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


Friday, 27 September 2013

WEEKEND READING: 28-29 SEPTEMBER


  1. Greek Golden Dawn leadership arrested. This one comes complete with hilarious photo:
  2. Cato releases its second economic freedom of the world report. All data are two years old. Come on guys.
  3. The sociology of the hipster: one of the best NYT articles I've read, ever. Plus, just substitute 'taste' and 'culture' with 'politics' and you've got an equally valid theory. Also check out the anti-hipster backlash in Berlin.
  4. First the OECD, now the IMF examines how global value chains really work
  5. Apparently someone at the World Bank has access to estimates of income inequality in the Byzantine empire. Read the article though, it's interesting.
  6. The Dutch embassy and the Greek-Dutch business community have invested in Orange Grove, a business incubator in the centre of Athens. We should be more grateful.
  7. Greek readers can have a quick chuckle at this (spoof, I should hope!) chronicle of the rise and fall of a Greek petrolhead: http://www.car.gr/classifieds/cars/view/4099986/ 


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Όπου κι αν πάω η Ελλάδα με γειώνει



More details on the artist and his work here. Note also that, as with everything else, art in Blackheath is three times as expensive as it should be.

Friday, 20 September 2013

WEEKEND READING: 21-22 SEPTEMBER


  1. Venizelos to Asmussen: Let's reorganise the figures. Not as embarrassing as Neo-Nazis in Parliament, but still very embarrassing. Predictably, Benito denies everything, convincing no one.
  2. A fascinating meta-analysis suggests that Greece may be one of relatively few countries where punishment fails to encourage contributions to public goods. The researchers find that punishment generally doesn't work as well without trust - because trust helps frame how enforcement is perceived.
  3. ELSTAT publishes a new edition of Living Conditions in Greece. Key figure, as I'd suspected, is that civil ceremonies have overtaken marriages in church for the first time in the history of modern Greece. Note also, on p. 116, the increasing use of incarceration by the Greek legal system.
  4. Speaking of ELSTAT, have a look at the report of its Good Practice Advisory Committee on ELSTAT's work so far. Check p. 31 for a list of Committee members.
  5. new batch of UN global population projections were released earlier this summer and somehow I missed them. An interesting finding - under all but the most optimistic scenarios, the Greek population will peak in 2015, never (well, never before 2100) to rise again. 
  6. The IMF reviews the relationship between income inequality and fiscal consolidation. Someone needs to tell them that using large datasets that end in 2009 is deeply unhelpful - and even makes them look dishonest.
  7. The IMF has also released a policy paper on the realities of fiscal adjustment in advanced economies and what lessons need to be learned - some of it is too dated for my taste but it's a very ambitious document.
  8. In other news, EU member states have dealt with the overlap between development and climate change funding by simply double counting it to help meet their commitments. 
  9. Researchers find that voters are much less attached to parties than we think; and being told they are on the 'left' or 'right' of the spectrum makes people reassess their allegiances.
  10. Political patronage in state-owned enterprises seems inescapable - even the Austrians are doing it.
  11. Another massive dataset: wealth to income ratios in developed countries from the industrial revolution onwards.

PATHETIC BUT TRUE - GREEK LABOUR MARKET TURNS A CORNER


ELSTAT released today the quarterly findings of its Labour Force Survey for Q2 2013. For the first time in four years, there are some things to celebrate in the LFS release. Tiny things, mind you.

First of all, unemployment appears to have fallen. This is due to the fact that quarterly LFS figures are not seasonally adjusted, and in Greece Q2 employment and GDP are always a lot stronger than in other quarters. The seasonally adjusted monthly figures, on the other hand, suggest unemployment is still up. I suggest you trust those.

As veteran readers will know, I am particularly interested in two sets of LFS figures. The first is the percentage of unemployed people who turn down job offers. This figure is now predictably very low - barely a quarter of its boom-time peak. When unemployment is sky high, after all, passing up jobs is suicide. But some of the movement of this total cannot be explained by rising unemployment, at least not through a naive linear fit: we have an 'excess' number of 'voluntary unemployed,' and have done since late 2012. I find this more interesting than other parts of the release because this 'excess voluntary unemployment' figure (which is of course my calculation, not ELSTAT's) is in fact a leading indicator of GDP growth. You can see the relationship between the two in the scatterplot below. Just to clarify, the 'excess' voluntary unemployment figures are residuals left over after comparing the actual percentage of unemployed people turning down jobs with the percentage predicted by a naive linear model using only unemployment as a determinant.

