Do Greeks Work Harder Than Germans?

Wednesday, December 21, AD 2011

Matt Yglasias has a piece in Slate attempting to counter the “if the Euro is going to work, Greeks are going to have to learn to work hard like Germans” line of thinking.

It’s true that Germans and Greeks work very different amounts, but not in the way you expect. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average German worker put in 1,429 hours on the job in 2008. The average Greek worker put in 2,120 hours. In Spain, the average worker puts in 1,647 hours. In Italy, 1,802. The Dutch, by contrast, outdo even their Teutonic brethren in laziness, working a staggeringly low 1,389 hours per year.

If you recheck your anecdata after looking up the numbers, you’ll recall that on that last trip to Florence or Barcelona you were struck by the huge number of German (or maybe they were Dutch or Danish) tourists around everywhere.

The truth is that countries aren’t rich because their people work hard. When people are poor, that’s when they work hard. Platitudes aside, it takes considerably more “effort” to be a rice farmer or to move sofas for a living than to be a New York Times columnist. It’s true that all else being equal a person can often raise his income by raising his work rate, but it’s completely backward to suggest that extraordinary feats of effort are the way individuals or countries get to the top of the ladder. On the national level the reverse happens—the richer Germans get, the less they work.

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15 Responses to Do Greeks Work Harder Than Germans?

  • Culture is very important when it comes to productivity. Some cultures simply produce far more disciplined and efficient workers than other cultures. It is not politically correct these days to say it, but like many un pc facts of our human condition it is obvious to anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the world.

  • I wouldn’t say “Germans work harder than Greeks” is anywhere near the mark (little financial pun there). I would say Germans work smarter than Greeks is probably closer.

  • That is not an explanation for continued German solvency.

    One explanation is that the Greek public sector/government expenditures grew at a far faster rate than the private, producing economy grew; and the ratio of Greeks mooching off the government to producers is higher than in Germany.

    In conclusion, when you read this arrogant teenager’s gossip, you are wasting eyesight and the most precious asset you have: time.

  • Three questions to qualify the datum on mean hours per worker:

    1. What share of the population in Germany and what share in Greece were gainfully employed during the course of the most recent completed business cycle in each country?

    2. What was the ratio of personal consumption to personal income in Germany and in Greece over the most recent completed business cycle in each country?

    3. What was the ratio of public sector borrowing to domestic product in each over the course of the most recent completed business cycle?

  • I would refer all those interested to Thomas Sowell’s amazing book; “Black Rednecks & White Liberals.” He used data from the imigrant experience to paint an amazing picture of why some cultures immediately began to thrive in American while others took longer. Some of the information was very helpful to my book, especially as it pertains to faith and salvation and their particular views on what God expects of them. Some more fundamentalist groups believed that work, education and upward mobility were not nearly as important as proclaming yourself “saved,” (so much for the Parable of the Talents!)

    In addition some Eastern European had far less experience with commerce and Capitalism as compared to their Western European neighbors. Recently, this divide was readily apparent in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s; Slovenia had little use for Serbia and vice versa, both had very different ideas on government and indiviudal’s role in society.

  • It’s called easy access to cheap energy, and for the Germans with their phase-out of nuclear energy, that may well end.

    Look at the two faming photos you gave, Darwin: one a subsistence farmer using a sickle to get his grain, and the other using massive machinery fueled by easy access to petroleum. It’s energy, its access and its utilization that makes ALL the difference. Indeed, why does France do so relatively well in spite of socialism? a 70% nuclear generating capacity that keeps electric rates low and allows exports to non-nuclear countries like Italy.

    Low cost, easy access energy – whoever has the most will prosper.

  • Right, Darwin. I suspect Matt Yglesias is being disingenuous here, because I’m sure he understands vMPL = w (value of marginal product of labor equals the wage rate) from his Microeconomics 101. It has everything to do with productivity and output price, and only partially relates to hours worked.

  • Paul, nuclear is not cheap. Are you advocating heavily subsidizing nuclear like France? Or are you advocating a carbon tax to make nuclear more competitive like France?

  • RR,

    The capital costs of nuclear are more expensive than anything else because we sequester all our own “wastes.” We design safety built-in from the beginning. However, uranium fuel compared with coal or natural gas or oil is cheap.

    Checkout the graph labelled as “US Electricity Production Costs 1995 – 2008” here:

    If you as a fossil fuel supplier were allowed to use the atmosphere as your sewer without cost, you could market yourself as cheap, also. But in reality, once a nuke is built, it’ll last for 60 years and is cheapest of all.

    There’s lots of disinformation out there.

    BTW, if a coal plant had to abide by the same radiation standards as a nuke plant has to, then not a single coal plant would be operating. Why? Because of the uranium, thorium and radium that naturally occurs in coal which is dumped willy-nilly into the environment.

    Yet 52% of US electricity comes from coal. Go figure!

  • Yet 52% of US electricity comes from coal. Go figure!

    I hate to nitpick an otherwise excellent comment, but we’re now down to about 45% on coal. We’re headed to natural gas taking the lead in the next 20 years or so.

