Άρθρο από τον Simon Kuper στην Financial Times, στις 9 Ιουλίου 2011:
In 2002 I visited Argentina during its freefall. The country had just devalued and defaulted, and the latest president, instead of merely resigning, had fled in a helicopter. Yet Buenos Aires – like Athens today – still looked like a middle-class city. People lived in apartment blocks with doormen and drove to restaurants in imported cars. At dinner one night, a photographer told me that just that day he had realised he’d dropped into the third world. When had it dawned? “When Amazon refused my credit card,” he said.
There are two basic ways to live: in the first world, or in the third. If the Greeks devalue and default, they might discover what it’s like when the trapdoor opens and you plunge from one world into the other. When you fall, your life changes in ways small and big, and so does your worldview.
Michela Wrong captured the divide between first and third worlds perfectly in her Graham-Greenesque book about the Congo, In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz. Stepping off the boat into the insanity of Kinshasa, she experiences “that revelatory moment when white, middle-class Westerners finally understand what the rest of humanity has always known – that there are places in this world where the safety net … is suddenly whipped away, where the right accent, education, health insurance and a foreign passport – all the trappings that spell ‘It Can’t Happen to Me’ – no longer apply.”
In both Greece and Argentina, the middle class had always believed: “It can’t happen to me.” The Argentinian middle classes had lived better than Europeans. I remember a couple who ran a news agency in Buenos Aires. They were enthralled to discover that I lived in Paris. They gave me blow-by-blow accounts of their Parisian holidays. They knew they would never go back.
Every day in Buenos Aires I heard stories of middle-class people who had fallen through the trapdoor. There was the former architect who now sold eggs from her kitchen table. There was the British immigrant who regretted having chosen Argentina 40 years before. There was the 71-year-old once-rich businessman with a second home in the Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este who was now earning $120 a month as an exterminator. (He aimed to be financially self-sufficient again by age 80.) And there was my Argentine friend who lost her mother. The mother, a nurse, had fallen ill, deteriorated, and then died without ever being diagnosed. Afterwards, my friend deduced that she had had a brain trauma. Being a nurse, the mother had apparently diagnosed it herself, decided that treatment would be too expensive, and quietly died.
All these people felt disbelief. This couldn’t be happening to them. It turned out that there was no safety net, no benevolent state.
When you fall through the trapdoor you tend to lose your belief in capitalist values like hard work and saving. Many Americans still believe that if you work hard and save, by the age of 50 you could be a millionaire. But in Argentina if you worked hard and saved, then at 50 you could be destitute. In Congo, you could be dead of cholera.
Christabel Bielenberg, a Briton who lived in Hitler’s Germany, recounts in her memoir The Past is Myself the archetypal story of a man who dropped through that trapdoor. Her gardener, Herr Neisse, had come home from the Great War and then spent years saving enough money to marry his Hilde. He often half-starved himself, writes Bielenberg, “and thus miraculously after some years he had put enough by to consider applying for a little allotment plot”. But in 1923 hyperinflation wiped him out. “With my savings,” he later told Bielenberg, “I was able to buy just one cup and saucer, which I gave to Hilde.” After the crash of 1929 wiped him out again, he became a Nazi.
I’m not suggesting Argentines or Greeks might become Nazis. However, many people who get pushed through the trapdoor by some hidden force do become conspiracy theorists. Intellectually there are two sorts of people: those who don’t believe conspiracy theories (mostly white middle-class westerners) and those who do (mostly poor people). Thus most white middle-class westerners believe that the US killed Osama bin Laden, whereas most Pakistanis seem to believe his “death” was faked as part of some conspiracy. In 2002 most white middle-class westerners believed that Argentina had collapsed due to absurd economic policies, whereas many Argentines blamed a conspiracy led by the International Monetary Fund. Herr Neisse blamed the Jews.
Greece isn’t in the third world yet. But if it defaults, the Greek author Takis Michas told me, “then yes, we will end up in a third-world situation. In this kind of situation, the danger of violation of human rights and of property rights is paramount.”
Few Greeks can imagine the trapdoor opening. Let’s hope it doesn’t.