In any case, since late 2012 the Greek labour market appears to have reached a turning point and I am willing to predict positive yoy growth by Q2 2014. Barring of course a civil war.

However, the dislocation in the Greek labour market is only deepening - and this leads us to the second set of LFS figures I like to keep track of. This one concerns the gap in unemployment rates between school leavers and graduates, which is huge and widening still. I'm specifically restricting the comparison to men because comparisons between female postgraduates and school leavers do not have the same meaning - gender roles, sexism, personal preferences, all could distort the interpretation of the gap in unemployment rates as a 'skills premium'.

The 'skills premium' of postgraduates closely mirrors the 'national premium' of Greeks versus non-Greeks. In fact the unemployment rates of male school leavers and foreigners are almost perfectly correlated. One reason of course could be the fact that many foreign workers trapped in Greece are precisely that - male school leavers. But it also paints a picture of a bifurcating labour market, divided between insiders and outsiders, within which the seeds of conflict are sown. After all, nationalism and religious animosity are much more common among school leavers and the unemployed, and when the jobs they compete with foreigners for are drying out, it is only going to get worse (more details here and here).

Anyway, enjoy (?) the figures below.




Thursday, 12 September 2013

WEEKEND READING: 14-15 SEPTEMBER


  1. New labour market figures out for Greece - unadjusted figures suggest recovery, but then June is a traditionally 'good' month for Greece.
  2. A fuller account of European economic linkages - distinguishing between the effects of trade and financial flows.
  3. A real similarity between Argentina and Greece for once: publishing accurate national statistics gets you into trouble. Faking them does not.
  4. The OECD compares income redistribution policies in Europe and the US
  5. OECD figures document the fiscal benefits of migration for Greece. Full table embedded below.
  6. Still with the OECD: Greece is the only OECD country in which health risks from smoking increased significantly throughout the boom years.
  7. The Athens cellphone-tapping affair, revisited in detail. Must-read.
  8. Revolutionary #FAIL: a call to deface the newly-painted walls of the School of Applied Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the National Technical University of Athens attracts slightly less solidarity than expected.
  9. I don't like sensationalist headlines, especially the ones likely to inflame racist rhetoric, but I just can't not report this - it's proper academic research. One in four men in the Asia-Pacific region have raped their partner or another woman, with 'sexual entitlement' the leading motivation, according to research published in the Lancet
  10. In the US, an increase in the minimum wage 'unequivocally' affects employment by forcing businesses to grow more slowly.

Monday, 9 September 2013

A TRADITION OF FAILURE: SAMARAS' GREAT LEAP BACKWARDS (UPDATE)


A little-noticed excerpt from our Prime Minister's speech yesterday - addressing the Thessaloniki International Expo- has got me reaching for my datasets once again. Ignorance is bliss in Greece but there are limits to how ignorant one can be in public. Especially if they are the Prime Minister.

The original text, available here, reads thus:
Τέλος η εποχή που κάποιοι προσπαθούσαν να απαλλαγούν από την εθνική μας παράδοση κι από την πολιτιστική μας ταυτότητα, για να γίνουν τάχα «ψευτο-Ευρωπαίοι». Άλλους τους ενοχλούσε η σχολική ιστορία μας και προσπαθούσαν να την ξαναγράψουν με απίστευτες στρεβλώσεις. Άλλους του ενοχλεί η θρησκευτική παράδοση της Ορθοδοξίας. Τέλος όλα αυτά! Δεν είναι ευρωπαϊκή προσέγγιση αυτή. Οι Ευρωπαίοι σέβονται τον εαυτό τους, την Ιστορία τους και την παράδοσή τους. Παντού στον κόσμο, οι λαοί που προοδεύουν σέβονται και υπερασπίζονται την ταυτότητά τους και την εθνική τους κληρονομιά! Ενώ αυτοί που ξεχνούν ποιοι είναι, δεν προκόβουν, μένουν στο περιθώριο.
My translation:
'The times when some sought to rid themselves of our national traditions and cultural identity, so that they might become 'pseudo-European', are over. Some were annoyed by our history as taught in schools and sought to re-write it with unbelievable distortions. Others are annoyed by the religious tradition of the Orthodox (Christian) faith. Enough of all that! This is no European approach. Europeans respect themselves, their Histories and their traditions. All over the world, the peoples who progress respect and defend their identity and their national heritage! Whereas those who forget who they are, they do not prosper, they remain at the margins.'
Samaras, confident that a recovery will preserve his party in government, has gone on the offensive here (key word being 'offensive'), with some massively uneducated tripe. So I've taken the liberty of producing some pan-European figures that prove him wrong - each blue dot is a country in Europe and the near East. The red dot is Greece.

