European Union

Is Austerity—or Decades of Awful Governance—Responsible for Greek Suicides?

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"Austerity drives up suicide rate in debt-ridden Greece," blares a CNN.com article detailing an apparent increase in suicides in the European country arguably in the worst fiscal situation. I say apparently because the only hard facts in the story are these: "According to the health ministry data, the suicide rate jumped about 40% in the first five months of 2011 compared with a year earlier." Are suicides up in 2012, compared either to 2011 or 2010? No word.

The story highlights a couple of high-profile incidents including one in which a retiree shot himself during rush hour in an "what was apparently a protest over the financial crisis gripping the nation." The other case involves a bankrupt businessman who lit himself on fire but survived the attempt. Here what he told CNN:

"I don't feel proud about it, no way, but all these situations made me lose my self-respect and feel like I've been deprived of my rights," says Polyzonis, "because being able to pay your taxes is not only an obligation but also a right. People should have the possibility to pay their taxes, to pay their obligations to others, to offer the basic goods to their family so they can feel that they live with self-respect and dignity."

The writer of the article quotes a Greek archeologist (?) who compared the successful suicide to the event that catalyzed the Arab Spring:

"It made you realize that the overthrowing of these policies requires self-sacrifice, like in Tunisia and in Egypt where hundreds of people died…"

Leave aside the fact that the Tunisian street vendor who lit himself on fire was protesting the state's refusal to allow him to sell fruit on the street, not threatening to reduce social-welfare payouts. And that Egyptians were throwing off a widely recognized dictator who maintained power through repressive police tactics and worse.

The article notes

Under its second bailout program, approved last month, Greece has agreed to implement a series of austerity measures and undertake broader reforms to make its economy more competitive.

More here.

In terms of economic freedom, the Heritage Foundation ranks Greece as "mostly unfree" and one of the most heavily stultified economies in Europe.

Things are not good in Greece, where something like 20 percent of the population is out of work. But to blame "austerity" for social problems in the place seems ridiculous on its face. The main reason that the Greek economy is in such godawful shape is that it's been that way not simply for years but for decades, even as other European nations (Sweden, Germany) were reducing government expenditures as a percentage of GDP. The Greeks are famous for having one of the most out-of-whack welfare states in Europe, with early retirement ages (50), higher-than-average spending on pensions (and still having a problem with poverty among the elderly), and some of the most restrictive labor market policies imaginable. Few countries can maintain a debt-to-GDP ratio of over 120 percent; Greece certainly can't.

To blame the generally universally accepted need for austerity measures (some of which aren't about cuts at all) for social turmoil is to ignore far more crucial questions of how you get into such a hole in the first place. And to ignore voices like this one quoted in a 2010 New York Times story titled "Europeans Fear Crisis Threatens Liberal Benefits":

In Athens, Aris Iordanidis, 25, an economics graduate working in a bookstore, resents paying high taxes to finance Greece's bloated state sector and its employees. "They sit there for years drinking coffee and chatting on the telephone and then retire at 50 with nice fat pensions," he said. "As for us, the way things are going we'll have to work until we're 70."

It's as easy as it is cheap to link "apparent" increases with this or that political or cultural or economic development (that's your cue, Paul Krugman), but whether suicide is on the rise in Greece or throughout the euro-zone, creating the sort of growth and stability that will turn around weak if not dead economies is going to take a very different mind-set than the one that seems to be developing among many media watchers.

NEXT: WashTimes Writer Complains That "half-white Barack Obama....didn't say a word" About the Death of Beastie Boy Adam "MCA" Yauch

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  1. OT: Recently picked up a Kindle. Who has non-fiction book recommendations? Economics and history preferred, but I’m open to suggestions.

    And yes, I got a copy of Nick’s book; the constant shilling worked well.

    1. Here’s a couple of economics eBooks you could browse through.

      1. Good ol’ LvMI. I have some Mises and Hayek on there already, but I’ll see if anything catches my eye. Thanks!

    2. I just finished “Escape from Camp 14”, true story about someone born into a North Korean prison camp and escaping. Pretty decent read.

      1. Oh shit, was that from the guy who did the TED Talk? That could be good, thanks.

    3. Mises.org has a good selection of economics books in epub format. You can convert them into mobi format with Calibre.

      Thinking of getting a Kindle myself, to replace the Nook I have now.

    4. You can get Lysander Spooner for free from Amazon. Do that.

    5. I just plowed through three books about K2. The most interesting of the three was K2: The Savage Mountain about the ill-fated 1953 American expedition, written by the people who were there. The other two were Ed Viesturs’ poorly-written and un-objective history of various K2 expeditions and Graham Bowley’s account of the 2008 disaster.

    6. Anything from Thomas Sowell.

  2. I’m going to guess that Greeks killing themselves is responsible for Greek suicides.

  3. The freefall was going fine until that awful pavement got in the way.

  4. If you’re either willing to commit violence, or set yourself on fire, in the name of politics… you’re a fucking idiot.

  5. Austerity isn’t even a real thing. It’s a deliberately inflammatory word pushed by the purveyors of Magical Thinking: that governments can spend and spend and spend, and everyone can live at the expense of everyone else, and that there will be no negative consequences. Furthermore, to suggest that going without the State’s Loving Hand to feed you with means that you will live in “austere” conditions is patently absurd.

    I say we stop using the term “austerity” altogether as it relates to government’s financial policies.

