Knowledge is Power: Public Attitudes and the Stalling of Pension Reform in Greece
Pension reform delays were a crucial part of the mechanism leading to the Greek crisis of 2009. The reason for these delays was frequently cited as the hostile stance of public opinion to any change in pensions. It is thus important to examine what lay behind these attitudes, and the reasons why these public objections had not been overcome. The international bibliography stresses that attitudes to pensions may be affected by the extent of understanding of pensions and that public opinion may in this way be open to persuasion. However, where there exists cross-subsidisation between occupational groups, selective knowledge may also operate defensively as a means of protecting the status quo. Thus there could be two dimensions of understanding, one helping and the other hindering change. A nation-wide sample undertaken in Greece by the authors in May 2009 attempts to disentangle the two influences, by drawing a distinction between general understanding, and particular awareness of one’s occupational pension situation. An ‘intransigence index’ is subjected to multivariate analysis isolating, inter alia, the two dimensions. As in other countries, greater understanding makes for a more conciliatory attitude. However, in sharp contrast, in Greece particular knowledge encourages more confrontational views, as part of a strategy defending pension privileges. This finding can be used to explain the role pension attitudes and path dependence played in generating the reform impasse which was ultimately responsible for the Greek crisis after 2009.