Is The Greek Calamity Economy Headed For Revolt?

Wolf Richter's picture

Wolf Richter

“Dire” is no longer the right word to describe the situation in Greece. Unemployment hit 23.1% in May, according to ELSTAT, the Greek statistical agency, which released the report on August 9. That it takes over two months to do a job—producing unemployment numbers—that other countries accomplish in a couple of weeks may be symptomatic of Greece’s calamity economy.

And a calamity it is. Youth unemployment (15-24) jumped to 54.9%—but even before the crisis, during the boom years so to speak, it had been high, ranging from 22% in 2007 to 32% in 1999. The number of people with jobs dropped to 3,816,900—of a total population of 9.9 million! Only 38.5% of the people work! In the US, where the jobs situation is dismal enough, the employment population ratio is 58.4%. No country can succeed when only 38.5% of the people contribute to the economy and pay taxes to feed their government and service its debt. To get to 50%, the Greek economy would have to create 1.2 million jobs, a 31% jump! Impossible under the regime of Greek politics, bureaucrats, and state-owned enterprises. So the people are reacting with their feet.

“Thousands upon thousands of Greeks are on the move, leaving the larger cities for the countryside or smaller provincial towns or abandoning the country to try their luck abroad,” writes Teacher Dude in his blog from Thessaloniki, Northern Greece. “The steady rhythm of friends, neighbors, and colleagues gradually slipping away,” he laments. “In every apartment block in every street, no entrance hall is complete without a handful of For Rent or For Sale signs.” And it’s personal: “Thomas, who’s now in Germany, trying to start a new life, Anne and Makis who have decided to go back to Makis’s home town of Alexandroupolis, Panos who is off to Crete to try his hand at farming after losing his job in the latest round of job cuts....”

And sales of new passenger vehicles plunged in July 42.1% from prior year and 41.4% year to date. Only 5,757 units were sold in July, the worst July since the beginning of the data series in 1990, and a collapse of 82.4% from July 2009 when 32,627 new vehicles were sold. Mind-boggling declines. People stopped buying cars! And switched to bicycles: 200,000 were sold in 2011, a 25% jump from 2010! Bike shops are cropping up in neighborhoods. Something is working....

Meanwhile, the government, which is desperately trying to keep the country glued together, was just dealt another setback: it seeped out that the next bailout payment of €31 billion, to be paid in June, then delayed till September, would be delayed once again, and this time till October.

Or was it a setback?

The Troika—the gang from the European Central Bank, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund—made bailout payments conditional on the implementation of “structural reforms,” from laying off civil servants to privatizing state-owned enterprises. But during the election, Greek politicians backed away. And the Troika, instead of sending money, sent its inspectors to check on what had been accomplished.

The first wave in early July painted an “awful picture.” The second wave finished last Sunday, and suddenly the tone changed; words such as “cooperation” and “progress” emanated from all sides, and there was agreement by the Greeks that greater efforts would be necessary. A veritable praise fest. And suspicions arose immediately that the Troika was laying the publicity groundwork for something that bailout-leery Germans would oppose.

That was Sunday. Now the leak of the delay till October. And of a mega inspection in September, not for a few days, but for the entire month. Of the still needed €11.5 billion in austerity measures, €7 billion have been identified with the government, but they’re still looking for the rest. They have to be “concrete” and “implementable,” the source told the Wall Street Journal, and “not just warm words.” The meeting when Greece’s fate will be decided is rumored to be on October 8.

Alas, one of the bailout conditions is to cut 15,000 civil servants by the end of 2012 and 150,000 by 2015. Given the unmitigated jobs fiasco, such cuts—if the coalition government can even agree on them—may trigger another revolt in the streets. And that could start at the end of August.

