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


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

WEEKEND READING: 21-22 DECEMBER


  1. Reporters without Borders have published their 2013 World Press Freedom Index report. Greece is in freefall, sandwiched between Kosovo and Togo at 84th place, down from 70th last year. Reporters without Borders' mini-site on Greece is dated, but interesting nonetheless.
  2. A new paper by IMF researchers measures different countries' efforts to bring in tax revenue. Greece ranked high by global standards in 2011 (higher than, say, Canada) but lower than most core EU countries. Once again, revenues in excess of 43% of GDP turn out to be impossible. Note the similarity in estimates of maximum revenue between the paper I review here (42.7%) and this paper (42.4%), even though the methodologies are completely different. 
  3. On that same topic, the OECD releases its latest figures on tax revenues in the OECD countries, noting Greece's 'progress' in increasing revenue.
  4. The World Bank's researchers continue to plug away at the issue of global income inequality with a new paper. This one finds that the change in global income distribution since the 80s is essentially a swap of income between Western middle classes and Asian middle-classes. Presumably if Africa should ever get its act together we'll have another round of this.The paper also finds that, after accounting for the rising incomes of the super-rich (which are largely missing from household surveys and must be extrapolated from power laws), global inequality has remained almost unchanged since the 80s.
  5. The IMF's researchers are doing a Naomi Klein tribute this week, first with a paper that links income inequality and financial instability, and then with a paper on the redistributive aspects of financial regulation.
  6. But the opposite is also true: a very good research piece has also come out this week revisiting the Reinhart & Rogoff debate with what I think is amazing rigour; the authors find what they call 'tentantive' evidence that debt slows down long-term growth, but also find that it's pointless to expect a single threshold to signal the onset of debt overhang across all countries, and that the relationship between debt and growth is non-linear across countries, though probably linear within countries.
  7. Still with the IMF - this new paper suggests that countries can usually only sustain massive public debt loads because if their reliance on 'real money investors': central banks (foreign and domestic) and domestic non-financials, presumably including households. 
  8. Somewhere in a parallel universe, the UK Office for National Statistics explains the rationale behind the reclassification of Network Rail as a Central Government Entity, and the head of the agency is not accused of treason by illiterate trolls. Sigh.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

YOU TRIPPIN? NOTES ON GREECE'S HOUSEHOLD CONSUMPTION DATA

Ever wondered what the fastest growing category of consumption is in post-crisis Greece?

Well it's the same one as in pre-crisis Greece. Drugs. Reports of 'sisa' scything through the streets of Athens, booming HIV infection rates among injecting users and the setting up of Greece's first supervised consumption room back in November may have given observers the impression that drugs are confined to the fringes of Greek society.

The fact, however, is that the formal household sector is chasing highs too, and has been for years. Only in three out of the last eleven years have Greek households failed to clock up a double-digit increase in the use of 'narcotics' as defined here, with the total amount spent in 2011 equal to roughly EUR1.2bn (or EUR110 per person) in 2010 prices.

What you can see from the graph to the right, however, is that consumption growth was in freefall pre-crisis, and the trend has reversed since, despite (or possibly because of) falling incomes.

The figures, however, are confusing in several ways. For one, Greece appears to be better at collecting data on narcotics-related spending than any other country in the EU. You can see for yourselves - most countries are unable to publish figures, and those that do, publish unrealistically low figures anyway. Going by Eurostat's figures, Greece alone accounts for half of the EU's drugs consumption. Frankly, that is impossible.

On the flip side, Greece's own figures may be inaccurate too. 100 Euros' worth of drugs for every man, woman and child sounds a bit high, particularly so when one realises that regular drug users are in fact quite rare. In Greece, for instance, only about 15% of high school age boys and 7% of girls had ever used any illicit drugs in 2011 (data here). The figures are quite similar for adults, with recent users making up nearly half of all lifetime users (data here). So if, say, about 5% of the population (allowing for under-reporting) are responsible for 90% of the total spend, that means they would each spend about EUR2,000 per year on their habits. It's possible, but it's a big stretch - and in 2011 no less. Remember, these are people upstanding enough to sit through a household consumption questionnaire. A real problem user wouldn't be able to sit through that without a fix of something, I doubt I would either.

