My research combines comparative politics and international relations, with a more specific focus on trying to understand why countries and international institutions respond to financial crises in the ways they do. This led me to study the international responses to the Mexican Peso Crisis, Asian Financial Crisis, and the Great Recession for my Master’s Thesis at Ohio University. I continued studying responses to financial crises for my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Oregon by examining why Greece, Ireland, and Portugal responded to similar circumstances in very different ways.
My dissertation, The Good Student, the Bad Student, and the Celtic Tiger: The Role of National Identity and Responses to the Troika in Europe, argues that particular aspects of each country’s national identity explain the national-level responses to externally imposed austerity in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. This is a novel approach to understanding states’ economic choices in times of crisis as few studies have focused on how national level identities influence large, costly, political processes such as implementing a difficult program of austerity and structural reforms. Most political-science literature on these topics has difficulty explaining the array of responses in countries that undergo difficult economic adjustment programs. Explanations that appear to account for these responses emphasize the prevalence of “neoliberal” ideas that legitimate austerity and liberal structural reforms, differences in institutional structures and reform capacities, or differences in the difficulty of the individual programs. However, these explanations have difficulty accounting for the variation in responses across these three countries. My dissertation addresses the existing shortcomings in the literature.
In response to crises of unsustainable debt, which left Greece, Ireland, and Portugal locked out of bond markets, they each received assistance from the “Troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF). They received loans in return for implementing austerity policies and structural reforms that included cuts to the welfare state and public wages as well as tax increases and labor reforms. All three countries suffered painful cuts and massive recessions, but their citizens and leaders reacted differently. Greece experienced significant political resistance, numerous strikes, and huge protests that frequently involved violence and property damage. Ultimately, Greece would need a second bailout. The Irish rejected the government that requested the bailout and elected a new government with the largest majority in the history of the Irish State. Outside of some pre-election bluster, the newly elected Fine Gael/Labour government implemented the Troika program with little deviation from the original plan and exited its Troika program on time. Ireland also saw very little labor unrest, and limited protest. In Portugal, despite initially steeper fiscal consolidation targets than Greece and comparable structural reforms, the Portuguese elected strong advocates of the troika’s policies and saw only a moderate level of protest and strikes for the initial sixteen months of its program, before a more intense period ensued. Despite increased social pressure, the Portuguese government weathered a near collapse while maintaining its commitment to the Troika program and exited its Troika program on schedule.
I argued that these various responses were shaped and influenced by particular aspects of each country’s national identity, especially as each relates to the European Union. In an economic crisis where outside help is required, the aspects of national identity that become most prominent are shaped by a country’s history and its relationship with the countries and institutions offering aid. This is especially important when those offering aid are also demanding they implement difficult policies in return for their help. In my dissertation, I show that each country can be seen to have very different types of national identities, with the most prominent features of each identity being themselves a result of the historical context of each country. Additionally, the most prominent aspects of each country’s identity were the least contested. Viewed through the lens of national identity, the responses from Greece, Ireland, and Portugal not only reproduced central elements of the content of each country’s national identity, but the identities interacted in real time, with Ireland and Portugal highlighting their differences from Greece, and Portugal actively striving to be more like Ireland. The interaction between identities further reinforced each country’s responses to their respective Troika programs.
I analyzed these claims using historical analysis in combination with a small-n controlled comparison and within-case process tracing. This included extensive field work I performed while on a Fulbright-Shuman Research Grant, where I conducted 38 semi-structured interviews with elites in Ireland, Portugal, and at the European Commission. I also examined primary documents such as each country’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Troika as well as the Troika’s quarterly reviews. Finally, I reviewed secondary resources such as newspapers, academic books and articles, and official data from each country’s statistics offices as well as data from trusted institutions such as the OECD, Eurobarometer, and Eurostat.