    1. But they learned their lesson! They promise that when times are good, surpluses will be generated and used to pay down debt! They pinky swore!

      Just spend some (other people’s) money now to keep them in their government jobs.

      1. I am signing onto Ken Shultz’s proposition that taxes and revenues should be cut.

        If my gambling-addicted brother borrows $1000 from me, and blows it all, and I keep giving him money each time, I am enabling him in his profligacy.

        Giving the government more revenue when it already has shown that it cannot even be bothered to spend responsibly within in its means is enabling behavior.

        1. mandatory treatment for all gov’t employees. Spendaholics Anonymous.

    2. I keep trying to explain to people that government spending is roughly equivalent to business overhead. Every business has some amount of overhead but when that overhead gets out of control, even in an otherwise profitable company, the business fails. The only way to get rid of overhead is to get rid of expenditures. Government is the nation’s overhead expense.

  6. Is anyone really dumb enough to loan the Greek government money at this point?

    1. Jury’s still out on that. How many Greek bonds does the Fed have on their balance sheet?

      1. Let me rephrase, how much money has the Fed lent to the ECB to buy Greek Bonds?

        1. I guess your priorities are different when you don’t have to worry about silly things like profits and losses in your investments.

    2. Is anyone really dumb enough to loan the Greek government money at this point?

      Well, not their own money.

      But the Greeks are still getting billions on a regular schedule, make no mistake. Those billions are either printed/taxed/borrowed by other governments, though.

  7. And people complain about the strain that obesity would put on a socialized health system…

    1. Are you implying that fat burns better?

      1. No, I’m saying that setting yourself on fire is a strain on the health care system and very avoidable.

  8. The word austerity has suddenly become a bad word, and lots of the media is pushing for this line of thinking. Greece has run out of money, period, no one wants to give them money. One cannot expect a country such as Germany to hand over ever greater amounts of cash and simply expect Greece to continue like it did before.

    Also, first time I heard someone say that paying taxes is a right, people say many things about taxes, this is one of the weirdist ones, its both a right and an obligation according to that Greek guy setting himself on fire.

    1. Austerity has pretty much always been a bad word, it’s when people label living in reality as “austere” that it becomes a problem.

  9. to pay their obligations to others

    *raised eyebrow*

    1. to offer the basic goods to their family so they can feel that they live with self-respect and dignity

      *and there goes the other eyebrow*

  10. To be fair, Nick, nobody’s blaming asuterity. Except maybe anti-asuterian extremists.

  11. Stultify.

    (word-of-the-day requirement satisfied before noon, woo!)

  12. If there was ever any more definitive proof that libertarian ideas are deadly, here it is!

    I mean, what is Greece doing other than turning libertarian?

    And the result is people killing themselves!

    See?!?

    Krugman was right!

    1. They aren’t killing themselves. They are being killed by the policies.

      There are no individual decisions in Krugabe’s world. Only consequences of the policies of Top Men.

  13. because being able to pay your taxes is not only an obligation but also a right

    And he has apparently procreated, thus passing on teh stoopid to another generation.

    Too bad he didn’t die in a fire.

    1. So, I have a right to be able to pay my taxes?

      What does that even mean?

      1. Apparently you can choose to exercise it or not. Wait, no.

  14. Just curious. Given all this austerity, who’s picking up the tab for treating his burns?

    1. I thought you just wrapped greasy pork in pita.

      1. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning! It smells like… baklava!

  15. With a thick layer of man-blubber like that, that guy would burn for hours if left unchecked.

    1. … and tonight, we eat like KINGS!

  16. OT: Why don’t we have more libertarians like Charles Barkley?

    1. Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.

  17. I just discovered Reason, and reading it, especially the comments, has already changed the way I think. For example, now I know that suicide, and especially attempted suicide by self-immolation, is SO FUNNY! Thanks, commentators, for the mature, reasoned observations on the guy’s body type, too! Really makes me want to be part of this intellectual community. By the way, what nation has the highest rate of public sector employment? China! Yet they own much of the U.S’s debt and are not experiencing a European style economic crisis. maybe things are more complex than they appear. . .

    1. Just curious (and this is important): did you see anyone here refer to a female as a “cunt?” And if so, did it turn you off to libertarianism as well as our making fun of death? Would you be equally outraged if we called a man a cunt?

      Oh, and if you want to see some lulzy comments on death, hop on over to HuffPo and read a thread about Andrew Brietbart’s passing. Your little double standard makes me laugh.

    2. By the way, what nation has the highest rate of public sector employment? China!

      [citation required]

      1. I smell pussy. Rank, bitter pussy.

        1. BTW, having a high rate of public-sector employment is not something of which to be proud.

    3. So any guesses on whether this sad, sad person that apparently takes life way too seriously is a lover of ancient Greece or of inhabitants of the island Lesbos named Hellen? And where does he/she/cunt get off accusing us of being an intellectual community? And finally thinking that we in the west are getting an accurate rendition of China’s economy is laughable… When objects are thrown off cliffs they fall, when governments meddle in economies, they fail… These are not options.

  18. That particular orifice isn’t actually meant to contain sand particles, you know.

  19. I am glad you mentioned Paul (Nobel weasel) Krugman. His idiotic economic theory will now play out in France. I say we sit back and watch the the disaster unfold before our eyes. I hope we will learn from their folly, but if Pres Obama gets a 2nd term I am afraid we will follow the into the abyss.

  20. Give a man a fire and he’ll be warm for a day, but set him on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.

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