The consumption data of course come from Household Budget Surveys (HBS) run by national statistics agencies such as Greece's ELSTAT. Harmonisation and comparability are, unlike with some other datasets, not a huge priority, so it pays to look at the original questionnaire and methodology. In the case of Greece, you can check out the full documentation of the latest survey round (2011) here or a more complete version (with questionnaires) in Greek here. What really stands out to me is that none of the questionnaires actually include any explicit questions on the use of narcotics - which makes sense. But in that case, ELSTAT must literally be relying on respondents to volunteer information about their drug habits, and they must be much more willing to do so than their fellow Europeans.

Time to snoop around a little.

TO BE CONTINUED

Friday, 13 December 2013

WEEKEND READING: 14-15 DECEMBER


  1. And the fastest-growing consumption category in Greece (latest figures 2011) is.... Narcotics. (Full definition of this COICOP code here)
  2. Athens Stock Exchange emerges as one of the best places one could have put their money in 2013. I'm going to throw up. 
  3. Eurostat publish their first-ever set of figures on money laundering in Europe - not actual money flows of course, but reports of suspicious transactions as well as resources devoted to the fight against money laundering. Note that Greece has provided almost no figures at all, despite a three-year delay in the publication, plus how woefully under-resourced our public administration is when it comes to detecting money laundering activity.
  4. The Commission publish their Product Market Review, focusing on firms' access to finance
  5. Coming soon to a busted bank near you: the European Parliament and Council have reached an agreement which paves the way for bail-ins around Europe.
  6. Looking forward to what the Greek commentariat will make of this ECJ ruling that obliges them to consider asylum bids from homosexual African immigrants facing persecution back home.
  7. Mind you, banning same-sex marriage may be a public health risk.
  8. Financial liberalisation in China marches on. Here's the Bank of England's latest note on what it might all mean.
  9. Argentina is one step away from mending bridges with the IMF, or going broke, or both.
  10. Ireland's bailout is officially over. Feast your eyes on an infographic we can't reproduce in Greece.

Friday, 6 December 2013

WEEKEND READING: 7-8 DECEMBER


  1. Remember when a map of Greek grassroots organisations was published to counter stereotypes of laziness and apathy? Well there is that, and then there are slightly harder figures from the World Giving Index showing the kindness of strangers is flagging in Greece, even when it comes to gestures that cost nothing.
  2. As promised, the OECD's PISA results for 2012 are out - PISA being the triannual international assessment of school systems around the world. Greece still lags behind the OECD average and our children are among the most stressed pupils in the developed world, but our performance in mathematics is apparently improving. Check out more detailed results at the end of this page.
  3. What a week for international assessments, eh? the latest Corruption Perceptions Index is also out and Greece ranks 80th, right beneath China
  4. The OECD publishes its latest review of sub-national fiscal consolidation. Greece shines once again as one of the least decentralised countries in the developed world, but with an endless appetite for sweeping debt under the local government rug.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

THOSE 2012 GREEK POVERTY FIGURES IN FULL


As veteran readers know, I am a big fan of Eurostat's EU-SILC survey, the source of all European poverty statistics, among other things. I'm always amazed at how poorly the figures are reported on, with the juiciest ones typically buried under the headline-grabbing 'living in poverty' and 'at risk of poverty' statistics.

I reviewed these figures a year ago, when the latest update dated back to 2011; you can see that analysis here. But now the 2012 figures are in and the results are staggering. Following last year's methodology, I have condensed them into three tables.

The first table refers to food poverty, defined here as the inability to afford meat, fish or pulses every other day. Full data here.



People (especially men) living on their own did best in this regard during 2012, but were the only type of household to report reduced rates of food poverty. Presumably, this reflects the trend for young people who previously lived alone to move back into the family home. Everyone who was still living on their own by 2012 is by definition likely to be better off. What is much more notable is the absolute explosion in food poverty among single parents, nearly half of whom were unable to feed properly. The rate doubled year-on-year in 2012 alone.  Overall, 17.5% of Greek households with dependent children weren't feeding properly, which is comparable with the rate in Italy and still below the rates seen in accession countries. But among single parents, only Bulgaria does worse than Greece, and that by a small margin.


