Given a conflict between “good for us” or “good for me,” people generally pick the second. That proposition, obvious as it is, underlies most of economics. Thank goodness, human beings often rise above self-interest in ways that redeem human society.
But politicians shouldn’t push their luck. Consider what the European Union is asking of the Greeks. The austerity imposed as a condition of the bailout goes beyond expecting Greeks to behave like Germans, which would be heroic enough. No, the Greeks are expected to do penance for their past profligacy, the “sackcloth and ashes” Full Monty.
Reluctant to think ourselves selfish, we have a remarkable capacity to convince ourselves that “good for me” is also “good for us.” That capacity for self-delusion is evident in results from the Pew Global Survey: Respondents in Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic were asked to identify the “hardest working” people of Europe. Seven picked the Germans. The Greeks picked themselves. For the title, “least hardworking,” five picked the Greeks, but the Greeks fingered the Italians.
Is it any wonder that the Greeks’ penance is insincere? Or that support for austerity among voters proved to be so tenuous in Sunday’s election? Read more »