A European Tale: the debt crisis in other words; Select your ending…

Once upon a time there was a European family… Their life was all happy and mellow and everybody looked up to them. However times changed and they were struck by a terrible crisis. The following story might be true and might be an allegory for something else happening right now in real life… It’s also an unfinished story; you can vote for the outcome right at the end of it. But let’s take it from the start…

Family Background

The mother came from an aristocratic family of intellectuals. You could notice that in her elaborate and polite manners, style and often flamboyant ways. She had rich education in humanities and sciences something evident in her discussions. She was working in fashion, everything that had to do with quality of life but was also very active with civic organizations, charity and arts. She would give grace to whatever she set her eyes on. Then there was the father, a busy, laborious, industrialist; diligent and hard working. It’s not that he didn’t have many intellectuals in his family but he took more pride in discipline, practicality, moderation and self-restraint. He had few words to waste; he often expressed himself without much tact which often got him misunderstood.

It was a rather odd couple some would say but for others it seemed that they complemented each other very well. But it was not always like that. Their families didn’t get along very well in the past. They had many disputes which caused great distraught and pain to them and others. These were tough times, with violence and poverty. However, through much pain they realized it was much better to put all that behind and instead of hating, care about things they shared, cherished and valued. So they concentrated on making their lives better which brought them much happiness and wealth.

As time went by and the wedding grew stronger they also decided to grow their family; so they had kids. It was a happy family they had, full of respect and ideals but little time did they have for each other. The parents were busy and even when they had some time, they wouldn’t seriously care about their kids; they would even find their kids’ mischiefs amusing. The kids were independent-minded though and felt perfectly fine to stay away from their parents’ attention. They were pretty much growing up on their own as the product of circumstances, handouts and serendipity. You see they were receiving a monthly stipend and had nannies and all the care in the world. You could say that they were spoilt.

When they grew up and became adults their parents gave them credit cards. It was supposed to mark their coming of age. Kids could now plan their future; take a loan to study and grow professionally or start a business. Instead kids however rolled down to the easy life. After all they didn’t care much about growing up and making a life for themselves; actually they were not even prepared for doing so.

When parents were asking how they were doing in school or their businesses the kids would say that everything was going well. That was a blatant lie and they were surprised to pull it through; they guessed their parents were probably turning the blind eye. Nonetheless they were afraid that this couldn’t go on for ever and at some point they would get in trouble; but then again it was too difficult to stop. There were so many distractions. There were cars, trips and nice clothes, all easy within their reach; why bother change after all? Dazed from their easy life at times they felt gifted, they felt that they deserved having things coming easy to their way. At other times, when targets seemed tough to accomplish they would feel incompetent and helpless as ambitious targets where out of their reach; after all, their family’s haven was enough.

Crisis breaks out

But nice stories at sometime come to an end. Times changed and the family business was not doing that well anymore. The parents were starting to age and worry about the future and their finances. The world was also changing; it was becoming a more competitive, a less forgiving place. So they started to pay more attention to their family and business. Their kids’ mischiefs were not that amusing anymore. They started to worry more about them and ask questions. It was not long before they realized that things were not going well, but they would postpone taking action. In the end it was a call from the bank telling that credit cards were maxed out and asking for money transfers to cover overdrafts…. It was the last drop in the bucket, they were infuriated…

As a matter of fact the parents assumed that something was not going well, but they were too busy and too distant. . In a way they might even be buying their “silence” for being absent, so that they could go on with their lives undistracted. They didn’t want to face their responsibilities and would blame it to each other or on the kids’ character. On the other hand they knew they just had to bring them to the point of no return to get them on the right track. As somebody said; a crisis is too good of a thing to go wasted. And now it was exactly that time. This situation couldn’t go on for anymore. It was time for everybody to sober up and carry their share of family responsibilities. Yes, the party had to stop one way or the other; but it was not easy.

The kids at the begging denied everything; they tried mislead their parents that everything was still going well. But the parents looked around the home and found expensive clothes and motorbikes and other things that they were hiding that couldn’t be explained. That was not the life they have earned or they could sustain on their own. That was not a life of responsibility that the father was brought up with or wanted for his family.

Parents also asked around and stories started to come out about the ways kids spent their money; they felt embarrassed from what they heard. Everybody thought something seemed wrong with the kids’ way of living, however nobody tried do anything about it; they just looked the other way. The kids would also always have excuses for everything. For example when asked about their expensive cars they would say that they were test drives, or gifts or other funny excuses. In the end the kids started to confess everything.

Stories came out about people giving them loans as they’d assume that their parents would pay for them in the end. A local banker even occasionally reversed some credit card charges or moved them to other ones to erase some debt so that it didn’t hit the credit limit. When they asked him what he was doing he mentioned three letters, showed some lengthy documents and off course asked for a good commission. Kids didn’t understand much but didn’t even bother about it as long as it kept things going.

Not all the kids were the same however. While the younger ones maxed out their credit cards by spending in good life the older ones were a little more responsible but made some bad investments. People started to question everybody anyway. In the end, none of the kids could survive without their parents’ help and now this help was questioned. Even one of their uncles, a bon viveur, with great education and property but extravagant ways fell into disbelief and had to cut down his expenses too. In a way it was him that everybody was worrying about if he’d come to the point of asking for help too. Therefore parents had to sober up everybody, starting from kids. They had to put up a tough face; it was time for action…

Crisis Deliberations

At the beginning kids accepted their fault but said it was impossible to change at once; they asked for more money to give them time. Off course they promised they have learned their lesson and they’d now use their money for good. But they said that before… The parents didn’t buy it.

