Letter from Felixstowe: Greece, Germany and My (Non) Retirement Plan

AA EU Money 05 Feb 2015 1

Greece’s recent election and its interactions with the European Union, Germany in particular, are much in the news these days.

I claim no economic expertise but my high level understanding is that Greece carries crippling debt and wishes to renegotiate its repayment terms, perhaps to include the ‘forgiving’ or erasing of a significant chunk of that onerous debt.

As we’ve seen in the news, at least here in Europe, many EU members and Germany in particular are not exactly fond of this idea. A significant chunk of Greek debt was already erased in an EU ‘bail-out’ several years ago, which included the proviso that the country live in an ‘austerity’ manner, restructure various aspects of its economy and institutions, and attempt to gradually repay what it owes.

We also hear many debates in the UK about austerity vs. growth economics, and I realise nation-level economics is different from personal economics. And yet …

I can’t help seeing a certain logic when Angela Merkel (one of my heroines anyway) and her leaders express the basic sentiment, ‘We already gave Greece a lot of money and bailed them out once, and don’t particularly fancy doing it again.’

Various unfortunate stereotypes emerge: those southern, tanned, slow-moving, sun-worshipping, terrace-sitting receivers of cushy government salaries and pensions … vs. those rather pale (cold, winter!), dedicated, energetic, hard-working, responsible contributors to the economy in the north.

And then I consider my own history and culture. My parents and grandparents, Depression-era Americans, drilled into us over and over again: work hard, spend less than you earn no matter how small that may be, and save the rest. Classic Puritan values, much more Germany than Greece, it must be said.

My life took an unexpected turn when my first husband Gary and I decided after my international assignment ended to remain in Australia. (More about this on my ‘About’ page). The decision came with great joy but also great costs. The biggest emotional one was geographic separation from our U.S. family; the biggest financial one was the loss of 80-85% of my future pension and amounts I’d contributed for more than 24 years. Though I remained with the same global company, I had to start over as a local employee Down Under. We factored this into our life, made various reductions, saved a bit more, and so on. I was fortunate to have a job I enjoyed but, perhaps like Mrs Merkel, I have to say I worked damn hard too.

I can’t help thinking that if, say, I’d loaned someone a lot of money and they promised to ‘live frugally’ to be able to pay me back, but then they didn’t quite do that, but returned asking for more money and erasing of much of what they owed in the first place – I might respond in line with the German leader. I’m trying to broaden my view and learn more about the economics on both sides.

In any case, I’m guessing the leaders will come to some agreement they can all live with. In the meantime, it should be interesting to see what happens next.

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

2 Responses

  1. Good post Carolyn. I feel much the same way as you regarding the EU financial issues. Though I do admire Angela Merkel, I also get a huge laugh from the skits of her on Saturday Night Live..check them out. Hope all is well. We are dealing with 50″ of snow on the ground and a foot more to come on Sunday. Please give my best to Clive.

  2. Thanks, Martha! I will look for the SNL skits — can just imagine …

    Good luck with the snow and look forward to your photos. Best to you ad John and stay safe and warm!

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