Just then, Greece will be out of money. Default date: August 20. A €3.2 billion bond matures. Europe is on vacation. It will be mayhem. And somebody will get blamed. But they found a solution, one that violates the underpinnings of the Eurozone. Read.... Greece Prints Euros To Stay Afloat, The ECB Approves, The Bundesbank Nods: No One Wants To Get Blamed For Kicking Greece Out.

Argentina, an alternative path for indebted Eurozone countries? Not so fast! A new set of words has been showing up in articles about the economy. Shrinks. Slows. Stagflation. Chilling terms. Read.... Argentina: The Big Shrink, by stilettos-on-the-ground economist Bianca Fernet.

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Zero Govt's picture

“Thousands upon thousands of Greeks are on the move, leaving the larger cities for the countryside or smaller provincial towns or abandoning the country....”

Didn't the "Birthplace of Democracy" promise Govt would bring social order, harmony and economic prosperity?

isn't that the promise of every politician down the ages??

someone really should check the history books, this institution of slimey parasites brings the exact opposite in EVERY nation it is practised

Govt: a sewer with a liberal coating of trite smarm to hide the complete stink

WojtekSz's picture

so lets try to be positive

(1) it is easy to complain and the situation looks hopeless - yet what would you do being a prime minister in Greece to save the country. What would you do if you had REAL power to decide in Greece. What out-of-the-box solution could be taken: would mafia style meeting of the biggest families help?

(2) it may be helpful to study the Greek situation and try really hard to work out the clever ideas before we have very same situation all over Europe (and US soon after). Taxes not collected - who of the reachest Europeans do pay taxes? Unemployment - Spain in already on its way, other countries will soon follow when people will have less money to spend. Debt - if ANY European country will default than many banks would collapse soon after. And then what?


John_Coltrane's picture

Bottom line as with all countries problems-culture.  I highly recommend reading "Boomerang" by Micaheal Lewis to understand what it is about Greek culture (and also German, Icelandic etc) that gets them into such difficulties.  The section on the outragrous greek rail system where they take in $100M in revenues by pay out $400M in salaries annually is but one of many examples.  When competition and the profit motive are removed from a culture there is only one possible final outcome as we're observing in Europe.  GDP from the state sector should not be counted as GDP without multiplying by the factor less than unity.  40% of the work force is government?  For their own good the EU needs to stop the bailouts so the Greeks can sort it out for themselves.  The welfare state creates an entitlement mentality as well as dependence.  Both are undesired cultural traits.  Riding bicycles is an excellent start to reverse this-it will vastly reduce medical costs and improve health, lower balance of payments etc.  Thank goodness for the underground economy and indivdual ingenuity-otherwise those employment stats would really be scary.

When it comes to outsized government there is only one solution-  STARVE THE BEAST.  Patriots everywhere can do that via underground economies, use of cash and gold for trade, and tax avoidance.

steve from virginia's picture


Everyone has their own pet solution: more loans from ECB or fewer, hanging bankers and politicians (there is something to be said for that), borrowing-not from IMF, default, moving to Australia (or Mars), buying/selling gold, etc. Meanwhile in the background what is underway is 'Conservation By Other Means'.


What exactly does this suggest? Resources are capital, when they are gone there is nothing left at a price anyone can afford to pay.


Instead of voluntarily foreswearing automobiles, suburbs, office towers, vacation 'villas' and other capital wasting nonsense (thousands of fifty-story concrete monstrosities as are in China), the economic apparatus that allows these things to be created is falling apart. At some near point there will be no new cars registered in Greece ... well, maybe one or two for government officials' use. Petroleum use in Greece will drop to near-zero. As it should, children as it should.


Not surprising that the centuries- old ways of village and farm are embraced as empty modernity is revealed to be theft and false-ness. The next step is to get rid of modernity altogether, then new forms can take its place.