Then the kids pointed out to some of their friends that when they racked up too much debt they didn’t pay. They argued they were fooled by shop owners and banks; transactions were erroneous, debts were phony; they were simply tricked in. With all this these kids saved face in some way, they said. Even if they managed to walk out of their obligations however little talk was made about these kids been grounded, changed school and losing their club memberships and amenities. These losses would have been unbearable to the European family’s kids. They knew that.

Some of their friends told them that their parents are suppressive and insensitive. They told them they would be better off if they left home, break up with the past life and live ascetically in a communal. All this sounded t romantic, even though they haven’t tried something like that before. Impulsively, a part of them wanted to go this way, but that was merely an impulse.

Then kids thread their parents they’d leave home and family if not having it their way. They didn’t really mean it nor did their parents want them too; however after some initial surprise and frustration parents shrugged their shoulders and told them they were free to go if they’d wish and if they left behind all their goodies. Parents wanted to keep the family together albeit not at any cost, not if the family had no meaning. Kids thought parents were bluffing about sending them away but they couldn’t say for sure; in the end maybe they both were bluffing.

Outside the family, everybody the kids knew, the banker, the nightclub promoter, the shop owners, argued that the parents were unfair for treating their kids this way, for cutting down their stipend and credit cards. They said that this was not a way for kids to grow. Deep inside they were worrying about losing the kids’ business. Some others were saying that kids are incompetent; unable to stand on their own feet. They should be either sent away (and not worry about them) or sustained for ever. It was the parents that have failed in their roles; they were the ones that destroyed the kids and now enjoy torturing them; it was a mockery of a family. Some even remembered the father’s bullying past something left behind but still hurt him to remember.

The father’s family thought kids were useless and that the wedding was a mistake all from the start; a crazy idea, too much of a trouble. The mother, the kids were different people from the father; they were hopeless due to their upbringing. It is probably what you would call in psychology group attribution error. Off course they ignored their positive sides too and the many benefits this wedding brought everybody such as stability and complementary aspects but it was not a good time to bring this up.

An odd aunt that they were not seeing that often and never liked the idea about the marriage, started to throw her poison too. She had good ideas always but never really showed any sincere interest to family issues. You know it’s this kind of aunt that always has an idea about everything but doesn’t do anything about it. She would just love to draw attention on her as in her glory days so that she didn’t feel overshadowed and an odd loner.

The Rehabilitation Plan

After much talking, true to the family’s traditions, the parents came up with a detailed action plan. They said that kids should either leave home and make their living the hard way or stay and embark on a long “rehabilitation process”. They would have to study and at the same time work and contribute to the family’s expenses to the extent they can. They should also pay back their debt. The father was relentless; he said credit was over, they would have to start living within their means. He was strict and absolute while the mother was trying to show some tenderness and flexibility to keep some balance. Parents also hired a strict personal trainer with experience in such “rehabilitations”. They said he had to be tougher with the younger kids so that they motivate the older ones and set a good example for the community around them too.

The kids accepted and to formalize that signed an agreement but without even looking at it. Reality is kids dreaded the rehabilitation idea and they could find a lot of theories to argue on that. But in the end they just wanted to keep on with their ways or if they had to work they would rather work in some office in the family business; but they had no such experience or skills. The parents never worried about equipping them with such skills; or give them jobs in their companies, but that’s another story… In the end kids thought it made sense just to take it easy as parents made enough money for everybody. So they proposed to work in their local club. They ended up however spending most of the time socializing if they would even ever go to work. Kids also said they were taking evening classes but they often skipped and went on partying. In the end they just cared about getting through another day; a vane, meaningless pursuit to others.

So in the end their rehabilitation was failing. They claimed it was due to the plan which was not realistic. They said they were unable to contribute to the family; a self-fulfilling prophecy or what you would probably call in psychology a self-serving bias. The kids thought that parents would be forgiving, fed-up and ignore them so that they could go back to their own busy lives. The single aunt off course said it’s wasted time; the kids were a lost case; will never get in the right truck. But parent were not the sort of giving up. They asked around and found out about their kids’ ways. They were furious about their cheating. They assumed that kids would do what they were asked and signed to do.

The Rehabilitation Plan gets serious…

So the parents said that we’ll have to follow up with what kids were doing every day. At least parents were becoming more involved this time. Issues were to be discussed together and decisions were also taken jointly. They also emphasized to the personal tutor to be extra vigilant. They’d also have to work at a really tough job not like the easy ones they were having up to now. They should start working at a factory. They braced for a long “rehabilitation process”. It was not going to be easy

Story Ending?

Let’s say this story is a metaphor; depicting the European debt crisis. You can try guess parallels between figures here and in the crisis. On the other hand it might just be a simple story on a common family and any resemblance to facts, real persons is purely coincidental:). Let’s also say that this story is stil developing. Taking this in mind feel free to guess potential outcomes (left open as there are so many views on such matters these days..).

So here are some possible endings we could think for this European tale (or add yours):

1st Tale Ending:

Kids kept on failing. The family didn’t pull it together. It broke apart. Kids were sent away from home and:
i. became criminals.
ii. sobered up but never got where they could had they stayed in their family.
iii. they excelled surpassing even their parents’ successes. They probably struck a lottery or came up with a great invention (ok crazy things happen in fairy tales…)

2nd Tale Ending:

Kids and the family stayed together. Kids sobered up and became responsible citizens and successful professionals.

3rd Tale Ending:

Kids and the family stayed together. The kids never really sobered up; they grew up always dependent on their parents but at least they didn’t get into trouble and wrack up debt. They were always dependent on handovers; after all their parents were too possessive to turn over some of their businesses to them. They all just muddled through.

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The articles published here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Transatlantic Business Forum.

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