Growth, recovery, change and other words lost in the wind

Agora Contributor: Nick Malkoutzis
Photo by Harry van Versendaal
Photo by Harry van Versendaal

Unable to devalue their currency during this crisis, eurozone policy makers have feverishly cheapened words instead. Over the last few years the value of words like solidarity, reform, competitiveness, adjustment and relief has plummeted.

At home, Greek politicians have shown that they can keep up with the best. Change, transparency, meritocracy, fairness, equality and recovery are just some of the words whose meaning has been undermined.

They are spoken by people who have no intention or little capability of ensuring these words are anchored in reality. “Words have to be hammered like nails / If they’re not to be lost in the wind,” wrote poet Manolis Anagnostakis. For the past few years these words have been tossed into the air like ticker tape and then swept away by the gales of recession, inequality and hypocrisy.

"The Greek economy will achieve growth in the third quarter of this year and take off in 2015," Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis told a gathering of Greek businessmen on Tuesday.

Hardouvelis – a man of numbers who has only been in government for a few months – was well within his rights to look forward to an uptick in Greece's GDP figures. His ministry believes the Greek economy will grow by 0.6 percent this year and 2.9 percent next year. On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund also predicted 2.9 percent growth for Greece in 2015.

Hardouvelis's use of language, though, is unfortunate. It dragged him over the line that separates well-intentioned - and often necessary - optimistic statements from those that just string people along. In February 2013, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras met with a group of New Democracy MPs and reportedly told them that if the government could get through the summer, the country would "take off" in September. More than a year on from the said departure, Greece is still taxiing towards the runway.

Around the same time that Samaras was delivering his forecast to New Democracy MPs, Hardouvelis's predecessor Yannis Stournaras was telling Bloomberg that a recovery could come as early as the end of 2013. For the 952,000 long-term unemployed who have not found a way back into the labour market, hopes of an economic comeback proved to be a mirage.

Greek voters have become accustomed to the much proclaimed recovery being something of an illusion. In April 2012, interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos predicted that the country's economy would start growing in 2013 and that growth could reach as much as 3 percent this year. Growth is another of the words that has little significance these days.

The list of decision makers lining up to tell Greeks they will soon be out of the woods is very long. The list of those with the courage and responsibility to make the same voters aware of the limitations of the recovery, whenever it comes, is non-existent. Over the last few months, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has promised the creation of 770,000 jobs, Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos has pledged 920,000 and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said he believes he can open up 300,000 new positions. None of them cared to mention that it will take an estimated 20 years, with the economy growing at a galloping rate of around 4 percent a year, to generate the jobs that have been lost during the crisis.

In this context, words become so devalued they really don’t mean that much at all.

Further on down the road, where promises turn to dust, the Greek people will react. They will feel cheated, misled and duped. They will protest, rage against their leaders and vent their frustrations. They will be called unrealistic, spoilt and victims of populism. It will be irrelevant, though. These words won't have any meaning either.

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