  • It’s true that modern agriculture (as shown in my pictorial example) relies heavily on fossil fuels, but I think it’s probably reasonable to believe that modern engineering could come up with other ways to engage in mass agriculture.

    I’m certainly very much in favor of nuclear energy, but I don’t think it would be accurate to attribute much of the difference in productivity between Germany and Greece to choice of primary electricity generation activity. Germany (and France, though to a somewhat lesser extent) have a pretty long history of industry and productivity. Countries like Greece (or even Spain and Italy) have a pretty long history of trailing.

    That’s not necessarily the Greeks “fault” (there are some external factors that influenced their culture like being sat on for quite a while by the Turks, who had a talent for messing up the peoples they ruled) but it seems like it’s something that springs from a variety of factors including cultural and economic attitudes.

  • Paul,

    I know the link thing gets really frustrating. I just went and found what I think is the right setting and changed it, so I believe you should be able to post up to five links per comment safely now without getting caught in the filter. Sorry about that.

  • Folks,

    I was travelling today and so could not respond sooner.

    @ Paul Z. – thanks for the correction. This web site – – says:

    49.8% of electricity in the US is generated by burning coal
    19.9% from nuclear power,
    17.9% from natural gas
    6.5% from hydroelectric,
    3% from burning petroleum
    2.3% from other renewable energy sources such as wind power , solar energy , geothermal power, and biomass.

    Different web sources give slightly different figures with about 50% for coal, sometimes more, sometimes less. I tried finding out at, but couldn’t right now.

    @Darwin – regardless of whether fossil fuel is used or not, agriculture for a planet of 7 billion requires a lot of energy. That energy can be supplied by hydrogen gas produced using Very High Temperature Reactors, or by liquid fuels derived from coal, or by oil, or by natural gas, but it has to come from somewhere. No access to low cost, cheap energy – no big industrialized agriculture – back to the stone age. PS, Greece has no nuclear power plants (as far as I know). The rest of your post I agree with. You’re right.

    Thanks, BTW, for the help with the hyperlink problem. No big deal.

    For everyone, here’s a description of Generation IV Reactors:

    In the 1st paragraph I give embedded hyperlinks to entries on Current Nuclear Reactor Designs, New Nuclear Reactor Designs, and Advanced Nuclear Reactor Designs so that I don’t have to put them all here. I do discuss in this post the very-high-temperature reactor (VHTR) which can be used to produce hydrogen for motor vehicles. Enjoy.

    One more PS, in a few days I will make related to nuclear energy one more entry at my politically incorrect and offensive blog, this time on the Carlo Rubbia Energy Amplifier, a subcritical reactor that is started up using a proton beam accelerator – too complicated to discuss right now, but this idea can “incinerate” all long lived radioactive actinides and provide low cost, pollution free electrical power for millenia on end.

  • Paul, those numbers are a tad outdated. I’m actually updating the numbers at work for 2010, but in 2009, based on EIA (Energy Information Administration) data, the numbers are:
    Coal: 44.5%
    Gas: 23.6%
    Nuclear: 20.2%
    Oil: 1.0%
    Water: 6.8%
    Other (Wind, Solar, etc.): 3.9%

  • Ah, you found it, Paul Z.! I searched and searched EIA and couldn’t find it. Brain cell death. Thanks! Accuracy is a GOOD thing.

When The Technocrats Took My Country

Wednesday, November 23, AD 2011

Ross Douthat goes through the interesting exercise of translating what just happend to Italy into American terms, and in doing so underscores just how big the Eurozone shake up is:

The murmurs about Barack Obama being forced out began in Berlin and Beijing. After his party lost the midterm vote, there were hints that a government of technocrats would be imposed on America, to save the country from a debt crisis and the world from a depression.

As the debt-ceiling negotiations stalled out over the summer, a global coalition — led by Germany, China and the International Monetary Fund — began working behind the scenes to ease Obama out of the White House. The credit downgrade was the final blow: the president had lost the confidence of the world’s shadow government, and his administration could no longer survive.

Within days, thanks to some unusual constitutional maneuvering, Obama resigned the presidency and Michael Bloomberg was invited to take the oath of office. With Beijing issuing veiled threats against our currency, Congress had no choice but to turn the country’s finances over to the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of 6, which in turn acceded to Chinese and German “supervision” of their negotiations. Meanwhile, there was a growing consensus in Europe and Asia that only a true global superstate could prevent the debt contagion from spreading …

FOR Americans, the scenario I’ve just imagined is a paranoid fantasy, the kind of New World Order nightmare that haunts the sleep of black-helicopter watchers and Trilateral Commission obsessives.

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8 Responses to When The Technocrats Took My Country

  • The whole EU experiment has been turning ghastly for all involved. I think the Brussel Bureaucrats are soon going to have to earn an honest living.

  • We saw a little of this in the US with TARP. Highly unpopular among Democrats and Republicans. But passed with bipartisan support because the technocrats said we had to. I think it’s a good thing when government puts the country before the polls and that needs to be encouraged. I’d replace the entire Senate with appointed technocrats. They’re more than halfway there anyway.

