Yiannis Baboulias (Greek investigative journalist) on the awful impact of austerity policy:
The inequalities that triggered the Arab spring – whose unravelling we are witnessing today in Egypt – are being repeated in austerity Europe. The social fabric, the welfare state that held it together, is being torn down.
Is it really? Why do you say so?
Last night, an 18-year-old died in the streets of Athens. Caught without a ticket on a trolley bus, he tried to escape the inspector who had just stepped on board by pushing the emergency button and jumping out of the door. He lost his balance and hit his head on the curb. After being taken to the hospital, the doctors pronounced him dead.
Oh dear, how sad, too bad.
More shocking is the reaction seen by some using Greek social media – commentators, authors, politicians. “The inspector was only doing his job,” they say. “It’s not his fault if a freeloader decided to jump off the bus”. This was the death of a “freeloader”. Not of an unemployed kid with no future, but of a guy who simply didn’t feel like paying his fare.
If people don’t pay for the trolley bus, then the trolley bus will not exist. Even when we had National Rail, it was recognised that users should pay. Why is this so hard?
In a tragic parallel that defies borders, almost at the same time as the incident in Greece hit the news, the Cheetham & Crumpsall (Manchester) police station account tweeted:
Just dealt with a Shoplifter at Tesco. The lady tried to leave without paying for some jars of baby food, two young children with her.
— GMPCheethamCrumpsall (@GMPCheetham) August 12, 2013
I don’t know the specifics of the case, but the tone is what gets me. The seemingly unconnected fact that she was trying to steal baby food with two kids in her arms. Just as in the case of the 18-year-old, the subject is disconnected from the cause. Poverty and the inability to pay for transportation or food, does not get in the way of the law. The haves are not supposed to empathise with the have-nots. So the list of victims gets bigger.
So, if we ‘can’t afford to pay’, we can just help ourselves to other people’s goods? Is that how your perfect society would work?
In Britain, the criminalisation of squatting cost lives last winter. Cheap housing is non-existent in London, and unused properties are boarded up to keep unwanted no-goods out, while landlords plot how to squeeze every penny out of the poor. Come next winter, train fares are expected to rise by more than four per cent, making commuting work even harder for those displaced to the suburbs.
So, I guess, Yiannis thinks the ideal society is one where no-one pays for this. Except us taxpayers.
Just like Obama’s America.