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Friday, 29 January 2016

e-Petition: Μετρήστε πόσο από το χρόνο τους αφιερώνουν οι Έλληνες πολίτες στο Κράτος

Αγαπητοί αναγνώστες:

Ετοίμασα το παρακάτω ψήφισμα στο Avaaz και θα σας ήμουν ευγνώμων αν διαθέτατε μερικά λεπτά για να το διαβάσετε, και να υπογράψετε εφόσον συμφωνείτε.

Μπορείτε να υποστηρίξετε την προσπάθεια να μετρήσουμε το αθέατο κόστος του κράτους ψηφίζοντας εδώ.

ΕΛΣΤΑΤ - Ελληνική Στατιστική Αρχή: Μετρήστε πόσο από το χρόνο τους αφιερώνουν οι Έλληνες πολίτες στο Κράτος

Γιατί είναι σημαντικό;

Κανένας δεν γνωρίζει πόση από την καθημερινή ζωή των Ελλήνων Πολιτών αναλώνεται στο να εξυπηρετούν το ελληνικό Κράτος - να του παράσχουν πληροφορίες, δικαιολογητικά, δηλώσεις, μεταφράσεις, πιστοποιήσεις ή απλά να περιμένουν στην ουρά.


Η Έρευνα Χρήσης Χρόνου (ΕΧΧ) της ΕΛΣΤΑΤ που ήδη προγραμματίζεται να διενεργηθεί το 2021 είναι μια καλή ευκαιρία να μετρηθεί χονδρικά αυτός ο χρόνος χωρίς πρόσθετο κόστος για το φορολογούμενο. Η ημερομηνία του 2021 φαντάζει πολύ μακρινή αλλά λογικά ο σχεδιασμός της έρευνας θα αρχίσει αρκετά πιο σύντομα. Χρειαζόμαστε επίσης χρόνο για να ενημερωθούν οι πολίτες και οι πολιτικοί παράγοντες ούτως ώστε να στηρίξουν την έρευνα και να αξιοποιήσουν τα ευρήματά της.

Προς τί η μέτρηση;
Ο χρόνος των πολιτών έχει αξία κι ανήκει στον ίδιους, όχι στο Κράτος. Το Κράτος έχει την εξουσία να χρησιμοποιεί ή να δεσμεύει το χρόνο μας, αλλά όχι χωρίς λόγο και όχι χωρίς προϋποθέσεις. Πρέπει είτε να λογοδοτεί (όπως αν πχ μας φορολογούσε) είτε να μας αποζημιώνει (όπως πχ αν είχε απαλλοτριώσει την περιουσία μας) είτε να μας ανταμείβει (όπως πχ αν είχε υπογράψει σύμβαση μαζί μας).

Αυτό κατά βάθος το γνωρίζουν και οι απλοί πολίτες και οι πολιτικοί. Κάθε σχεδόν κυβέρνηση (και αντιπολίτευση) υπόσχεται ένα πιο ευέλικτο και φιλικό προς το χρήστη Δημόσιο. Πώς όμως αξιολογούμε το αν ο στόχος τους έχει επιτευχθεί, και αν οι όποιες μεταρρυθμίσεις αρκούν για να αλλάξουν την καθημερινότητα των πολιτών; Για την ώρα, δεν μπορούμε να το κάνουμε παρά μόνο πολύ αποσπασματικά.

Πώς μπορεί να γίνει;

Το βασικό εργαλείο της μέτρησης μπορεί να είναι η Έρευνα Χρήσης Χρόνου, που διεξάγει η ΕΛΣΤΑΤ. Στην πρόσφατη ΕΧΧ του 2013/4 (που ήταν και η πρώτη του είδους της) συμμετείχαν 7.137 άτομα από 3.371 νοικοκυριά. Για τη μέτρηση που ζητούμε αρκούν μερικές μικρές προσαρμογές στα ερωτηματολόγια της ΕΧΧ του 2013/4, τα οποία (μαζί με τα αποτελέσματα της έρευνας) μπορεί κανείς να δει εδώ: http://www.statistics.gr/statistics/-/publication/SFA30/-

Στο ερωτηματολόγιο της ΕΧΧ, κάθε δραστηριότητα των ερωτηθέντων αντιστοιχεί σε έναν κωδικό. Οι κωδικοί προέρχονται από την Ευρωπαϊκή ταξινόµηση ACL2008 (Activity Coding List for Harmonized European Time Use Surveys) και ακολουθούν τις κατευθυντήριες οδηγίες του 2008 (HETUS 2008). Οι κωδικοί 362 (εμπορικές και διαχειριστικές υπηρεσίες) και 371 (διαχείριση υποθέσεων του νοικοκυριού) θα μπορούσαν να διασπαστούν ούτως ώστε να διακρίνονται ξεκάθαρα οι συναλλαγές με δημόσιες υπηρεσίες και η προετοιμασία τους κατ' οίκον από τις διαχειριστικές ανάγκες του νοικοκυριού.

Κάθε τοποθεσία αντιστοιχεί επίσης σε έναν κωδικό. Ο κωδικός τοποθεσίας 19 (Άλλη συγκεκριμένη τοποθεσία) θα μπορούσε να διασπαστεί ώστε να διακρίνονται ξεκάθαρα οι δραστηριότητες που λαμβάνουν χώρα σε δημόσιες υπηρεσίες.

