Though the Greek crisis is coming to a head, it’s been brewing for a while. In fact, people were rioting in the streets when I was there five years ago.
My family and I were sleeping in our hotel in downtown Athens when a bomb went off outside. It literally shook the entire building. Scared the you-know-what out of us. Another bomb exploded. My wife and I got our daughters and we huddled in our room, lying on the floor under our bed.
Later, when I knew we were safe, I wondered what could cause people to riot like that. So I asked a Greek man, “Why are you guys so anti-austerity?” The young man, who was about twenty-five years old, said, “You know, my parents and my grandparents all retired when they were fifty. They get healthcare, fantastic benefits, and great pensions. Everything’s paid for. But where did they get the money to pay for all of that? They borrowed it. They voted themselves all those benefits and borrowed the money to pay for it all. Now the country can’t afford to pay for it and so we have to increase taxes. We have to have austerity measures. We have to go without. We working people have to pay. I’ll have to work the rest of my life to pay for the things my parents and grandparents have enjoyed for the last twenty to thirty years.”
I could see his point. What if I were twenty-five years old and had to work the rest of my life to pay off the debt my parents incurred? What if I had no possibility of any financial security or success because every dollar I made would go to pay down a debt someone else incurred? Would I feel like rioting in the streets?
Does that sound familiar? Could that be happening here? Are we voting ourselves all sorts of fantastic entitlements and benefits that the government will have to pay? One day, will our kids come to us and say, “I’m not paying for your debts”? It could happen.