Liberals in the United States have a new cause to rally around — the crisis in Greece.

To them, the crisis is both an indictment of conservative economic policies they despise and a hopeful sign that a populist movement is emerging in Europe to fight the institutions pushing those policies, a kind of international Occupy Wall Street.

With Greece teetering on the edge of economic chaos following a national vote to reject the terms of the latest bailout from Europe and the International Monetary Fund, its populist movement is in danger, though. So progressives such as insurgent presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and groups such as the AFL-CIO labor federation and have urged the United States to push European leaders to give in to Greek demands for a major write-off.

"The Greek people have spoken loudly: 'End the austerity now.' We need President Obama and the administration to send a clear message to the International Monetary Fund," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said on July 6.

Why the interest in a complex dispute over currency and debt restructuring in Europe, a situation where the cliché "it's all Greek to me" literally applies? Because the dispute involves opposition to what Trumka and others term "austerity" economics — balancing budgets through spending cuts and limits to the size and scope of the government.

To liberals, the crisis is a lesson in why such efforts don't work and why ones that promote wealth redistribution — in the case of Greece, debt forgiveness — are better.

Many cheered when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew appeared to urge the European Union to back down during an appearance at the Brookings Institution Wednesday.

"It's a mistake for the European economy, for the global economy, to take the risks involved with an uncontrolled crisis in Greece," Lew said.

On Thursday, Greece proposed new austerity measures, which Europe was reviewing.

The Greek crisis began in 2009 when its incoming government revealed that the country had been hiding the size of its budget deficit. The real figure was 12.7 percent of its gross domestic product, about four times as large as previously stated and far above the level required as a eurozone partner.

The European Union and the IMF provided two bailouts in the ensuing years, totaling about $270 billion. Each demanded significant changes to Greek policies, such as reforming its generous pensions, cutting its bloated budget and privatizing government programs.

The bailouts did not solve the problem, though. Greece's debt rose from 107 percent of its gross domestic product in 2007 to 177 percent now.

Meanwhile, the Greek economy suffered. Unemployment soared from just under 10 percent in 2008 to about 26 percent today. For those under 25 years old, the rate is estimated at more than 50 percent.

That created an opening for the hard-left socialist party Syriza to take control. On July 5, it held a nationwide vote in which 61 percent rejected Europe's terms for a further bailout.

To liberals, it is clear that the austerity demanded in the bailouts is the culprit for Greece's economic woes.

"[T]he financial demands made by Europe have crushed the Greek economy, led to mass unemployment, a collapse of the banking system, made the external debt crisis far worse," said French economist Thomas Piketty and four other economists in a July 8 letter to German President Angela Merkel.

In the United States, conservatives have often pointed to Greece's predicament as the consequence of runaway government spending and the reason deficit reduction is needed. Liberals such as Neil Sroka, spokesman for the Howard Dean-founded group Democracy for America, argue that is backwards.

"Folks that try to compare the U.S. [debt] situation to Greece are … oftentimes pushing the same kind of austerity that has only made things worse in Greece," Sroka said.

Scott Sumner, director of the Program on Monetary Policy at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, conceded the Greek bailout terms were too harsh and therefore counterproductive, but argued there were other problems.

Greece was a bad fit for the euro, and adopting it cut off its ability to devalue its currency, the usual method for dealing with unsustainable debt.

The sheer size of the debt was another major factor. The government provided lavish benefits, such as raising public-sector salaries 50 percent between 1999 and 2007. That the Greek economy remained highly regulated as it tried to pay down its debt stifled growth, too.

"Even if the debt was renegotiated on terms that Greece liked more, I think their economy would still be deeply depressed," Sumner said last week. Austerity was inevitable because it couldn't pay its bills.

The situation is complicated by Greece's economy being small compared with the rest of the EU. Forgiving the country's debt, while expensive, would be manageable for the EU and IMF, the two main creditors. That's partly why Greece is demanding relief — they can afford it. But European leaders such as Merkel fear that giving in to Greece's demands would inspire other nations with less debt to seek forgiveness as well, undermining the attempt to create a stable economy.

"If the Northern Europeans bail out Greece now, the radical parties in countries like Spain will run — and probably get elected — saying, 'Why not us too?,' " Sumner said.

Some liberals have been rooting for that to happen.

"If Syriza succeeds in rolling back the EU-mandated measures, it could encourage dissident political movements in other parts of Europe. The right-wing governments in Europe's periphery are terrified of a Greek success at the negotiating table," Sanders said in a February op-ed for the U.K. Guardian.

Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, says the debate over Greek policy won't have much impact in the U.S — "too complicated, distant and arcane" he says — but the broader economic issues might.

"The general argument — one that Sanders makes — that, once more, banks have been bailed out while people suffer will have greater resonance, even among those who have no idea where Greece is or what the euro is."