The second table refers to an approximation of fuel poverty, namely the inability to keep one's house adequately warm. Full data here.


Whatever the dangerous wood-burning of the last years may suggest, fuel poverty didn't jump quite as fast as food poverty, but it did jump across all types of households. Worst-affected were households with more than two adults but no children - which I suspect means young adults staying with their parents.

24.3% of households with children are fuel-poor, a figure surpassed only in Cyprus and Bulgaria. The pattern is similar for other types of households, including the particularly hard-hit multi-adult households.

The third table refers to arrears - accumulating debts due to rent, loans, consumer credit or unpaid bills. Full data here.


Here the figures have been less volatile year on year, but 2012 was still the worst year on record, with 39% of households having arrears of one kind or another. Arrears increased across all household types, apart from single men, but single parents were worst hit, with 58% of them now in arrears. As a rule almost all types of households with dependent children accumulated disproportionate levels of arrears in 2012. 46.3% of all households with dependent children were in arrears, the highest figure in Europe and its periphery countries, bar none.

More data are also available on households' ability to deal with unexpected expenses (full data here) and their self-assessed ability to 'make ends meet' (full data here). The results on unexpected expenses are interesting because they demonstrate the trade-off presented by greater access to consumer credit. Greek households are better placed even now to deal with unexpected expenses than they were back in 2003, when Greece wasn't in the depths of a decade-long depression. However, this is mostly due to self-restraint (households with dependent children, which do not have the same level of discretion over their spending, are genuinely worse off in this respect than in 2003), and of course comes at the price of mounting arrears. Regarding inability to make ends meet, it's worth noting that 70.1% of single-parent households face this problem, more than double the 2008 figure.

The stickiness of Greek poverty

Whilst we're on the subject of poverty, though, Eurostat also published an even less media-friendly study into poverty, which looked at the extent to which it persists between generations - i.e. to what extent the children of poor people tend to be poor and those of the well-off tend to be well-off. You can check the figures for yourselves here, but to me what stands out is the following.

As of 2011, poverty and financial security were equally 'sticky.' 59.5% of those Greeks who were having trouble making ends meet in 2011 grew up in households that had similar problems. 60.4% of those Greeks who were not having trouble making ends meet in 2011 grew up in households that also hadn't had such problems. The level of 'stickiness' of poverty was quite high by European standards (59.5% v. 52.1% in the EU-15), but the level of 'stickiness' of prosperity was low (60.4% v. 70.8% in the EU-15). This suggests that, over the lifetime of the average citizen, and compared to its EU peers, Greece has been relatively good at keeping poor people poor but not at keeping comfortable people comfortable.

Looking at the other two quadrants, it's possible to benchmark the snakes and ladders of social mobility across Europe. The 'snakes' figure is the percentage of today's struggling people who came from comfortable backgrounds. At 40.5%, it's relatively low in Greece, compared to the 47.9% average in EU-15 countries. The 'ladders' figure is the percentage of today's comfortable people who came from struggling backgrounds. Greece's 39.6% compares favourably to the EU-15's 29.2%.

Presumably the desirable kind of mobility is for people to climb out of poverty and for poverty to become less 'sticky.' If so, a simple composite index of 'mobility' based on these figures would crown Denmark, Austria and Iceland the winners (I'm excluding Latvia where mass emigration has introduced a kind of 'survivor bias' in favour of mobility). Bulgaria, Romania and Belgium would find themselves trailing. Greece would be quite close to the top, actually. The reason? The period through which 'mobility' is examined is, by the very nature of the questions, very long - equal to the average person's lifetime. The median age in Greece was 42 in 2011, so we're essentially looking at 1969 to 2011.




