"When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals.
We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues"

( JM Keynes, "Economic Possibilities for our Granchildren" 1930 )

Monday, May 3, 2010

Greek Myths and European Facts

Mainstream press and politicians claim that the lamentable situation of the Greek pubic finance is the result of an irresponsible, let alone criminal behavior, or put it in other way a tragic story about a country which tried to bridge the gap between a (too) generous welfare state and the requirements of belonging to the exclusive EU club.

As the current economic crisis turned the Greek system unsustainable, EU countries (especially Germany) are now being asked to support the country contributing huge amounts of money. However, despite the magnitude of the problem and possible consequences, tough questions are not being asked (yet), and the debate is being deviated into an obscure and weird blend of Economy and Culture, Finance and Race. The main message is that Europe suddenly realized that the Greeks are a nation of opportunists, hedonistic and lazy people. Europe had ten years to be aware of that "detail"... but lets leave that for now.

The counterparty of Greek (and if you push hard you would find all the “PIGS group, Portugal, Italy, Spain,,,,) lifestyle is the hard working, ever prudent Europeans, and above all the efficient Germans . Quasi racist generalizations cannot be dealt in the realm of the images, since there cannot be a real dialogue about a subjective term as "perceptions", so the best way ( and ironically, a very "German" method ) is to analyze real facts. To answer the question whether the perceptions about the Greeks are basedupon hard date I´ve checked a few statistical databases. I found some interesting data that are presented in the following graphs:

1. Weekly average hours (Source OECD)

As can be noticed, Greeks work more than 20% than Germans, not exactly the lazy partners….

2. Total Annual Hours ( in case someone suspected that Greeks work only half year ….) (Source OECD)

As can be noticed, the Greek workforce dedicates ap. 50% more hours per year to labor than the German average worker. Once again, the myth remains a myth…

3. Participation in working force ie. The number fo adults which wirk or look for work among the adult population ( source EU Stat)

As can be seen from the above graphs, more Germans are involved in the working market than the Greeks (more than 10% gap!), so the claim that the Germans are more hard working sounds sensible. However, the above German advantage has a peculiar explanation if we discompose the labor participation into sexes

As can be seen, there is a gap among males, but it is much less severe than the overall gap , less than 3%. (2009). A gap, but still not an alarming figure.

In the case of females the picture is different:

So , the explanation for the overall participation rates between the countries is the female participation rates, which is much lower in Greece than Germany. That gap is due to cultural differences and other motives and under any case the women that work as housekeepers are not eligible to social rights as workers despite their work at home.

Summarizing, stereotypes are not always related to facts, thus any debate concerniig current (and probable) future bailout should be confined to the economic sphere and based on solid facts. Presumed images or perceptions, useful for immediate political purposes could be detrimental for the future of Europe.

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