Αν χρειαστεί η ΕΛΣΤΑΤ να καταβάλει εναρμονισμένα στοιχεία με βάση την ACL2008, είναι σχετικά απλό ζήτημα το να αθροίσει τους επιμέρους κωδικούς που προήλθαν πχ από τη διάσπαση των 362 και 371 (ας τους πούμε 362/1 και 362/2 ή 371/1 και 371/2).

Και τί θα αλλάξει;

Τα στοιχεία της ΕΧΧ μπορούν να μας πούν πόσο χρόνο αφιερώνουν οι πολίτες στο κράτος, αν αυτός αυξάνεται ή μειώνεται, και ποιές κατηγορίες πολιτών επιβαρύνονται περισσότερο – ανά ηλικία, φύλο, σύνθεση νοικοκυριού, τοποθεσία, βαθμό αστικότητας και θέση στην εργασία. Γνωρίζοντας αυτές τις λεπτομέρειες είναι πιο εύκολο να σκεφτεί κανείς λύσεις για τη δημόσια διοίκηση αλλά και να παρακολουθήσει, σε βάθος χρόνου, την αποτελεσματικότητά τους. Πιθανώς γι αυτό το λόγο και η πρώτη ΕΧΧ του 2013/4 χρηματοδοτήθηκε από το Επιχειρησιακό Πρόγραμμα «Διοικητική Μεταρρύθμιση 2007-2013.

Η ΕΧΧ χρησιμοποιείται ήδη για να παράσχει συμπληρωματικές μετρήσεις στον υπολογισμό του ΑΕΠ (πχ εκτιμήσεις που σπάνια βλέπουν το φώς της δημοσιότητας σχετικά με της αξίας της απλήρωτης εργασίας των νοικοκυριών.) Η μέτρηση του χρόνου που δεσμεύει το Κράτος μπορεί κι αυτή να βελτιώσει, πχ τις εκτιμήσεις για την προστιθέμενη αξία της δημόσιας διοίκησης.

Σε βάθος χρόνου, μπορεί να πειστούν και άλλες Ευρωπαϊκές χώρες να διεξάγουν τις ίδιες μετρήσεις – με αποτέλεσμα να προκύψουν συγκρίσιμα στοιχεία.

Ανεξαρτήτως όμως από το πώς χρησιμοποιούμε τα στοιχεία, κάθε φορά που γίνεται αναφορά σε αυτά θα είναι και μια υπενθύμιση στους κυβερνώντες και στο πολιτικό προσωπικό της χώρας ότι ο χρόνος μας δεν τους ανήκει.

Δεν είμαστε παράλογοι…

Ο σκοπός αυτών των στοιχείων δεν είναι ο εντυπωσιασμός αλλά η μέτρηση. Δεν θέλουμε να νοθεύσουμε τα νούμερα με συναλλαγές ή εργασίες κατά τις οποίες ο πολίτης δεν παρέχει
ουσιαστικά την εργασία ή το χρόνο του στο Κράτος, ούτε με δραστηριότητες για τις οποίες ήδη υπάρχει λογοδοσία. Είναι σχετικά εύκολο να γίνει αυτό.

Για παράδειγμα, αν ο ερωτηθείς είναι δημόσιος υπάλληλος, εννοείται ότι η εργασία του θα συνεχίζει να εμπίπτει στους κωδικούς (δραστηριότητας και τοποθεσίας) που σχετίζονται με την κύρια εργασία. Και είναι λογικό – ο συμπολίτης αυτός πληρώνεται για την εργασία του και το Κράτος ήδη δίνει λογαριασμό και για το χρόνο εργασίας του και για την αμοιβή του.

Παρομοίως, ο χρόνος κατά τον οποίο ο πολίτης απολαμβάνει υπηρεσίες του Δημοσίου δεν έχει νόημα να μετρηθεί ως χρόνος που του ‘δεσμεύει’ το Κράτος. Για παράδειγμα, δεν
είναι προσφορά χρόνου στο Κράτος το να παρακολουθεί κανείς διαλέξεις σε ένα δημόσιο πανεπιστήμιο: αρκεί να μετρηθεί όπως και ως τώρα κάτω από τους κωδικούς 211-212 (Μαθήματα – Εργασία στο σπίτι). Η υποβολή μηχανογραφικού όμως και η συλλογή των δικαιολογητικών για την εγγραφή σε δημόσιο ΑΕΙ μπορεί να είναι διαφορετική υπόθεση.

Τέλος, όταν οι συναλλαγές με το δημόσιο συνδυάζονται με άλλες δραστηριότητες (πχ ψώνια), δεν πρέπει να χρεώνεται το δημόσιο όλες τις σχετικές δραστηριότητες και μετακινήσεις. Εφόσον υπάρχουν τα υπόλοιπα σχετικά στοιχεία, είναι σχετικά εύκολο για οποιονδήποτε ερευνητή να κάνει έναν απλό επιμερισμό.

