Greece and Portugal have fallen, Spain is tottering, Italy is wobbly -- and the Germans and the Finns? They are solidly soldiering through the Euro Zone Debt Crisis that has rocked the financial and political structures of their mostly southern neighbors. While Greece has received a €110 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and its euro zone partners, nervous Euro Zone members agreed last year to create a massive €600 billion "stabilization fund" to prop up the euro and the zone's weakest economies. Why, wonder many, do some nations need bailouts while other ones do not? Does the answer lie in culture?
Possibly. And the key may be in whether you live in a Red Light or Green Light culture.
In some cultures, people stand patiently at a red traffic light, waiting for it to turn green -- even if there are no cars to be seen. Once the light changes, they cross the street, secure in the feeling that no car will hit them.
These Red Light Cultures believe in rules and regulations. They follow the law. Rules, they believe, regulate society and protect people for their benefit. They trust in the system. Remove the rules, they reason, and there will be chaos as the system breaks down.
Red Light Cultures think that running a red light is dangerous and sets a bad example for others in society, especially children. They choose to respect the rules, because this is "correct" or they fear punishment, social pressure or have a conformist attitude.
Essentially, Red Light Cultures believe that lawmakers have devised regulations and systems to determine and codify what is good, right and safe for people and society. Examples of these cultures include the German-speaking countries, Northern Europe, parts of the USA, Singapore and Japan.
Other cultures believe that when crossing the street it is logical to simply look both ways. If no cars are coming, it is safe to cross -- the light is always green in their thinking. They don't trust the "system;" they trust themselves.
Green Light Cultures often believe that rules are inflexible and a hindrance to the smooth functioning of society and business. Who needs them? Intelligent people should use their common sense and circumvent nonsensical rules and laws. No lawmaker can legislate common sense.
Green Light Cultures think that waiting at a red light when no cars are around is stupidity. They walk when it's safe and realize through observation and experience that society does not break down.
Essentially, Green Light Cultures believe that people naturally know what is good, right and safe for them. Who needs the lawmakers? Some examples of Green Light Cultures are Southern Europe -- especially Greece and Italy -- Africa, the Middle East, India, Latin America, Russia, Eastern Europe, parts of the USA, and China.
Both Red and Green Light Cultures feel the other side is "crazy," "stupid" or "wrong." Which side is right? If numbers have any say, the Green Light Cultures must be right for they make up the vast majority of the world's 7 billion people -- and many of their economies are experiencing growth while those of the Red Lights stagnate.
"But this is no way to do business", protest the Red Light Cultures. "We can't work this way." For Green Light Cultures wishing to work with the Red Lights this means learning to play the international financial game by following the rules, standards and regulations (well, some of them anyway) which the Red Light Cultures insist upon. For Red Light Cultures, they will have to learn to tolerate the insouciant attitude their Green Light partners have towards the "fundamentals" which Red Lights believe form the pillars of the business world -- pillars the Green Light Cultures calmly lean upon while sipping their espressos, secure in the knowledge that tomorrow the sun will rise once more, regardless what the markets say.
Thus, in the years leading up to their debt crisis the Greeks were accustomed to flaunting laws, ignoring regulations and avoiding taxes; naturally they believed their Euro Zone counterparts were doing the same. "Hey come on," they reasoned, "everybody knows this is how the game is played." Germans, on the other hand, used to paying their taxes, producing mountains of laws and following regulations -- whether they find them logical or not -- naturally assumed their euro neighbours were doing the same. Mildly, they accepted doctored data from their Greek partners, shrugging, "Hey, the rules are the rules. Everybody knows that. Nobody likes them, but you've got to follow them." Who was right, who wrong?
Nobody. There remains only culture, and different cultural norms and attitudes. "Ah, yes how true," the Greek would muse, draining his espresso. "How true. But the sun will rise tomorrow."
And that, perhaps, is the origin of the Euro Zone Debt Crisis: blame it on the sun.