Thursday, August 9, 2012

Euro Crisis Morphs into Generational Conflict

by David Böcking


August 9, 2012

People vs. banks, north vs. south, and rich vs. poor? While all of these conflicts may be real, one of the biggest issues of the euro crisis is rarely discussed: Older people are living at the expense of the young, and it's high time the next generation took to the streets to confront their parents.

"Que se vayan todos," or "Away with all of them," became one of the slogans chanted by the tens of thousands of "Indignados" in Spain at protests last year. In addition to their eponymous outrage, many had one thing in common: Most were young and viewed themselves as victims of the crisis.

They might have been more specific and instead chanted: "All the old people must go!" This phrase would apply because, in many ways, the euro crisis is also a conflict between generations -- the flush baby boomers in their fifties and sixties are today living prosperously at the expense of young people.

Intergenerational equity -- measured among other things by levels of direct and hidden debts and pension entitlements -- is particularly low in Southern Europe. In a 2011 study of intergenerational equity in 31 countries by the Bertelsmann Foundation, Greece came in last place. Italy, Portugal and Spain didn't do much better, landing in 28th, 24th and 22nd place respectively. Currently, the unequal distribution of income and opportunities is particularly distinct:
  • The employment market collapse has hit young Europeans much harder than older generations. In Greece and Spain more than half of those under age 25 are unemployed -- twice the rate of older workers. Things are even worse in parts of southern Italy, where youth unemployment has risen above 50 percent.
  • One reason for this situation is unequal employment circumstances. Older Spaniards and Italians, for example, profit from worker protection laws preventing them from getting fired that are quite strong by international comparison. But almost half of young Italians and 60 percent of young Spaniards are on temporary employment contracts and can easily lose their jobs.
  • The burdens and risks of the euro bailouts are also mainly borne by young people. Ultimately, growing national debts and bailout funds worth billions will be financed through bonds that won't be due for many years to come.

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