Death, despair and global economic fallout


GFC death march, by Chris JohnstonFrom my distant vantage in Greece I am attempting to follow what has been described as the BrisConnections fiasco, in the course of which investors in the Brisbane Airport Link Tunnel lost a whole heap of money.

Now the Macquarie Group has offered a lifeline of sorts. But the spokesman for the Australian Shareholders' Association, Stuart Wilson, has said that the 'lifeline' might cover the bulk of investors, but 'not the bulk of desperate investors'.

Thing is: the meaning of the word 'desperate'.

Time was when I would weep at the drop of a hat. But I'm old now, and have inevitably toughened up. Get hard or get hurt, as the saying goes. It's not as simple as that, however, for most people wobble back and forth in the space between those two points.

And so I burst into tears recently while watching recent television news. In the United States, a man had shot his five children, and then himself. He probably had no investments beyond the most precious one of all, but was clearly in an extremity of desperation.

My immediate thought was that this truly dreadful happening was the result of a time of great trial. Poorer Americans, in particular, are suffering badly, with tent cities springing up everywhere across their great land.

Despair and economic Depression go together, and this sort of annihilation of family is by no means uncommon: there have been other cases already in the States, and history records many, many past instances.

My paternal grandfather, for example, was born in a township on the Murray River in 1893. Wool prices had declined, property values had fallen, banks were failing, business was at a standstill, and jobs could not be found.

Then, as now, Depression brought its hardest suffering and misery to those least able to bear it. Not far away from my grandfather's township, and not long after he was born into comfort and prosperity, a farmer killed his three children before turning the gun on himself.

Decades ago, when I was a blithe young spirit, I had as a colleague another blithe young spirit. A privileged lad, he was also complacent. He soon left the world of teaching and went on to succeed spectacularly in the world of business. The poor, he was fond of proclaiming, are so because they don't work hard enough.

Even at the age of 21, going on about 14, I felt there was something wrong with his statement. You can work hard all your life and still not achieve financial security. You can be a good, clean-living citizen who keeps all the Commandments and who pays every last cent of tax, then invest in schemes like BrisConnections that go very wrong. You can suffer greatly because of the fickle finger of Fate.

Bad things happen to good people. Who are often at the mercy of the clever and the greedy.

As a child being raised in a religious household, I was much preoccupied with the notion of the Unforgivable Sin. I was terrified I might commit it unawares, because I really had no idea what it was — a white lie here and there did not seem to fill the bill. I was told that it was the sin against the Holy Ghost, which pronouncement left me no wiser. I wondered eventually whether despair might be IT?

But now I do not know what is forgivable and what is not. What I do know is that recessions and depressions come at appalling human cost, and that often, those responsible for such downturns, via greed and power play, suffer least. The threatened and the poor appeal to the stronger, often in vain.

It is at this stage that the most vulnerable enter a very different space, one unknown, mercifully, to most of us. The would-be suicide is stranded in silence on a kind of no-man's land: no sign of green, no oasis, no hope. I can imagine thus far: what I cannot imagine is making the decision to deny hope and future to your own children, to deny your own immortality.

I suppose, decades ago, I would have condemned such acts outright, for they are, after all, the direst breach in nature. Now I try to understand people like the despairing American, while feeling great sorrow at the thought of needless and youthful death. I hope and I fear for those who have suffered because of BrisConnections.

But I'm only human, and so I want the greedy, the fat cats of every stripe, to have at least a few sleepless and haunted nights. I want them to understand, if they can, that Death eventually lays his icy hand on the kings of economics and finance, as well as on the heads of innocent children.

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 28 years. She has had eight books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances.

Topic tags: gillian bouras, global financial crisis, gfc, death, despair, murder, suicide, BrisConnections



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Existing comments

Thank you Gillian Bouras.....I am almost mortified that the Brisconnections debacle has reached all that has been a hard and weary road for us ....and still is for the next couple of weeks...if it was not for one kind and thoughtful accountant we would have lost a lot of faith in humanity over all this.

We are always grateful to the media for the publication of anything that will make people think about all that has happened with this dreadful company Brisconnections and as you said 'all the fat cats'...they cannot take their money with them so why do they want to destroy others lives ???

(One of the unitholders who got trapped via internet trading and lack of disclosure of liabilty easily stung by the click of a mouse)

Violet Csutoros | 27 April 2009  

This debacle causes me to ponder on where the concept of caveat emptor sits in this debate

Noel Will | 28 April 2009  

I can understand how some investors got caught out by not understanding their liability from the outset. Not everyone reads every prospectus or PDS when they invest in a stock or mutual fund. What I cannot understand is why there was no contingency plan in place if the market failed as it did spectacularly as a result of the GFC.
There won't be another debacle of this kind until we have forgotten the lessons of history when we will repeat the proccess all over again.

Kevin V Russell | 30 April 2009  

We ought not to seek vengeance but yes inevitably the grave equalises us all - as Thomas Gray wrote in the 18th C.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Richard Wilson | 01 May 2009  

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