Of Life and Debt: Sisyphus and The Greek Tragedy

Greek mythology is full of kings and heroes who get condemned by the Gods to punishments that are cruel and terrible.

sisyphusSome of these are fallen heroes like the defeated titan, Atlas, who was condemned to hold the burden of the world on his shoulders. Or his brother, Prometheus, who stole fire for human use, and for whom the king of the Olympian Gods, Zeus, had a rather cruel punishment. Prometheus was condemned to be tied to a rock where every day an Eagle would come to feed on his liver, which would then grow again the next day, only to be eaten again. And because Prometheus was immortal, there was no end to it.

But one of the most absurd predicaments was that of Sisyphus, a somewhat crafty character of a king, who thought he was cleverer than Zeus, but was eventually punished to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back to the bottom again, and to repeat this action forever. Hence, he was consigned to an eternity of useless effort and endless frustration, and while eventually he was freed, thenceforth, acts of this nature are, sometimes, called Sisyphean.

Greece finds itself destined to a somewhat similar tragedy that its heroes were subjected to in their mythology. When a country has such severe debts, fall in GDP, high unemployment and no currency, any effort it makes to salvage itself is bound to be a Sisyphean effort. When one looks at the figures, it is not difficult to understand why.

Here are some figures on the Greek economy from Wikipedia:

Imagine the plight of a 55 year old man. He has recently raised debt that is twice his current income. And his income itself is the highest he ever earned in his life. He has used the debt for some niceties and to buy a house which was already bought at bubble prices (High Debt to Inflated GDP).

Add to that the fact that he has a wife and four children who are dependent on him – with fixed expenses (High Public Expenses with little scope for austerity).

Add to it that his income now starts dropping (Falling GDP) and the young son who got out of college is unemployed (Unemployment rates of ~22%).

If you are a family in that situation, it is not very different from a Sisyphean tragedy where the 55-year-old man finds himself rolling a heavy boulder up the hill to see it roll back down and start it all over again.

But if you are country or a government in that situation, it is quite bad, because the entire population would feel like Sisyphus. Not exactly the same, but what Greece as a country and government finds itself in, is a somewhat similar situation.

It is bad enough when someone, a family or a country, is in that situation all alone.

But let’s say the 55-year-old man has not much in the form of assets, and lives in a joint family. His dwelling is part of a large joint family house with his brothers and uncles staying with their families and running their businesses, some of which are doing well and others not that well. Then the problem is, he can’t even sell his house, because there is no currency for it.

Greece finds itself in this Sisyphean tragedy of debt today, mostly of its own making, but further worsened by its joint Euro Zone family. And unless there is some real commitment, as my broker friend Jigneshbhai had said, joint family problems do not get solved very fast.

Like Sisyphus, every now and then, Greece and the world feels excited that the summit is close, but then disillusioned as the boulder rolls back down and the toil has to start all over again. Like Sisyphus, Greece and the world hopes that, one day, the boulder will stay at the summit and not roll down.

3 Responses to Of Life and Debt: Sisyphus and The Greek Tragedy

  1. Sid says:

    Great read!
    We all go through Sisyphus syndrome in various situations….

  2. Hi,

    found you on indiblogger .. following you now .. kindly follow me back on Plain Books

  3. Ranjit Kulkarni says:

    yes true..thanks for the comments..

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