A Greek Impossibility

Wolf Richter's picture

Wolf Richter   www.testosteronepit.com

It's not like the hapless Greeks—and by extension their foreign sponsors—don't already have enough problems on their hands. Now comes the Hellenic Statistical Authority with its just released Labor Survey that showcases a job market and unemployment issues that were the ugliest ever. And within this sobering picture there was one number that knocked the breath out of hope itself.

The overall unemployment rate in January jumped to 21.8% from 21% the prior month (before revisions). Youth unemployment—those 15 to 24 years old—was a shocking 50.8%. But the real fiasco for the Greek economy, and at the same time the unvarnished truth, was the number of people who actually have jobs. That number is less subject to murky statistical manipulation and beautification, if that word can even be used in this context, and hasn’t been seasonally-adjusted out of existence: the number of employed dropped by 20,600 in January to 3,880,120 people—35.9% of a population of 10.8 million!

No economy in the world can service a growing mountain of debt that is 160% of GDP when only 35.9% of the people work and contribute to the economy. The comparable US employment population ratio is a lamentably low 58.5%, down from 64.7% in 2000, a horrid number that causes all sorts of fretting and handwringing in the US—yet, in Greece, it would represent a veritable jobs nirvana.

In January 2007, before the financial crisis could be blamed for every evil, only 4,485,734 Greeks were working, a paltry 41.5% of the population. That relatively few Greeks have jobs even in good times pinpoints one of the fundamental problems in the current Greek economic system. Spending funded by external sources has become a primary motor of the economy, while production has been throttled back. It’s not an economic model that can remain functional for long. And piling new bailout billions on top of it just kicks the can further down E. Venizelos Avenue.

The fact that only 35.9% of the people work, as opposed to, say, 55%, sinks any kind of hope that the growing pile of bailout debt can ever be serviced, much less be paid back, without an endless stream of yet more bailout debt offered by mostly unwitting taxpayers in the Eurozone and around the world—a scheme that will at some absurd level encounter its day of reckoning.

To get to a point where 55% of the people have jobs, a rate that might make the economy viable, about 6 million people would have to be employed. It would require the creation of over 2 million jobs in a relatively short amount of time—a 54% increase in the number of jobs! An impossibility for any economy. And Greece is still bleeding jobs.

This calculation is so basic and yet so brutal that it simply isn’t done. It’s better to look the other way. People who talk about reforming the Greek economy—the Troika and the ever successful Greek political elite—don’t have a plan on how to restructure the economy to where it can create 2 million jobs in the medium term, because that’s what it would take for the country to be able to carry this kind of national debt. Instead, they’re trying to fine-tune something that is broken. But now that the flow of bailout money has started again, the wily Greek political elite have figured something out. Read.... They’re Not Even Trying Anymore.

This leaves the taxpayers in Germany and elsewhere who are ultimately paying for the bailout nothing but hope that Greece will be able to deal with its debt—when in fact, they need to write off the bailout billions even as they hand them over.

It doesn’t help that Greece is afflicted with another scourge: corruption. In the Corruption Perception Index, Greece is in 80th place, sharing that honorable position with El Salvador, Morocco, Peru, and Thailand. It is worse than China whose corruption is legendary. It is in last place within the Eurozone. But now, with the crisis in full tilt, something unexpected happened. For this astonishing change in a society that hasn’t seen a glimmer of improvement in years, read.... In Greece, even Corruption Is in a Depression.

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Zero Govt's picture

"...only 35.9% of the (Greek) people work and contribute to the economy. The comparable US employment ..is a lamentably low 58.5%.."

It gets far worse when you consider in both economies the Govt is the biggest single employer ...what happens when the politicians drive their rotten apple cart into the debt sewer?

..the private (productive) economy can only recover when the bloated greedy spoilt-brats of Govt stops thieving their capital and gets off its back.

Stop Paying Your Taxes

....don't feed the parasites

Gavrikon's picture

How, ZG?  I don't pay, I get sent away.

The only way I've found to pay less taxes is to take a job at half my current salary.  I'm actually considering it.

Ghordius's picture

in the thread there are some very pertinent objections to this official number - the "Black Economy", i.e. people that took your advice is quite big in Greece, as it is also in Spain, Italy, in part in France and funnily, in Scotland.

Though as a "tradition" it's older than you and me.

