For the Unemployed (with Dimitrios A. Ioannou)

Άρθρα Κωνσταντίνος Γάτσιος
We have to find “unprecedented” solutions to a “historically unprecedented” problem

For the past six years Greece has been hit by, probably, the greatest economic crisis that has ever afflicted any country in modern history, without it being the result of a war or a natural disaster. Unfortunately, everything referred to as possible “solutions” or “prospects” of emergence from the crisis are mostly wishful thinking rather than anything else. The crisis will not be overcome by some “demand stimulus”, as several out-of-date economists have been reiterating. And it is highly doubtful that there will be a “beneficial” kick of foreign investments of, say, 80-100 billion in the production circuit by 2020 with a view to creating new production structures. For now, at least, more are the investments that leave the country than those coming in. In short, no matter how much we wish for it, there will be neither “Deus ex machina” nor “rich relatives from America” to solve our problem.

The crisis has been the result of the “production collapse” of the Greek economy; industries and sectors that were overdeveloped because of bad economic policies over a period of many years, especially in the recent past, are now unavoidably shrinking without any prospect in sight of new sustainable economic activities being rapidly developed. However, there is another side to this theoretical perception; the social tragedy of at least one million actual unemployed people who have no prospect of employment and social reintegration. This, in combination with the current international situation and our own demographic decline, constitutes a threat even for the ethnic composition of Greece. And it is really sad that, amid this ongoing tragedy, the public debate does not focus its interest and anticipation on that threat, by searching for solutions in a determined and pragmatic way, but instead it prefers to focus on the problems of those “within” the system or to chase ghosts and tilt at windmills. The demand for the recovery of the Greek economy as well as the issue of rescuing the Greek nation from degeneration and historical decline, are strongly associated with the fate of the currently unemployed.

The recovery of the Greek economy is strongly associated with the fate of the currently unemployed

It is unthinkable that a nation being subjected to such a historically unprecedented waste and disdain of its human capital, neither realizes the imminent disaster, nor reacts. We ought to realize, away from hallucinations and ostrich-like attitudes, that the only hope for exiting the crisis lies within the country, that it depends on the activation of the society and that it should start from the unemployed. We believe that a prerequisite for the much discussed “productive restart” of the economy – concurrently with its liberation from all, institutional and non institutional, entanglements which were created by the structures of the patronage state – is to have an extensive reconstruction program for the physical and operational infrastructure of the country, led by productive groups of the currently unemployed. In this program, the society – through the wider state administration structures and the local and regional municipalities – should assume the role of “the last resort employer.”

Such a program must become a central national objective, transferring to it all the energy we, as a society, spend today competing in a fruitless and self-destructive way, largely to maintain backward regulations or corporatist privileges, which either way can no longer be sustained. We also have to, at least for once, even by necessity, turn from ideological followers of the developed world, into ideological pioneers, claiming, through a nationwide public debate, the possibility to find “unprecedented” solutions to a “historically unprecedented” problem. In this nationwide effort, we must also change ourselves, both individually and collectively, converting, with transparency and broad social participation, all the institutional and administrative structures of the country from hives of bureaucracy, inertia or corruption into active cells of social transformation.

A prerequisite for “productive restart” of the economy is the creation of productive groups of the currently unemployed with the society assuming the role of “the last resort employer.

The proposal for creating productive teams from currently unemployed, with the society as “the last resort employer”, is not statism. These productive teams should be perceived as embryos of tomorrow’s businesses, not as units of the public sector with new civil servants. Nor should the whole effort be seen as competitive towards the existing businesses in the respective sectors: their activity will be complementary. The program aims, as economic conditions improve, to push people left without employment “back” to the private sector, in jobs with higher pay and better conditions, without having in the meantime to undergo the hardships of unemployment and lose their professional skills.

It is true that today several programs for the unemployed have been launched, funded by the NSRF for the next two years. It would be unfair not to mention them. We believe, however, that these programs are not as ambitious as required by the alarming conditions we led ourselves in. Furthermore, they are based on the old logic of “income provision” towards the unemployed or that of employment subsidy.

A truly effective program, however, which would use community service as a key tool to combat unemployment, should be both ambitious and productive. Namely, it should be able to both progressively address all the existing unemployed and, at the same time require the supply of actual work in order to pay real wages, instead of distributing incomes and subsidies. Only the implementation of such a program could offer solutions today. And this is the public debate that does not take place and which must commence.

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