How wrong I was. The difference now is that hopeless unemployment is being inflicted on a whole country - Greece - and we are being fed the lie that the reason for this is that they are all naturally feckless people who don't like paying taxes. As I write the unemployment rate in Greece is over 25% and that is worse than was ever recorded in the UK during the Great Depression. For young people it is higher. It has been like this since the banking crisis.
For the individuals concerned this represents an utterly hopeless situation. It is very difficult to get on your bike and look for work when millions of others are doing the same and there is no work to be had. For the state things aren't any better. Unemployed people don't pay a lot in tax. They consume resources without producing any and this places costs on their families and their government. No government can support any kind of welfare state for any length of time when one in every 4 people is out of work.
So it is no surprise that Greek finances are in a mess. Prior to the 2008 banking crisis the country had high debts but with a high proportion of its people working and it economy expanding there was no reason to think those debts couldn't be paid. They were certainly - and still are - lower than the national debt of Japan which stands at 214% of its Gross Domestic Product. They were also a lot lower than the national debt of the UK at the end of the Second World War which stood at over 230% of GNP.
The UK got those debts down to under 50% of GNP via 30 years of growth supported by state investment and strong international support in the form of the Marshal plan. Greece was told by the international financial organisations that it ought to do the exact opposite. The Greek government was forced to cut spending and increase taxes during the start of a recession. It did so at a horrible cost to its citizens. The very cuts that were forced through international organisations by a right wing German government guaranteed that the Greeks couldn't balance their budget. There simply weren't enough people working to pay the interest on the loans and support the rest of the country.
After 7 years of this policy utterly failing the Greek people had had enough. They voted for a radical change of government that wanted to get out of austerity by putting its citizens to work. They have been opposed every step of the way. The German government has ensured that Greek creditors reject every plan that is put forward that doesn't involve even more extreme austerity. The new Greek government has proposed compromise after compromise. It has now reached the limit of those compromises. It cannot adopt policies that it knows will further drag the country into a spiral of rising unemployment and which are utterly against what Greek electors voted for.
By comparison the EU and its institutions do have a choice. They can drive Greece into bankruptcy or they can support a planned recovery of Greece. They could also organise a planned recovery for the other countries that have suffered years of misery since the banking crisis such as Spain, Portugal and, to a lesser extent, Italy. A policy of investment in a recovering economy would increase demand for goods and services and put people back to work making those goods and services. This is exactly what was done across Europe at the end of the Second World War. The Americans applied a far sighted approach of lending money at low rates of interest to essentially bankrupt European nations under the Marshall plan and those countries invested the money. This co-ordinated expansionary plan produced 25 years of spectacularly successful economic growth and made the debts easy to handle. Co-ordinated European investment in modern low energy technology would enable Europe to compete successfully across the world. The policy would work now just as well as it did after 1945. The spare capacity is there and the money could easily be made available via the European programme of quantitative easing. What is lacking is the political vision.
The other option is to force Greece into bankruptcy and demonise an entire nation. Going down this route involves trying to tell us the racist myth that Greek people are naturally lazy and feckless despite the fact that the average weekly hours of a Greek worker are higher than those in the UK and over 5 hours a week higher than in Germany. It involves trying to tell us that they must be driven into bankruptcy whereas the banks had to be rescued. It involves forcing Greece out of the Euro in the belief that the international finance system is nice and secure and any damage can be contained within one country. Just as they thought they could control the collapse of a couple of banks.
A policy of co-ordinated planned expansion gave us 25 years of successful growth from 1945 to 1970. A policy of making cuts during a recession produced the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler and the Second World War. What possible reason could there be for inflicting the second policy? Unless it is a blind faith that the free market is the only way to solve problems. That same blind faith that brought the entire capitalist system to its knees in 2008 and saw it desperately turning to the state to save it from its own excesses.
A Greek exit from the Euro is not inevitable common sense. An insistence that Greece must pay its debts right now is not sound economics. We have a choice. And at the moment it looks very much as if we are heading for the wrong one and the very dangerous belief that you can drive a whole country into bankruptcy without it having a severe impact on its friends and neighbours.
Whatever happens over the next few days please don't buy the myth that the Greeks brought it onto themselves and that what is being done to them is sound economics. It is high risk ideology and their real fear is that the new Greek government will be a success and be followed by other countries in an international revolt against austerity.