• REMEMBER THAT NUMBERS ARE PEOPLE LOOK FOR COCK-UP BEFORE CONSPIRACY • ALWAYS CITE PRIMARY SOURCES


Friday, 31 May 2013

WEEKEND READING - 1-2 JUNE 2013


My Twitter account used to serve as a repository of links I thought were brilliant but didn't have time to blog on. With the account gone, I've decided to start a Weekend Reading series for the same purpose. I will aim for ten per weekend, but no promises.

My top ten reads for this weekend:
  1. Frances Coppola explains how QE and the monetary transmittion system work, and why QE is clogging up the pipes. Watch out for her background links too.
  2. The IMF's researchers consider the evidence on immovable property taxes (w/ Greece data)...
  3. ... and the evidence on fiscal slippage and austerity with debt feedback
  4. Eurostat looks into the extent to which families pool their income in Europe (w/ Greece data) 
  5. The European Banking Authority's consultation on measuring large deposit outflow risk for the purpose of CRD IV liquidity rules, plus all responses received so far. No Greek OR Cypriot banks in there, sadly. 
  6. EU infringement procedures, May update: Greece rapped for restricting parallel sales of medical supplies, failing to ratify Common Aviation Area Agreement with the Western Balkans, insurance red tape and exceeding capacity at the Kiato Landfill, which is operating without a valid permit: 
  7. Subjective well-being and quality of life in the UK: the ONS weighs in (UK data only)
  8. Standby for more Partenon Marble stories next week following this.
  9. A paper in defense of winner-take-all contests.
  10. Did you know the Economist Intelligence Unit is now a Credit Rating Agency?
  11. The UK's young liberals are on the march or something, says the Economist.

Friday, 24 May 2013

(UPDATE) GREECE'S NEW FAR RIGHT - DRIVEN TO EXTREMES OR A FEW HANDOUTS SHORT OF A FASCIST?

Loyal readers may remember past posts in which I've referred to the European Values Survey of 2008 (see here and here).

2008 is an impossibly long time ago in Greece. But to me, this is an important study because, based on a large-ish, representative sample, it provides a snapshot of the values and beliefs of pre-austerity Greece, with an extensive focus on immigration, identity, politics and trust, combined with detailed personal information on interviewees and their background. In fact, you can check out the full questionnaire here.

It's a valuable tool for understanding what unseen undercurrents in Greek society may have anticipated the developments of the last few years, in particular the rise of Golden Dawn. Certainly, if you believe as I do, that austerity is not a necessary and sufficient condition for the mass emergence of fascism. Or at least if you believe in testing your hypotheses.

Which, of course, brings us to the heart of the matter. I've rarely spoken to anyone in Greece who didn't 'know' for a fact what led to the rise of GD.

To probe the matter further, I've finally managed to download the full dataset from here. It's available free of charge to people with a genuine, non-profit research interest, although unfortunately this does not extend to a licence to share the dataset with you on this website.

BEFORE WE MOVE ON - DEFINITIONS

It's hard to define fascism but here's a fantastic roundup of original, historical and contemporary uses. My working definition of a fascist is a person who believes, or acts as though they believed, all of the below:
  • That he/she is part of a group, the People, who are distinct from other human beings and bound by a common nature, history and destiny.
  • That the People have a metaphysical claim to particular natural or man-made resources, which is irrespective of conventional contracts and treaties.
  • That categorical truth is unattainable or irrelevant except in trivial things; rather the People are endowed with a collective narrative which is superior to those of other Peoples. 
  • That the People are, in their uncorrupted state, a cohesive, culturally and ideologically homogeneous group, and that deviations from this archetype are the product of corruption / perversion.
  • That the objective of the State is to embody the collective will of the People and protect the People from corruption and perversion.
  • That de facto power is sufficient to empower State officials to interpret the Will of the People
  • That maintaining power is the best proof of State officials' continued approval by the People.
  • That the ideal condition of the People is unanimity, and that unanimity is best expressed through universal compliance towards the State and acceptance of the People's narrative.
  • That individual rights are a concession of the collective (the State, on behalf of the People) and thus when unanimity is impossible, they will be superseded by the needs of the collective. 
  • That all conventions established by other Peoples should be used in the pursuit of the People's interest but not internalised.

