How I-94 Construction Traffic Is Like The Greek Debt Crisis

Greekdebttraffic

 

It’s human nature to look out for #1, but those who make this their life’s mantra are full of #2.

Last weekend I drove from my now-home in Illinois to my childhood home in Michigan for a quintessential 4th of July celebration. We enjoyed family, fireworks, barbecue, flags and patriotic songs.  On the way back I experienced another American summer tradition: highway construction.

My wheels had barely kissed the pavement on I-94 in Southwest Michigan when traffic slowed to a stop.  A sign warned that the left lane would be closing at an as-yet-unknown point ahead.   This advance warning is supposed to give travelers who are in that lane ample time to move to the next in a gradual fashion – organically, if you will.   That way there is little or no disruption to the flow of traffic.

Instead, that first sign acts as a signal for dip-wad drivers to move INTO the left lane. Then they can go as far as possible before merging into the right lane at the last millisecond. This means the rest of us idiots, who stayed in the right lane or moved over early, get to enjoy 5 miles of alternately surging forward and slamming on the brakes as we are forced to accommodate the a**holes nosing in at the front of the line.

I experienced this thrill-ride 5 or 6 times during the several hours I was trapped in construction zone hell.

I whiled away much of that time listening to a program on BBC radio about the Greek debt crisis.  That crisis looms ever more ominously since the Greek people said overwhelmingly this week that they aren’t all that keen on austerity, and don’t want any more of it, thank you very much.

There are multiple layers of nuance in the Greek situation, of course, but as I understand it the basics are this:  the government provides generous social welfare benefits for its citizens, mainly in retirement.  Many people do not like paying taxes – no surprise.  In Greece, however, skipping out on your taxes and getting away with it is part of the culture.  Greeks retire earlier than those in many western countries and people in hazardous occupations, like hairdressers and trombone players, get to hang up their combs and spit-valves as early as age 50.  Promising generous retirement terms is a sure-fire way for politicians to get elected when the voting majority is on the receiving end of benefits.  As with most entitlement programs, citizens now feel, well, entitled to these benefits.  The problem is that Greece can’t pay for them.  Many pension funds are invested in sinking Greek debt so retirees are seeing their incomes shrink as well.

Even if someone pays into the retirement system for their entire working lives, those contributions cannot possibly cover what might be another 40 years of living without working.   The job of supporting the retired falls to younger citizens and immigrants.  There aren’t enough of those workers, nor are there enough good jobs for them to carry the burden.

America has just such a Ponzi scheme, called Social Security, but our retiree-to-worker ratio is better, our retirement terms aren’t quite as generous, and we have a relatively healthy economy so we’re in better shape – so far.  The Greek economy is on life support.

The Greek government has been borrowing to provide the promised benefits and the time has come to pay the piper, which are European banks and the International Monetary Fund.  Greece doesn’t have the money.

When you look at the question on a personal level, most people would agree that someone who borrows money should pay it back. If you loaned me $100 you would expect me to make good on my promise to pay you back, wouldn’t you? Even if it wasn’t easy for me, and I had to eat Ramen noodles for a year to do so?  Because it is YOUR money, not mine.

The ethics seem to be a little murkier when it is a group who owes the money.  An individual might understand and agree with the theory, but when it hurts them personally the response is: no way.   Let someone else in the group pay that piper. This response becomes easier to justify when the creditors have been neatly and conveniently demonized as rich, fat-cat bankers. Never mind that the money that was lent to Greece doesn’t come from the pockets of some Monopoly guy in a silk top hat.  It comes from all of the little you’s-and-me’s who paid their taxes and/or deposited their money in those banks who made the loans.  They…we…are the poor suckers who follow the rules and end up stuck in the right lane of life.

I really feel for the Greek people.  I do.  How horrible to see your income shrinking, to have the banks closed so you can’t withdraw your own money.   I’m at the age where I would be looking longingly toward retirement if I lived in Athens.  To think of that brass ring being pulled back just as you were reaching for it, or to have to go back to work when you’ve been living the life of leisure for years would be tough.   Incredibly tough.  But what is the alternative? Who else should pay for the benefits that Greece promised its people and can’t afford to provide?

This sounds much like the situation we have with our public sector employees in the soon-to-be-Greek state of Illinois.

I don’t know the best answer for Greece.  I don’t see any way around the hard truth that they will have to bear a heavy burden as a result of bad luck and worse choices.  At the same time, it seems clear that if decisions on how to handle this crisis are up to the majority vote, they will not choose to make things tougher on themselves.

Which brings me back to the scene of my cogitations about all this – stuck in construction traffic on I-94.   Anyone with half a brain knows that merging early and gradually is the best solution for all travelers as a group. If everyone gives up a couple minutes of travel time, all will get where they’re going more smoothly.  Waiting until the last possible second, however, is better for that individual, jerk-wad driver.  He chooses that path because he will get to his destination 10 minutes earlier, so to hell with the rest of the herd.

