Sunday, 26 June 2011


Last week I spent some time looking into the argument, first made by Alex Andreou in response to populist stereotypes propagated by foreign journalists and politicians, that Greeks work longer hours than the citizens of almost any other developed country. Alex’s post, Democracy v. Mythology, has travelled around the world and it’s encouraging to see that people are willing to stand up to slander with facts rather than Yo-mama-nomics. However, I was not entirely sure Alex's facts stacked up. So I checked.

I found, as readers will recall, that relying on the OECD figures is actually not very useful, and that once we adjust for self-employment (the unregulated labour market that does not reflect the Greeks’ political choices), prevalence of part-time work (which is rare in Greece and which the OECD just lumps in with full time work) and differences in the methods of data collection (LFS based methods like ours tend to give the highest estimates of hours worked), most of the difference is whittled away until we end up working respectable but not ridiculous hours. The rest is down to lower productivity, which we have to work extra hard to make up for. The point is well made that Greeks are not lazy, although we are frankly uncompetitive.

But I think it’s worth examining another claim made in this riotously popular post as it is highly misleading and could convince some of our fellow citizens that one policy area in terrible need of reform is actually viable – even though this is probably not Alex’s intention. Again, I must stress that Alex’s fact-based argumentation is refreshing and desperately needed: more people should adopt his rejection of sensationalism and racism. But in serving this purpose he keeps taking the bait of populist and sensationalist idiots in Europe and further afield, which means he ends up rebutting arguments that never really mattered and that more serious critics in Europe have never fixated on.

Still, if we examine the figures in detail, their story is fascinating and can sometimes be other than what it appears.

Countermyth: Greeks retire no sooner, if not much later, than other Europeans

The sensational claim against the Greeks making the rounds in some parts of Europe is that we retire at ridiculously early ages. True, some of us do but this is not the case in general. Alex demolishes this claim by demonstrating that the average Greek pensioner left the labour market later than his or her counterpart in most European states. Cudos to Alex for digging up the data and clarifying that point, but there’s a problem in his reasoning and it is inevitable when one is trying to out-stat moron journalists – he’s stepped into their idiotically framed argument and now his shoes are caked in shit.

You see, how late in life people retire is utterly beside the point. What matters is how long their working lives are, which in turn determines how big their retirement pot is (ok, whatever notional retirement pot they have in pay-as-you-go systems). Sensationalist politicians and journalists abroad (and some at home) might care about the retirement age but the real argument (and the question Greeks should be asking first and foremost) is whether or not we Greeks were running a sustainable pension system. You see, Amaryllis, who retired at 70 but joined the labour market at 35, may look on (news)paper like she’s been dealt a shit hand by the pension system compared to Gertha, who retired at 65 but joined at 25, but in fact for the purposes of pension scheme viability Gertha is a more viable ‘client’.

In reality, it is the labour market that dealt Amaryllis a shit hand, and the Greek labour market has been shaped by Greek politics (i.e. the will of the people), giving us the most inflexible labour market in the developed world. But let’s check the pensions numbers first.


In 2006, when Eurostat last collated the numbers on length of working lives across Europe, those Greeks who were still working after they had started receiving retirement benefits had on average worked for 29.9 years – the lowest number in Europe bar none (source). This ranking holds regardless of whether people worked to afford themselves a basic income or for personal reasons unrelated to money. Only one category of working pensioners in Greece had a working life behind them comparable to the EU average: the people that kept working despite having more or less enough to live on, simply because they wanted to top up their income and live more comfortably (source). And these guys had worked longer working lives than either of the other two groups.

But what of the people who were no longer working and living only on retirement benefits? Well they had spent an average of 34.6 years working. Of all the European countries, only a handful boasted shorter working lives (source), and these included fellow PIIG Spain, fellow Greeks Cyprus, and of course Romania, Bulgaria and Poland.

So you see, Alex, it is possible for both you and idiot Greek-bashing journalists or politicians to be wrong. Greeks work shorter working lives; hence the state cannot afford their pensions as well as other countries can. Or if it can afford those, it can’t afford their prolonged education before or their prolonged spells of unemployment during. No mythology, just pure math.

NOTE: As some trolls find it impossible to check official statistics for themselves, I should like to provide four pieces of advice.

1. click on the source links. It's way easier than making a washing machine, so even I can do it. The 2006 study is an ad-hoc module of Eurostat's Labour Force Survey - the collated dataset made up of the individual labour force surveys that we get, say, our unemployment statistics from; I know it's not as good as your anecdotal evidence based on a small sample of acquaintances, friends and relatives but it is the best I have access to, or that anyone else has access to for that matter. Check with someone of a nationality that you trust if you don't believe me.

2. If you need trade statistics that are up to date, go to an official source, not a random website. And remember to read the 'about us' section before you decide what is or is not a government website. As a rule you can tell a gov't website because they carry all manner of insignia showing which ministry or investment programme they are funded by.

3. if you don't know where the data come from or what they mean then perhaps you should look up the answers. For a start, I would look at Eurostat's metadata for the 2006 study.  If that won't do, try the full evaluation report. Don't like the findings? Write to Eurostat and demand a correction.

4. read the article again just to make sure you've understood what I'm saying before vomiting your tedious thoughts onto my comments section.

I guess all of the above shows just how hard it is not to take the bait.


  1. eurostat links not working..

