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What's Wrong with PIGS?

posted by Jason Kilborn

The financial and economic woes of the Southern European bloc of Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain have been constantly in the headlines recently (just this morning, the ABI's quite useful Global Insolvency daily headlines included just such a story).  Indeed, I learned that the cognoscenti call this group by an acronym:  PIGS (PIIGS if you add also struggling Ireland).  What do these countries have in common that might bear some causal relationship (forward or backward) with their money trouble?  I now have proof positive that I am a certifed weirdo, because the first thing that popped into my head when I saw these countries grouped together was that they are unique in Europe in not having a consumer insolvency system (or at least any reasonably functioning system).  For a long time, these countries had no robust consumer borrowing that might lead to consumer insolvency, but lots of data (no hyperlinks come readily to mind) indicate that those days are over, and it's high time for PIGS to respond to a growing incidence of consumer financial distress. The NYT story linked above suggests that geography, culture, religion, and history might tie these countries together and distinguish them from the rest of Europe.  Now I'm really intrigued by the causation-correlation issue here:  I suspect the lack of an effective consumer bankruptcy system is a result of unique cultural, religious, etc., characteristics of PIGS (and PIIGS), but I can't help wondering if there might be a causal effect the other direction, or at least that the conspicious absence of a serious effort to deal with consumer financial distress is a canary in the coal mine revealing the pernicious effects of certain other, otherwise unobjectionable cultural tendencies.  Hmmmmmm . . .

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