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Friday, 13 March 2015

When the music stops playing........... (movie Margin Call, 2011)

In the 60's my parents lived quite close to their parents. My father's parents lived in the same village. My mother's parents lived a few kilometres further in another village. I saw my grandparents quite regularly as I suppose there was nothing much else to do on a Sunday besides visiting relatives.

Nowadays many families are spread over the country or even the globe. Reasons for that are often study or work. The grand parents stay behind in their village. Visiting grand parents, parents, or relatives competes with many other priorities. The busy schedule of kids is often leading.

The Roman Catholic Pope Francis made some remarks this week about a big contemporary problem, the neglect of older people by their children and younger relatives. Failing to look after old folk was not just a bad habit, he told an audience of 20,000 people in Rome, it was a mortal transgression: in other words the sort of sin that can consign you to hell, eternal punishment, if you fail to repent for it before you die. The catechism of the Catholic church doesn't offer a precise list of mortal sins, but it does approvingly recall a dialogue between Jesus and a young man in the New Testament which features a broadly accurate summary of the ten commandments: do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie or cheat, and "honour your father and mother". Source: The Economist.

Many societies in nature are built on a tribal system or a herd if we think in animal terms. The human tribal system is torn apart in more and more regions. We must follow the money (e.g., employment) if we want to maintain our current and abundant standards of living. In essence: more is better. The flip side of that coin is that families, villages, cities and countries have become loaded - if not overloaded - with debt to finance houses, theatres, swimming pools and glamorous city halls.

In essence, lots of our private and public wealth is based on debt. Debt becomes a heavy burden when the guests are leaving (increasing interest rates) and - most of all - when the music stops playing (e.g., unemployment, lack of trust in repaying). The Dutch nation ranks #13 worldwide in government debt per person, being $37,233 in 2014. Japan ranks #1 as every resident of Japan owes almost $100,000 to its country's creditors. The USA ranks #3 with $58,604, Greece ranks #12 with $38,444 and Germany ranks #14 with $35,881. Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/visual-data/best-and-worst//most-government-debt-per-person-countries

Companies, cities and countries can run deficits as long as creditors are willing to lend them money. Families know better. Without collateral (e.g., mortgages) only relatives are the lenders of last resort.

We believe that we are able to repay our debts in the future, else we would never even have used debt to finance our purchases. Money is one of the core elements in our belief system.

It takes quite a serious life's lesson to understand that actually "less is more". Pope Francis is teaching us another one. Each day the marketeers give us the philosophical message that "more is better". We believe that. Until the music stops playing.

For Greece (#12) the music has stopped playing. Present and future Greek generations will need to learn that actually "less is more". It should be a lesson to all of us.