Τι λέει η ΕΛΣΤΑΤ για όλα αυτά;

Το αίτημα απευθύνεται στην ΕΛΣΤΑΤ όχι επειδή έχει δείξει κάποια απροθυμία να ασχοληθεί με το θέμα (δεν ισχύει κάτι τέτοιο) αλλα απλώς επειδή είναι η αρμόδια αρχή. Η ΕΛΣΤΑΤ συλλέγει και αξιολογεί τακτικά προτάσεις από τους χρήστες της - δείτε πχ την πιο πρόσφατη έρευνα ικανοποίησης χρηστών:

http://www.statistics.gr/user-satisfaction-survey

Ο συντάκτης του ψηφίσματος έχει επικοινωνήσει μέσω email με ένα από τα αρμόδια άτομα και εισέπραξε μια ευγενική απάντηση, την υπόσχεση καταγραφής της πρότασής του και μερικές χρήσιμες πληροφορίες.

Όταν έρθει η ώρα να σχεδιαστεί η έρευνα του 2021, όμως, θα είναι παράλογο να αποφασίσει η ΕΛΣΤΑΤ μια σημαντική αλλαγή με βάση τα σχόλια ενός μόνο χρήστη. Ένα μαζικό αίτημα θα τη βοηθήσει να αξιολογήσει καλύτερα πόση ζήτηση υπάρχει γι αυτά τα στοιχεία και αν αξίζει τον κόπο να γίνουν οι εν λόγω αλλαγές.

Friday, 15 January 2016

WHAT PRICE SALVATION?


To celebrate the blog's 6th birthday (and its 500,000th pageview) I proposed to take suggestions for fact-checks from the audience on Twitter and Facebook. This is the second of the two winning fact-checks and it deals with the cost to Greek citizens of the Greek Orthodox Church. 

In the beginning there was the press release...

Perhaps the most surprising element of this fact-check is the extent to which it has been pre-empted by an extremely detailed press release from Greece's far-left Government (as it then was) in March 2015. This explained that, contrary to press reports, the Greek Churches (for there are three - the Church of Greece, the Church of Crete and the Holy Metropolises of the Dodecanese) pay taxes; enjoy no undue tax breaks, and have a solid legal claim to the Greek government's payroll. They also do not directly handle public money. Quoting from the release:

"The payroll of Christian Orthodox Clergy as well as the funding of Christian Orthodox Religious Education is an obligation of the State declared in texts of the National Assemblies of the Peoples’ representatives of the Greek revolutionaries (1822, 1829) in exchange for transferring the assets of the Church to the State. The transfer was implemented gradually [by means of the following:]
  • establishment of public organizations for exploiting the assets of the Church and for supporting public Education and improvement of the Clergy’s situation on October 13, 1834; 
  • expropriation of monasteries’ property to indemnify farmers and refugees following the destruction of Ionia on November 19, 1909 and on May 10, 1930; 
  • Concession for transferring ⅘ of fields and meadows property of monasteries on September 18, 1952; 
  • Concession for transferring forest, fields and meadows property of monasteries on May 11, 1988." 
Moreover, it should be made clear that salaries are paid from the State directly to Clergy. Public funds are not transferred by the State via the Holy Metropolises nor are any regular grants included in the annual budget of the State to any of the entities of the Church of Greece, the Church of Crete and the Holy Metropolises of the Dodecanese. Therefore, the Holy Metropolises do not manage public money”. 

The numbers of the Beast

The Syriza presser, apart from being politically shrewd to defend the Church in an almost entirely Orthodox Christian country, is also right. Technically the payment of priests' salaries is a legal obligation; an off-balance-sheet liability, if you will, recorded as a current transfer by the Central Government to bodies outside General Government. It has also been relatively easy to track down from 2013 onwards. You can find it is as follows:
  1. Go to the Greek ministry of finance website and select Menu - Financial Data -  Budget Execution Bulletins (Οικονομικά στοιχεία - Δελτία εκτέλεσης προϋπολογισμού).
  2. Pick the latest monthly General government bulletin (Δελτίο εκτέλεσης προϋπολογισμού) and look for the attached Central Government time series .xls file. Sometimes the English files will be missing but the Greek ones will be there.
  3. Navigate to the tab named 'Non State Central Government' (Κεντρική Κυβέρνηση Πλην Κρατικού [Προϋπολογισμού])
  4. Look for two rows called B.516.: Current transfers paid - Current transfers to non-governmental units (Τρέχουσες μεταβιβάσεις καταβληθείσες - Προς μονάδες εκτός της γενικής κυβέρνησης). One records just the monthly payments and the other records the cumulative figure over the year. Use the cumulative version where possible.
  5. Always use the latest version as statistics get revised regularly and retrospectively. 
You can find the most recent time series (Nov 2015) at the time of writing in Greek here and in English here. This approach only works because the Church's wage bill is the only current transfer from central government to a non-General-Government body. If this were to change, it would become much harder to isolate it. Before 2013, the pay data was a little harder to find, and information on the actual number of clerics was elusive; in fact, the Greek Church(es) had to refine their own data collection from 2011 onwards in order to feed into the census of state employees.

Clerics' pensions are, like those of civil servants, unfunded and paid directly out of the Central Government budget. As unlikely as it sounds, this makes the associated payments much more transparent than their salaries - as long as you can read Greek you can look them up in any Budget post-mortem (eg see 'Κεντρικές Υπηρεσίες' here). You can also, for now, find recent data on Diavgeia, the embattled transparency website on which most spending decisions must be published.

I summarise how much the Greek government has paid priests over the recent years in the graph below.


