7 Ways My Modern Country Turned Into a Dystopia Overnight
Total economic collapse: we all know it happens, but we're much more used to dealing with the concept via Robocop. There are, however, real people out in the world who have watched the bottom fall out of their national economy. Greece started the 2000s with record wages and falling unemployment. Then the global economy drunkenly jumped off the high dive into an empty pool, and this happened to Greece's unemployment rate:
Plus, unemployment among unemployed workers is nearly 100 percent.
It was a disaster of robot cop-ian proportions. We sat down with Dimitra Nikolaou, a Greek journalist, who told us what to expect if our economy ever goes tits up:
Transportation Is the First Thing to Go
For a while, I took a taxi cab to work every day. Not because I'm some sort of cab-riding Rockefeller, too rich to use public transit and too lazy to do my own driving, but because the bus drivers are frequently on strike to get what they're owed from the state. You'd think the poor might have the least to lose from an economic downturn, but that's foolish optimism talking. People rich enough to have cars can still get around for about the same price. But if you can't afford a car, and public transit suddenly goes away, you aren't getting to work without a cab, hours of walking, or some sort of expert donkey-wrangling.
Or wings, but that's always a risky choice for Greeks.
This is a problem we have today in Greece, but it's a problem that also crops up in any major city when the economy Biff Tannen's face-first into a manure pile. During the 1980 New York City transit workers' strike, between 15-20 percent of the city's workers couldn't do their jobs at all. People too poor for cars get screwed, but so do the drivers. Earlier this year, when London's subway workers threw down their wrenches, or urine pails or whatever, the city suffered an eleven-mile traffic jam on one of its main roads.
"Even for Piccadilly, this is a circus."
But hey, at least your car and my taxis are air conditioned! My office, on the other hand, doesn't have AC anymore -- despite housing a fancy new media magazine. We had to cut back expenses, and it was either the AC or the Creative Director's kidneys, and we need him because, like everyone still working in Greece, he also doubles as the cleaning staff.
Streetlights Go Out, Traffic Signals and Cops Stop Working
It's easy to hate on the government these days, what with all the wars and taxes and unsolicited dick pics. But when the tax money dries up and the government stops working, you start to realize how many useful everyday things it used to do. For example: traffic signals and street lights. Lights need regular bulb-changings, because they don't supply illumination through magic or the power of positive thought. Since the downturn, there's maybe one person running around my city to replace all of the burnt-out bulbs for everything. And it seems like he might be overwhelmed, under-budgeted, or possibly drunk most of the time.
Stoplights are just pigeon toilets now.
The police force doesn't do too well without paychecks, either. It was awesome at first -- those lucky car-having folks could park wherever they wanted, because no one was out there to hand out parking tickets. Then the meter vigilantes, the least intimidating of all vigilantes, started putting stickers all over the offending drivers' windshields. It seems like a noble gesture in theory, but filling the roads with half-blinded motorists didn't exactly help make things safer.
And before you start mocking my country for our burnt-out traffic lights and sticker-crusted windshields, you should take a sobering look at Detroit, AKA "the Greece of North America," as absolutely nobody calls it. They're living with 50-minute response times, police stations that close down at 4:00 p.m. and a drop in police salaries big enough that some criminals admit to feeling bad for their badge-wearing nemeses.
We were only joking about Robocop before. Detroit can't even afford Humancop.
On the upside, violent crime dropped in both Detroit and Greece last year, so maybe all those cops weren't doing us much good anyway. It would be nice to have streetlights again, though. At least to keep the bats away.
That's a joke ... probably (who can tell? It's awful dark out there).
Schools, hospitals, and civil services are little more than a fond memory. For example, I recently needed to visit an ophthalmologist. As with any tax-paying citizen in Greece, I am entitled to take myself to a hospital and check my commie eyes for free, so I called to make an appointment. I was informed that there was currently no ophthalmologist at the hospital -- which serves around 250,000 people -- because the previous one had retired, and until he checks out of the planet and stops cashing his pension, they do not have the funds to hire another.
"Thanks, Papoulias!" doesn't have the same ring to it.
Almost every basic service is understaffed and in dire need of supplies. When you're getting a head wound treated and the nurse tells you to shut your eyes real tight because the disinfectant might blind you and they've run out of protective masks, you start to truly appreciate how bad things have gotten. But things like MRI machines being repaired with rubber bands are to be expected when your country is going through a crisis, right? So you suck it up, make an appointment with a private ophthalmologist, and are informed that your eyes are fine. Hooray! The dizziness is probably just due to malaria. B-boo?
See, the government used to spray pesticide every summer to counter mosquitoes. They can't afford to do that anymore, so hello there, supposedly extinct diseases.
"You tested positive for dodopox. I'm sorry."
We've also seen a surge in HIV infection rates and drug overdoses, but looming economic collapse isn't all doom and gloom. If the Great Depression is anything to go by, financial meltdowns can save lives too. Mortality rates in the U.S. dropped by 10 percent in the 1930s, in part because no one could afford to drive their deadly, deadly cars. Death rates from heart disease jumped up by 20 percent, though. Hey, like the old philosopher Phil Collins said, it's a game of give and take. He was talking about love, but it easily applies to mortality rates.
The People Will Find (Sometimes Strange) Ways to Cope
Since the real economy shit the bed and then rolled around in it all night, some citizens in Volos have invented their own shadow economy. It's based around a pseudo-currency called TEM units. Rather than being backed up by the power of a government (like most money) or the lies of angry robots (Bitcoin), TEM units are based around the idea of a "local exchange trading system." The ridiculously simplified version is that this means turning favors into a sort of currency. Do a favor for someone in the community, and they add a TEM unit to your account. Like regular currency and fairies, it works pretty well among people who decide to believe in it.