Saturday, 30 November 2013

WEEKEND READING - 30 NOVEMBER & 1 DECEMBER


  1. The OECD's review of barriers to competition in Greece has now been published. Full report here.
  2. Latest Eurobarometer survey on the state of the Eurozone finds that the Irish and the Greeks are still supportive of the common currency (see pg 9), although other PIIGS are disillusioned. See also pp 49.  Killer graph on page 58, where the Portuguese, Greeks and Spaniards turn out to be the Europeans least convinced of their countries' need to reform.
  3. Still with the Eurobarometer folks, Greece has some of the longest traineeships in Europe.
  4. And 7% of Greeks own handguns, 19% of which for 'personal protection.'
  5. The 2013 Health Consumer Index ranks Greece 25th out of , down from 22nd in 2012. Read the full report here, with particular emphasis on pp. 14-15, where the researchers find Greece's reported reduction in health spending unreliable. 
  6. Speaking of public health, the findings of this decade-old survey of excess winter mortality in Europe clearly reflect the distinction between European core and periphery. Discuss.
  7. The OECD has released its economic survey of Greece for the coming year, anticipating much slower growth than the government's estimates. Please note that the OECD has so far predicted Greece's fiscal multiplier more accurately than the Commission or the IMF, although it's unclear why. 
  8. Still with the OECD, the results of the PISA 2012 survey, the latest in the definitive series of studies comparing educational outcomes across the world, are due this Wednesday, 3 Dec. Stay tuned here.
  9. PwC and the World Bank have released its 2014 Paying Taxes index report, looking into the administrative cost of paying business taxes around the world. Some Greek figures included.

Friday, 22 November 2013

WEEKEND READING: 23-24 NOVEMBER


  1. Among many other dubious distinctions, did you know Greece is one of the worst places for employers trying to hire skilled expats? Anyone surprised? 
  2. A warning for Greece - electronic tax filing may not reduce compliance costs.
  3. The Ukraine's celebrated drift towards Europe is apparently over.
  4. The World Bank finds a negative correlation between indicators of good bank governance and bank capitalisation. Discuss.
  5. Still with the World Bank: the latest financial development report looks into what happens when individual borrowers benefit from debt forgiveness. No spoilers, turn to pg 99.
  6. How much inequality is there in the world?

Friday, 15 November 2013

WEEKEND READING: 16-17 NOVEMBER


  1. The new EU Directive on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications has arrived! It's going to be Bolognia all over again!
  2. The EU announces that member states are now allowed to channel a great deal more State Aid to their film industries than previously - including funding the 'modernisation' of individual cinemas. Apparently, Europe produces more films than India, and that's somehow a good thing. 
  3. The World Bank's study tracking the size of the high-seas piracy sector off the horn of Africa is now out, and makes for fantastic reading. Also note the Creative Commons 3.0 Unported licence. A bit more detail here.
  4. I almost never post these but ACCA's Global Economic Conditions Survey, of which I am the editor, came out a few days ago and is very interesting. 
  5. The IMF's mea culpa team has kind of over-done it here - a study with a very limited sample up to 09 finds that fiscal multipliers increase during rapid consolidations. Still, interesting for its approach to measuring the speed of fiscal consolidation. 
  6. More from the IMF - how sovereign wealth funds work.
  7. Post-bailout Ireland's industrial production exploded last month, but Europe's production fell by 0.5%
  8. A recent paper explores the effect of cigarette taxes on consumption in Greece, and the potential benefits of smokers cutting down. 
  9. Venezuela slides further down towards shithole status.