  2. And the solution is...Think double before saying that the 30-year old Msc holder from Kolopetinitsa, who is now starting his career, should work until he fullfils 40 years of work...
    Fotopoulos is watching!

  3. You're the typical example of what is wrong with Greece, Manos. All mindless nonsense, and no facts. Just rhetoric.

    Case in point take your chart, 'Number of years pensioners have spent working'. Germans retire at 67 years of age. An average working life in Germany is some 45 years. I have no idea where you got that chart or what it means, but to assume that people only work for 30 or 35 years is laughable. It means in Germany people only start work when they are 30 or 35! Once again, it shows how illiterate and how incompetent Greeks are in reading and mathematics. Where does that chart come from? Whom does it really apply?

    Another point, as you mentioned, only in passing, it is about productivity. But PRODUCTIVITY is ALSO a measure about LAZINESS! If you are lazy, you are UNPRODUCTIVE! But then again, no ignorant Greek would make that connection.

    Cases in point: Why do Pastry Chefs retire at 50! As do Masseurs and Hairdressers! See article here:

    It's very simple. Greeks have been welching from their civic and economic duties. Greeks may work as many as hours as everybody else, but are unproductive, because they do not have a good work ethic, in fact it is terrible.

    The reason why nothing ever gets done in Greece is simple to answer, because Greeks, like you, refuse to take responsibility for their ignorant, ill educated, and unproductive ways. Too many Greeks want to sit in offices and in front of computer desks, like you, and give philosophical ruminations based upon their reckless backward education.

    Lets get obvious! Greeks complain about the fact that the Germans make and sell them washing machines, but if Greeks are so well educated, why can't you guys make your own washing machines? Why can't Greeks make anything, for that matter! You don't like Germans, but even though German salaries are higher, the cost of manufacturing is higher, they can still make a washing machine and sell it to Greeks, something you 'so called educated Greeks' can't do for yourselves!

    Simply, Greeks don't like Germans because Greeks are JEALOUS of Germans. Greeks don't like Germans, because Germans are MORE INTELLIGENT and HARDER WORKING than Greeks. Greeks don't like Germans, because Greeks have false pride and Germans true pride!

    Here is a perfect example why you are so incompetent. Take for example this website:
    and look at the statistics it provides for exports:

    this is a government run site that it is to encourage trade, that is exports. But look at that last link, the data, is 12 years old! They can't even give up to date data, and I can tell you why, because it is even more pathetic than those data given. The information given on this site, is PRE Greece entering the EU and Euro. Its in drachmas!

    But I know you don't understand any of this, because you are Greek! Greeks don't understand anything!

    Greeks only want what every other rich country has, but they don't want to work for it. You know why, its pure and simple:


    This is the legacy you Greeks are leaving for your future children, Greeks will be known as:

    Definition of Greek
    Greek: adj, extremely pejorative term. Meaning: liar, cheat, lazy, incompetent, arrogant, ill educated, German hating and jealous person who can not be trusted with money, or to do work, and will never earn their way through life, and refuses to accept responsibility for their misdeeds and incompetence.

    How many generations now are going to have to pay for the present Greek arrogance? How many Greek children will have to live with this new pejorative label? But non of you care, it shows how all of you are also one more thing:


  4. You're still missing the fact that Alex took into consideration: People that retire early get half the pension, so even if stats that show shorter average are right, it still doesn't necessarily have the effect you're describing.

  5. Disciplined, prudent German/Finance financing institutions is a myth. They wasted German surpluses in their greed to perpetuate trading deficits in the South. Institutions that have lived beyond their means to lend. So they are overexposed again - disciple?. The OCED is critical of them for being over exposed yet again. See the report at

    There are high rates on bonds because lenders take the risk of losing or profiting. If you don't want a haircut then don't buy them - the bond holders should lose. Were they prudent? Maybe, as they are too big to fail.

    The lenders are too powerful, pumping up financial bubbles and, through a lazy media, feeds us cheap stereo-types. Someone pays but never them. How much money did the taxpayer give them last time? Can't do the same trick twice, can we?

    I live in Greece And I WILL NOT pay for this. Yes I am lazy but I am not Greek. As for efficiency, I don't quite understand ECB/IMF telling me to learn to work more to produce less (as it goes elsewhere in interest payments).

    Yours, feeling increasingly lazy and less uninspired to pay taxes.

    have you seen this?

  7. Greeks had factories making washing machines back in late 70/early 80's but they were closed down by PASOK's forward thinking politicians who were too busy making pasok's voting army by giving out government jobs to people who voted them

  8. DS said...
    said so many things...
    Really..? Greeks envy germans...
    For not starting world wars..?
    For not killing and musacre entire races..?
    For not stealing gold from the countries that they conquer..?
    For not making Jewish ppl soaps..?
    For not lenting money as a worldwide economical power to lesser countries in order to take advantage of them..?
    The trueth is that DS u didnt made those crimes in the past your governors did(Hitler, etc)...
    in my behalf we(the Greek citizens) didnt take that loans, the Greek Governors did...
    Ofcourse there is corruption in Greece and in Germany and in France and worldwide...dont fool yourself...the matter isnt, if greeks work 25 years and the germans 26 or 36 in paper or statistics...thats really childish...because especially nowdays the businesses in greece dont give money for insurance in order to giv less money (cause greeks pay in their salary taxes and insurance)to gain more money...and they say to u-me the employee if u like come and work...else starve...


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