Saturday, 30 November 2013


  1. The OECD's review of barriers to competition in Greece has now been published. Full report here.
  2. Latest Eurobarometer survey on the state of the Eurozone finds that the Irish and the Greeks are still supportive of the common currency (see pg 9), although other PIIGS are disillusioned. See also pp 49.  Killer graph on page 58, where the Portuguese, Greeks and Spaniards turn out to be the Europeans least convinced of their countries' need to reform.
  3. Still with the Eurobarometer folks, Greece has some of the longest traineeships in Europe.
  4. And 7% of Greeks own handguns, 19% of which for 'personal protection.'
  5. The 2013 Health Consumer Index ranks Greece 25th out of , down from 22nd in 2012. Read the full report here, with particular emphasis on pp. 14-15, where the researchers find Greece's reported reduction in health spending unreliable. 
  6. Speaking of public health, the findings of this decade-old survey of excess winter mortality in Europe clearly reflect the distinction between European core and periphery. Discuss.
  7. The OECD has released its economic survey of Greece for the coming year, anticipating much slower growth than the government's estimates. Please note that the OECD has so far predicted Greece's fiscal multiplier more accurately than the Commission or the IMF, although it's unclear why. 
  8. Still with the OECD, the results of the PISA 2012 survey, the latest in the definitive series of studies comparing educational outcomes across the world, are due this Wednesday, 3 Dec. Stay tuned here.
  9. PwC and the World Bank have released its 2014 Paying Taxes index report, looking into the administrative cost of paying business taxes around the world. Some Greek figures included.

Friday, 22 November 2013


  1. Among many other dubious distinctions, did you know Greece is one of the worst places for employers trying to hire skilled expats? Anyone surprised? 
  2. A warning for Greece - electronic tax filing may not reduce compliance costs.
  3. The Ukraine's celebrated drift towards Europe is apparently over.
  4. The World Bank finds a negative correlation between indicators of good bank governance and bank capitalisation. Discuss.
  5. Still with the World Bank: the latest financial development report looks into what happens when individual borrowers benefit from debt forgiveness. No spoilers, turn to pg 99.
  6. How much inequality is there in the world?

Friday, 15 November 2013


  1. The new EU Directive on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications has arrived! It's going to be Bolognia all over again!
  2. The EU announces that member states are now allowed to channel a great deal more State Aid to their film industries than previously - including funding the 'modernisation' of individual cinemas. Apparently, Europe produces more films than India, and that's somehow a good thing. 
  3. The World Bank's study tracking the size of the high-seas piracy sector off the horn of Africa is now out, and makes for fantastic reading. Also note the Creative Commons 3.0 Unported licence. A bit more detail here.
  4. I almost never post these but ACCA's Global Economic Conditions Survey, of which I am the editor, came out a few days ago and is very interesting. 
  5. The IMF's mea culpa team has kind of over-done it here - a study with a very limited sample up to 09 finds that fiscal multipliers increase during rapid consolidations. Still, interesting for its approach to measuring the speed of fiscal consolidation. 
  6. More from the IMF - how sovereign wealth funds work.
  7. Post-bailout Ireland's industrial production exploded last month, but Europe's production fell by 0.5%
  8. A recent paper explores the effect of cigarette taxes on consumption in Greece, and the potential benefits of smokers cutting down. 
  9. Venezuela slides further down towards shithole status.

Friday, 8 November 2013


  1. As a response to the question on how young people's faith in democracy can be restored in Greece, the Greek PM pledges nationwide free wifi within a year. The full grotesque video and PR #fail, which unleashed a torrent of well-deserved trolling, is available at the bottom of the page.
  2. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Greece's rationale for excluding same-sex couples from its civil unions law (a distinction we share with Lithuania) is unconvincing. More details on the case here.
  3. Greek pension funds delivered returns of about 5% in 2012, in return for admin costs of 0.7% according to the OECD. While returns are very poor, this is actually standard across countries, and the admin costs are not comparably high either. About 40% of assets are bills and bonds. 
  4. In case anyone had any doubt that UKIP are not in fact 'libertarians,' as they claim, a YouGov poll reveals that their voters are more supportive of nationalising key industries than those of any other major UK party - apart from Labour, by a narrow margin.
  5. A new index ranking works out the most influential thinkers of all time. No. 1 is Karl Marx, if counted as a historian. He's more like no. 9 if counted as an economist, but still, way up there.
  6. Argentina is in deep trouble again. Or maybe it's the target of an orchestrated PR attack. No wait. It is in trouble. Which reminds me of my old post about why Greece is not (even) Argentina
  7. Dagong downgrades the US and S&P downgrades France.
  8. For Greek readers only unfortunately: how the Greek left misappropriated Behan's 'Laughing Boy'.

Δηλώσεις Σαμαρά για το #freewifi by CDemo83

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


I never knew the exact figures, but it's a matter of received wisdom in Greece that we have way too many legal professionals. And as I've written elsewhere, lawyers ate my country.

Well, now I do have the numbers - and LFS numbers at that! Check out the source - an excellent comparative study of the legal professions across Europe.