Friday, 8 November 2013

WEEKEND READING: 9-10 NOVEMBER


  1. As a response to the question on how young people's faith in democracy can be restored in Greece, the Greek PM pledges nationwide free wifi within a year. The full grotesque video and PR #fail, which unleashed a torrent of well-deserved trolling, is available at the bottom of the page.
  2. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Greece's rationale for excluding same-sex couples from its civil unions law (a distinction we share with Lithuania) is unconvincing. More details on the case here.
  3. Greek pension funds delivered returns of about 5% in 2012, in return for admin costs of 0.7% according to the OECD. While returns are very poor, this is actually standard across countries, and the admin costs are not comparably high either. About 40% of assets are bills and bonds. 
  4. In case anyone had any doubt that UKIP are not in fact 'libertarians,' as they claim, a YouGov poll reveals that their voters are more supportive of nationalising key industries than those of any other major UK party - apart from Labour, by a narrow margin.
  5. A new index ranking works out the most influential thinkers of all time. No. 1 is Karl Marx, if counted as a historian. He's more like no. 9 if counted as an economist, but still, way up there.
  6. Argentina is in deep trouble again. Or maybe it's the target of an orchestrated PR attack. No wait. It is in trouble. Which reminds me of my old post about why Greece is not (even) Argentina
  7. Dagong downgrades the US and S&P downgrades France.
  8. For Greek readers only unfortunately: how the Greek left misappropriated Behan's 'Laughing Boy'.


Δηλώσεις Σαμαρά για το #freewifi by CDemo83

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

YOU CAN HAZ LAWYERS

I never knew the exact figures, but it's a matter of received wisdom in Greece that we have way too many legal professionals. And as I've written elsewhere, lawyers ate my country.

Well, now I do have the numbers - and LFS numbers at that! Check out the source - an excellent comparative study of the legal professions across Europe.

Also note the anonymous comment at the bottom of this post - the author has indeed used the wrong population figures for Cyprus. I will try to put the table back together myself, assuming of course that the number of legal professionals is right. The correct population figures for 2008 (to ensure comparability) can be found here.

By the looks of it most figures are not wrong, but Cyprus' cited population figure is 5.6 times greater than it should be. This means that the proportionate ratio of lawyers per 1000 people should be about 2.69 - less than Spain but in the high bracket.


Friday, 1 November 2013

I CAN HAZ MIDDLE AGE? (NO)

The last two rounds of elections in Greece were, more than anything else, about one of my favourate subjects: age and the battle of generations. 

Older voters, with their pensions to protect, came out in force for the former major parties, fearing that more radical choices would put our bailout at risk; younger voters, many of them unemployed and with little to look forward to anyway, came out in force for the (occasionally radical) left and some even for the far right. 

The cut-off point used by most media outlets to illustrate this was the age of 50 or 55. That, to me, is a happy coincidence.

You see, in January 2012, the Eurobarometer wonks published a survey of European attitudes towards ageing, which asked people, among other things, at what age they thought a person ceases to be ‘young’ and at what age they thought a person begins to be ‘old’.  

Greece was, as it often is, an extreme case: on average, Greeks considered people to be ‘young’ up to the age of 50.5. We were beaten only by Cyprus on this account.

While youth seems eternal in Greece, old age is not particularly long. The threshold for ‘old’ age was 65.7, which is quite typical within Europe – and it suggests an expected 14.4 years between the threshold of ‘old age’ and the average Greek’s life expectancy - also close to the average. 

Between these periods of ‘youth’ and ‘old age’ is an implied 'middle age' – and due to our long period of ‘youth’ in Greece it lasts for just 15.4 years. Only the Hungarians, who count people as old from the age of 58 onwards, had a shorter middle age.


I tried to calculate one last crucial interval: the average duration of retirement in middle age. This measures the amount of time that people can expect to spend in retirement while still not being considered old. I suspect this is an implied target in industrial relations – in a perfect world, one would retire still young enough to not be held back by ill health or a weakened body.

Germany is unique in this regard in that the Germans are the only Europeans to work into what they perceive as old age - about two and a half years of old age. Only the Turks and Hungarians come close, but both nations tend to retire before reaching their subjective 'old age' threshold. The Netherlands, France and Belgium are at the other extreme, with new pensioners looking forward to at least 11 years of ‘middle age’ left. Greece is more in line with accession countries in the Baltics in this regard, with workers looking forward to only about 4 years of middle age after retirement.



I need to explain at this point that this is not a core versus periphery narrative. The longest implied middle age in Europe occurs in fellow PIIG Portugal, and at 31.1 years it lasts twice as long as Greece’s. Sweden follows with 29.7, while the typical German has about 22 years’ worth of middle age to look forward to – not far from the European average. Even middle age in retirement, which sounds like a political choice, is not a clear cut core/periphery issue.

