All posts by Peter Prontzos

Peter Prontzos immigrated to Canada as a Vietnam War resister. In addition to working for peace (he was a member of Vancouver’s “Peace and Justice Committee”), his priorities are the environmental and social justice. He ran twice for the NDP. Prontzos has written for The Globe & Mail, the Georgia Straight, and the Vancouver Sun, among others, and is working on a book about the human condition. He teaches political science at Langara College.

Blaming the People

Whenever social and economic crises develop, those in power always try to blame somebody else. For example, who caused the recession in the U.S. in 2008? Simple, it was the selfish poor who had the gall to think that they could afford to own their own homes. (And don’t pay any attention to the man behind the curtain, aka Wall Street).

It’s the same kind of lie told about Greece today. Supposedly, the problem is that Greeks are lazy and spoiled by an elaborate and unaffordable welfare system. (The tone is sometimes close to racist.) The solution, therefore, is to impose “austerity” to force the Greeks to be hard-working like, say, good Germans.

The trouble is that this story is complete crap (or as we would say in Athens, “skatá”). Here is a very brief look at the reality.

First, the truth is the complete opposite of what the economic elite want us to believe: Greeks are, in reality, the hardest working people in Europe. Writing in The New Stateman, Alex Andreou pointed out that OECD figures showed that, in 2008:

Greeks worked on average 2120 hours a year. That is 690 hours more than the average German and 467 more than the average Brit. Only Koreans work longer hours…

In 2005, the average age of exit from the labour force in Greece was 61.7; higher than Germany,France or Italy and higher than the EU27 average. Since then Greece has had to raise the minimum age of retirement twice.

In addition, annual paid leave in Greece is only 23 days, which is lower than the UK’s minimum 28 and Germany’s, at 30 days.

Overall, social expenditure as a percentage of G.D.P. in Greece is lower than it is in Germany.

This is not to deny that the economic and political elites in Greece are as corrupt as they are in other countries: think (again) of Wall Street, the current British scandals, (e.g. the banks, corporate media, and political parties), not to mention the Harper regime here in Canada.

The problem in Europe is that financial elites and their puppets in government are trying to shift the focus away from THEIR mistakes, while at the same time trying to justify their savage attacks on the Greek people.

A central problem was their creation of the euro as the common currency, which laid the groundwork for the current crisis. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman explains,

The origins of this disaster lie…in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin, where officials created a deeply — perhaps fatally — flawed monetary system, then compounded the problems of that system by substituting moralizing for analysis…And then the bubble burst, at which point the fundamental flaws in the whole euro system became all too apparent.

The trigger that burst the “eurobubble” was the criminal activities of many of the bankers and speculators on Wall Street that did so much damage to the U.S. (and global) economy. These various elites, Krugman asserts,

made the situation even worse by insisting, in the teeth of the evidence, that all the currency’s troubles were caused by irresponsible behavior on the part of those Southern Europeans, and that everything would work out if only people were willing to suffer some more.

And suffer they are, along with Italians, Irish, and the Spaniards, (whose youth unemployment is even worse than in Greece). Poverty is growing, businesses are failing, health care is crumbling, and suicides–relatively rare in the past–are increasing.

Like the “structural adjustment” policies forced on poor countries by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “austerity” is designed to squeeze as much money as possible from the population in order to pay the bankers, hedge fund managers, speculators, and other gamblers who made a bad bet when they lent money to Greek banks and the government. The prospect of higher profits did not bother them because they knew that if their bets went sour, the “Troika” (the EU, the European Central Bank, and the IMF) would force the Greeks to pay them for their losses. Either way, the greedy would win. Again.

In addition, the Troika is following the IMF legacy of forcing governments to sell-off valuable public assets to (mostly foreign) corporations.

“Calls by Greece’s ruling coalition government to speed up the sale of state-owned assets — including state railway systems, water infrastructure, and power utilities — compelled Syriza, the left coalition party, to say the move was tantamount to putting a ‘for sale sign’ on the country and would not be tolerated by the Greek people.”

There are a number of ways to resolve these problems that are both fair and effective. Not paying the speculators for their bad bets (defaulting) is one part of the solution. Another is pumping money back into the Greek economy in order to put people to work, support small business, reduce poverty, and provide basic public services.

Reducing the level of corruption in the Greek elites, including tax evasion, is also critical.

Such policies would not only be fair to Greece, but it could help prevent the similar disasters from spreading throughout Europe, and indeed, the rest of the world.

