Is it just my imagination, or is there considerably more support for Greece in the US than in Europe? As far as I can tell there is almost universal outrage in Europe over the recent actions of the Syriza government, except perhaps on the extreme left. In contrast, I see significant support for Greece among US pundits. Why? (Keep in mind that in most respects, opinion in Europe is well to the left of mainstream opinion in the US.) Here are some possibilities:
1. Framing effects. In this recent article, Anne Roiphe indicated that at an emotional level she found herself sympathizing with the escaped convicts in New York, even though the logical side of her mind knew they were not deserving of sympathy.
Don’t say it. I know that is a daydream without a shred of reality. This is not the way a grown up woman should think. And yet this Jewish woman, if honest, admits that the hunted and the chased evoke her worry, and the power of the state is not always benign, and that the day I loose my faint wish that these convicts or the next ones escape captivity is the day I loose my Jewish memory. So then I have to tolerate both the twinge of fear I feel for the escapees and the hatred I have for them as killers and thugs.
Perhaps something like that is going on here. Over at Econlog I have a post on the mezzogiorno, a failed region of 20 million people in southern Italy. I’d guess that in Europe there’s not a lot of sympathy for this region, perhaps because outsiders feel that Sicilians and Neapolitans have only themselves to blame. In America, progressives employ a sort of “victims and villains” framing, where poor minorities are seen as being poor precisely because they are oppressed by the dominant class. Americans may see the Greeks as a “victimized” group, whereas the Europeans may see them simply as a country governed by irresponsible white males.
2. Perhaps the difference is explained by the fact that it’s their money, not ours, which would be used to bailout Greece. (After all, there’s nothing stopping the US government from bailing out Greece.) We have everything to gain from European stability, and avoiding another Lehman moment, and nothing to lose from a deal. We just want the two sides to agree on something.
3. Maybe it’s because Americans have a better understanding of macro, and thus a better understanding of the fact that the Greek depression is partly caused by low AD, not just irresponsible Greek policies. This is the point where my views are closest to Syriza.
4. Perhaps Americans are less aware of just how extreme the Syriza party really is. There aren’t many Maoists in the governing coalition, but it’s kind of shocking that there are any. In most European countries, extremists are not allowed into the ruling coalition, even if this exclusion results in a minority government, or another election. The fact that they are sympathetic to Putin is also not widely understood here. Europeans expect a certain degree of “seriousness” in their governments (recall they pressured the Berlusconi government to give up power), and Syriza just doesn’t have it. We are a long way away, and maybe the fact that Syriza is a government more fitting for Argentina than a EU member is less worrisome to us.
5. We’ve always had a sort of “debtors mentality” in America. We have relatively lenient bankruptcy laws, compared to Europe. In America, people like Trump go bankrupt and just start over, as if nothing happened. You can even run for president. In many parts of Europe, a person’s responsibility to pay their debts is taken much more seriously.
6. The Europeans (who often vacation in Greece) might think the Greeks are exaggerating the amount austerity, noting that Greeks are still about as rich as they were in 2000, while Italians are actually poorer. In saying this, I don’t doubt that many individual Greeks are suffering, but is that because the Greek government has not spread the pain evenly? Even today, Greek pensions are far higher than pensions in Eastern Europe, and Greece is asking Eastern European taxpayers to subsidize them with debt relief. That doesn’t go over well. In contrast, all that Americans know is what we see on news reports showing individual Greeks who have been hurt badly by the austerity.
7. Are there sentimental feelings in the US because western civilization began in Greece? Would we be equally sympathetic to equal suffering in nearby Moldova? I doubt it. (A Greek depression would be like paradise for Moldovans, the world’s unhappiest people.)