Sep 14 2011

The Lazy South? Think Again!

by Professor Theodore Pelagidis

It’s not the cultural differences that matter; it’s the economic policies and directions that a country takes.

Take Finland, which is considered the most “aggressive Scandinavian” today. Finland experienced a serious recession at the end of the 1980s: the excesses of a deregulated financial services sector came to a head just as the global economy was suffering a downturn and Finland’s trade with the Soviet Union was collapsing. In those testing times, Finland opened up the economy, liberalizing important sectors that used to have significant restrictions to market entry. This helped to reshape an economy that had been based on the principles of economic nationalism into an economy with free and open markets. In 1995, Finland became a member of the European Union.

In Greece, workers put in more hours than in any other European nation. But this work does not all translate into the G.D.P.

Greece’s economy today is exactly where Finland’s was 20 years ago. Southern Europe, and Greece in particular, are struggling to modernize its economies, open domestic markets to transparency, and implement good and efficient regulation.

The Finns, the Germans and other E.U. member states with thriving economies express discontent and dissatisfaction with the European south in particular, saying that they are lazy and egotistic. The critics imply that these are distinctive southern European cultural characteristics, quite different from the Scandinavian and the Continental European ones.

However, in Greece, for example, workers put in more hours than in any other European nation. But this work does not all translate into the gross domestic product, because the economy is not efficient and productive. Instead, it is captured by the same rent-seeking forces and oligopolistic market structures the Finns were experiencing 20 years ago.

The impression that is cultivated today — that there are distinctive cultural characteristics of the European north that are different from the European south — does not hold. It would be equally silly to say that Finland’s culture in the late ’80s was deeply different from what it is today. However, it is true that the current severe economic recession intensifies the impression of a chaotic north-south cultural distance, even more as the salvation of the euro zone and its banking system requires bailing out the south.

This piece first appeared in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times (Monday, 12 September 2011)
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2 Responses to The Lazy South? Think Again!

  1. CapitalistFool says:

    Culture, currency, and form of government are intrinsically linked! Denying this will only get you into further trouble. Until all of the European Union countries adopt truly republican forms of government, accepted by their varied cultures, the currency issue will persist. Authority to govern granted by the consent of the governed, rule of law, the sovereign individual, equality under the law, self-reliance empowered by unalienable rights, respect for the rights of the minority—these are the tenants of republicanism. These supersede democracy. The European Union is federalist by its very nature, so it could succeed at republicanism even better than the United States, but all states must adopt a republican form of government. My beloved U.S. is struggling precisely because the Constitutional guarantee of a republican form of government (Article IV, Section 4) has been subverted into a socialist form of government. Its federalism has been shattered by attempts to centralize nearly everything, especially the bank. Sadly, much of our culture has come to rely on government, priming the system for socialists like Obama. Things are only getting worse. As an observer from across the pond, I implore you to use this opportunity, and set the example for the rest of the world. Reward those who truly work hard with conversion of public jobs to private contractors. Adopt transparency in government and public contracts.

    Broadly adopt the notion that is humbly muttered across the U.S., “I love my country, but I fear my government.”

    • Nikolaos Zahariadis says:

      I understand the need to create a more transparent, democratic, and effective system of governance in Europe, but I think comments about emulating the US system are off the mark. Not only are statements such as “Constitutional guarantee[s]” have been “subverted into a socialist form of government” untrue, but the benign role of the private sector should be (and is) viewed with a grain of salt. True, the US has been centralizing power over time, but this is a politically contested process that has its roots at least since the civil war in the 19th century. Let’s not forget that one of the forces accelerating centralization was the Great Depression and the follies of the private sector. It seems we are at similar crossroads today. I don’t believe more government is necessarily the answer but I am convinced that private greed is part of the problem.

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