In northern Greece this week a man deep in debt set himself on fire in front of his bank. It was a bold, dramatic statement that reflects the stress, despair, and hopelessness an increasing number of people now feel throughout the world.
It is the second time he’s tried to kill himself because of the debt accumulated from a failed business. It can be inferred that he took such extreme action because no one in government and especially among bank executives care or is listening to the more measured cries of ordinary, hard-press families and individuals.
Wales, Greece, China, England, Canada, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, and the United States are among the many nations where families and individuals have collectively become Prometheus trying to shoulder relentless, oppressive consumer debt that includes mortgages, credit cards, and student loans. How is it possible that Christians in high level positions in the financial services sector can knowingly set policies to extract the highest possible interest and to encourage people to accumulate debt? Are personal ethics dead?
Sadly, politicians, heavily influenced by banking interests, seem more concerned about a failed economic system not the shackled human beings who are obligated to work for it. If you think that’s an exaggeration think again. Compare the campaign contributions of the banking industry to the voting records of members of Congress. OpenSecrets.org is one good-government resource to keep track of the corrupting influence of money in politics.
As I’ve written in the past, debt impacts both the employed and unemployed. Because someone unemployed gets a job doesn’t mean the debt goes away. Just because someone never lost their job doesn’t mean he or she can pay off existing debt. At some point compounded interest makes it impossible.
President Barack Obama’s new jobs initiative is laudable, but so what? Is the role of a family or an individual in life to work for a failed economic system? The jobs initiative does not correct the underlying moral crisis that diminishes quality of life and spiritually compromises the individual’s soul as well as the country’s national identity.
I’ve always believed that if the American soul could be expressed it would be done in music and nothing better captures the spirit of America for me than the Shaker tune Simple Gifts that Aaron Copeland brilliantly orchestrated into his masterpiece Appalachian Spring. Yet the nation’s soul is no longer defined by its writers, thinkers, composers, musicians, intellectuals, and photo journalists. Instead, it’s Wall Street and Rodeo Drive.
In Iceland, a nation deep in debt and home to fierce no-nonsense Viking descendants, the people have told European banks trying to extract gallons of blood and several pounds of flesh to sod off. Good for them! Perhaps Greece should consider the same approach. Greece is after all the home of Aristotle who said that:
The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. . . Wherefore of all modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural.
A Korean lawmaker in the opposition party observed that “many people now have to borrow more to pay interest” and they can’t “see their debt principle snowballing each day.” In Malaysia, an economist noted that “it definitely will be prudent to slow down consumer and retail lending to keep overall household debt at a prudent level …” even though the country is considered “fully employed” with an unemployment rate at slightly above 3%.
The number of countries and the problems being faced in the area of consumer debt is a long one. Many more examples can be listed. The larger issue remains the lack of ethics, Christian or otherwise, in the financial services sector. A church-going, suit-wearing professional, who dutifully tithes and gives to local charities doesn’t relieve him or her of the moral and spiritual crisis that they caused and enabled. Nor will hiding behind the corporation and arguing that he or she had to go-along with a policy that set high interest rates, marketed products to those least able to afford them, or had a mission to fuel debt relieves personal responsibility.
The 55 year old unidentified man who set himself on fire in Thessaloniki, Greece this week should remind everyone of the person in Tunisia who did the same to protest the corrupt, abusive totalitarian regime in power. It started a revolution throughout the Middle East. Perhaps the Greek man’s actions will do the same against the greed and indifference of a financial services sector and the politicians who enable it by the legislation they pass or block. ‘Tis a Gift to be simple, ‘Tis a Gift to be free …’
© Paul Peter Jesep 2011