvidence and sloth of the Irish led to famine, it should be pointed out that this growing disparity in life expectancy in the U.S. between the rich and the poor is probably due to the food stamp programme which enables 46 million Americans to indulge in excessive eating.

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Bartley - March 4, 2012

As the title of this thread is ‘The crushing of Greece…I thought I was getting back on track …

The point was that you used my words from a discussion on general life expectency in the fomer communist block the 90s (a digression that you yourself kicked off) in a counter-point on suicide present-day Greece.

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