How to impose austerity and get reelected. By Spyros Kouvoussis
From my recent and not happy experience of living in a country where extreme austerity takes place, I reached some conclusions about things that matter most for the electorate, rather than simple whether your period as a head of state or government was a good or bad one in pure economic terms. So, this is a tool to every politician who would like to impose austerity and get reelected.
First of all, if you found out that you have to impose austerity after the elections, fire your whole team and the economic advisors you had. They were obviously incompetent if they did not manage to warn you. If you were lying before the elections then you will have to persuade the general public that things were far worse than you expected. In any case blame your advisors and fire them. People want to see from the beginning that you take their lives seriously and you put them in the top of your agenda.
Before imposing austerity try to make a plan with real numbers. You must persuade the general public that their sacrifices will not be in vain. To do that, you must show that you know what is happening and how to fix it. Do not present a plan that might sound nice but will not be effective or cannot be achieved. For instance, Troika (EU-IMF-ECB) presented the first Memorandum in Greece as one-year austerity plan and promised that in 2011 Greece would have budget surplus. In real numbers, that meant that Greece would reduce its budget deficit by 15% in a single year. Obviously this did not work and hurt the credibility of Troika and the government. They repeated the same year after year and the results were shown in the recent elections. It is way better to ask the general public for 4-5 years plan of austerity than to tell them in the end of every year that they will have to continue with another austerity program that will fix what the previous didn’t.
Try to create the image that you and your team/party are doing whatever you can. While the austerity was taking place in Greece, Ministers and leading figures of the Social Democrats who implemented the Memorandum, were found out to be owners of fortunes of millions and keeping that kind of lifestyle. For example, in 2010, the then Minister of Defense, visited Serbia and spent 40,000e in every day of his trip. Obviously none could argue that this was an additional burden to the state budget as total expenses that year were almost 90billions. Imagine though being told that you must stick to an austerity plan and learn from the news that your Minister, who insists on austerity spent every day more than double what you make in a year.
Cut your wage, those of your Cabinet as much as you can. You can’t ask from someone who is receiving the minimum wage to keep on austerity while you are receiving hundreds of thousands from the state budget. Try to cut expenses which are obvious. Don’t pose to the camera with that 3,000e worth Armani suit. Stop using, if you are granted to, means of transportation from the Parliament or at least try not to do it in public.
Try to be fair. You can’t cut the same at everyone. E.g. in Greece wages in the public sector were cut by 30%. That meant that the 9,000e/month and the 1000e/month wages were cut by the same percentage. You have to choose who you want to protect, the high earners or the low paid. If you don’t accept moral arguments, accept a mathematical one: low paid are more and their fair treatment finds support in the voters who are just a bit over them and they are afraid they will also become low paid.
In a state of austerity people will be keen on finding others to blame. If it is find out that members of your Cabinet or your party have taken part in scandals try to seem harsh on them. Resign them and create the image that they will be punished. After the press finds something else to focus on you can try to help them but do it as discretely as you can. You don’t want to be associated with corrupted politicians when your opponents already have to blame you for austerity.
If you do all that victory is not guaranteed. It will depend on whether you achieve the goals you had set when you started taking austerity measures. If you are achieved it is likely to have a second term. If not, at least you will avoid the humiliation of the Social Democrats and Conservatives in Greece who together received 80% in 2009 and in 2009 together received 32%.