Bartering System Makes a Comeback Due to Greek Financial Crisis
Greece is in financial crisis. That’s unlikely to be news to anyone after updates on the Greek economy have been gracing our television screens, newspapers and radios for the last month or so. But most of the reports focus on the impact that the financial crisis and the third bailout programme will have on the country’s banking system and on its large, medium and small business; rather than taking a closer look at how it is affecting the people of Greece.
The government are being forced by the EU to accept new austerity plans which will see further cuts in public spending and these will have a direct impact on everybody living in Greece today. If businesses cannot function normally then they cannot afford to pay employees or order replacement stock, which again has a direct impact on the lives of ordinary people living in Greece. In the weeks and months ahead, unemployment will only continue to rise and the situation in Greece will have to get worse before it gets better.
Individuals have had the amount of cash which they can withdraw from their account at a cash point limited to just €50 or €60 a day for the last few weeks. Although the banks might now be open again, it looks like there are no plans to completely relax the limits on people’s cash allowances. Individuals can now withdraw €420 each week, which is still not a lot to go on if you are the sole breadwinner feeding a hungry family of five. They have made this slightly easier, as now you can take out all of the money for the week in one go, rather than having to visit the cashpoint 7 times in one week to be able to access the maximum amount of your savings.
With the personal spending limitations which have been put in place, the Greek people are operating on a system of self-rationing. They can only afford to buy a certain number of things a day, and so are doing everything they can to make sure that the few euros that they are allowed to withdraw from a cashpoint travel as far as they can. Most people have stopped hiring people for their services altogether, instead opting to do the cleaning themselves or staying in so that they don’t have to pay someone to look after the children.
A haircut might not cost you a certain amount of euros anymore, but you may be asked for a few cucumbers or a packet of flour instead. Bartering and haggling have now becoming a huge part of everyday life in Greece. People have become less willing and able to accept the given price on items and services, knowing that everyone is having to tighten their belts in order to get through this difficult time in Greece’s history. People are haggling in shops where just a month or two ago they would have paid whatever the ticket price had said. Many people are now offering services directly in exchange for goods or other services, making communities less dependent on cash of any currency.
People with families who work on olive farms in Kalamata are bringing boxes and crates of Kalamata olives back to other cities with them so that they can use them to barter for other things that they need. This exchange of one product for another is becoming common practice in Greece, reverting the country back to a system which predates currency altogether. It’s not just happening with olives either. People are growing as much as they can on their vegetable patches, exchanging a surplus in any one item for quantities of something else which they cannot grow. This bartering for goods and services is a clever way to combat the cash withdrawal limit. It means that people are able to make what they do have go much further, without costing them an extra cent. It is much more sustainable, too. If you are already making the journey, then no extra fuel is used to deliver the olives from one part of the country to another. They are fresh so no resources are wasted on preserving them or shipping them to the other side of the world.
As with any period of economic difficulty, the concept of sustainability inevitably comes into the question. The ways of making your money go further are often some of the most sustainable ways of living: stretching your available resources to the bitter end. Sustainability doesn’t have to be about making sure that you always put your used milk carton in the green bin instead of the black bin, you can simply recycle something within your own home by changing its use for you and your family. Greek households are having to become more resourceful as they find that their disposable income has been limited, and as a result, are becoming more sustainable.
Even though fuel prices have decreased recently, filling the car with petrol has been seen as a luxury by many families who need to spend their €420 a week on other more important things. This has seen an increase in the number of people walking, cycling and using public transport to get to where they need to go. It is putting into perspective the things that people really need to survive, and the luxuries that can be taken for granted in the 21st Century. In instances like this one, cutting back and living a more affordable lifestyle goes hand in hand with becoming more sustainable. It is not always the case that doing the most environmentally-friendly thing has to cost you more money.
For many Greeks the bank’s limit on weekly withdrawals is not the reason that they are having to limit their spending. There is currently a 60% unemployment rate for young people in Greece, meaning that thousands of people living in the country do not have any money at all going into their bank accounts. It has become more difficult to rely on family members to support them in such times as they themselves are also facing financial difficulties. This problem was exacerbated with the announcement that the country was in financial crisis.
When the banks announced that they were closing, hundreds, if not thousands, of companies called their staff in for emergency meetings and told them that they were being sent on leave and that the offices would be closing temporarily. Nearly a month later and most of these companies have not reopened their doors with the banks, and have failed to reemploy anyone who was on their books. A huge number of people are out of work when they most need to be employed and are finding themselves in a situation which is near-on desperate.
There has been a huge increase in people holding small unemployment cards. All of these people are eligible to receive donations of free food from the places like local social assemblies at the beginning of every week. Most of the unemployed people who gather here every Monday are officially registered as being out of work, but receive absolutely nothing from the government. In order to receive Greece’s equivalent of jobseeker’s allowance, you have to have paid a certain amount of social security payments to the government. Young people who have not been in work for many years, if at all, don’t qualify for any financial help at all and many older people who have not been in secure jobs for a number of years can’t access any financial aid either.
With so much to think about and to deal with, it may seem that sustainability shouldn’t be a priority for anyone in Greece. When you are struggling to look after yourself and your family, should you consider the needs of the planet in your everyday life? Our answer is yes, perhaps unsurprisingly. Living sustainably is about more than being able to afford the organic produce from the supermarket, those with vegie gardens already have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. What about installing solar panels on your roof, those with solar panels have been able to alter their electricity usage, to draw on their own resources during the day, to ensure they are not incurring financial debt by drawing on the network. It certainly seems that those who have taken the steps to be self-sustainable before the crisis hit, are fairing much better than their fellow country compatriots currently, at a much more basic level.
There is no doubt about the reasons why Greek people have been forced to live more sustainably. It is not a question of moral responsibility or of wanting to leave a better planet for their children, but rather a question of survival. Saving resources means saving money. Reusing an item rather than treating it as being disposable means saving money. Taking the bus or cycling to school or the shops is yet another way of saving money. Increased sustainability is the silver lining to Greece’s dark financial cloud.
Whilst more sustainable living is one way in which individuals and families can reduce the impact that this financial crisis has on their daily lives, it is by no means a cure for the country’s ailing economy. Living a more sustainable life can allow individuals and families to survive in a more comfortable way for much longer, but it is not a way to inject much needed cash back into the economy.