I do, however, think that culture matters, so I ran a quick test using Hofstede's cultural dimensions and any other data I could get my hands on. The Eurobarometer study hinted that a country's median age might matter when defining the thresholds of middle and old age: growing old makes people more lenient when it comes to defining youth and old age. 

My tests revealed this to be true with regards to the old age threshold but not the middle-age one. Still, every year added to a country's median age pushes the threshold of old age further out by just over 10 months. On the other hand, it is the expected  duration of a working life that makes the difference to the middle-age threshold - short expected working lives prolong perceived youth by delaying emancipation, and this time there are no diminishing returns. In fact, every year of lost working life delays the onset of subjective middle age by a year and half. 

Just as interestingly, more 'macho' or masculine cultures tended to be associated with shorter periods of youth and an earlier onset of subjective old age. To avoid confusion, Hofstede defines 'masculinity' as
a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material reward for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented.
By celebrating 'heroic' and assertive attitudes, as well as the ability to provide for one's family, masculine cultures tend to shove people into middle age and old age quicker.

In the case of Greece, a combination of very delayed emancipation and a persistent masculine culture leads to a shrinking middle age - which would be just a curiosity among many except for what I think is a significant cultural and psychological effect. Middle age is the time when one has no excuses and expects no one to clean up after them. For countries, a shrinking middle age may be a shrinking field of accountability.

Worse, I think the pressure one is subjected to when forced to cope with delayed emancipation and macho expectations at once is a breeding ground for monsters. The link between cultural masculinity and violence is echoed in studies of family killers and 'honour' killings. It could even explain why Greece's increase in suicide ideation has been mostly among men, especially married ones.  But I hope to return to this point at a later date. 

Notes on the data

The Eurostat study does not provide life expectancy or working life expectancy estimates, or indeed cultural attitude estimates. I have I used median age and life expectancy data from the UN, here, extrapolating the figure for 2012 from the estimates for 2010 and 2015. I’ve also got average retirement ages from here and Hofstede culture dimensions data from here.

As for average working lives, I’m using expected working life durations at 15 and there are two sets of recent estimates to choose from. (Economix 2009) was commissioned by the EC and can be seen here. Hytti & Valaste (2009) can be seen here. I’ve gone for Hytti & Valaste but Economix is about two years more up to date. Either way, differences between the two are small.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

BELATED WEEKEND READING: 26-27 OCTOBER


  1. ELSTAT celebrates the seventh set of deficit figures in a row to be published without reservations by Eurostat.
  2. Note also that ELSTAT now publishes figures on the impact of support to financial institutions on the government deficit. Q2 2013 was a whopper. Note also that compensation of state employees and social benefits are now less than 50% of all government spending - down from 68% two years ago.
  3. The Commission launches a consultation on State Aid in agriculture, forestry and rural areas. Expect the Greek authorities to respond quickly and at length.
  4. The IMF publishes a brief history of fiscal transparency through the ages, which shows that the modern Greek state was actually a pioneer of fiscal transparency in its early days - because it came into being deeply in debt.
  5. Some tourism/immigration figures to take note of. The number of Serbs and Russians arriving in Greece increases by 50% yoy in H1 2013. Visitors from 'Syria-Lebanon' (?) increase threefold, and a mysterious near-tenfold increase in Estonian visitors.   

