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Letter from Athens: Hunger Games: Food Prices Soaring in Souvlakistan

The next time you see a Greek politician at a souvlaki stand, unless it’s for a photo opportunity so they can pretend to know what the hoi polloi eat for a budget lunch – or dinner – it will be the first, unless there’s caviar mixed in.

One of the more amusing aspects of watching people who are paid four times or more what Greek teachers get is seeing them out on the stump among the masses, before they vote on the minimum wage, and seeing the befuddled look on their faces over the prices of basic items like food.

While the politicians and rich and privileged never have to worry about scrounging for change under their sofa seats or glove compartments to come up with the money to eat, many Greeks do.

So when the price of a souvlaki hits 3 euros ($3.08) it might not seem like a big deal for a big meal because they are delicious and filling, but that’s past the point for many people or families who can’t afford it.

The New Democracy government is raking in revenues from tourists after essentially ending COVID-19 pandemic health measures, at the cost of scores of thousands of cases weekly of hospitalizations and deaths.

But money is the most important thing in life to any government and so be it if someone’s on a ventilator if tourists are on a path to bring in more than 20 billion euros ($20.54 billion) in 2022, which would be a record.

There’s proud predictions of more than 6 percent growth to accelerate a faster recovery from what the coronavirus had wrought and still is bringing, and plenty of money for fighter jets and warships. But somehow not enough to cut the 24 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food, one of the European Union’s highest.

That’s partly because the government has properly spent more than 9 billion euros ($9.25 billion) to pay up to 90 percent of household electricity bills that doubled in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

That’s because making people pay as much as 1000 euros ($1027.40) a month for electricity when the minimum wage is 713 euros ($732.54) with elections coming in mid-2023 would be political suicide, and the government would fall faster than you can say spyware scandal, so this isn’t altruism here.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis better get his finger on the pulse of the people while they still have one because a lot of people aren’t eating well, and some are going hungry – in 2022 – and he can’t afford ill will.

Purchasing power has fallen 40 percent for households with a monthly income of up to 750 euros ($772) which is just above the minimum wage, which means for them a souvlaki is like a prime rib for someone with means.

For households with incomes of up to 1,000 euros ($1030) purchasing power has dropped 9 to 14 percent, which effectively means a pay cut of 9 to14 percent while inflation is still at 9.17 percent after having hit a record 10.6 percent.

Do the math and you’ll remember what Leonard Cohen sang: “The poor stay poor, the rich get rich, that’s how it goes, everybody knows.” Well, not everybody knows how it goes for the poor – and they’re in power and don’t care.

If you don’t think so you can just listen to the Minister of Silly Talks Adonis Georgiadis, who visited nine supermarkets earlier this autumn for the kickoff of the so-called Household Basket through which the stores are supposed to hold down prices on 51 essential items – it had to be explained to him what they were.

“We saw that the supermarket chains have offered substantially lower prices in crucial products; we generally found very good offers,” Georgiadis said. He must have visited supermarkets where people don’t shop because Greeks aren’t buying what he’s selling.

“In this store you will find more than 5000 products. For example, I do not eat pasta, so what do I care if pasta is a product of the basket? I do not believe this measure will be any help. It is just a trick to fool the consumers,” one disgruntled shopper not named told EuroNews of the scheme.

Food prices in Athens and Berlin are almost the same level, but the German minimum wage is more than double the Greek one, the leftist Avgi journal reported in a slap at the rival government.

Referring to Numbeo, a Serbian crowd-sourced consumer price database, the report said of 18 selected foods, Greek consumers on average pay more for food than Germans do.

The index showed Greece ranked 46th for the cost of living in a list of 137 countries, more difficult to buy essentials such as food there than in Spain, Slovenia, Latvia, The Czech Republic, and Portugal.

The site In.gr said the government is looking at giving low-income families a grant of up to 150 euros ($154) to help buy food, but that’s not enough to buy a household basket with anything more than a few staple items because prices are jumping.

A couple of pieces of chicken costs up to $13 at a supermarket, and if you can find where the household basket items are please send directions that don’t include looking in the dumpster. Excuse me, miss, can you point me toward the caviar?

 

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