The Reich's picture

It's even worse:


Out of 3.9 million employees there are about 1.1 million officials and govermental employees.

which means only 25,9% of a population of 10.8 million have a real job


JOYFUL's picture

Dear Wolf:

like the schoolyard bully whose bravery is limited to slinking out to join a fight where the victim is already on the ground, your incessant delivery of vicious kicks into the midsection of these "hapless Greeks" has become not only tiresome, but revealing of the true nature of your variant of testosterone -a drugged up, steroid driven raging against anybody failing to conform to your Teutonically mal-formed work or die ethos...a psychosis  that would be better suited to employing you as a special advisor to young Amerikans conscripted into serial kriminal activity against 'hapless' civilian populations in even more far off countries whose lack of obeisance to Empire is equivalent in inspiring the invective invoked by victims of your donut driven drivel that poses as journalism but is nothing more than an endless recycling of your own ineptitude as a writer and pundit.


edotabin's picture

Are you running in the upcoming Greek election?  You seem to have sufficient command of the English language to raise the bullshit up a notch to get your way.

Whether or not the author has written become "tiresome" through repetition, I do not know. What I do know is that  this "psychosis" had become so inextricably intertwined in Greek society that the outcome was inevitable.  What you fail to realize is that they are not exhibiting a  " lack of obeisance to Empire".  They are simply sad the party is over. You should have seen how they all gloated in the glory days of the EU as the money came pouring in. Give them all an office job for 800 euros a month and watch support for the EU reach 99% in 1 month (exaggerating to make a point).

What will happen to Amerikans (as you put it) I cannot know. What I can tell you is that even in supporting the "Amerikan Empire" the average person does so out of ignorance but with a sense of giving and sacrifice. What happened in Greece was the exact opposite. It imploded because everyone was selfish and wanted to take, take, take. The amount of damage done and the levels of indoctrination that Greeks were subjected to in the past 30-35 years is beyond criminal.

Words, no matter how eloquent, cannot correct what is happening there.

JOYFUL's picture

dear edotabin -

when it comes to *bullshit* I will nod in deference to your direction - though most of what you say borders upon incoherence, I can vaguely make out from the general tenor of your remarks that

a) you live nowhere near the subject country under discussion here, nor have an even glancing acquaintance with the populace therein;

b) whatever acquaintance with, or geographical proximity to, Amerikans you may have is rendered immaterial by the projections onto others of what you may dislike or misunderstand in yourself or your milieu;

next time, before commenting, I suggest you accentuate your comprehension of what you have read, rather than the absence thereof.

p.s. no, I don't do elections, nor do I need to curry favors...


edotabin's picture

a) Absolutely wrong as to what my connection to Greece is. 

b) What "Amerikans" do or do not do is not up to me to change.  I can tell you that the average "Amerikan" is far more forthcoming and naive than the average Greek.  Greeks are not bad people but they do possess a certain way of thinking that can be devious enough to fool most.


GeneMarchbanks's picture

'Give them all an office job for 800 euros a month and watch support for the EU reach 99% in 1 month (exaggerating to make a point).'

It is as the man before you states, and the meme is as obvious as it is old. Greeks were 'given' nothing you confused sad sap, except the rope to hang themselves. Indoctrination is pervasive, so that argument cannot be held somehow especially to Greeks.

Many are growing tired of this bullshit 'productivity' claim that somehow the Anglophiles and Teutons are the epitome of. Nonsense. In the final analysis it really makes no difference, their own children have found them to be exactly as they are: hypocritical colonialists with a bankrupt ideology.


Ghordius's picture

+1T - I blame the Swiss! (It's the new fad to blame the Swiss and the Germans, you see) Well, the Swiss reformers Calvin (I know, he was French) and Zwingli for propagating this worldview and IMnotsoHO mistaking causes and effects. And Max Weber making a science out of it...

funnily, the issue is not even productivity, it's savings. try to explain this to the "experts" that are leading us all roped together on the slippery slopes of the Great Lord Keynes Glacier.

Peter Pan's picture

By the way  i think the participation arte of 35.9% is too low because it takes into account non-working age people. The participation rate is the percentage rate of the working age population that is in work. It is not the number of people working divided by the population of the country. Greece has a working age population of 7,222,973 of which 3,880,120 or 53.7 per cent are participating. This compares with a participation rate of around 58.5 per cent for the USA. Or if you include only those who want to work it is 46%. This is based on 3,342,853 who are not looking for work.

Ar-Pharazôn's picture

lol old people at home doesnt count?

and who pay fot them?

AldousHuxley's picture



social welfare as % of gdp, greece ranks below, France, Germany, UK, Italy.


When your largest publically traded companies are banks, Coca cola (sugar water), and oil(commodity), you are doomed to fail.