Monday, 21 October 2013

BELATED WEEKEND READING - 19-20 OCTOBER


  1. Greek deficit revised downwards by 1 percentage point.
  2. Presenting the Group of States Against Corruption - somehow, its acronym is GRECO.
  3. Nearly two years on, Greece has still failed to recover illegal state Aid from Ellinikos Xrysos, says the European Court of Justice.
  4. On the other hand, State Aid to DESFA to expand gas infrastructure is a-OK says the Commission.
  5. And so is the merger of Aegean and Olympic, says the Commission. Why? Because they received assurances that Olympic could not continue to operate as a going concern and thus further consolidation in the sector was inevitable - presumably no one would buy the company's assets in a fire sale? The reality, of course, is that the merger aims to ensure that long-distance routes remain expensive enough to cross-subsidise the politically sensitive but irreversibly loss-making internal routes. Note the phrasing on the 'Prices' section here. The effects were plain to me when I realised, way back in August, that holiday-time prices for the London-Athens route were already at the levels I was accustomed to seeing when booking last minutes in November.
  6. The IMF's researchers weigh in in favour of a Pan-European fiscal stabilisation mechanism.
  7. Construction in Greece surges by 20% yoy in Q2 2013. I smell a massive rat. Meanwhile, industrial production crashed year on year during the summer.
  8. Some things I did not know about the Greek Labour Force Survey: a) it only covers people who intend to stay in Greece for at least one year. b) taking the survey is compulsory c) the new census figures are still not being used to weight LFS responses - i.e. we can expect the LFS to be re-based sometime soon, with unpredictable results. d) 42% of interviews are carried out by proxy (!) This casts some doubt on statistics involving intentions (e.g. whether people working part-time would prefer a full-time job)
  9. The IMF's researchers warn against expecting structural reforms to deliver short-term growth in the European periphery.
  10. Switzerland has become the 58th country to sign up to the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance on Tax matters. Greece is also a signatory.
  11. Greece continues to lag the rest of Europe for online purchases - especially (surprise!) those of books, which only 7% of Greek internet users (i.e. a sub-set of the population) have ever bought online.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

PLZ HELP THE COMMISSION - KTHXBYE

This arrived in my inbox earlier today:


Announcements and Publications
09 October 2013

Information request

Availability of short term export credit insurance for exports to Greece

As a consequence of the difficult situation in Greece, a lack of insurance or reinsurance capacity to cover exports to Greece was observed in 2011. This led the Commission to amend the Communication of the Commission to the Member States on the application of Articles 107 and 108 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to short-term export-credit insurance (Communication on short-term export-credit insurance) by temporarily removing Greece from the list of marketable risks countries. This modification is due to expire on 31 December 2013.

To determine whether current market situation justifies the expiry of Greece's removal from the list of marketable risk countries in 2013, or whether a prolongation is needed, the Commission invites Member States, credit insurers and other interested parties to submit information on, among others:
  • Private credit insurance capacity
  • Activity of insurers acting on behalf or with State guarantee or the State itself in provision of short-term credit insurance for exports to Greece in 2013
  • Sovereign sector ratings
  • Corporate sector performance in Greece
The deadline for replies is 6 November 2013.

More details on this information request and how to send contributions 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

WEEKEND READING 5-6 OCTOBER


  1. Gallup delivers a very poor piece of polling for Debating Europe to 'prove' that austerity doesn't work. I'm not one to rubbish survey data as you know but I note a number of weakenesses.  a) the survey never bothers to define austerity, and adds to the confusion by portraying it as an EU-wide policy b) 23% of those who believe that 'only some countries' benefit from austerity cite Greece as one of its beneficiaries, c) the Eurozone country with the highest level of support for austerity is austerity-hit Ireland, and d) the survey doesn't bother to ask what policies might have served Europe better.
  2. How conspiracy theorising correlates with rejection of science.
  3. China's 50 wealthiest politicians are far, far wealthier than their American counterparts.
  4. Greek procurement transparency portal Diavgeia weakened by poor legal phrasing- but the damage is repaired and seems to have been a case of cock-up rather than conspiracy. See comments below for clarifications.
  5. The latest edition of the Global Financial Centres Index is now out. Athens singled out as a case study of reputational fallout.
  6. The WEF Human Capital report for 2013 is now out. Watch out for the Greek section.
  7. The IMF's Global Financial Stability Report is out.
  8. People chuckling at Eurostat statistics on poverty need to note just how robust the methodology is.
  9. European Commission consults on the need for European regulation on crowdfunding.
  10. Skilled migration - a review of the economic literature

Friday, 27 September 2013

WEEKEND READING: 28-29 SEPTEMBER


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


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Όπου κι αν πάω η Ελλάδα με γειώνει



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

Friday, 20 September 2013

WEEKEND READING: 21-22 SEPTEMBER


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

PATHETIC BUT TRUE - GREEK LABOUR MARKET TURNS A CORNER


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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, enjoy (?) the figures below.