FINDINGS

Part One of my analysis is essentially housekeeping - I look into the relevant data provided by the survey and summarise them into easy-to-process variables through factor analysis. The result is a short list of attitudes that determine, to a large extent, the Greek citizen's outlook towards life, politics and their fellow man. Even this preliminary stage is very interesting. Read my report into this stage here. Factor analysis tables are available here.

Yet even this exercise has something to teach us - the way concepts entwing in respondents' minds can help reveal underlying narratives that are not immediately apparent.

One of the most significant findings in this first stage of the study is that in Greece the discourse on the subject of institutions is almost completely buried under the rubble of the Greek Civil War: institutions are not seen as having value in themselves but rather as representing the 'establishment', the 'counter-establishment' or foreign power centres. This ultimately discredits all institutions.

Another significant finding is that Greece has no real liberal narrative - when it comes to politics there is the Big State narrative and the Social Market Economy narrative; there is also a broad narrative of faith in mankind, and a tension between internal and external attributions, which are common to all nations. That's mostly it.

Solidarity is a complex notion and in Greece (as well as most countries, I suspect) it comes in three flavours - a universal solidarity for mankind; a morally-driven solidarity towards the vulnerable; and a biologically-driven solidarity exclusively towards one's own family.

Finally, and regardless of the substantial and nuanced debate on the Greek work ethic, there is such as thing as an 'easy life' paradigm in Greece, or at least there was until 2008. But it's not the only one, nor is it the one that most influences Greek attitudes towards work. The dominant paradigm is towards self-fulfilment, followed by an alternative paradigm that focuses on good industrial relations and respect for employee rights.

For Part Two, I examined Greek attitudes towards immigration as expressed through a range of ten questions and tried to look at which attitudes out of the ones identified above are responsible for their views of immigrants. To ensure attitudes aren't actually acting as proxies for other variables (for instance, intolerance for age, or social liberalism for gender), I also threw in every demographic variable available through the EVS. To see which variables went into the analysis, you can download my output files for the analysis here and here.

I used CHAID analysis for this - not the pinnacle of science of course, but the easiest way of mapping a complex set of relationships and interactions. My decision trees can be downloaded as images from here and as a bonus I included an analysis of how people vote based on their attitudes.

Note that all models use unweighted data. In some, observations have been lost because not all participants responded to all of the questions involved in the model.

I will report on this analysis shortly. Watch this space.




Thursday, 23 May 2013

THE TWITTER ACCOUNT IS GONE, THE BLOG LIVES ON

Dear Friends, 

I cancelled my Twitter account Tuesday morning. A forgotten auto-feed might re-activate it temporarily, but rest assured it is down for good. 

I had thought of this many times over the last year, and increasingly in 2013. On Tuesday I simply found a moment of clarity in which to do so. I am very pleased with my decision, as it's already brought me a great deal of peace of mind and given me back an average of two hours a day to do whatever I want with.

I thoroughly enjoyed having a well-read account on Twitter. However, the debate on the Greek twittersphere has long moved away from facts and figures, which I know and love. I thought at first that it had moved on to politics, which I was still happy to debate. But it's not quite that. 

Over the last two years, the Greek twittersphere increasingly became more enraged, less spontaneous, and more self-referential. It's now packed to the gills with party-affiliated propagandists, nihilist trolls, and people on the lookout for ideological enemies. Most importantly, it is a closed system, drunk with its own heady mixture of adoration and hate, in which pundits fail to realise how unrepresentative they are of society at large, and yet pretend to speak for the people, or common sense, or something or other that they don't. 

Worse still, I don't think my own behaviour on the platform was miles above the level of the aforementioned. I had an advantage over a few of them in that I was not mentally ill or on someone's payroll, but like many users, I sometimes went in to pick fights, sometimes revelled in aphorisms, and often preferred a loud round of applause to a meaningful contribution.

Maybe Greek twitterers will get their civil war in the end, but I want nothing to do with it. It's just not a medium that can help promote the generation of ideas, or reconciliation of any kind.

It also took up a lot of the time I could have spent blogging - the instant gratification of retweets and reactions can motivate you more than the slow buildup of an appreciative audience. In this regard I let my natural audience down - the quality and quantity of posts suffered and it's not hard to prove this. I apologise to early and loyal followers of the blog who must have at some point thought I'd picked another audience over them. They were right, too.

Privately, I also needed to end this constant drain on my own time and attention span. I joined as a young professional with no commitments and tons of time to waste. I am hardly in the same place right now and to maintain this level of activity for the sake of my own vanity would be plain stupid. 

