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Perspective

A Greek tragedy?

Even as UMass economists question an influential paper out of Harvard, the pain of austerity continues.

SIPPING ESPRESSOS AND SMOKING AWAY, the Greek millennials packing the fashionable coffeehouse in the port city of Nafplio don’t seem to be suffering through an economic crisis. But don’t let appearances fool you, a 26-year-old named Athanasia cautions me. “Every day, I wake up feeling insecure,” she says. “People my age are not sure of anything.” Though Greece’s infrastructure would certainly seem to need civil engineers such as her, Athanasia has worked just three months in more than a year. Many of her peers have moved to Germany or elsewhere for work; she wants to remain here, though it may mean moving back in with her parents.

Like many Greeks, especially young ones facing exceptionally high unemployment, Athanasia is feeling the effect of years of measures imposed on her country by lenders attempting to rein in its entrenched inefficiency. Just weeks before my visit, University of Massachusetts graduate student Thomas Herndon and two fellow economists had reported errors in an important 2010 research paper by two Harvard economists that had informed austerity policies throughout Europe. But the academic brouhaha that followed seemed to matter little to most Greeks. For them, austerity is like sequestration on steroids, leading to reduced services, sharply lower wages and pensions, and much higher taxes. “We were used to living one way, with more money,” says Athanasia. “Now life is always hard.”

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