Sep 26, 2011 2:51 PM GMT
Things that aren't sustainable eventually come to an end.
ATHENS — Sitting in the modest living room of the home she shares with her parents, husband and two teenage children, Stella Firigou fretted about how the family would cope with the uncertainties of an economy crashing all around them. But she was adamant about one thing: she would not pay a new property tax that was the centerpiece of a new austerity package announced this month by the Greek government.
“I’m not going to pay it,” Ms. Firigou, 50, said matter-of-factly, as she lighted a cigarette and checked her ringing cellphone to avoid calls from her bank about late payments on a loan. “I can’t afford to pay it. They can take me to jail.”
While banks and European leaders hold abstract talks in foreign capitals about the impact of a potential Greek default on the euro and the world economy, something frighteningly concrete is under way in Greece: the dismantling of a middle-class welfare state in real time — with nothing to replace it.
Since 2010, the government has raised taxes and slashed pensions and state salaries across the board, in an effort to rein in the bloated public sector that today employs one in five Greeks. Last week, the government announced it would put 30,000 workers on reduced pay as a precursor to possible termination and would cut pensions again for nearly half a million public-sector retirees.