The Moral Narrative of the European Sovereign Bond Crisis

Nicola Nones (University of Virginia)

Abstract: In this paper, I take a first step towards assessing if and to what extent the debt crisis has given rise to a moral narrative that starkly divides virtuous Northern European countries on the one side, and spendthrift, lazy Southern European ones on the other side. Such moral narrative is deeply rooted in a specific cultural social environment that links the idea of debt to immorality. In this sense, credit and debt are viewed not only as economic exchanges, but also as social constructions embedded in moral judgments about the character (the type) of those involved. In particular, the first step of this project involves generating a reliable measure of moral language. I propose a novel measure of moral content that combines extant dictionaries to an ad hoc dictionary and allows researchers to weight each word according to its relative contribution to the moral score across different texts. I validate the new dictionary on a sample of religious and scientific texts and on a sample of manually coded articles. Upon text analyzing a sample of Wall Street Journal and Financial Times articles about Greece, I show how Preliminary results seem to suggest that a moral narrative has been present, at least in the case of Greece, and may have even anticipated the official beginning of the Sovereign Bond Crisis in the Fall 2009.

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