Also note the anonymous comment at the bottom of this post - the author has indeed used the wrong population figures for Cyprus. I will try to put the table back together myself, assuming of course that the number of legal professionals is right. The correct population figures for 2008 (to ensure comparability) can be found here.

By the looks of it most figures are not wrong, but Cyprus' cited population figure is 5.6 times greater than it should be. This means that the proportionate ratio of lawyers per 1000 people should be about 2.69 - less than Spain but in the high bracket.

Friday, 1 November 2013


The last two rounds of elections in Greece were, more than anything else, about one of my favourate subjects: age and the battle of generations. 

Older voters, with their pensions to protect, came out in force for the former major parties, fearing that more radical choices would put our bailout at risk; younger voters, many of them unemployed and with little to look forward to anyway, came out in force for the (occasionally radical) left and some even for the far right. 

The cut-off point used by most media outlets to illustrate this was the age of 50 or 55. That, to me, is a happy coincidence.

You see, in January 2012, the Eurobarometer wonks published a survey of European attitudes towards ageing, which asked people, among other things, at what age they thought a person ceases to be ‘young’ and at what age they thought a person begins to be ‘old’.  

Greece was, as it often is, an extreme case: on average, Greeks considered people to be ‘young’ up to the age of 50.5. We were beaten only by Cyprus on this account.

While youth seems eternal in Greece, old age is not particularly long. The threshold for ‘old’ age was 65.7, which is quite typical within Europe – and it suggests an expected 14.4 years between the threshold of ‘old age’ and the average Greek’s life expectancy - also close to the average. 

Between these periods of ‘youth’ and ‘old age’ is an implied 'middle age' – and due to our long period of ‘youth’ in Greece it lasts for just 15.4 years. Only the Hungarians, who count people as old from the age of 58 onwards, had a shorter middle age.

I tried to calculate one last crucial interval: the average duration of retirement in middle age. This measures the amount of time that people can expect to spend in retirement while still not being considered old. I suspect this is an implied target in industrial relations – in a perfect world, one would retire still young enough to not be held back by ill health or a weakened body.

Germany is unique in this regard in that the Germans are the only Europeans to work into what they perceive as old age - about two and a half years of old age. Only the Turks and Hungarians come close, but both nations tend to retire before reaching their subjective 'old age' threshold. The Netherlands, France and Belgium are at the other extreme, with new pensioners looking forward to at least 11 years of ‘middle age’ left. Greece is more in line with accession countries in the Baltics in this regard, with workers looking forward to only about 4 years of middle age after retirement.

I need to explain at this point that this is not a core versus periphery narrative. The longest implied middle age in Europe occurs in fellow PIIG Portugal, and at 31.1 years it lasts twice as long as Greece’s. Sweden follows with 29.7, while the typical German has about 22 years’ worth of middle age to look forward to – not far from the European average. Even middle age in retirement, which sounds like a political choice, is not a clear cut core/periphery issue.

I do, however, think that culture matters, so I ran a quick test using Hofstede's cultural dimensions and any other data I could get my hands on. The Eurobarometer study hinted that a country's median age might matter when defining the thresholds of middle and old age: growing old makes people more lenient when it comes to defining youth and old age. 

My tests revealed this to be true with regards to the old age threshold but not the middle-age one. Still, every year added to a country's median age pushes the threshold of old age further out by just over 10 months. On the other hand, it is the expected  duration of a working life that makes the difference to the middle-age threshold - short expected working lives prolong perceived youth by delaying emancipation, and this time there are no diminishing returns. In fact, every year of lost working life delays the onset of subjective middle age by a year and half. 

Just as interestingly, more 'macho' or masculine cultures tended to be associated with shorter periods of youth and an earlier onset of subjective old age. To avoid confusion, Hofstede defines 'masculinity' as
a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material reward for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented.
By celebrating 'heroic' and assertive attitudes, as well as the ability to provide for one's family, masculine cultures tend to shove people into middle age and old age quicker.

In the case of Greece, a combination of very delayed emancipation and a persistent masculine culture leads to a shrinking middle age - which would be just a curiosity among many except for what I think is a significant cultural and psychological effect. Middle age is the time when one has no excuses and expects no one to clean up after them. For countries, a shrinking middle age may be a shrinking field of accountability.

Worse, I think the pressure one is subjected to when forced to cope with delayed emancipation and macho expectations at once is a breeding ground for monsters. The link between cultural masculinity and violence is echoed in studies of family killers and 'honour' killings. It could even explain why Greece's increase in suicide ideation has been mostly among men, especially married ones.  But I hope to return to this point at a later date. 

Notes on the data

The Eurostat study does not provide life expectancy or working life expectancy estimates, or indeed cultural attitude estimates. I have I used median age and life expectancy data from the UN, here, extrapolating the figure for 2012 from the estimates for 2010 and 2015. I’ve also got average retirement ages from here and Hofstede culture dimensions data from here.

As for average working lives, I’m using expected working life durations at 15 and there are two sets of recent estimates to choose from. (Economix 2009) was commissioned by the EC and can be seen here. Hytti & Valaste (2009) can be seen here. I’ve gone for Hytti & Valaste but Economix is about two years more up to date. Either way, differences between the two are small.