This expenditure includes the salaries of ca. 10,000 priests and other Church staff, while the pensions bill includes pensions paid to a projected 5,240 priests and Church employees. It doesn't include spending on the education of priests and subsidies to other church institutions, which, in 2014, came up to roughly EUR2.5m - but that is genuinely negligible in the grand scheme of things. Now, priests have never been a 'exotic' category of civil servants; legally they've always been treated in the same way as the rest, even collecting the same spurious pre-crisis productivity bonuses as their colleagues elsewhere.

It's clear from the graph above that the Church has not been immune to austerity, having taken a nominal cut of ca 35% between 2010 and 2015. But it has, perhaps, been somewhat sheltered, presumably because so much of its spending is direct transfers to individuals. If you rank the Church against other categories of spending where comparable data is available, the church's wage bill was cut at about two-thirds of the pace seen in the core civil service, defence spending, sickness and disability benefits, public transport or hospital budgets; or at the same pace as parliamentary functions and legal spending; and faster than, say, the police, agricultural spending or environmental protection. Moreover, even more so than with other Greeks, in the priestly orders pensioners really have screwed everyone else over. The Church's pensions bill has come out of the crisis almost entirely unscathed even though the number of pensioners hasn't risen tremendously. And it's clear that it's not just press releases the Syriza/Anel government had to offer the Church; it also offered it its first real-terms payrise in five years.

As much as it's enjoyable to point to the Church's sheltered pensions, it's also important to put the Church's payroll and other spending on it in perspective. At a total EUR224m in 2015, the cost of the Church is approximately 0.13% of GDP; that's somewhere between the country's entire public housing budget and the amount the state spends on waste water management.

God's Social Workers

It is not surprising that there have been calls for a substantial rethink of the Church's relationship to the public finances throughout the last few decades, and even less surprising that they have grown stronger in the recent depression. In 2012, an ungoogleable report from Greece's Centre for Planning and Economic Research (the Greek Government's economic think-tank) called for a rethink, offering several scenarios for the rebalancing of church and state relations - including levying a tax on the faithful or tapping the Church's own income to pay for some 50% of the Church's payroll. This was swiftly dismissed by the Government of the time on the grounds that it would jeopardise the Church's social work, which the Government claimed was worth more than the EUR100m KEPE aimed to save.

But how much charitable work does the Church actually do? Apparently, EUR121m worth in 2014, down marginally from EUR122m in 2013, but up from 106m in 2012, EUR100m in 2011; EUR96m in 2010, EUR92m in 2009 and EUR93m in 2008.  In any case, the Church claims to feed half a million Greeks over the year in 280 soup kitchens, and another 76 thousand through 150 food banks; it claims to provide 1,300 scholarships and care-at-home for 3,500 persons. Not to mention some 28 nurseries and 75 charitable cramming schools (remember those?). This activity is partly supported by over 3,000 parish welfare funds.

So let's try the maths again. I'm netting off charitable work against wages only, as a kind of 'operating surplus' of the Church's social work. Clearly, wage restraint has eaten very far into this surplus; the Church's work is countercyclical, while its wage bill has been cut.


The source of all estimates of the Church's humanitarian work is the Church's Synodical Commission for Social Welfare and Well-Being, supported by a Census of Church organisations. However, unlike the Church's finances these figures are unaudited. Scrutiny by ELSTAT, for which the Church is apparently preparing, is unlikley to fill that gap. So for now, it's important to exercise some skepticism in both directions; these amounts include operating costs of the Church's foundations, and there may be some double-counting in the figures, but also under-counting of donations in kind and voluntary work. I would not query the order of magnitude.

So the Church's argument goes that if it had to pick up the tab for priests' salaries and pensions it would be unable to devote the same amount it currently does to humanitarian work. I am not entirely convinced - or rather, I'm sure this is true but I'm sure the relationship between the Church's wage bill and its ability to provide humanitarian assistance is more nuanced - and weaker. It has, after all, proven capable of raising substantial funds in these lean times despite a cut in its wage bill - something it had warned would be impossible back in 2012. One reason, among many I'm sure, is that the Church's humanitarian activity is not driven substantially by the work of priests and others on the State payroll but by volunteers. The European Values Study of 2008 tells me that 2.2% of the Greek adult population (some 180,000 people) worked unpaid for a religious organisation - eighteen times the number of actual priests. Pensioners and the unemployed, especially those with lower levels of education, were most likely to do this work - so the Church's supply of unpaid labour has no doubt grown in the crisis. (Bonus: if it really takes 180,000 people to provide ca 120m worth of assistance, that works out to ca EUR666 per person per year - a hilarious but genuine coincidence.

Supernatural monopoly

These figures point to the core of Greece's Church-state problem. The Church's network and infrastructure are, frankly, extremely convenient for the State; and the Church has a longer history of performing both social and administrative functions than the State. In providing services to Greece's mainstream, indigenous population, the Church can, due to its historical endowment, out-compete any NGO or international organisation, and often the State itself. The Church can raise the EUR120m or so it needs for its operations less invasively and more sensitively than the State - I've never once heard of a protest against it. And the Church can mobilise volunteers. The State would have a protest on its hands in no time.

Put it differently, if the Greek state were to put the social protection and administrative functions of the Church out to tender, as a formal outsourced business, the Church would win almost all of them right back, with a profit margin. Its mas access to free labour would be almost impossible to replicate. If the State were instead to take them all in-house as state functions, it would probably perform them less effectively and efficiently and would struggle to make the case for tax rises to fund them. It would have to scale down massively because it would never be able to find the people to perform them.