The broad gist of the figures is that both national pride and religiosity generally fall as people become more educated - both in Greece and Europe more generally. Very religious and very nationalistic countries are typically unhappy and poor places. Worse, the crucial break with 'tradition' happens not in supposedly commie-riddled Universities, but in early education.- simply finishing compulsory education makes the typical European join Samaras' nation-disowning enemies. Instead, it is the huge rump of uneducated masses that clings to Samaras' ideals, and Greece has more of those than the West. Not by accident, but by design.

Note also that University-educated people in Greece and the rest of Europe have similar levels of national pride and religiosity - it is the less educated that account for nearly all of Greece's deviation from European norms.

And what countries, I hear you ask, are furthest away from us on the nationalist/religiosity scale? Why, they are notorious hell-holes like Denmark, France and Sweden, where the majority of citizens aren't 'proud' of their nationality, less than one in six people claim that religion is 'very important' in their life, and less than 8% believe it's important to share the nation's ancestry if one is to be called Danish/French/Swedish.


Of course, some might argue that this is symptomatic of declining nations - that people in emerging economies tend to be more nationalistic and religious. Perhaps that's what Samaras himself was referring to. Never mind that emerging economies aren't good places to live - merely good places to rule. Even so, anyone arguing this would be right; the country furthest away from Greece and closest to Samaras' ideal on the religiosity/nationalism scale is none other than Turkey. If only we could join that glorious country, eh Tony? Think they would take us back?

Readers eager to know more can also check how the relationship holds for China - where nationalism increases with education as the regime's stranglehold on education works to give it legitimacy. That is one more reason not to seek to emulate this model.

All figures are 2008 figures, to ensure comparability. PPP adjusted per capita GDP Figures have been taken from here. All other figures are from my new favourite, the European Values Study. National samples are weighted to be nationally representative and based on 1,500 interviews per country (fewer for very small countries like Iceland, that has 808 responses). My full tables and all graphs are available here.

Hey, Truth Team, how did you let this speech slip past you?
Oh I forgot. You probably wrote it.

SOME FINAL NOTES

I cannot help but wonder what Samaras means by thundering 'enough of all that!' Translating less liberally (less liberally being the operant term here) he said 'an end [has/will come] to all of that!'

Is this a policy statement? Is the ersatz 'pride' of Borat's made-up Kazakh national anthem now the law of the land in Greece? Is the gay-bashing religious 'rebirth' of Russia a blueprint for Greece? Will foreign policy be guided by the prophesies of the Athonite Elders about Greece reclaiming Istanbul?

With polls suggesting the Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn would be Greece's third-largest party (with nearly 15% of the vote) if an election were held tomorrow, Samaras' electoral strategy appears to be to skim GD's penumbra of non-attached voters for himself by stressing his patriotic credentials. He's a fool to bank on them. This is a high-maintenance mafia clientele, willing to sell their vote to Neo-Nazis for a sack of potatoes or the promise of a vigilante patrol for their neighbourhood. They don't need a Prime Minister - they want a Genghis Khan style chieftain, and Tony boy will never be man enough for them.

Friday, 6 September 2013

WEEKEND READING 7-8 SEPTEMBER


  1. The WEF's new Global Competitiveness rankings are out. Greece is 91st, up from 96th, due to a slightly more flexible labour market, a slightly improved macro environment (first time in years) and a continuing improvement in businesses' use of technology. Try here for the full dataset or click on different countries in the infographic below.
  2. The ECB explains TARGET balances in 8 minutes
  3. The WSJ documents in great detail the stock, flow and lives of Syrian refuggees. And Sweden grants blanket asylum to any Syrian refugees that manage to make it there.
  4. Evidence from Canada suggests real-time search and online payments data are very good predictors of recessions.