Inflation, the elephant in the room
Farmer Dimitris Kakalis, 25, fills a water tank in the central Greek town of Tyrnavos on Sunday February 13. Economists, farmers and charity workers agree on a crisis in the cost of living in Europe: inflation may ease later this year, but the impact of soaring food prices and the energy will last. [Giannis Papanikos/AP]
Of course, we talk a lot about Ukraine, as the war signals tectonic geopolitical shifts and demands everyone’s attention. But there is an elephant in every room in Greece, from every local kafeneio to every golden hall, which we don’t talk about enough. And that’s inflation and the fact that most people feel they can’t make ends meet anymore. It dominates all conversations and concerns even people who thought they were done with just getting by: they survived the economic crisis and the pandemic, and did not expect another bomb explode.
Anyone who underestimates the impact of soaring prices is making a big mistake, because we’re not just talking about tomatoes going up 5 cents. We talk about desperation and shock as strong emotions – and no expert can predict if this will continue, if prices will fall and when, or if it’s all war-related.
The problem is not just Greek, of course, nor is it due to the war or any other factor. The Greek government is doing what it can to address the problem, but fiscal realities are difficult, with inflation on top of the pandemic, which has necessitated a policy of subsidies for many months. There will be a political fallout to all of this and it will be global. No one should be surprised to see housewives banging pots or yellow jackets on the streets again. Like tinder for anti-systemic populism, inflation of this magnitude has always been linked to political extremes. And there will be no one to blame in this matter, not an extraneous factor or social media, because the feeling of hopelessness is very real.
There are no easy solutions and the Greek Prime Minister, along with other Southern European leaders, is watching carefully. But these are extreme times and I have a feeling the solution will lie outside the box. The pandemic has “killed” unbridled globalization and the idea that major crises can be managed without the state, only through the strength of the private sector. Some shocking proposals and solutions undoubtedly lie ahead, such as capping profits and nationalizing vital sectors. Nobody can guarantee that these will solve the problem, because the pressure will be too much.
The rising cost of living and popular discontent may also prove to be the secret weapons of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is counting on Europeans not to take two paths open to them: to stop gas imports from Russia and plunge their country into an even deeper recession and social crisis. crisis for at least a year, or respond militarily. Or they can’t do anything at all.
There is nothing easy about a Western leader having to choose between hunger and war. And it seems impossible that we even talk about it in Europe, in 2022.