So the European Union is having difficulties reining in the least financially-responsible EU member, Greece.
Greece has a fairly robust business sector; they’ve just slowly let their government go broke through a truly awe-inspiring informal system of tax evasion. No one wants to talk about it, but the Greeks hate being taxed so much that their tax collection agencies are completely corrupt. Everybody in Greece cheats on his taxes—they treat tax evasion like it’s a sport. Greek tax collectors are heavily bribed not to do their job, because it’s cheaper for Greek corporations to pay bribes than to pay their fair share of corporate taxes. It’s so bad that a few years ago they brought in a famously-incorruptible judicial watchdog to clean up their tax system who resigned a year later, having realized the entire government— right up to the President— was actively working against him. Desperate Greek financiers wanted the guy to force EVERYONE ELSE to pay their taxes... everyone except they themselves. This is a country where the “no new taxes” agenda has been pushed so far that the country itself teeters on the verge of bankruptcy.
The European Union pitched in to help bail out Greece, in exchange for promises that the Greek government would adopt austerity measures designed to cut spending. The Greek government signed the deal and dutifully slashed government services. Naturally these measures were incredibly unpopular— just because the Greek population refuses to pay their taxes doesn’t mean they don’t still want the government to pay for stuff. This week they had an election and tossed the austerity-supporting political parties out of power, essentially demanding that their government resume spending the money the tax evaders themselves refused to pay into it, and which their treasury doesn’t have. Meanwhile there is growing support in the Greek Parliament for the ultra-nationalistic, racial purist “Golden Dawn” party, who are unapologetically neo-Nazi. Opa!
No kidding. You just can’t make this shit up.
In the European Union, Greece is obviously the “Bad Roommate.” We’ve all had one, or known someone who did. The Bad Roommate moves in and gradually quits helping out with mutual chores, stops jointly paying for groceries, and eventually ceases to pay their share of rent. Weirdly, even otherwise-responsible people may abandon their responsibilities and slip into this role under the right conditions. It can ruin friendships, end marriages, and blacken credit ratings forever. What causes it?
It’s called Diffusion of Responsibility. It’s a sociopsychological phenomenon whereby a person selfishly abandons responsibility for an action because he assumes others will act instead. On a larger scale it’s known as Somebody Else’s Problem (SEP), a condition where people decentralize themselves from issues important to the population as a whole, choosing to remain noncommittal about those issues as an individual. This happens when people assign responsibility for those issues to some other entity than themselves— a group, company, or government agency— so they need not deal with the issue personally. Why do anything at all, if you are confident someone else will do it for you? Why worry about environmental concerns, corporate economics, or politics? Let someone else deal with all that crap, right?
Wrong. Pay attention. When the rent is due, pitch in and do your part. Otherwise we all may wake up one day to find ourselves locked out, with keys that no longer work.