The bottom line for both the Greek debt crisis and highway construction traffic is the reason why Communism sounds good in theory but never works in practice. “People,” as individuals, tend to be generous, especially if they know the recipient, or can see them, face to face.  “People” in general, however, especially when they can be anonymous, tend to look out for #1 above all else.

 

 

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About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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67 Responses to How I-94 Construction Traffic Is Like The Greek Debt Crisis

  1. Michael says:

    I live near Louisville, Kentucky, where we are currently building two new bridges, and redoing an entire interchange of highways and ramps (known locally and descriptively as “Spaghetti Junction” in a massive construction effort. Usually I just glare at the red brake lights ahead of me and try to distract myself with an audiobook while I wait. Clearly I should be reflecting more on international politics. This is one of the better explanations of the Greek situation I’ve read!

    Liked by 2 people

    • pegoleg says:

      I’ve been through that Spaghetti Junction – last time about 3 years ago. I swear it was all under construction THEN.

      Good plan to maintain your cool. Just breathe deeply. Ohm…ohm….ohm…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Driving behavior and that road is duplicated here. (Gulf FWY, I45< seems to have been under construction all my life – so driver ought to know…)
    I think you've hit it with "anonymous" making it easier. Hide in a group. Hide and snark on-line.
    Personal responsibility used to work so well when it was expected. (Yet most here still were very charitable and helped others). Retire? Won't be possible now, ever….economy too uncertain…(but then again We never planned on others being stuck with our bills…just wouldn't seem fair or right)
    Loved the comparison

    Liked by 1 person

  3. List of X says:

    Unfortunately, the way Greece’s creditors go about recovering their money is more akin to a creditor taking a borrower’s car as a part of what’s owed, making it impossible for the borrower to get to work and keep paying off the debt.

    Liked by 4 people

    • pegoleg says:

      I know you can’t get blood out of a stone. But there are those that feel that Greece CHOSE the path guaranteed to turn a collection of loose pebbles and sand into that sedimentary rock. Especially those in the countries who find themselves still hard at work in the mines when they are 66 years old, yet are expected to carry the Greek rocks.

      And I think I’ve stretched this analogy farther than is logical.
      It’s a real dilemma.

      Like

      • List of X says:

        You know, the funny thing is that “lazy” Greeks actually work much longer hours than “hard-working” Germans, by almost 700 hours a year on average ( https://agenda.weforum.org/2015/07/which-countries-work-the-longest-hours/) . In fact, an average Greek who started working at 20 and retired at 50 will have worked more than an average German who worked from 20 to 65.
        Another funny thing is that 60 years ago, Germany itself was billions in debt (largely incurred in their efforts to conquer everyone in WWI and WWII), and had a lot of that debt forgiven and a lot deferred until German economy would improve.
        Guess what country was one of the creditors?

        Liked by 1 person

        • pegoleg says:

          Thanks for the link. I don’t know who would call the Greek people lazy; I certainly never would. Those statistics are fascinating. It appears the Germans do work “smarter” as opposed to longer hours. Perhaps they have more white collar/technology industries? The problem is clear when you look at the percentage of the work force who are actually working. Greece is in the bottom 2 or 3 of all countries in all age bands. I assume this is a combination of a crappy economy and their own choices.

          The EU seems to be/has been willing to help Greece, but I suspect they want to see more evidence that the Greek people are doing everything they can to help themselves.

          ps You WERE in my spam folder- sorry. Hope you could breathe down there!

          Like

          • List of X says:

            Thanks for bailing out my comment. I’ll be sure to repay it someday. Funny that I was thinking of including a second link, but decided against it, because I was sure that with two links it would end up in spam.
            Greek labor participation rate is so low precisely because they have unemployment rate of over 25%. And at least in part of it is because Europe is forcing austerity on Greece (not entirely undeserved), which means more people lose jobs, there’s less spending, with less spending less is produced, the economy contracts as a result, and even more people lose jobs, and so on. Since EU seems to mostly care that Greece has money to keep repaying their loans, but not enough to get people hired, this isn’t going to end well for anyone.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Karin Van den Bergh says:

              Too bad the media in the US is only showing bits and pieces and probably only one side of the story. There’s mutual responsibility here. I totally agree with bad decision making and corrupt government policies in the past resulting in poor economical situation but the current agreement is taking the oxygen out of the economy. It’s not aimed at boosting economical growth rather at getting their money back asap.
              And then there’s the question of “democracy”.. if there still is such a thing..
              We shouldn’t forget that the gameplayers here are “politicians” in the first place. Europe is not all too happy with having an anti-establishment left-wing political party. With their opposition and clear austerity they were sending a clear signal to Spain (Podemos) and this is just the tip of the iceberg. As always, there’s more at stake here (political ànd personal agendas) ..more than we know (for now ;))
              Either way, for Greece it was a choice between the plague or the cholera and in the end it will be the Greek people who will be suffering for it, but Europe has some wounds to lick as well. No one wins.