Either extreme is less preferable than the status quo. In the good times, of course, the Church might have struggled to reach the niche or socially excluded groups that were most in need of some interventions (say, sex workers, migrants, or refugees). But as the crisis reaches ever more of the core of Greek society this argument has become weaker.

The Church, of course, didn't build this unassailable competitive position on its own; it has relied on seventeen centuries of Government endorsement of its administrative and welfare functions, not to mention a massive subsidy to its indoctrination work through the establishment of a state religion. These advantages persisted even during the centuries of Ottoman rule. Clearly, a hypothetical country designed from scratch wouldn't work like this - but what is the point of such thinking?

The answer to this supernatural monopoly on welfare services does not, to me, appear to be a defunding of the Church in one fell swoop, but rather a combination of gradually reducing pension spending (say, by fixing it forever in nominal terms) and ending the enormous investment of the State in maintaining the State Religion through education and the law itself. Given how the latter is written into the Greek constitution, I don't expect much change is immediately possible, but it's worthwhile.

Enough land for all the flock to roam

A key question posed to me when I began this fact-check related to the wealth of the Church. The Church, the narrative goes, is rich; and because it is rich it must contribute to the public coffers in our time of need. I am not sure how asset-rich the Church is, or how cash-rich it is either.

The Church's key source of wealth is supposedly land and real estate. But how much land does the Church own? The Greek blogosphere offers a million answers but there some figures with at least some legitimacy. An Agricultural Bank of Greece study (inaccessible online but cited eg here) dating back to 1987 estimates the Church's rural holdings at 1,300 square kilometers, about 1% of the country's rural land. Of this less than a tenth was arable, and about a quarter was classified as forest by the authorities and largely banned from development. A whole lot of it was pastures. But even that study seems to have been compiled based on 'expert views' - on which I would not necessarily rely on such a difficult issue.



The Church cites the 1987 study widely, not only because it makes its real estate empire look small but also because it deals exclusively with rural land; clearly in terms of actual wealth it is the urban property of the Church that actually matters, of which we anecdotally know there is a good deal. The Church's detractors cite the same study because it names the Church as Greece's no.2 landlord after the State itself; even though it is a very distant second. Either way, the reality is that the Church's rural real estate is likely worth very little, and trying to get to the bottom of how much is a fool's errand. Quite how people presume to put a price on land that hasn't been involved in a transaction or put to regular productive use for hundreds of years is beyond me, but I'm not dumb enough to try.

Ultimately, the best way to value a piece of Church land is to buy it, or exploit it commercially. There is a catch, though. The Church claims that it would love to make more of its real estate but red tape (eg planning and preservation laws) is getting in the way; in fact, it claims it is probably the only landowner and/or develop with actual respect for planning, zoning and conservation laws, and finds itself stranded in 'forest' plots that haven't seen a green shoot in years, while all around them the state tolerates irregular development. To British readers, this may sound a little like Green Belt lobbying with a twist. Whatever the truth of it, it worked for a while. In April, the Greek government was reportedly close to a deal for a deregulation drive that would enable a 50/50 joint venture between the Church and the Greek State to develop Church lands (H/T @_LaScapigliata). The deal stalled and, as of November, was getting started all over again, with a joint commission set up. Given that the new commission was meant to discuss a much broader set of issues ahead of a Constitutional review, it seems the Government had not got what it wanted back in the first half of the year and was aiming for more.

The development JV, by the way, wasn't Syriza's idea; it has existed since 2013 and has mostly sat on its hands since. What is the chance that it has a board that has been paid without fail ever since?

Cadastral projection

If you are strict about the meaning of the word own, of course, the answer is that we don't and can't know what the Church owns at all, since Greece still has no Land Registry or cadastre; a reform one might have expected to see fast-tracked in the memorandum years but which was in fact left to wither on the vine with EUR100m of EU funding and a billion of the Greek people's own money committed since 1994 and by turns clawed back by Europe, squandered in Greece, or left on the table by both sides. With three quarters of the work still pending and much of it expected to be completed only after 2020, this is a crime and a national disgrace for which neither the troika institutions nor any Greek Government so far has felt the need to seek justice.

The result? The Church has, since 2011, gone on a cadastral safari, in an effort to ensure its claims are as tidy as possible - which is hard to do when one's claim on land is a patchwork of often centuries old squatter's rights, edicts of fallen imperial thrones, bequests and donations. After several rounds of expropriation in the past (see above and below!), it has good cause to worry. But it could help speed up the process even more by putting its moral and legal weight behind getting the Land Registry off the ground faster. It has not.

Pearls before swine

Regarding the Church's total property, there are estimates of 7-15bn which appear to be based on pre-crisis property and share values, and other estimates of ca. 1bn which may be more reasonable now - that would make the Church about as rich in real estate as Greek pension funds.

But claims that the value of church land in Greece runs into the trillions of Euros also abound on the internet. Like much of the Greek blogosphere, they are nonsense, based on a misreading (mishearing even) of the 1994 case of Holy Monasteries v Greece, in which the ECHR awarded ca 8m Drachmas to monasteries in respect of legal fees and expenses following an irregular expropriation of land by the state.

