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Sunday, 5 December 2010

STATISTICS AGENCY IZ LUVIN IT

Did you know? Greece is near bankruptcy.

This tends to mean money is tight. But in light of the amazingly damaging effect of our fudged debt and gdp statistics, even a near-bankrupt country probably does need 200 new statisticians. Foreign readers will not be able to read this notice in English because, in violation of our obligations to the EU, these jobs are not really intended for foreign nationals, even if they are EU citizens.

What are these people meant to do? Well judging from the distribution (114 in ELSTAT HQ and the rest thinly scattered in tiny statistical outposts throughout the country) and the 8-month contract terms of their employment, my guess is that they are supposed to address not only our flawed central government statistics but also - crucially - to finally catch up with the IMF's demands that we take stock of local government  finances. This work, as you may recall, was kindly put on the back burner by the IMF, as they feared that this kind of disclosure would destabilise our fragile politics ahead of this year's municipal elections.

I cannot begrudge these people their new jobs - even I have to admit they are needed; they will be saddled with enormous responsibility and in return they will get paid a pittance on an 8-month contract.

I have two small objections though.

1. Given a long history of contract staff in the Greek public sector being promised and eventually attaining permanent status (there's even a strong legal precedent) if they can claim to meet a 'permanent' or 'organic' need of the public administration, is it really wise to hire contractors in this case? Knowing that the information they produce is part of Greece's contractual obligations to the IMF, they will reason that they cannot be laid off until the work is done and the umpteenth tranche of IMF money is secured. These people have an automatic incentive to not do their jobs in a timely fashion, which we can't really afford.

2. If these people are to perform one of admittedly the hardest jobs in the world under amazing pressure and resource constraints, perhaps it would make sense for them to be the very best statisticians and clerks we can get hold of. If that is the case, then why is it that time spent unemployed is so much more important to the hiring criteria than time spent in relevant employment? In fact, as the table below shows, 7 months in unemployment (a bad signal of labour quality even in Greece's utterly deranged labour market) will trump any amount of work experience.

Guess some things never change.

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