The year 2011 was the year of Greece. More than Ireland, Iceland, Spain, Portugal or Italy, Greece symbolized the worldwide crisis. Even more so than the United States in 2008.
In Greece, the dimension of the crisis was wider: it was economic with a strong contraction of the GDP; political, because no other country had more strikes and street demonstrations; and social, due to the unemployment, which even included hunger in diverse sectors of the society.
In Greece one can perceive the ruins left by an economy that showed artificial exuberance, thanks to an overvalued currency and easy bank financing, which permitted private consumption and increased public spending. All of which signifies the illusion of temporary wealth.
Greece was, in 2011, the proof that easy riches are also ephemeral.
Moreover, Greece was proof of the failure of a developmental model characterized by the increase of the Gross Domestic Product, above all by progress that is measured by the increase in material production, even at the expense of income concentration, environmental depredation, voracious consumption, indebtedness, bank and governmental irresponsibility, an artificially strong currency.
In 2011, Greece symbolized this model, but it can also be seen as the origin of the thinking that served for us to adopt and execute that concept of progress today. It was from the classic Greeks’ perception and creation of logic that the basis of science and technology was born almost two thousand years later in the European Renaissance, leading to the Industrial Revolution in England and to the overindulgent, voracious utopia of the last few decades all over the Earth.
Consequently, it is the symbol of the failure of the progress that we, in the 20th and 21st centuries, transformed into the synonym of superfluous consumption, of irresponsible consumerism, which demanded public expenditures exceeding the fiscal equilibrium, financing beyond bank responsibility, ecological depredation beyond the fiscal limits, indebtedness beyond the possibilities of the states, the enterprises and the families.
The crisis in Europe is not merely financial, economic, social and ecological. More than a crisis, it is the exhaustion of a concept of progress that is at same time arrogant in relation to nature, unjust from the point of view of society and stupid from the point of view of logic.
The way out will not be through public or bank financing; the solution, rather, lies in a reorientation of the proposals of development and of civilization itself.
But if Greece serves as the lesson of the failure of a civilizatory model that was born there so long ago in a different form, it can also be a lesson for the future.
I heard a Greek university professor say that his salary was reduced by 40%. When asked how he was surviving, he replied, “First, I took my son out of private school and placed him in public school. Now I try to help his school improve. Now I can’t drive to work. As a consequence, since many others are in the same situation, the traffic flows better.
“My salary was reduced by 40%, but my workload was also reduced by the same proportion, and I’m taking advantage of my free time for activities that I find enjoyable, which, sometimes, give me additional income. I almost never eat out but I have learned to enjoy cooking. I haven’t bought new clothes but I don’t miss them. My domestic appliances will not be replaced in the next few years but I don’t see this as necessary.
“Although I very much miss traveling abroad, I’m discovering the touristic riches of Greece, including a place near my house that attracts tourists from all over the world. This Christmas we will spend much less but our happiness will not be reduced by the same proportion.”
Not every Greek professional can have this lucidity and these alternatives. The poor strata of the population have no way of reducing their consumption. Their children are already in public school. They do not have alternative leisure possibilities or extra work that assures additional income.
But, nonetheless, that example is a possible model that can come from Greece. It can serve, at the same time, as the proof of the failure is a civilizatory model and as the idea of making a turn towards a new civilization, in which the growth of economic production is no longer the standard used to define Well Being and Happiness.
In which a fortunate decrease in growth may even be possible, one in harmony with society and with nature, one without indebtedness and with more free time and more public goods, one with austerity that is creative and rewarding.
Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website at www.cristovam.org.br/portal2/, follow him on Twitter ain Portuguese and http://twitter.com/cbbrazilianview in English and write to him at email@example.com.
Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome (LinJerome@cs.com).