Violent street demonstrations and debt talks dominate the news from Greece, but few Americans understand daily life there. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal exposed the desperate situations of individuals who borrowed money they weren’t able to repay.
Athens food vendor 2010
Suicides have doubled. Young people graduating from university are unable to find work. Businesses are closing. Austerity measures are only making things worse for the average Greek.
The inauguration of the Euro a decade ago was accompanied by jubilation on the continent. And the 2004 Olympics brought sudden glory and pride to the nation. However, it was the flow of easy money, initially taken as a sign of success, that derailed the small nation.
Continental Breakup, a sixty-minute, radio documentary produced by the Planet Money team for This American Life, brings new clarity to the contemporary Greek dilemma. The program is presented in five acts after a brief introduction by guest producer Alex Blumberg.
The century-and-a-half dream of a single European currency seemed unattainable until Germany and France were able to overcome their differences. Stalled talks finally moved forward after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Most of the other EU countries were eager to become a part of the newly created economic zone.
In order to qualify for the Euro, the Greek establishment falsified its financial status but the leaders of other nations considered it rude to scrutinize the figures provided.
Greek banks, for the first time, offered low-interest loans to consumers that previously only bought goods with cash. German products were in high demand. Germany grew even richer selling to other EU countries. Luxury items such as Mercedes-Benz automobiles, boats, homes, and expensive vacations became new status symbols before the Greek economy came tumbling down.
What Planet Money reporters discovered was that the Greeks are not much different from Americans who overreached financially because they believed the economic system was headed toward stratospheric heights. Suddenly faced with reality when the fantasy collapsed.
This show is well-worth listening to in order to gain a better understanding of not only the Greek crises but also conditions in the US and why what’s happening abroad is relevant to us.
image & text copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved