The Way into Bankruptcy: Market Anomie and Sacrifice Among Portuguese Consumers
Portugal ranks among the EU27 countries with higher levels of consumer indebtedness. Contrary to the trend observed in countries with similar indebtedness rates, Portugal has one of the lowest rates of consumer default. Previous studies (e.g., Frade et al. 2006 ) have identified three strategies that have contributed to keep levels of credit default low: reliance on savings, financial support from relatives and friends, and cuts in household expenses. These strategies have been widely used for the last decade and have been strained since the very beginning of the global financial crisis in 2007. We argue that these three strategies are near to collapse and consequently the levels of consumer default will rise steeply in the next years. The savings rate in Portugal has been declining over time, and the social networks are limited in their action due to the current crisis that affects everyone. In this article, we advance the hypothesis that sacrificing living standards is rooted on collective beliefs about the current economic crisis in Portugal and trust in political and market agents in line with the Theory of Market Anomie (Karstedt and Farrall 2006 ). The conclusions are based on macroeconomic statistics and on the results of a Web survey of 1244 Portuguese households, which focuses on attitudes towards the financial crisis, trust in political and economic institutions, and strategies to cope with the crisis. The results show that trust in financial companies (banks and insurance companies) and in the European Parliament promotes a sense of empowerment to contribute to the country economic restoration. This attitude induces citizens to avoid default by sacrificing living standards. But in the current austerity context, with low levels of trust in political institutions and detachment of the economy, consumers will be less prone to sacrifice. In this scenario, credit default and insolvency is expected to rise especially in those households most exposed to unemployment and to cuts in social benefits. This reality puts a huge and growing pressure on bankruptcy procedure, civil courts, and economic and social policies. Some adjustments should be made to the Portuguese Bankruptcy Code by facilitating and simplifying the bankruptcy regime in order to accommodate the increase in insolvency cases. But the improvement of the insolvency procedure will not resolve the situation of financial distress if the structural causes persist, such as unemployment and deterioration of salaries, and cuts in social benefits. A reform of the Bankruptcy Code facilitating and simplifying the bankruptcy regime should be coupled with measures that boost the economy and stimulate the labour market. Otherwise, Portuguese households will not have the resources necessary to benefit from the bankruptcy process and regain the control over their financial lives. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012
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- Bornhorst, Fabian & Ichino, Andrea & Schlag, Karl & Winter, Eyal, 2004. "Trust and Trustworthiness Among Europeans: South-North Comparison," CEPR Discussion Papers 4378, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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