Government Thievery

I picked up Milo in Norfolk, close to ODU. His car had broken down. He’s a middle-aged guy–gray, bearded, stocky. And he had a thick accent that I couldn’t place.

“Okay, I give up. I’m usually pretty good at identifying accents, but I don’t recognize yours.”

“I’m from Cyprus. It’s an island…”

“I know where it is. It’s in the Mediterranean, near Greece.”

“Yes. Not many Americans know about Cyprus.”

“I’m pretty good at geography. I keep up with the news too. In fact, isn’t Cyprus  where the government just helped themselves to the money in people’s bank accounts a few years ago?”

“Yes. The mother f–ers took one-point-four million dollars from me.”

“What?! Are you serious?”

I have a keen interest in economics and remembered reading about what some call a bail-in in Cyprus. When the government found itself in unsustainable debt, facing bankruptcy, its solution was to take over the nation’s banks and transfer money from its citizens. It literally stole money from its own people. But since it’s the government and sets its own laws, it wasn’t illegal. It’s little known, but one of the most frightening examples of government tyranny in recent memory.

“I’m completely serious. They considered two options. The first was to take 40% from every citizen. I wish they had taken that option. But that would have pissed off everyone. So they chose the second option, which was to take everything over $100,000.

“So, you had one and a half million dollars and they left you with one hundred thousand?”

“Exactly. The sons of bitches. They took my life savings. Twenty years it took me to earn that money. I owned a dealership here in Virginia Beach. Started it from scratch and built it for twenty years. Then I sold it and went back to Cyprus to retire. I was going to live on that money the rest of my life.”

“That’s unbelievable. I read all about that. It’s amazing to meet someone who actually experienced it. It’s so wrong–so terrible. What did you do?”

“There wasn’t anything to do. They took over all the banks. Well, all the banks except for the one owned by the church.”

“The Catholic Church?”

“The Eastern Orthodox Church. Those f–ers got to keep their money. They just f–ed over the rest of us.”

“How did you deal with it?”

“I considered suicide. Many times. I became an alcoholic. In fact, I just got out of an eight-month treatment program in the U.K.”

“So, what now? Are you trying to get your business started again?”

“Yes. I’m trying. But the economy isn’t like it was. I’m having a hard time borrowing the capital I need. It’s like starting all over again.

“I renounced my citizenship and changed my last name to White. F– them.”

I dropped Milo off at his girlfriend’s apartment. He told me he was staying nearby in a much cheaper one-bedroom place in a bad neighborhood. Trying to save money until he could get his business going again.

Milo is a tough, gruff guy. A forthright, straight-talker. He was understandably angry about his situation, but he wasn’t broken by it. He was frustrated, but determined and, somehow, optimistic. He is smart and intense–the kind of guy that seems to know how to find a way through. I have a feeling it’s just a matter of time before he’s back on his feet.

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