You can't snort coke through TEMs. But that's fine; you're too poor for drugs anyway.
Others find stranger ways to adapt. People all around me started getting invited to orgies, threesomes, all manner of "adult playdates." It was like living through the last days of Rome, but with antibiotics and better booze. It wasn't just the standard surge in sexiness that comes with any economic collapse. Some people were trading participation in these bacchanals for luxuries they couldn't afford. I asked around, and was told that those who couldn't live without dinners at fancy restaurants and Prada bags had simply found other ways to pay for them. Orifice ways.
Deep pockets can get you deep ... other things.
Another silver lining: people have finally found an excuse to pursue their dream careers. When the safe bets aren't safe anymore, why not try your dream out? You're starving either way! A friend of mine left her accounting career to become a yoga instructor. I'm finally venturing into game design. It's already paying off. Soon we won't be a bankrupt nation; we'll be a starving artist nation. It's basically the same thing, but it sounds way sexier at parties.
Crime and Suicide Rates Skyrocket
Unemployment creates a domino effect. If I lose my job, I am forced to reduce my army of Ferraris down to seven, and can only eat caviar-sprinkled truffles straight off the thighs of a male model twice a week. This means less work for professional Ferrari polishers and truffle-sprinklers, which in turn means they cannot afford somebody else's services ... soon, nobody is working anymore, because nobody can afford anything.
So please, come visit Greece! Your dollars are our sole income!
Unsurprisingly, suicides and crime have spiked. My best friend, a PhD in geology who works as a glorified garbage collector in the morning and teaches university classes in the evenings, walked up to his car to find that someone had crashed through its roof while attempting suicide. Was the (miraculously alive) guy going to pay for damages? Well no. See, he was attempting suicide because of his debts. Really takes the fun out of "It's Raining Men."ju
"It's Raining Men, Hallelujah." -- Leonard Cohen
Roughly 10,000 suicides in the United States, the European Union, and Canada from 2007 to 2010 can be blamed on the Great Recession. And the death toll is much greater in the countries that respond to "hard times" by cutting public benefits. My government did, and now we're going Eyes Wide Shut for handbags and the hot new dance craze is malaria. Suicide may not be excusable, but it's sort of understandable.
Protests and Riots Become Part of the Daily Grind
Nobody riots like the Greeks. Every Wednesday, unless it's summer, there's a march downtown. Sometimes we even throw in a Saturday disturbance, because you gotta get your exercise somehow. You need to keep track of all these riots and protests, because they fuck traffic up in some pretty outlandish ways. Don't worry; there are whole websites dedicated to helping you navigate them.
Guess the Internet does keep you from real activism.
A riot itself is mostly kind of sad to behold. You've got nurses, doctors, teachers, workers, and students marching all hungry and malarial on one side of the street. And on the other side, you've got a stressed and overworked police force that's supposed to beat them if things go wrong. It's old hat for all parties by now.
Even my mom, a tiny woman over 50, has gotten to the point where being shoved by a riot cop doesn't faze her. Not even a blink. She didn't even get angry at the guy when it happened -- she figured that if the only way the man could get a salary was to push retired teachers around, he was probably having a rough life already. Unless he was one of those cops not getting a paycheck mentioned earlier, in which case he's doing all this shoving pro bono. That would be a pretty dick move.
Or maybe he was paid sweet TEMs by one of her former students.
Everyone Blames the Citizens for the Nation's Problems
When I first contacted Cracked, I tried to warn them about this comment section. You see, I have read enough articles on Greece on foreign sites to notice that when your country is in a financial crisis, suddenly everybody hates you. Survey after survey shows that no one in the EU has a very positive attitude towards Greece. A friend studying in the Netherlands had a drink poured over her head at a party out of the blue, because she is Greek and we are apparently to blame for "the ruin of the EU." She spent the night at a police station for fighting back, got released when she threatened to call a lawyer, and was told to be a bit more humble in the future. A barista in London heard two customers speaking Greek and asked if they could afford to pay before handing them their coffee.
Order a gyro elsewhere in the Eurozone, and they'll say, "We don't serve that kind here."
Every Internet article on Greece is followed by angry comments about how lazy (we actually work more hours than most European countries), deceitful, and deserving of our plight we are. Also, our "free" healthcare is obviously the reason we went bankrupt, somehow -- even though our welfare state is not as thorough as Germany's or Sweden's, and they are doing fine. A bit pale, but fine.
Are the Greeks blameless? Of course not. Many of us haven't been paying our taxes, which you may recognize as a less-than-brilliant idea. But we're also working our asses off to try to fix things. The average Greek puts in 600 more work hours per year than the average German. The true reasons for a financial crisis are massively complicated, and in no way lay on the shoulders of the average citizen. Do you feel at fault when the S&P 500 takes a nosedive? Of course not; you just Googled it to make sure that wasn't some sort of NASCAR race.
NASCAR crashes are way less dangerous.
It's like seeing a homeless person in the streets and trying to convince yourself that their situation isn't something that can happen to you. People who can hardly find our country on the map suddenly become experts in our economy. It's easier than admitting that there can be something bigger at work, that the well-being of your entire country might be out of your hands, and that if things go badly and you want to maintain your same quality of life, you may have to volunteer as the meat in a malaria-ridden hump-sandwich.
Dimitra Nikolaou is a Greek journalist and writer, currently doing her PhD on Role-Playing games. If you speak Greek you can find her work here.
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For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Survival Lessons From Inside a Real World Dystopia and 5 Insane Things That Will Destroy Our Power Grid.
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