              Like

              • pegoleg says:

                The situation is incredibly complicated. It seems clear that the EU wants to send a message to Italy, Portugal and other countries in trouble because half of the EU can’t afford to support the other half.

                I disagree that the US press is only showing one side. With a 24 hour news cycle and internet coverage, we can see everything that goes on all at once. Different news outlets do have different editorial slants on the news, but if you check more than one source it makes it easier to get a true picture.

                I think you’re also right with your comment that Greece has to choose between the lesser of two evils, and that nobody wins.

                Liked by 1 person

      • List of X says:

        I think my comment just went into the spam folder.

        Like

  4. notquiteold says:

    This is a pet peeve of mine too. I am always swearing at those dick-wad people – wondering why they think they are more important than me.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      My consolation is that someday I will literally blow a gasket because I get so mad, and as I’m having that fatal aneurism I will swerve into the left lane, thereby taking out a few of those dip-wads and backing up traffic for the rest of them for hours.
      Bwahaha. BWAHAHAHAHA!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. AthenaC says:

    I have to commute through Lake County, where there was construction EVERYWHERE in May and June. And I had to take I-55 South toward St. Louis a couple weeks ago, where it is down to one lane in the Chicago direction three different places.

    Construction really brings out the worst in people!

    Like

  6. It’s well known that this country only has 2 seasons: Winter and Road Construction.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. koehlerjoni says:

    I was in one of these left lane closed traffic nightmares one time and the police pulled over and ticketed folks who refused to let the last minute jerk drivers into the line of traffic. Seems like this is sort of what the Greek people want. They’ve waited until their finances are in meltdown and now they want the rest of the world to stop and let them pass through.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pegoleg says:

      What? What??? I thought for sure you were going to end up saying the police ticketed the dip-wads for their dip-waddery. (Goes away shaking head in disbelief at how justice often does NOT prevail.)

      Like

  8. Al says:

    Bernie Sanders loves those dickwads. They’ll all vote for him.

    P.S. You realize, of course, that by stating the obvious (that socialism doesn’t work) that you have offended millions of Americans and equally as many illegal immigrants. Will your next post be an apology?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Greece, Spain, Italy, etc., All are desperate. It’s unsettling and nerve rattling knowing that the crisis is far from over, actually it’s only the beginning.
    It makes me wonder if the next administration of our country will address it, or simply lift up the rug and sweep it under the carpet. One of these days one of the kids will be running thru the house and trip. It’s going to be a very nasty fall.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pegoleg says:

      I like the imagery you conjure.

      I’m not sure how much America can and should do about the European debt crisis. At the very least, can’t we learn a lesson about how promising the moon and stars to everyone will send a country to Uranus?

      Liked by 1 person

      • We can’t afford to assist other countries. We have indebted ourselves to our own generations yet to come. We desperately need to bring jobs back home, find a reasonable way to manage the immigrant population that have crossed our borders. There are hard choices we must make, and I’m frustrated by the lack of leadership Washington has shown.
        ☕️

        Like

  10. Oh, man. You have exactly described why my daily commute is 3 hours instead of one. (The rest seems right on, too.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • pegoleg says:

      3 hours??? Deb, how do you remain sane? How do you have time to write? That’s horrible.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s the single most stressful factor in my life so far. This is not an exaggeration.

        A also spends three hours daily in the car, going the other way. I’ve proposed moving closer to his work so we both have shorter commutes; he protests he loves LBC too much. (Great. Let’s drive two hours round-trip to visit it every weekend!)

        When I find my next job, it will be close to where his gigs take him. It’s not even a question; I’ve stopped really talking it with A, who responds better to actual than abstract.

        Near the end of Li’l D’s first grade year, this madness stops. So I just tell myself: a few more months. A few more months, and this will just be part of how I got to a less harried place.

        (Blogging is the little bright light that helps me realize, at heart, I am part of something bigger. I will get through this.)

        Like

  11. You’ve hit it right on the nose, Peg.
    The explanation covers both situations, and offers the simplest solution to both. But if not for you, I never would have connected the 2. Thanks for the heads-up!
    Melinda

    Like

  12. Dana says:

    No matter how much you cook grape leaves, they’re always too tough for me.

    Like

  13. Ooh yeah. Sorry I cut you off like that Peggles. But I was late for my hot date with a burger at Big Boys. As for the Greece crisis I don’t even understand how to balance my checkbook so I’m happy you explained it for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pegoleg says:

      You’re OK. If you keep balancing your checkbook, you’ll avoid having a personal Greek-style crisis at your house!

