Thursday, April 11, 2013

If it ain't broke...

Here's something I don't really get about countries and states, (and for these purposes the EU counts as both): that bankruptcy doesn't mean for these metaphorical agglomerations what it means for the rest of us. When we say a state or a government has gone bankrupt, like California did a few years ago, life for it just seems to carry on as always. When a government goes bankrupt, they don't have to auction off the office furniture and the Houses of Parliament. They don't have to move out and hold their parliamentary sessions in a coffee shop or park. They don't get a lien on their houses or have to take their kids out of school and send them to live with Aunt Maisie.

In about 1860 or so, one of my ancestors (grandma was unclear whether it was her grandfather or her great grandfather) was a small child, one of a bunch of siblings, when his father abruptly went broke from bad investments (something about a coal miner's strike). Alternate arrangements were found for most of the kids, except for this ancestor of mine, who was sent to the children's poor house. A kind of protestant labour camp for children.

The whole thing sounded like a Dickens novel, but the reason those books were so popular was that this was the sort of thing that actually happened in those days. According to my venerable relative, my ancestor resolved his dislike of the situation by sitting down on the floor, refusing to move, and screaming at the top of his lungs. This being Dickens and not Auschwitz, the child was not gassed, but sent back to the family who had attempted to get rid of him, with the information that his sort was not wanted in the work house.

But none of this sort of thing happens to governments that take other people's money, waste it all, then declare they can't pay the bills. I'm not sure why this is.

But I think we can be sure that when the EU "goes bankrupt," neither Barroso nor Herman Van Rumpypumpy will lose their jobs, let alone their houses. Their kids won't be sent to a Protestant labour camp. They won't have to auction the EU parliament building (who would buy the hideous thing, anyway?) and I think we can be sure that they won't stop doing any of the stuff (telling other countries what to do) they like to do.

So what does it mean, in reality, when a state, or a superstate, goes broke?

Here's a cool Peter Gabriel song to listen to while you're thinking about it.


1 comment:

Teresa B. said...

We'll have newspapers with a front page headline "EU bankrupt!" that will be a collector's item. We'll store it away and yet nothing changes.
We'll have new players take their seats and do it all over again.
(I had no idea what the meaning of this song was and from what I read - that is interesting & found out that Kate Bush doesn't pronounce French words taht well)