Eight monasteries did, in fact, make a claim for pecuniary damages amounting to an outrageous GDR 7.6 trillion for expropriated land (EUR22.3bn in today's exchange rate, actually more after accounting for inflation between 1994 and 2001). In fact, however, when the monasteries tallied up their property, it came up to a lot less than that: GRD3.1bn for 7 out of the 8 monasteries and another GRD43bn for the eighth, inflated by its ownership of the marble quaries of mt Parnis. So the typical monastery ended up with an estimate closer to EUR2.7m in current Greek prices (adjusting for inflation since 1994); a substantial amount no doubt, especially considering we have a good 2,500 monasteries. Leaving the outlier aside, and assuming the rest are representative, gives us ca. EUR6.6bn in today's money for monasteries alone. Yet these monasteries were far from representative; they were some of the richest, as evidenced by the fact that they were targeted for expropriation and could afford a ridiculously lengthy court case like this.

Remember, these are the monasteries' own estimates of real-estate values, which is to say they are almost certainly inflated. Crucially, the ECHR took no view on the actual value of the property of the monasteries - a point lost on most of the people blogging about the case. Instead it urged the monasteries and the State to come to a settlement; which they finally did, with the State simply acknowledging the monasteries' ownership over the disputed land.

Of course, monasteries aren't the whole of the Church in Greece; and it is doubtful that the Church 'owns' their property to such effect that it could order monasteries to sell it, rent it out or put it to any other use. Hence the value of these estimates is points. Yet since the one thing both the Church's detractors and its defenders alike agree on is that it is (a very distant) second only to the State as an individual owner of land and real estate, then its urban property cannot in any way be worth more than EUR100bn in current values - since that's what the State's buildings are worth.

But most important of all is the question of why the value of Church property matters. The State reassures us that the Church pays the right amount of property tax. If so, then the discussion of Church property is simply a warm-up act for further expropriation, or an attempt to proxy undeclared income. But as the ECHR confirmed back in the 90s, monasteries and indeed the Church can own property just as well as individuals - and no one can help themselves to it without a competing claim or an over-riding social purpose coupled with compensation. That argument is what did for PASOK's expropriation drive in the early 90s, which incidentially is responsible for many of the enduring myths we are still having to discuss today.

TO BE CONTINUED

Friday, 1 January 2016

The contribution of the Greek shipping industry: I agree with Reuters

To celebrate the blog's 6th birthday I proposed to take suggestions for fact-checks from the audience on Twitter and Facebook. This is the first of the two winning fact-checks (a recommendation from my friend P.S.) and it deals with the contribution of shipping to the Greek economy.

The starting point for this fact-check is a Reuters special report, The Greek Shipping Myth, which cast doubt on the employment and GDP contribution figures cited by the Greek shipping industry (and echoed by much of the domestic and foreign press - eg the FT here). The core claim in this report is that the industry's contribution to the Greek economy is inflated because ELSTAT calculates the impact of shipping firms differently than the statistical agencies of other countries do - in particular, it includes in its calculations value added and employment that arise (and possibly stay) in other countries.

In brief: Reuters' claim is correct in its essence. Shipping contributes less to the Greek economy than the industry lets people believe, if by 'economy' one reads 'gross national income' or 'domestic employment'. It is also likely that it contributes a lot less to GDP than the industry claims, although without further input from ELSTAT on the 'domesticity' of its product this is very hard to assess. The treatment of shipping in Greek national accounts is not as unique as Reuters claims - to some extent, countries such as the UK and Cyprus also appear to record it in similar ways. It does, however, contrast sharply to the way in which German statisticians measure the industry, and which is completely aligned with Reuters' preferred approach.

'We're gonna need a bigger boat'

At the risk of flirting with conspiracy theories, it is worth explaining the context of the Reuters publication and the FT coverage cited above. The last few years have seen sustained pressure applied on Greek governments to raise taxes on the shipping industry. It's not just parts of the Greek left gunning for oligarchs that are behind this, either. The German shipping industry is said (see BBC article above) to be lobbying for a review of the taxation of Greek shipping and the IMF appears to have been mulling proposals for further taxation for some time. Parallel to this, the European Commission has recently submitted a set of proposals to Greece on reforming maritime tax; basically asking us to bring some activities out of scope of our tonnage tax system as niche sectors were looking like they were gaming the system.

There is a big obstacle to taxing the shipping industry further, as a forty-year old law (27/1975), given a kind of special status by direct reference in article 107 of the Greek Constitution of 1975, exempts any company that pays tonnage tax in Greece from paying any other corporation tax or capital gains tax on sales of vessels. The exemption even extends to individual shareholders; see more details on p 173 here. This is pretty heavy stuff; it means it's not just difficult to apply income tax to the shipping industry and its owners - it's virtually unconstitutional. The last Greek government got around this problem in 2013 by establishing a voluntary agreement with the industry for an additional levy, and then formalising aspects of this into law. This idea had originally been mooted in 2011, during negotiations on the second Greek bailout, and effectively means that Greek-owned shipping companies (regardless of flag) will have paid an additional EUR420m between 2014 and 2017 (and no less than EUR105m in any given year). It's a steep increase from the amount of tonnage tax receipts which bring in a risible EUR12m per year (in 2012; historical data available here under the 'EL' tab), but clearly this amount still looks relatively modest.

In short: there's a hell of a lot of money to play for; national statisticians are swimming with sharks and Reuters' claim is that they've long avoided being eaten but cutting a deal.