As a parting gift, I downloaded from Twitter my entire history of Tweets. You can download it, unedited, from here

Stay tuned for proper posts without further introspection. 


Friday, 17 May 2013

WE CAN HAZ BABIEZ? WTF?


It's been a while now since I wrote this article on how Greece's fertility bust, and our unenlightened response to it, helped build our mountain of debt in the 80s and set us on course for the sovereign debt crisis of 2009. I've been thinking a lot about this issue of fertility lately, and I don't like the economics of it. Especially the combination of debt, rising exponsentially, and a population no longer on the increase.

This is how I came across the almost-mystery of the Greek fertility rate. You'd never guess but Greece's fertility rate grew as we entered recession in 2008 and until 2011, when the last data were collected, it remained higher than at any point during the noughties. You can see the data for yourselves here. Fertility rose to levels unseen since 1987 in 2010 - an apparent reversal of a decades-long slowdown in fertility also experienced by most other European countries.

But look more closely (or perhaps, zoom out a little) and you'll find that the reversal really started in 2000, and is reflected elsewhere in Europe. Eurostat explains it thus:
The slight increase in the total fertility rate observed in recent years may, in part, be attributed to a catching-up process following a general pattern of postponing the decision to have children. When women give birth later in life, the total fertility rate tends to decrease at first, before a subsequent recovery.
In particular, zooming in on women's fertility rates by age group in Greece, it becomes obvious that what really happened since the naughties was that the persistent fall in fertility among women in their 20s paused briefly, while fertility rates among women in their 30s and 40s continued to rise. Both of these groups are now roughly as fertile as they were in the 1960s, thought for different reasons. Essentially, the long trend of Greek (and other European) women delaying their first births is slowly grinding to a halt, and we're seeing the demographic equivalent of a dead cat bounce. The effects of the crisis, however, are also observable. Every age group has seen a dip in fertility since 2010, and they are likely to continue to do so.

One thing that's interesting in studying demographics is to see how fertility rose and fell in different regions. Greece's true demographic black hole is Western Macedonia, which managed to lose fertility even in the boom-times, and was among the worst-hit regions during the crisis. Unemployment there is the highest in Greece, at just over 30%, and most worryingly it is a border region, situated between Albania and the FYR of Macedonia. As more of our national politics turns to exploiting nationalism, this region is going to become a testing ground for all manner of extremist and/or clientelist tactics.

On the other hand, Attica, Crete and the South Aegean did fairly well in terms of fertility, and unsurprisingly the islands in question had the lowest unemployment rates in all of Greece as of late 2011 (this is no longer the case), which would explain some of their fertility performance. Attica on the other hand boasts a mega-city, which tends to distort trends.

Unemployment and fertility

We've known for a while that there is a link between unemployment rates and fertility (see here and here). Having a child is a massive personal and financial investment, so the decision depends on people's, especially women's, time and budget constraints. Up until the 80s, this reasoning produced a neat paradigm: the lower the participation rate of women in the labour market, the higher the fertility rate and vice versa. Unemployment, provided it is brief, reduces the opportunity cost of having children.

Then in the 80s unemployment started to grow, and change in nature as well - brief spells of unemployment turned to long-term unemployment that was hard to bounce back from. Women now had an incentive to delay childbirth until they had accumulated enough human capital to overcome the disadvantage of a prolonged period of absence from the labour market. The participation-fertility relationship turned on its head (see right): countries with lower female participation in the labour market also had lower fertility rates.

But there is a further catch. Higher levels of employment regulation, especially in Greece, have tended to protect full-time work at the expense of part time work, old employees at the expense of young, and men at the expense of women. In fact, the bigger the difference between male and female unemployment, the lower the fertility rate (see right).

This relationship holds in Greece, right up until the crisis. You can see for yourselves on the right. But it seems as though something else may have bumped up Greek fertility rates around 2004-ish. I wonder what that might have been? I thought labour regulations might have something to do with it, so I took a look at the EU Labour Reforms database here. The result?

Apparently in 2004 reforms were introduced to allow enterprises to use fixed-term contract workers much more extensively than previously, subject to some (probably too weak) provisions to prevent abuse of rolling contracts. I suspect that, when you look at the fertility chart once again, some of the inflection around 2004 is down to this range of regulations.