Peter Pan's picture

In figures just released Greece has 636,188 public servants of which the TROIKA is demanding that 150,000 be sacked over a period of time.

Too many of them either have nothing to do, or provide no service, or work only a few hours each day. Those who do put in an honest day's work are of course very underpaid.

Either way the bomb has been dropped and when it hits it will echo throughout Europe's idiotic brain which stood in the way of a real default or at least a moratorium which would allow Greece to get its act together on its own steam or else be dammed.

JustACitizen's picture

This will not end well. Perhaps if really bad things happen over there - they will not have to happen here. (I am sorry if that seems insensitive.)

DeltaDawn's picture

Your second sentence is what is referred to as "wishful thinking."

pashley1411's picture

No point paying attention to the current act, which we call Greece.    It is what it is, the actors are tired, voices crack, the make-up is smeared and bleary.

Instead, enjoy a smoke and a bit of conversation, and wait for the curtain to drop, for the next production. 

miltiadis's picture

In order to do Freelancing in Greece i have to pay each month 240euros to OAEE no matter what my gains are for Social insurance even though i am starting now. Forget the rent forget everything 240euros * 12 no matter if i gain 0.
Fuck GREEK POLITICIANS FUCK GREECE someone doesn't want Greece to be prosperous.

From a 26 years old Greek

cahadjis's picture

Same in Spain, 280 euros * 12. And you get a pension-worth of promises (ha!) plus medical insurance (ok-ish). Both can be had from the private sector for 120 euros a month max. This is before any other taxes or fees, pure theft of enterpreneurial spirit. And then they wonder why ....

Joe A's picture

We need more stories from people like you. I go to Greece on holiday every year. People are friendly and the place is beautiful. I will go again this year (but I don't go to the islands because of danger of strikes and I always make sure my tank is full enough to make it to the border because of fuel strikes). The old generation of elite fucked it all up. Young Greek need to rebuild their country. That means getting rid of the old guard. Sorry for the young Greek but it seems that you will be stuck for a long time to come.

dogbreath's picture


i would enjoy hearing more from some one like yourself who is on the ground.   shine some sunlight on the mold

edotabin's picture

Not much more to hear.  An entire generation of people was completely poisoned and destroyed by politicians who made promises they could not keep while counting on the shortsightedness of the populace to sustain the illusion.

Greece requires about 10-15 years for the old and completely corrupted generation to clear out of the system.  This means politicians (who created this clusterfuck of a system), all public sector employees and everyone else who sucked on the gov't teet for so long while producing so little and who drove the honest minority crazy. It cannot be saved.  The damage and rot runs far too deep.

For a tourist, especially of some means, Greece is fabulous destination. For those that have to work within that sickening and demented system, it has become a complete hell hole.



israhole's picture

It's a Jew World Order, and you are a Goy.   It's the same everywhere.

max2205's picture

Germany knows this will never work. Delay deny ect

hairball48's picture

And what percentage of those who are working, work for the Greek government? I bet that figure would really knock your socks off.

RoadKill's picture

Wow! What an amazing graph that would make!!! # of people employed in private sector x median wage compared to debt/ # of people employed in private sector!

That would scare the shit out of me even for the US and we would probably be in the best quartile of the world. Ill bet China would look like crap on this metric!!!

Freddie's picture

I think the percentage is around 50%. All unionized.  They talked about having to cut people for the bansketrs.  I heard they fired thousands, gave them all pensions and hired thousands of others.

Evil Bugeyes's picture

It may be that a lot of Greeks are actually employed, but they get paid in cash which is not reported to the government. Of course, this doesn't help the government to pay its debts.

margaris's picture

yes, also the statistic cited in this article surely doesnt take into account all those part time workers who jump from one summer job to another winter job, etc...

better indicator would be to count the tourists who went to greece last year. How did this number change?

Lednbrass's picture

This doesnt show numbers of tourists, but it does show what the tourists spent there.

Down about 25% from 2008 in 2010 and 2011.


Freddie's picture

Greece is the Detroit & Camden NJ of Europe.

Bill D. Cat's picture

Explain to them how a printing press  works . Problem solved .

Sudden Debt's picture

You still need skilled people to operate the machine...


Joebloinvestor's picture

Greece is fucked and will need another bailout and another and another.....

All this should have been solved before they were allowed into the EU, but the EU thought the music would never stop, and they had GS to advise them so what could possibly go wrong?

Sudden Debt's picture

Greece has always been the land of Myths and tales. A sound jobmarket is one of them.