From the first Morning Jolt of the week:
I Fear the Greeks, Even When They Bring Gifts
The Greeks gave their answer to their creditors Sunday.
Take a good look, young people. This is where quasi-socialism, with unaffordably generous pension programs and early retirement, runaway borrowing and spending, and a kleptocratic unenforced system of tax collection leaves you: helpless, penniless, and crying in the streets.
Retiree Giorgos Chatzifotiadis had queued up at three banks in Greece’s second city of Thessaloniki on Friday in the hope of withdrawing a pension on behalf of his wife, but all in vain.
The 77-year-old told AFP that he had broken down because he “cannot stand to see my country in this distress”.
“That’s why I feel so beaten, more than for my own personal problems,” Chatzifotiadis said.
The image of him sitting outside the bank, openly crying in despair with his savings book and identity card on the floor, was captured by an AFP photographer illustrating how ordinary Greeks are suffering during the country’s debt crisis.
Athens had imposed capital controls and shut all banks since Monday to stem a haemorrhage of cash, but on Wednesday allowed some branches to reopen for three days so retirees who have no bank cards could withdraw their pensions — capped at 120 euros.
That’s about $132. Imagine being told you’re only allowed to take that out, and God only knows when the banks will reopen.
You’ve got money in a safe deposit box? Tough luck, the left-wing Greek government declares:
Greeks cannot withdraw cash left in safe deposit boxes at Greek banks as long as capital restrictions remain in place, a deputy finance minister told Greek television on Sunday.
This may seem harsh to the Greeks. But they willingly and knowingly tried to build a society where everyone was allowed to retire early — really early:
Trombone players and pastry chefs get to retire as early as 50 on grounds their work causes them late-career breathing problems. Hairdressers enjoy the same perk thanks to the dyes and other chemicals they rub into people’s hair. Then there are masseurs at steam baths: They get an early out because prolonged exposure to all that heat and steam is deemed unhealthy.
The Greek government has identified at least 580 job categories deemed to be hazardous enough to merit retiring early — at age 50 for women and 55 for men. . . . The law includes dangerous jobs like coal mining and bomb disposal. But it also covers radio and television presenters, who are thought to be at risk from the bacteria on their microphones.
“In the public sector, 7.91 percent of pensioners retire between the ages of 26 and 50, 23.64 percent between 51 and 55, and 43.53 percent between 56 and 61.”
Yes, in the past years, they raised the retirement age, trimmed pensions, and tried to raise taxes – although because they have a deep-rooted culture of not paying taxes, it didn’t do nearly enough good. Once a people get a taste of unbelievably generous entitlement spending, they begin to feel . . . well, entitled to it. In the case of Greece, they will demand that they keep getting those benefits long after the money runs out, even as it grows clearer and clearer no one will loan them any more money. They’ll vote, overwhelmingly, “no” to bailout offers they deem insufficiently generous . . . ignoring that the alternative is unknown, and probably worse.