Lessons from the Piper

One of the great parts of being a Dad is that you end up telling your kids all the bedtime stories that your parents told you when you were growing up. 
 
Now, it's been a few years since I told one of my girls a bedtime story, but one of my favourites was always the Pied Piper of Hamelin - though, the Scot in me always preferred the idea of the Piper playing the bagpipes.
 
The last couple days have provided a couple of interesting examples of what happens when you don't pay the Piper. 
 
In Greece, a referendum was held to determine the future of that country's place in the Eurozone. It was the latest in a saga that started five years ago when the economic crisis unspooled years of forged books by the Greek government.
 
Since 2010, European governments and the European Central Bank have lent 252 Billion Euros to Greece, 232 Billion of which have been spent on debt payments, stabilizing banks and "sweeteners" for speculators to get them to accept debt restructuring terms.
 
Meaning less than 10 percent actually made it into the Greek economy. The debt to GDP ratio in Greece has actually gone up since 2010 from 133 percent to 174 percent.
 
And that's the problem with debt. Eventually, you end up spending more on the lenders than you end up spending on what you need.
 
On Monday, Ontario was downgraded by credit rating agency Standard and Poor's. This has followed warnings from other rating agencies that Ontario's financial situation remains in decline and plans to balance the budget and it's continual growth of debt are of concern to markets.
 
“The downgrade reflects our view that Ontario is a sustained and projected underperformer on its budgetary performance and debt burden versus domestic and international peers." S&P said when it downgraded the province.
 
A lower credit rating makes borrowing more expensive, which means that the next time Kathleen Wynne puts a pet project on the province's credit card, it's going to cost you and me even more than it used to.
 
When the budget came out, I wrote in this space that this was the first year that we saw budget deficits finally start to take money away from the services that we all care about. As the cost of borrowing goes up, this is only going to continue. Every dollar that's going to more interest is a dollar that could be going to a hospital or your kid's school
 
Every additional dollar that's going to an overseas bond holder is a dollar that isn't going to building new long term care beds or rebuilding roads.
 
Greece is a cautionary tale, much like the Piper is for our kids when we tuck them in at night.
 
It's a reminder that getting rid of the rats is only half the story. You only get a happy ending when you actually pay the piper.

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