Shipping in the ocean of data

It's not easy to pin down shipping in national statistics. This is because the full suite of relevant sectors are only really identifiable at the 4-digit level of the European Union's revised standard industry classification (NACE rev. 2). The NACE rev. 2 codes we're potentially looking at are as follows:

C: MANUFACTURING
30.11: Building of ships and floating structures
30.12: Building of pleasure and sporting boats
33.15: Repair and maintenance of ships and boats.

H: TRANSPORTATION AND STORAGE
50.10 Sea and coastal passenger water transport
50.20 Sea and coastal freight water transport
52.10 Warehousing and Storage activities for transportation
52:22: Support activities incidental to water transportation

N: ADMINISTRATIVE AND SUPPORT SERVICE ACTIVITIES
77.34: Rental and leasing of water transport equipment

Even then, there is room for discretion. I would be careful, for example, about counting anything other than codes 50.20, 52.22 and 77.34 under 'shipping,' though I would count almost all of the rest as part of the 'maritime cluster.' Even then, I would be careful about including code 52.10: it's likely that warehousing support for shipping is only a small part of this activity, and it's impossible to disaggregate it further. The 'maritime cluster' sectors are a unit of sorts because they share skillsets and specialisms, not to mention historical, corporate and family ties. But it's fair to say that the industries of the broader cluster respond to completely different sources of demand - demand for yachts, ferry rides and cruises isn't really driven by the currents of world trade, except perhaps in the very long term. And you wouldn't really expect to tax these sectors by tonnage, would you?

There is a shortcut that researchers can and do use to get round all of this detail. NACE rev 2 code 50 (water transport) is a 2-digit sector and therefore a lot more statistics are publicly available for it; and intermediate demand for water transport from other industries is a half-decent proxy for shipping output, because it strips out demand for passenger travel and other non-trade related things.

Using Eurostat's supply and use tables here it's relatively easy to see what the top line is for 'water transport services.' Some EUR15bn per year, as of 2010, almost all of it from exports. These are the latest and only figures on intermediate consumption of shipping that are available to us, but happily they are not the only figures we can rely on.

A missing middleman?

Contrary to what the Reuters piece might have you think, Greece's ELSTAT does not publish regular releases specifically on the contribution of the shipping industry, the way it might do with say, manufacturing or services as a whole. It does, however, quietly prepare estimates of value added and employment in the industry for the purposes of compiling national accounts - which in turn feed into estimates of Greek GDP and productivity.

You can see ELSTAT's breakdown of GDP components for 'water transport services' here. This roughly confirms the topline figure I cited above (15.8bn in 2010 but EUR12.8bn in 2014) and suggests that the industry contributed EUR5.7bn of value added in 2014, down from EUR6.6bn in 2010. ELSTAT provides the same figures on its own website here. Accounting for the sector's own demand for goods and services, in turn, produces this table, which suggests value added of EUR6.1bn in 2010.

That the two sets of figures are not identical is a little odd. They ought to be, yet you'll notice a difference of EUR460m in the industry's value added, as well as the fact that the water transport sector seems to buy almost no services (a puny EUR28m!) from itself. Now what could that be? It's rare, after all, for a broad (2-digit) industry to not use some of its own product as inputs. This to me is a first hint that there might be a missing middle-man in the GDP figures.

The impact studies

Unlike ELSTAT, the shipping industry and its observers in academia and think tanks are far from quiet about these estimates, and so the relevant figures have, in recent years, found their way into three widely-cited and to some extent overlapping assessments:
It is these studies that provide the chief lobby fodder of the industry, and they are genuinely loyal to the ELSTAT estimates. In fact, there is not much wrong with them at all. Like many 'impact' studies of course, they tend to bulk up their value added estimates with estimates of 'induced demand' and multiplier effects - ie value added in other industries that would not occur if it weren't for shipping. This tends to inflate the industry's contribution to a normally running economy, but might be a good approximation of what the country would miss out on if the entire industry were to decamp to other shores. This approach to impact assessment is not my main concern, or that of the Reuters investigation. Rather, I am concerned that Reuters may be right and that the core ELSTAT figures are probably wrong.

A Waste of Money at Reuters 

Reuters comes to this conclusion by looking at a sample of company accounts for the Greek offices of shipping companies - which account for only a fraction of the value added and employment claimed by the industry. This must have been a heroic effort - but also a wasted one, as ELSTAT had already done this work for them, The results can now be found in Eurostat's annual detailed enterprise statistics, and have two advantages: first, they go to enough detail to identify shipping extremely closely; second, they are limited to shipping enterprises registered in each member state.
  • You can check out the service components of the maritime cluster here, along with their (very detailed) income, employment* and value added figures. 
  • You may also want to add, for completeness, the activities of shipyards and dockyards, available separately here
*You need to be cautious and patient when it comes to the employment figures cited here. Unfortunately, quality control of the detailed enterprise statistics is relatively poor - on two occasions I've come across errors obvious to the naked eye, and shipping employment is one of them. Eurostat has a good record of acting on tip-offs about such errors but this is the holidays so it might take them a while to respond to my complaint.

Whatever the quality of the overall dataset, I believe there is no doubting the value added figures, which tally well with Reuters' estimates. The narrow shipping sector's value added (at factor costs) is barely EUR380m, based on output of EUR 735m. The broad maritime cluster produces a more respectable EUR936m of value added, on turnover of EUR2.2bn. Even this is miles away from the over EUR5bn that ELSTAT counts towards Greece's GDP. It's not just a question of inter-group transfers to companies outside Greece (like the ones, eg, that result in Starbucks' extremely low taxable income). If it were, then the top-line at least would presumably be the same regardless. It really looks like Reuters is right - the value added by shipping businesses registered abroad is being routinely included in the Greek GDP figures.

