Something for nothing

Yet another Ponzi scheme has been uncovered, this time in Montreal. It is making headlines, as did Bernie Madoff in the United States and Pigeon King International closer to home.

The pursuit of something for nothing rarely ends in good News. Certainly farmers and investors in this area felt the pinch of investing sizeable amounts of money – on pigeons of all things. As has happened before and surely will happen again, the house of cards those individuals created came crashing down. Satisfied investors before the collapse quickly turned into victims, repentant for trusting in something that was too good to be true. While we have some sympathy, the fact is promises of returns that seem better than normal do have risks.

In many respects, we view with similar disdain the big shots recently under fire for corporate greed and receiving disgusting bonuses while the shams they were in charge of managing collapsed. The dot.coms and financial sector stand out clearly as examples where a something-for-nothing mentality ruled the day.

Mortgages granted without proper paperwork or an accompanying down-payment were viewed as good policy state-side, offering the dream of home ownership to more people. That particular scheme resulted in an artificial market where properties were valued far more than was reasonable because there were many buyers in the market.

It appears to be stabilizing now, but in the meantime there has been a trail of destruction, not to mention a painful lesson for the people who took the easy credit. It will be years of scrimping and suffering before they return to where they were in the first place. But the fat cats who caused the mess will have received their bonuses nonetheless.

The concept of something for nothing is not limited to big investors or their prey. A garbage strike continues in Toronto. As the bags pile up and tempers fume, about all we can see as a stumbling block to getting back to work is the sick day accrual plan. According to reports in the large dailies, workers do not want to relinquish that accrual program which adds mightily to retirement plans. Up to 18 days per year can be saved, amounting to months, if not years in back-pay. If true, the accumulated days are then paid based on the pay scale when retiring, not back dated to reflect pay when unused days were saved.

That amounts to an incredible ticking time bomb of liability – tens of millions of dollars. It only stands to reason a cash strapped city would want to limit that debt.

Oddly, a friend of ours who is a self-professed union man tells us even his fellow members are doing a lot of head scratching on this one. Reports of public sector pay surpassing private sector pay in a significant way, has a way of gnawing at the people paying the bills.

Having watched the car makers and other great paying jobs vanish, few have patience for this perceived greed.

As happened with the Ponzi schemes and mortgage collapses, when the tide of public opinion begins to turn against those who have insisted on unsustainable benefits there will be little sympathy.

After all, there are few times in this life we get something for nothing.