Belmont Club

The 700 Euro Club

Wilfred Owen died nearly a hundred years ago, but one of his most famous poems may be oddly appropriate to characterize the unrest sweeping Europe youth. Owen’s poem, Anthem for Doomed Youth described a generation sacrificed to the fantasies of their elders in the Great War, following the prescribed path to the last drawing the blinds — a reference to a custom widely used to indicate bereavement in the family.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

The Baltimore Sun ascribes the persistence and spread of youth riots which began in Greece to a sense of hopelessness in the rising European generation. Crammed into substandard schools, facing bleak employment opportunities, stuck in an economic structure where many opportunities do not become available until the old fall off their perch — retire or die — the younger Europeans possess a fund of anger which is now in the process of being tapped.

The students complain that their universities are overcrowded, their teachers overworked, and their employment prospects close to nil. They feel trapped in a system that cares not at all about their lives or prospects. … Greece is not alone. Most of Europe’s other countries are suffering as well, particularly the larger ones like Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. They do not yet have widespread youth protests, but they do have overpopulated and undercapitalized universities. The Germans may spend twice as much per university student as the Greeks, but that only equals about half the expenditure per student made in the United States. Like the Greeks, the Germans, French, Italians, etc. have an increasing number of highly educated unemployed. In 2007, 82 percent of university-educated Greeks were employed, 79 percent of university-educated French, and 78 percent of university-educated Italians.

With the global financial crisis on track to make things worse, those who have a job — the burgeoning old — are going to hang on, while the young will have to do without. And doing without means postponing adulthood, getting a job or starting a family. It exacerbates the demographic trend in which an exploding population of the elderly must stand on the shoulders increasingly smaller youth cohort. Describing the situation in Greece Der Spiegel refers to monopoly on juicy positions by corrupt cliques in every institution of society: government, business and nongovernment organizations — even the church.

Greece has one of the highest inflation rates in the euro zone … the prosperity gap between the older generation — senior workers and civil servants — and young people who are fresh out of school continues to grow. Nearly a quarter of all adults under the age of 29 are unemployed … The system is “tailored to the needs of established and older individuals,” says sociologist Stratos Georgoulas from the Aegean University on Lesbos, “and young people are suffering from this.” …

Economic experts have begun to refer to the €700 generation ($935 generation), and student leader Barutas is a prime example: He studied electrical engineering for five years at the Athens Polytechnic and graduated with excellent grades. Now he’s working as a teacher at a high school for €8 net an hour, 12 hours a week, which is all that is allowed. Such jobs are often limited to four- or five-month contracts. “How am I supposed to survive or establish a family on that?” asks the engineer.

Yet it wasn’t meant to be that way. Many of the policies which have mortgaged the European future to provide security in the present were sold as progressive social engineering. They began as well intentioned projects; the government was going to take care of things. Everything would be alright. Nobody asked whether entrusting society to elite institutions run by fallible men would not in the end create a self-sustaining gravy train for the very same people. Whether anyone will ever ask is open to debate. Reason Magazine recently warned that America was in danger of replicating the “zombie economies” which have destroyed the future in many parts of the world by embarking on huge programs of government intervention to keep dying businesses pointlessly alive. The European model has been touted as the future of America, but not all of it may be worth emulating.

The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace, —
Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their sun, is set.

And where are they? and where art thou,
My country? On thy voiceless shore
The heroic lay is tuneless now —
The heroic bosom beats no more!
And must thy lyre, so long divine,
Degenerate into hands like mine?