A cautionary tale of collective delusion reflects, in microcosm, the persistence of belief in the free ride.
We offer for your edification the case of 40 Panorama Court, a Toronto high-rise condominium that is in bad shape, in terms of both the physical building and the acrimonious relations between unit owners and their elected board of directors.
Said unit owners deluded themselves for decades that maintenance was an unnecessary extravagance, on the grounds that it costs money. Their elected leaders were pressured into going along with this strategy of false economy.
The place is now a wreck, the parking garage is crumbling, concrete is falling off balconies, units are unsaleable, the operating deficit is $670,000, and there is much whining and finger-pointing.
Greece is, writ large, 40 Panorama Court, its political leaders having allowed spending to outpace tax revenues for decades, while borrowing to cover the shortfalls. That free ride is now ending, as all such rides must, in a crashing economy, huge cutbacks, an austere future, and cap in hand begging for money from the International Monetary Fund to just keep the thing together.
The Greeks, who were happy to enjoy the largesse of previous governments, now demonstrate in the streets against the inevitable rollbacks, as the government scrambles to build a consensus for change.
It will take perhaps a generation for Greece to right itself. Young people, 35% of whom are currently unemployed, will suffer most of the pain.
We Canadians had a close encounter with this in the 1990's, although we did not peer into an abyss as deep as the one into which Greece is plunging. Fortunately, we found leaders who saved us from the worst, and held course in the face of strong resistance to measures that, in the end, brought us to firmer ground.
All three of these scenarios began with a failure of stewardship. Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care, so that it may be passed to one's successors in good condition.
Stewardship is not easy. It is human nature to want others to think well of us. It is tempting to acquiesce to the desires of those who voted for us, whether for the condo board or to govern the nation, even when doing so runs counter to their best longer term interests.
In the short run, this brings popularity and electoral success, but it is the good steward who deserves the gratitude of future generations.