The common mistake is to believe what is underway in Greece is limited to Greece -- it is not, it is the fate for the entire world. The other common mistake is to believe that what is underway in Europe and elsewhere is temporary: that after some 'cleansing period' of deleveraging and banker hangings the prosperity of the recent past will re-appear. This is also false, what is underway is a phase-shift: from having ready resources and not having them.

fiddy pence haff pound's picture

Everybody who can is gaming the system:

The US has GOldman guys everywhere.

The Germans have the troika in Greece, and other places

The US and Israel want Greece out of the Euro and the EU.

Brussels has the Greek 'Euro man' Stournaras as Minister for Economic Folly AGAIN.

The Game Theory 'Bilders' broke up the Left Coalition 2 years ago by making false

promises to Kouvelis so that Syriza would not become the goverment.

Syriza people were told not to vote for Syriza.

The ECB keeps funnelling money to Greek banks because of the extended bank run, and adds the cost to the national debt, that will not be repaid , while the banks are all private businesses. another bailout, in other words.

The German government is not informing its people about their broke banks and instead gives them the impression that Germany is helping the lazy Greeks.

Dareconomics's picture

The MSM does a lot of reporting on a variety of financial topics, but somehow they have missed Greece's insolvency.

An entity is illiquid if it possesses assets to cover its liabilities but is having problems converting those assets into cash. In a case of illiquidity, a temporary loan can cover the entities cash needs until it is able to trade its assets for cash and settle its debts.

Greece is insolvent. This means that it does not have enough assets to cover its liabilities. When an entity is insolvent, it is also illiquid because it is cut off from markets which convert assets into cash.

Right now, Greece is a ward of the Eurozone. It has no money to fund itself and is relying on money printing in the short term until the next bailout tranche arrives.

Don't worry. The next tranche will arrive. No one wants to be responsible for cutting Greece off and starting a financial panic.

FieldingMellish's picture

Solvency is so 20th century. These days you can simply mark your assets to some random figure to achieve solvency. The banks do it so why not nations (which are now simply operating arms of central banks)? Accounting is so much easier now that you don't have to add up all those numbers and stuff...

OneTinSoldier66's picture

I hear ya. Penny for your thoughts on the following. When do we get to the point where nobody knows who owes what to whom, or are we there already?

lieutenantjohnchard's picture

just curious. i read this article a couple of times. i looked closely for heavy-handed interjection of personal opinion written in the article by the author. couldn't find it. seems like an article written as it should be; just the facts. i personally learned a lot about the breakdown of the greek economy and what is happening. it must be me but i question why folks would give him less that a five star rating?

this is an excellent piece, written clearly and eloquently. i don't know the guy. never heard of him. but i'm curious what would motivate somebody not to throw the guy a bone for a job done well ...... and for free. 

DoChenRollingBearing's picture

Good day, Lieutenant!

Wolf has been writing here for sometime.  He is indeed an excellent writer, was from Germany and provides to us here at Zero Hedge excellent pieces about Europe.

lieutenantjohnchard's picture

thanks dochen. don't know the guy but i like his style. will be reading more from him in the future.

falak pema's picture

all the greek islands are full of tourists in august. No rooms available!

Someone is making out all right apart from Athenians.

FieldingMellish's picture

Somehow, I think the Greek Treasury will still see a drop in tax revenue. 

Joe A's picture

"Of the still needed €11.5 billion in austerity measures, €7 billion have been identified with the government, but they’re still looking for the rest.

Try Switzerland.

MillionDollarBoner_'s picture

"The number of people with jobs dropped to 3,816,900—of a total population of 9.9 million! Only 38.5% of the people work! In the US, where the jobs situation is dismal enough, the employment population ratio is 58.4%. No country can succeed when only 38.5% of the people contribute to the economy and pay taxes to feed their government and service its debt."

A perfect example of misunderstanding how the ClubMed works. Only gubbermint employees and a select few in the private sector show up in the "employment" statistics. The main economy is a dark pool or "black market".

You didn't honestly think they were all sitting around twiddling their thumbs, did you?