Then again, look again at the 2010 figures from enterprise stats - we may have our missing-middleman right there. At just over EUR400m, the sea freight sector's 2010 turnover from detailed enterprise statistics fits quite well into the gap between the two value added estimates for 'water transport' that we saw earlier - suggesting that the Greek-registered businesses (local management offices, in Reuters' article) produce nothing but intermediate inputs into an international industry that is somehow considered to be Greek in our annual accounts. Depending on whether the estimate is run top-down or bottom-up, they disappear into opaque group accounts, instead of being tallied up as intermediate inputs, which produces the two separate value-added estimates we saw earlier.

Whose billions?

But what of the other EUR5bn? Is that Greek domestic value added or is it foreign value-added? And if it is foreign value-added, does it give rise to Greek incomes? Consistent with Reuters' theory, it looks like ELSTAT treats all value added from firms of Greek beneficial ownership as domestic, and adds it to GDP. There may be some basis for this. The question of when a transaction can be said to arise in a country's territory and therefore to be domestic is not one of economics but of statistical convention, for which we turn to the wisdom of the ESA2010 manual:
Exports of goods occur without the goods crossing the country’s frontier in the following examples: (a) goods produced by resident units operating in international waters are sold directly to nonresidents in foreign countries. Examples of such goods are oil, natural gas, fishery products, maritime’s salvage; (b) transportation equipment or other movable equipment not tied to a fixed location; (c) goods after changing ownership, which are lost or destroyed before they have crossed the frontier of the exporting country; (d) merchanting, i.e. the purchase of a good by a resident from a non-resident and the subsequent resale of the good to another non-resident, without the good entering the merchant’s economy. Analogous cases occur for the imports of goods. 
Is Greece as unique in this treatment as Reuters alleges? It's easy to test this by comparing the contribution of water transport (remember, this is not quite 'shipping'!) to gross value added under the national accounts with its contribution under enterprise statistics. Here I'm keeping passenger transport in the calculation so that we're comparing 'water transport' with 'water transport' and can therefore isolate the effects of statistical treatment, country of registration and ownership structure.

The entire EU water transport sector makes about 26.5bn of value added under the detailed enterprise statistics approach (2013 figures here) but 34bn under the GDP approach (see here). Greece, the United Kingdom, Cyprus and Romania have enormous shipping sectors in their national accounts compared to detailed enterprise statistics, while Germany, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy provide roughly the same figures under both datasets. Finally, Belgium, Portugal and Estonia seem to have larger shipping sectors in enterprise statistics than in their national accounts.



But where does the money end up?

Whether you think their view of domesticity of shipping product is right or wrong, it's worth noting that ELSTAT makes no claim as to whether this domestic product produces national incomes. The industry claims this, on the basis of GDP figures, as it shouldn't. This is a fine distinction that Reuters fails to make but it does point to the true villain.

I make this introduction because there is a difference between GDP and Gross National Product (not to mention GDP and Gross National Income), and I wouldn't expect the two to be identical in the case of Greece .[I spoke too soon; in 2013 they were. But they don't have to be]. If shipping value added arises within Greece's borders, then there's no reason not to count it towards GDP. If it then immediately leaves the country to swell the coffers of foreign firms, then it won't count towards GNI, but that does not make the GDP calculation incorrect. Clearly, industry lobbyists have an interest in conflating GDP contributions with GNP/GNI contributions, but it is the latter that would give their argument against further taxation weight with the Greek authorities. Hence Reuters, despite a light mixup in terminology, is essentially right to question the numbers. The argument, however, cuts both ways. If so little of the sector's value is created in Greece, on what basis would the Greek government tax it?

Still, the industry claims that the disputed EUR5bn of value added somehow finds its way back to Greece. But in what way? There is no massive net inflow of funds to Greek business in the 'water transport' sector that would account for this difference. You can see this for yourselves here - a trifling EUR40m at last count, and net outflows in most years. There is, to be sure, a huge flow of remittances and wages earned abroad into Greece - nearly EUR1bn on last count. Unfortunately, it's hard to know how much of this is attributed to the shipping industry, and even if all of it were money from shipping employees abroad it wouldn't account for the full EUR5bn anyway.

Or does the money return as private flows of savings, consumption and charitable donations? The industry's flow of charitable giving is unrecorded but clearly massive. A single shipping-family foundation, for example, has been responsible for about EUR900m of easily-traceable charitable giving in Greece over the last ten years, of which at least a third has come post-crisis. It is said that much of the Greek ambulance service runs on donations from the shipping industry, and that many individual charities have benefited.

Without much more transparency from the notoriously secretive shipping families, it is impossible to answer this question. My guess is that the contribution of shipping to Greek national incomes is overstated by something in the order of EUR3-4bn. It also reflects very poorly on ELSTAT that they are not able to answer a straightforward question on how their value added figures are derived, and that they provide two different estimates of value added in the water transport sector (one in I-O tables and one in the national accounts, never mind the one in enterprise statistics). At the very least a methodological note would be very useful. Like, yesterday.