Helena Smith's report in The Guardian on the rise of shisha, the "cocaine of the poor," in Greece places a spotlight on the horrid realities of austerity. According to Smith's article, shisha is a variant of crystal meth, an extremely dangerous drug that often makes users violent. Drug use, along with prostitution, HIV infection, suicide and general crime have all massively increased in Greece as the social fabric of the country is torn to pieces by brutal fiscal austerity policies.
While Greece is probably the most extreme example of the devastation wrought by governments trying to cut their way out of recession, other nations have also faced similar public health problems brought on by the failure of neoliberal economics. For example, middle-aged American men, particularly those with poor economic prospects, have seen their suicide rates increase as they become alienated from the social fabric. Recently, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that for the period 1999-2010, the U.S. saw a 28.4 percent increase in suicide for all Americans aged 35-64 and as psychologist Bruce Levine points out, the cause for the increase was likely economic hardship.
All of this is eerily similar to the stories that came out of Russia and the other post-communist societies in the 1990s. As David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu argue in the The New York Times, those countries that adopted the "shock therapy" approach of economists such as Jeffrey D. Sachs and Lawrence H. Summers saw the health of their people decline as poverty exploded following the abrupt dismantling of the central planning system. Stuckler and Basu also refer to other historical case studies of failed austerity. For example, during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Thailand and Indonesia adopted harsh austerity policies that caused mass hunger and death from infectious disease.
Giorgio La Pira, the Sicilian-born mayor of Florence, Italy from 1951 to 1964, once commented on the need to rescue the poor from the scourge of unemployment and poverty in these terms:
La Pira's contempt for what passed as "economic science" among liberals (the forefathers of today's austerity-obsessed neoliberals) was evidence of his great love for ordinary people. In his contempt for the "Very Serious People" of his day, who then, as now, were the hired court scribblers of the money interests, La Pira placed human beings and the values of Christ ahead of ideology."If I am a man of the State, my rejection of unemployment and of neediness must imply this: my economic policies must strive towards blue-collar employment and the eradication of poverty: this is clear! No specious objection emerging from any so-called 'laws of economics' can detract me from striving towards this objective."
Responding to claims that he was practicing a form of Marxism, La Pira famously responded that it was the Gospel of Jesus Christ that he was following and not the doctrines of Karl Marx. Indeed, if we wish to talk about Marxism and the subjugation of politics and humanity to purely economic ends, then we must turn to the champions of austerity, for they are the ones who are breaking human eggs to make their economic omelette.