When the illusion that the Status Quo can fulfill all its promises to everybody dies, the Status Quo starts the terminal slide to effective collapse.
Of the many lessons we can learn from Greece’s difficult path to rejection of debt-serfdom, the most important is perhaps the most obvious: no real change is possible until the Status Quo can no longer fulfill its promises, i.e. it effectively collapses.
The collapse of the Status Quo has two distinct features: the process is highly variable, and the process affects the social classes in different ways.
The process of collapse is neither sudden nor smooth. Things do not necessarily cease to function overnight; rather, the decline to effective collapse operates much like energy states in physics: systems decay and then drop to a lower energy level, where they are stable until further decay causes the next drop to an even lower level.
Pension payments provide a ready example. The pension payment is reduced, and the recipient tightens his/her belt and gets by. The next reduction (either outright or via inflation) forces drastic changes in consumption, and subsequent reductions reduce the pension to a supplement that cannot possibly support a retiree, much less their family.
The pension is still issued, but the promise of a pension that could support a household at a modest level of consumption has collapsed. Though the system for issuing pensions still exists, it no longer fulfills the original purpose.
In this sense, the collapsed pension system becomes much like the phantom legions of the late Roman Empire: the paymasters and officers still received the legion’s pay, but there were no real soldiers; the legion was a bookkeeping entry in a skimming operation, not a fighting unit.
The financial Aristocracy (i.e. the kleptocracy) in Greece avoided much of the pain of debt-serfdom.
What’s the point of running things if you can’t distribute the pain to others? I addressed this is Greece at the Crossroads: the Oligarchs Blew It
(January 27, 2015).
The powerless classes were stripmined first. Bamboozled into voting for the Kleptocracy in previous elections, the powerless lower classes felt the brunt of austerity for the simple reason the kleptocracy knew there would be no blowback, as long as a few shreds of swag were being distributed.