"Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime."
Throughout the course of history, it has been proven that investing in a country's human capital contributes to economic growth, often alleviating the effects of economic depressions or recessions. We saw this happen after the First World War in Britain; the Great Depression and then World War II in the United States; and, more recently, around the globe from the Great Recession of 2007. But today, in Greece, we wonder: Can it happen here?
As Greece finds itself entering its seventh year of a crippling national recession, the hardship suffered by our citizens is evidenced in skyrocketing unemployment (nearly 26 percent), shuttered storefronts and dwindling social services. The cost of two government-sanctioned bailouts -- one in 2010 and another in 2012 -- came with a very high price tag, as Greek leaders reluctantly agreed to severe austerity measures that led to massive layoffs of government employees, along with reduced wages and higher taxes for all.
Greeks are painfully aware that recovery can happen only when spending begins to rebound. But how does a country reverse the course of seven suffocating years?
To start, Greece must look to its most valuable asset: its citizens. Greece's unemployment rate -- the highest in the European Union -- is a direct consequence of the shortfall of demand. Unemployment is not high because of structural changes or because workers aren't trying to find jobs. It is high because we are not producing at anywhere near a normal level.
We must look to our friends in the United States as an example of what can -- and needs -- to be done in order to escape the grips of recession. It is essential that policymakers take steps to help generate private demand and growth by offering stimulus packages. It is not enough that output and employment grow; we need to spur robust growth that will speed the return of output and employment to more normal levels.
With the recent announcement that 200,000 small to medium-sized businesses in Greece may close, we need to create and pass legislation aimed at supporting growth and innovation, including initiatives aimed to help small businesses get the credit they need to grow. We need to offer payroll tax cuts and other incentives for businesses investing and hiring. In short, we need to invest in the potential of our entrepreneurs who envision a better, stronger Greece.
More aid to state and local governments needs to be provided. The dire condition of state and local budgets is one of the most difficult challenges Greece faces on the road to recovery. Finding the funds to keep teachers in the classroom and to maintain essential services is one of the most effective things we can do to support families, communities, and local businesses. We must invest in social safety net programs that will help the more than six million Greeks living below the poverty line.
We need to fund programs like The Solidarity Centers, an initiative of the Open Society Foundations and SolidarityNow, which address the lack of access to comprehensive services for the most vulnerable populations in our nation. Located in Thessaloniki and Athens, the Solidarity Centers offer space to new and existing civil society organizations in Greece, facilitating community solutions to pressing social and economic problems. Solidarity Centers address the unique needs of the local communities they operate within, Services cater to all regardless of their nationality or legal status. The essential services provided at Solidarity Centers include health, legal aid, job-seeking assistance, and support for vulnerable groups including the elderly, the sick, migrants, and asylum seekers.
To emerge from this crisis, Europe must reclaim its vision of a community based on solidarity. And that can only begin by first investing in its people.
About Solidarity Now
Established by Open Society Foundations, Solidarity Now is a collaborative funding initiative that supports civil society groups working in Greece. The organization has created two Solidarity Centers -- places for everyone in Greece affected by the crisis to convene and find solutions to shared problems. Offering space to new and existing civil society organizations in Greece, the Centers facilitate community solutions to pressing social and economic problems and address the unique needs of local communities they operate within and cater to all regardless of their nationality, origins and social status.
Essential services provided at Solidarity Centers include health, legal aid, job-seeking assistance, and support for vulnerable groups including the elderly, the sick, migrants, and asylum seekers.