At least they are sensible and organised enough to avoid handing over their hard-earned to whichever bunch of mafiosi happen to be masquerading as a government at a particular point in time. Its about time we did the same...

Paul Thomason's picture

Astrology of the markets says brickwall next week - 'Astro-Technical Update: Major Fireworks Loom'

El's picture good a method as any of the other ones out there and probably just as accurate.

petolo's picture

Any solution must start here and now in the mind of every thinking Greek. Mass revolt will  lead to more destruction and desperation. Vote with feet,arms and legs ; anything except a paper ballot .

Peter Pan's picture

I know this sounds bloody terrible, but Greece and all the other nations which are facing budgetary and demograhic challenges need to withhold medical treatment (other than pain killers) for anyone over 70 if they do not have the means or someone to pay for it.

I don't see why our children should be lumbered with the expectations of people who made inadequate provision for their retirement ( or who were promised too much by government) because as we all know the unfunded liabilities are ferocious both in Greece and the USA and are a much greater problem than the current situation that is portrayed.

Both the immediate and longer term future of Greece , America and other nations does not stack up mathematically and their is a reason why they call unfunded liabilities unfunded. When politicians of every nation come clean on the impossibility of paying for these liabilities over the ensuing years, it is then that the first positive step will have been taken towards recovery. painful as it may be.

CharlieSDT's picture

No, the first step is to stop the fraud and hang the bankers, then next is debt jubilee, then you can start debating killing old people.  Doing your solution now just gives the banksters more money to steal.

Peter Pan's picture

Hanging the bankers would be most satisfying but that does not solve the problem. Nor does a debt jubilee of the debt on the books because (I repeat) the unfunded liabilities are even greater than the current "crystallized"liabilities and are primarily centred around obligations to each of us as we become "oldies".

El's picture

Actually, hanging the bankers would go a long way towards resolving the problems. If you choke out the weeds of corruption in both the financial industry and government and free up the markets to do what they do best (liquidate malinvestments) we would quickly be back on the right path.

A debt jubilee is NOT the solution. I would benefit from one as much as the next girl, but it is contemptible to steal from someone who worked hard and lived within their means and give that money to people who didn't. Give it a nice, pretty name like "jubilee" if you want, but it is still theft, and just as morally wrong as killing off old people. You aren't as far off from being one of those old people as you might think. Time goes by quickly.



WojtekSz's picture


so to get it staight: lets hang the bankers! but exactly who is a banker in this definition: CEO, board mebers, shareholders, managers, traders, secretaries or floor cleaners?

RockyRacoon's picture

So, lemme see if I have this straight.   I'll use the analogy of a homeowner having his aging parents living with him.   The homeowner gets behind on the mortgage, let's say.   So, they've skimped and cut back everywhere possible, but that stubborn banker wants his mortgage payment.   The homeowner, according to your formula, has but one option:  Take the aging parents out back and shoot them in the head and bury them under the tulips.   The banker must be paid -- that's just how it must be.

CharlieSDT's picture

I agree that that iddue needs to be addressed, but while the whole system is fraudulent any "fix" of the current system is just a Band-Aid.  I will say I fucking hate paying into Social Security, Medicare, etc, knowing that I will never see a dime of benefits when I retire.

Social Security will not be the 3rd rail of American politics for much longer.

bigkahuna's picture

It is the chocolate starfish of american politics.

dcb's picture

this is how spiegel described the ponzi scheme


The European Central Bank is now taking risky measures to help save Athens from its acute financial emergency. Increasingly, euro-zone leaders are pushing the dirty work on the ECB. In the end, though, they will likely have no choice but to pay Greece the next tranche of its bailout package.

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"There is no time to lose," Jean-Claude Juncker warned just a few days ago. Leaders must use "all means at their disposal" to save the currency union, the head of the Euro Group said. But one thing is becoming clear: Politicians are increasingly pushing the dirty work on to the European Central Bank (ECB).