  • Smile when you say that RR! My faith in most technocrats is only exceeded by my faith in the prophetic powers of an eight ball. As Churchill noted about Democracy the best argument against it is a five minute chat with an average voter, but he also said this:

    “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

  • I think democracy should be a release valve not a complete system of government. Most people agree to a limited extent. We prefer a republic to direct democracy.

  • All just power derives from the consent of the governed RR. The last century graphically demonstrated what happens when elites decide that they know what is best for the people they goven, democracy be hanged. I agree whole-heartedly with the sentiments expressed by Abraham Lincoln in a speech on July 10, 1858:

    “Those arguments that are made, that the inferior race are to be treated with as much allowance as they are capable of enjoying; that as much is to be done for them as their condition will allow. What are these arguments? They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of king-craft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden. That is their argument, and this argument of the Judge is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent, and I hold if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it! If it is not true let us tear it out! If it is true let us stick to it then, let us stand firmly by it then.”

  • because the technocrats said we had to.

    TARP has not worked out badly. (Please note that ‘technocrats’ had a spectrum of views on the appropriate course of action at that time). IIRC, the elected officials produced no policy initiatives at that time other than a mortgage insurance scheme. Please note also that in other circumstances, the elected official most prominent in manufacturing legislation on the banking sector has been….Barney Frank. The putrefaction of our national legislature is one of the drivers of technocracy.

  • Something quite like this is already happening in Michigan, though on a smaller scale.

  • You will note in that story a problem that placing these municipalities in trusteeship was meant to address: the antecedent concession of public power to union bosses.

Shooting the Messenger

Sunday, October 23, AD 2011



As intensely frustrated as I get at the idiocy frequently shown by government here in the US, for truly high handed over the top governmental lunacy we can rarely compete with the Europeans:

This week alone has seen a ratings downgrade for Spain as well as a threat by agencies to review France’s AAA status — and the markets have taken notice. Once again, it would seem, ratings agencies are making things difficult for European countries.

Now, the European Union is considering doing something about it.

European Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier is considering a move to ban the agencies from publishing outlook reports on EU countries entangled in a crisis, according to a report in Thursday’s issue of the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper.

In an internal draft of a reform to an EU law applying to ratings agencies obtained by the paper, Barnier proposes providing the new EU securities authority, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), with the right to “temporarily prohibit” the publication of forecasts of a country’s liquidity.

The European Commission is particularly concerned about countries that are negotiating financial aid — for example from the euro rescue backstop fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), or the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A ban could prevent a rating from coming at an “inopportune moment” and having “negative consequences for the financial stability of a country and a possible destabilizing effect on the global economy,” the draft states.

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German Economist: America Is Becoming Too European

Friday, September 3, AD 2010

I found this piece from the English-language edition of Der Spiegel by University of Hamburg economics professor Thomas Straughaar very interest, in part because it reads very much as written by someone who is looking at American history and culture from the outside, yet trying to understand it for what it is. A key passage from the second page:

This raises a crucial question: Is the US economy perhaps suffering less from an economic downturn and more from a serious structural problem? It seems plausible that the American economy has lost its belief in American principles. People no longer have confidence in the self-healing forces of the private sector, and the reliance on self-help and self-regulation to solve problems no longer exists.

The opposite strategy, one that seeks to treat the American patient with more government, is risky — because it does not fit in with America’s image of itself.

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4 Responses to German Economist: America Is Becoming Too European

  • I’d say the author has a better understanding of this country than many Americans do.

    The author fears that if America adopts European ways, “the American age will have really come to an end.”

    But the good professor fears this because he, unlike large numbers of leftists both here and in Europe, actually likes America. He sees the “The American Age” as a positive. The end of the American Age is precisely the result the left is after and when you look at it from that perspective, Obama’s not doing a bad job.

    America is evil in leftist eyes because – oh, heck, all you have to do is read Vox Nova and you’ll have the reasons. The secular left would add a few other reasons to loathe the US – far too many “Christianist” yokels who have silly qualms about abortion and gay marriage. These people never seem to ask themselves if the American Era might be preferable to a Chinese Era, or an era in which there is no superpower at all, just an ineffectual UN in thrall to states like North Korea and Iran and state-funded terrorist groups.

    Unless we get a grip on ourselves and steer back from the cliff’s edge, we may indeed find ourselves living out one of those 2 scenarios. And my bet is that many lives – not just American lives by any means – would once again become nasty, brutish and short, and the world would find itself yearning for the good old days of the American era.

    Another thing: I have noticed that Euro-admiring lefties are pretty good at ignoring aspects of Europe they disagree with. They’ll tout Europe’s smaller cars (it would be pretty difficult to maneuver a Explorer through narrow medieval streets) and railway system, but not, say, France’s nuclear energy program. Or they’ll praise more relaxed attitudes about adulterous politicians or public nudity, but when you mention that no European country allows partial birth abortions – well, that’s one example of American “exceptionalism” they don’t mind at all.

  • B…b…b….but Paul Krugman says …

  • [email protected]!

  • I’m always weary of these cultural arguments. How’s homogeneous state-friendly Greece doing?