Today in European stereotypes

at 03:07 PM ET, 05/29/2012

What do Europeans think of each other? A new poll from the Pew Global Attitudes Project offers some insight. Over at the Atlantic, Derek Thompson sums up some of the findings with this chart:

Poor Greece. Everyone thinks that Germany is the most industrious of all countries and Greece is the laziest. Everyone, that is, except the Greeks, who think of themselves as the busiest of all bumblebees. So who’s actually correct here?

Greece could certainly make a solid case for itself. Paul Murphy brings us some OECD data showing that Greek workers put in the most hours worked of anyone in 2010. German workers, meanwhile, were at the low end. Here’s a partial list:

Netherlands — 1377
Germany — 1419
Ireland — 1664
France — (data missing)
UK — 1647
Spain — 1663
Portugal — 1714
Italy — 1778
Poland — 1939
Greece — 2109

So it all depends on what you mean by “hardworking.” The Greeks may put in longer hours, but toiling away for hours on end isn’t the same as being economically successful. German workers are far more productive than their Greek counterparts — meaning they can wring out more economic output in a given hour, even if they work fewer total hours.

It also turns out that working hard isn’t enough to save a country from economic calamity. Workers in Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain all put in a ton of hours, yet those countries are still in dire financial straits. As Paul Krugman likes to point out, the euro zone’s woes have less to do with morality and more to do with mismatched institutions and structural problems.

Granted, those looking for a good morality play might prefer to focus on the corruption angle — both Greece and Italy have had problems with rampant tax evasion, which has contributed to their debt woes. And the Greek government’s longtime fudging of deficit statistics helped get the country in its current mess. Then again, judging by Transparency International’s rankings, there are countries in Europe far more corrupt than Italy or Greece that aren’t in dire financial straits — mainly because they have the good fortune of not being tethered to the euro.

What’s perhaps most significant about the Pew survey, meanwhile, is that most Europeans now have a very low opinion of Greece. Back in 2010, 65 percent of the French public felt more or less favorably disposed toward the Greeks. Today, that’s down to 45 percent. Voters in Germany, Spain and Italy take an even dimmer view of their Aegean neighbors. That doesn’t bode well for any future attempts to salvage Greece’s place within the euro zone, given that most of the ideas on offer involve handing Greece more free money.

 
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