      Next time get the Slim Jim Combo at Big Boy – it’s my fave.

      Like

    • Go Jules Go says:

      I’m pretty sure I can learn how to balance my checkbook during all of the time I spend sitting in the right lane, which is a good distraction from worrying about how we’ll never be able to retire.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. One thing I don’t miss about living in Chicago is the horrendous traffic on the interstates going anywhere. So sorry you have to endure the construction zone torture when you travel, Peg!

    Like

  15. Sandy Sue says:

    That opening line has to go on a tee shirt–the next product for your catalog.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Elyse says:

    I agree with Sandy Sue. That first line should be on a tee shirt!

    Like

  17. Well said, Peg! At this rate, I’ll be surprised if I’m ever able to retire. I don’t drive to work anymore (thank goodness). Driving in Manhattan is @(#*! awful any time of the day. I think there should be a lane just for ME. 🙂

    Like

  18. I was in a line of this type of construction traffic in London once, and there was this one dip-wad who did that thing you described, and at the front, everyone completely refused to let him in, but he kept trying to force his way in and he ended up kind of stranded off to the side amongst the cones. He then looked round at the people who hadn’t been letting him in, and with this really arrogant look on his face, proceeded to clap his hands like he was applauding them, and nodding his head – as if they were all the dip-wads rather than him! It was years ago and I still feel wound up now thinking of his stupid face when he was doing that.

    It’s so true what you say about anonymity – these people that we’re talking about, if we were in line at the supermarket checkout, I bet they wouldn’t have the balls to push their cart past us all and try and squeeze in at the front of the line would they? No.

    Like

  19. It’s all a matter of perspective I suppose. As a person who is looking forward to (possibly) retiring at 65, I can’t help but perceive a population who has been conditioned to retire at 50 as a bunch of entitled, unrealistic people. By the same token, I’m outraged when the candidates for president here in the US of A suggest raising our Social Security ages to 69 or more. Coincidentally, one such candidate has also done much to take away my pension while he was employed as the governor of New Jersey. Actually, he’s STILL the governor of New Jersey, but he spends most of his time giving speeches in New Hampshire – but I’m getting off the subject of your post. Actually, while he was governing IN the state of New Jersey, he might have had a hand in creating a monstrous traffic jam at the foot of the George Washington bridge as political payback for a detractor, so in a way this is still on topic. Screw it, I’m going back to bed. Wake me up when I’m old enough to retire.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      It IS a matter of perspective and I’m annoyed that I have to wait until 67-1/2. But as a practical matter, how can our kids support the massive number of us baby boomers just taking, taking, taking for 20 years or more? I think we need to get real before we wind up like Greece, and nowhere can you see the results better than here in Illinois.

      Like

  20. I suppose it is all a matter of numbers and perspective. Interesting comparison though.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I do think you’re right, Val. I know if I were an 80-year-old Greek pensioner, struggling to just get by, all this talk of “fault” would be academic.

      Like

  21. You nailed it, my dear. I especially liked your conclusion regarding the amorphous concept known as ‘people’. Nobody is ever going to want to give up what they consider is rightfully theirs. Greece may have fabulous food, but not the greatest economic plan. Concerning the traffic issue, I tend to be a driver who does get in the right hand lane when I’m supposed to and rather militantly not let the jerk drivers in the left land merge in front of me. If there are enough jerk drivers, I’ve been known to get over in the left hand lane and move exactly at the speed of the traffic in the right hand lane, effectively cutting off the fast and easy way to get ahead at the expense of others. I’ve found that other polite drivers tend to really appreciate this and of course allow me to merge whenever I wish. However, this course of action is not for the faint of heart as you tend to get honked at and are definitely the recipient of many rude gestures from those wanting to cut in line.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I almost always loooove people like you who block that ending lane. But once we were trying to get to our daughter’s concert at the end of a week of jazz band camp, and couldn’t get past the truck in the right lane, even though our exit was before that lane would end. We missed the whole thing. Grrrrr!

      Like

  22. susielindau says:

    We deal with traffic pretty often coming down the mountain, but the heat and humidity can’t be fun. I hate those dip wads too! (One of my favorite words. I thought I made it up!!!! sorry about the exclamation points, but Wow!!! ) Last time, I wouldn’t allow one who had flown down the lane and wanted to be let in. Ha! He looked over and I waved!
    The Greeks lied their way into the European Union. Weasels I tell you. Weasels!

    Like

  23. Margie says:

    Great assessment of two despicables – debt and drivers. I live in a Canadian province where a brave Premier eliminated our provincial debt and deficit. He made the hard choices and it wasn’t nearly as painful as people thought it would be. Since then, we’ve had a few changes of government, and we’re back into debts and deficits because politicians promised people things that there was no money for!

    Like

  24. pattisj says:

    Apparently, those drivers are available, far and wide.

    Like

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