An allegory of domestic bliss with a dark, dark ending…

just-married-coupleVenezuela right now is like a marriage where the wife, let’s call her Populus, has only partial information about the financial affairs of her husband, let’s call him Hugo. Every month, Hugo shows Populus his credit card statement, so she knows how much debt he has. But Hugo flat out refuses to show her the statements for the savings account he keeps at Fonden Bank.

To most people, that’s a footnote. What matters is that it’s a happy marriage, everyone can see that. A real love match. Eccentric in some ways, yes, but nobody really doubts Populus’s devotion to Hugo, which endures despite his sporadic jealous rages.

The money helps. A lot. Over the years, Populus has grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and Hugo has made all kinds of promises that that lifestyle is built on solid rock.

Populus knows Hugo had a run of good luck in recent years: he made a big windfall from his backyard mining business. But since Hugo won’t show her the statements for his savings account, she has no way of knowing how much of the windfall he saved, how much he has since spent, or how much is left on hand. Hugo likes to brag about the lovely gifts he’s bought her with the savings from that Fonden savings account, but when Populus asks to see the statements he just clams up, flat out refuses her requests.

In fairness to Hugo, she doesn’t ask very often. As long as her lifestyle is sustained, she’s happy to not know.

Sure, there are some signs that things may not be all that rosy. Those credit card statements are coming back fatter and fatter each month. Insofar as Populus worries about that, which isn’t actually very far at all, she’s puzzled. She knows he pays 12% interest on that credit card debt, and only gets 2 or 3% interest on his savings out of Fonden Bank. But, again, she doesn’t ask too many questions; she’s minded to trust him.

And why shouldn’t she? Life is great! They have this thing they do in their family where every six-years they renew their vows and boy, Hugo really makes it rain at those times and he’s just wonderful and she’s in love, damn it, in love. 

Some of Populus’s curmodgeonly uncles, though, can’t help but question her: is their lifestyle really sustainable?

They try to point out to her that until she’s seen those Fonden Bank statements and evaluated the rate at which they’re getting drawn down, and then matched those up with the rate of new debt on the credit card statements and with their overall spending, they can’t know if their cushion is growing or shrinking. They try to piece the puzzle together on the back of a million envelopes, but key bits of data are missing. They try all kinds of work-arounds to try to infer how much money is probably left in the Savings Account now, but they know that that is a poor, poor substitute to actually seeing the account statements.

All that second-guessing really annoys Populus. She really doesn’t want to be bothered with the details. Hugo tells her their lifestyle is rock solid, and that’s that as far as she’s concerned.

But there’s a plot twist: Hugo falls ill. Very very ill. And he leaves all his assets to Populus in a trust fund. Populus is the beneficiary, but Mr. Mature is the trustee. Populus has heard Hugo speak effusively about how wonderful Mr. Mature is over many years, so she’s somewhat positively pre-disposed to him. But she’s sure as hell not in love with him, and isn’t anywhere near as viscerally willing to trust him blindly as she was to trust Hugo. Besides, Hugo, when he was in his prime, assured her again and again that they’d turned a corner, that things would be fine and, again, as far as she’s concerned, his word is gold.

Now, my question is: what happens if Hugo passes away and, say, 6 months or a year afterwards, Mr. Mature comes to Populus trying to explain, “erm, well, turns out the bank account was mostly gone by the time he passed, and the credit card is totally maxed out, and the Trust really can’t afford the next payment on your BMW, and probably you should live in a smaller house cuz those mortgage payments, yow!, oh and something has to give with those shopping bills…”

I humbly suggest to you, dear reader, that Populus will throw an almighty tantrum at that point.

She will smash the china, she will kick and scream. She will not take this lying down. Coming from Hugo, she might have. Coming from a different trustee after she had divorced Hugo of her own free will, she might have. But coming from some random suit she has no emotional connection with just months after his tragic death? It will feel like a horrible, horrible betrayal to her.

Believe me, china will be smashed.

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