First, however, we have to see past the self-serving lies of the moneyed elites and their “friends” in government and the media.

Then we must show solidarity with the people in Greece and around the world who are resisting this blatant class warfare. One effective way to do this is to follow the advice of João Pedro Stédile, one of the leaders of Brazil’s MST (Landless Workers Movement): “Get rid of your neo-liberal governments.”

The sooner the better.

Austerity Leads to Suicide Rate Increase

Friday’s Vancouver Sun had a short item that you might have missed, “Suicides up, road deaths down due to recession.” It’s in the bottom corner of page B5:

Suicides rates rose sharply in Europe in 2007 to 2009 as the financial crisis drove unemployment up and squeezed incomes, with the worst hit countries like Greece and Ireland seeing the most dramatic increases, researchers said Thursday. But rates of road deaths in the region fell during the same period, possibly because higher numbers of jobless people led to lower car use, according to an initial analysis of data from 10 European Union countries.

via Suicides up, road deaths down due to recession.

If one were to extrapolate from this data, one could hypothesize that as more harsh “austerity” measures – including pay cuts and fewer public services in addition to even higher unemployment – are imposed on the Greek people, that the suicide rate will grow even higher.

One might further speculate that, if such severe punishment is also imposed on Spain, Portugal, and other countries which are in economic difficulties, that the suicide rates will increase there as well.

Many economists, including Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, argue that savage cuts to these countries will only make their economies worse, and inflict more pain on their populations.

On the other hand, the “good” side of the story is that, “rates of road deaths in the region fell during the same period, possibly because higher numbers of jobless people led to lower car use.

Even better, the speculators (gamblers) who have bought the Greek and Irish bonds will get their money back.

And to top it off, the “royal” couple is having SUCH a good time as they visit Los Angeles to party with other “celebrities”!

Isn’t it great to have some good news once in a while?

Greece at a Crossroads

Now that the Greek government has survived a confidence vote in Parliament, the stage is set in Greece for further confrontations ahead of next week’s decision on the new “austerity” plan demanded by the “troika” – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the European Union (EU).

While the origins of the crisis in Greece are many, there are a number of fundamental elements. Continue reading Greece at a Crossroads

A Paradigm Shift is Happening!

A Paradigm Shift is Happening!

That was the assessment of Dr. Marti Glenn, one of the keynote speakers at the 2010 International Congress of The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology & Health, which took place from November 11-14 at Asilomar, California.

Dr. Glenn, who is the Dean of the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute, began by saying that, “Economists, writers, and researchers are beginning to discover…what we have known for decades: that the events and environment surrounding pre-conception, pregnancy, birth, and early infancy set the template out of which we live our lives.”

“The time is right,” she added, for a shift in the paradigm.”

Recent coverage such as on prenatal health in Time magazine, and epigenetics in Newsweek, symbolize this profound change in consciousness.

Some of the specific insights that Dr. Glenn mentioned included:

  • “Early experiences determine brain architecture.”
  • “By the sixth prenatal month, most of the 100 billion neurons found in the adult brain are already there.”

She also highlighted the most important point of all: preventing trauma in the first place.  For instance, she noted that a father’s involvement during pregnancy can reduce infant mortality.

Dr. Glenn also quoted Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman, who points out that every dollar invested “in the very young” can not only save lives and prevent illness, but it would also save from $4-17 dollars in future costs.

Heckman’s work is vital and demands attention. For instance:

“Recent research demonstrates important differences in the family environments and investments of advantaged and disadvantaged children. Gaps in cognitive stimulation, affection, punishment, and other parental investments for children from families of different socioeconomic status open up early.”

My presentation overlapped with her focus.  The first part discussed the current state of Dr. Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy, and how the emerging consensus supports his long-held contention that we have underestimated just how fragile we are while in the womb.

I pointed out how Janov believes that too many children have been emotionally damaged from an early age, and that one element of healing is to re-connect with the buried memories.

The second part of my talk discussed how to PREVENT hurting children in the first place, starting from the beginning of life.  In short, research has shown that providing optimal conditions for pregnant women, such as low stress, adequate nutrition, and quality pre-natal care could prevent children from suffering from a host of intellectual, emotional, and physical illnesses.

In addition, around 500,000 women die each year in childbirth.  Adam Jones (UBC Okanagan) has pointed out that most of those mothers could be saved for the cost of – six fighter jets.

The fact is that providing optimal conditions for these mothers and their children would cost only a tiny fraction of what the world spends on advertising, or the Olympics, or the military.

The Paradigm Shift can’t happen too soon.