The True Cost of Austerity: Lessons from Greece

Source: Roar Magazine

“You did it! Congratulations to Greece and its people on ending the program of financial assistance. With huge efforts and European solidarity you seized the day.” With this tweet, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, celebrated the official ending of the third structural adjustment program on August 20, 2018. But as Greece’s “age of austerity” is consigned to history, the scars of eight years of savage cuts to wages, incomes and social spending will continue to haunt the Greek people for many years to come.

Unemployment rates in Greece reached nearly 30 percent and youth unemployment surpassed 50 percent several times during the past years, peaking at over 60 percent in 2013. Greece will continue to be subject to financial supervision by creditors, with a stipulation to maintain a 3.5 percent fiscal surplus until 2022 and a 2.2 percent surplus until 2060, belying any claims of European solidarity and effectively tying the hands of Greek governments for decades to come.


The creditors’ official narrative that painful austerity measures were implemented to “save Greece” demonstrates a failure to identify or acknowledge the real lessons of the crisis. Austerity measures have led to violations of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to food.

A recent report by the Transnational InstituteFIAN International and Agroecopolis, documents the impacts of austerity measures on people’s access to food, and the wider food and agricultural system in Greece. Based on original fieldwork across Greece, interviews with more than one hundred people, aggregate data and survey analysis, literature reviews, legal analysis and expert commentary, the report delivers a damning blow to mainstream accounts of the Greek experience of austerity.

Analyzing the way in which waves of austerity have rippled through the food and agricultural system, it becomes clear that hardship for some has yielded untold benefits for others. This should not be surprising. The world food system is rife with structural inequalities and Greece is no different in this regard. It is unusual, however, to see these inequalities brought so starkly into relief.

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