Take Greece, for example, where liquidity is becoming scarce. The government in Athens needs to repay a maturing bond worth €3 billion ($3.7 billion) to the ECB by Aug. 20. The solution to that problem seems paradoxical: The ECB itself is pumping money into Greece, so that the country can in turn repay the ECB.


It's a controversial plan, because the central bank is prohibited from financing governments directly. As a result, no one is talking openly about the absurd flows of money. The ECB has only hinted that it will extend a helping hand to Greece.

Now, information has leaked regarding how the ECB plans to keep Greece on its feet until the next tranche of European Union-International Monetary Fund aid is paid out. The ECB has chosen a detour via the Greek central bank. It will allow it to issue additional emergency loans to the country's banks. These in turn are supposed to use the money to buy up Greek bonds with short maturities. This will scrape together €4 billion, according to the plan.

The Greek central bank will accept the dodgy bonds as collateral, and will provide the country's equally troubled commercial banks with freshly printed euros -- which ultimately come from the ECB.

Draghi Jumps In To Save Euro

What is particularly absurd is the fact that, for the past two weeks, the ECB has no longer been accepting Greek government bonds as collateral for its refinancing operations. But the Greek central bank -- which in reality is little more than the Athens branch of the ECB -- is still allowed to accept them. The fact that the euro bankers are willing to go through such contortions shows just how precarious the situation is. At the moment, a Greek default is being fought off from week to week -- and politicians are trying to duck responsibility.

In theory, Europe's leaders created the temporary euro rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and its successor, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), precisely to support countries facing financial bottlenecks. But providing more help for Greece would be a very tough sell for Europe's politicians. Chancellor Angela Merkel would have to get the consent of the German parliament, the Bundestag, which could prove tricky. And Merkel's junior coalition partner, the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), has been adopting an increasing shrill tone against Greece lately -- meaning that the government could plunge into crisis if the chancellor supports more aid for Athens.

For some weeks now, it has been clear that the Greeks would run out of money this summer. And there is no emergency backup plan in place. Everyone has instead counted on the ECB. For his part, ECB chief Mario Draghi seems to have accepted this and allowed the leaders of the euro-zone countries to force him into the role of the pragmatic emergency helper.

For now, the priority for Greece is to keep its head above water until it receives its next planned bailout payment. The troika overseeing Greece's aid package, comprised of the European Commission, the ECB and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is expected to decide on the payment of the next tranche of €31 billion in September.



The partner countries initially held back that tranche in order to pressure Greece to undertake greater austerity measures and reforms, and the troika is currently reviewing whether the government in Athens has fulfilled those demands. In the end, though, the controllers are unlikely to have any choice but to disburse the money. Otherwise Greece could face an unstructured bankruptcy, with economic consequences that would be difficult to foresee.


Sudden Progress Registered in Greece

In terms of communication, it appears that the troika is already trying to pave the path for a "yes" on the tranche payout. Recently, it gave unexpected praise for an agreement that would see Greece introduce additional austerity measures worth €11.5 billion in 2013 and 2014. "Talks went well, we made good progress," the IMF's mission chief for Greece, Poul Thomsen, told reporters. And the troika has stated that progress has been made with Greece's plans to privatize state-owned assets. The Greek government is claiming it will have binding offers for the sale of state gas company Depa and the gas grid operator DESPA by the end of September. The message is meant to be that things are moving forward.

Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wants to do a bit of hustling before the troika issues its decision. He is planning visits to Germany and France at the end of August. The Greek media have already reported on his plans for the trip: Samaras wants to ward off Greece's "quick euro death."

Me: But, as I have said before, you don't put a goldman guy at the head of something (ECB) unless you want the rules, bent, etc. and funny business to happen. they put a goldman guy there to give them waht they want, without actually having to piss off german voters

Nachdenken's picture

A recent comment by former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is enlightening:  Greece should not have been admitted into the European Union, now we must deal with the consequences.

Greece offers a classic (!) example of contemporary government.

In this Post from WR/TP, the tragedy of an electorate that has been trapped in the torture chamber of State priorities is again highlighted.

A warning for the European Union that is controlled by Eurorats in Brussels who are controlled by banking and financial interests in Europe and the USA.  Merkel and Co are puppets on a long string.

Schmuck Raker's picture

"Argentina, an alternative path for indebted Eurozone countries? Not so fast! A new set of words has been showing up in articles about the economy. Shrinks. Slows. Stagflation. Chilling terms. Read...."

That sounds a bit like a rehash T.P.

Is fresh copy so hard to come by?

I usually enjoy your perspectives.

I know it's free, but still...

fourchan's picture

the new and last greek tragedy unfolds before us, its gossimer wings concealing constricting tenticals.

Freddie's picture

No country can succeed when only 38.5% of the people contribute to the economy and pay taxes to feed their government and service its debt.

This says it all.  Hope & Chains.   Working for the gov union workers huge pensions and benefits.

Matt's picture

38.5% of the population works, but 40% of GDP is public sector, so really ~23% of the people are paying for everyone. That's close to one private sector worker supporting themself and 4 other people. Combine that with tax evasion, and you can see it's quite a mess.

CharlieSDT's picture

40% is GDP is public, but not 40% of workers.  Public workers make more money than private sectors guys there.

Matt's picture

Yeah, I wasn't able to easily find what percentage of workers was public versus private, since sectors are broken down by type = finance, manufacturing, etc rather than by public/private so I just took the portion of GDP and approximated that workers would be proportional.

Zero Govt's picture

unemplyment is directly equal to the amount of economic destruction Govt has waged and put out of work

it's no 'surprise' to anyne who understands Govt as nothing but a parasite that the bigger Govt grows so too does the unemployment register

when Govt assuredly begins to lay-off its own workers (cough) the parasite is beginning its self-destruction, eating its own tail

and in places like Ireland and Greece the snake is eating itself to feed the uber-parasite, the bwankers, who have done nothing productive but shuffle paper around a desk to defraud society of their work and productive wealth

paper games, alchemy works

Yen Cross's picture

 Greece is so passe'.     Greece lost it's oportunity back in June. Troika is taking a vacation, until mid/late August.

 The ECB has completely destroyed it's stature, as a (law -abiding), funding mechanism!

  The head of the ECB is Italian! Mario Draghi< The sovereign yields of Italy and Spain are "300 basis points" above any realistic payback scenario!

   Shall we continue on to Japan, India ,Brazil, Indonesia, Korea?

q99x2's picture

privatizing state-owned enterprises. That be the way of the technocrat.

Heres my suggestion. You get 9.9 million Greeks to obtain a Rothschild. Make that elite sucker tell the Greeks how much their families net worth is. You take that number and divide it by 7 billion. The Greeks then require the Rothschild to hand over 9.9 million times that amount. The 9.9 million Greeks are happy and the Rothschild may be pissed but he is not hurting. Problem solved.

RockyRacoon's picture

Greece finally is in first place in something.   Total destruction of an economy in the "new age".  

The Mayan spirit observes... and nods its approval.


Popo's picture

I agree with everything in the above article except I take issue with this bullshit stat called "youth unemployment".

Seriously, why on Earth is youth unemployment measured from the age of 15?  That's a stat *designed* to look bad.  How many 15 year-olds are employed in America?   What's our rate of 15 year old unemployment?

If you want to measure youth unemployment fairly, measure it from the age of 18-24 otherwise I call bullshit and so should everyone else.   Things in Greece are absolutely horrendously bad.  We don't need to fudge stats to make them look worse than they already are.

Fizzywig's picture

Knowing that the BLS data is manipulated to produce a more favorable output, I would imagine that the data in Greece, and by other national governments, is calculated favorably as well.