Thursday, 12 September 2013

WEEKEND READING: 14-15 SEPTEMBER


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

Monday, 9 September 2013

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

SOME FINAL NOTES

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

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

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

Friday, 6 September 2013

WEEKEND READING 7-8 SEPTEMBER


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

Friday, 30 August 2013

WEEKEND READING 31 AUGUST - 1 SEPTEMBER


  1. The Greek Government demanded information from 141 Facebook accounts last year. Information was granted in 54% of cases.
  2. Remember, Greece will give you a residency permit if you buy EUR250k worth of property. Wonder how that's working out...
  3. Eurostat gives us the lowdown on calculating unemployment and alternative measures of under- and un-employment. Brilliant. Note page 33 - in Greece, and indeed throughout Europe, the distribution of work intensity is much more unequal than the distribution of income (see Image).
  4. Months before the UK finally managed to keep out of a misguided war in Syria, a YouGov poll suggested the use of chemical weapons would not not increase support for war among UK citizens, and the more conservative parts of the British public are the least inclined to support intervention. Full data here. Slightly similar findings in the US - support for war is not exactly a Conservative choice.
  5. The Financial Stability Board reports on countries' progress in reducing the financial system's reliance on credit rating agencies and publishes recommendations on the oversight of the Shadow Banking sector.
  6. Worrying about money problems causes a cognitive disadvantage equivalent to a sleepless night, or 13 IQ points.
  7. Does the way languages deal with the future impact savings rates? A rigorous debate summarised here.
  8. My personal obsession for the week - the uncanny valley.
  9. Interesting factoid - no major social media platform is growing exponentially anymore.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

THE BULLSHIT JOBS CONUNDRUM (UPDATE NO. 4)


Have you read David Graeber's blog on the phenomenon of  'bullshit jobs'?

I received a link to this the other day, not from a socialist, but from a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian friend. He and I briefly shared a job once that was not far from a bullshit job. We both left out of sheer tedium and disgust - and both of us took a pay cut to get out of there. His email included simply the link to the blog and the title 'That sinking feeling.' I suggest you read it before you continue reading my commentary.

While you're at it, read also the 'Attack of the Kling-ons' - the same critique, really, from the perspective of a technology journalist, and with an opinionated comment section below. Or maybe this brief self-interested discussion about whether travel agents should still exist. Then to top it all off, you can visit a Bullshit Job Generator here or take the test here.

The Economist, perhaps sensing that a critique of whatever it calls capitalism was about to go viral, was quick to respond to Graeber with a much less interesting take on the whole thing - most jobs have always been unsatisfying, new 'bullshit' jobs are mostly down to technology, and the jobs can't really be without value, otherwise profit-driven businesses wouldn't pay anyone to do them. Ever confident, the Economist writer(s) dismissed the original article as an 'amusing essay.'

I think the Economist did all of us who believe in the free market a disservice. A far more useful response is to concede that Graeber has a point on the existence of such jobs (if you've been in a bullshit job, you don't need proof), but probably a little wrong on which jobs they are and why, what 'value' they create, and for whom. To do that, it helps to have worked in a large organisation, and it helps to have existed, at least for a while, at the edge between market and non-market as my former colleague and I have.

You see, Graeber offered the following two tests of a bullshit job.

First, the owner of a bullshit job will feel that the job is ultimately meaningless, regardless of how well they perform it or how well it pays. Yet passing this first hurdle of a bullshit job depends on your capacity for self-deception, confirmation bias and unearthing anecdotes. All humans are capable of twisting their outlook on the world until the hand that feeds them doesn't deserve biting. At my first job, some colleagues genuinely believed our work was helping some of the most disadvantaged young people in Britain earn valuable vocational qualifications. They could point to the success stories. Objectively, the qualifications were a government mandate, proven by repeated studies to yield negative returns - partly because they branded people as idiots until employers wouldn't touch them with a bargepole.

Second, if the owner of a bullshit job stopped performing it, no-one (apart from their colleagues and other people doing more or less the same job) would notice. This question is in reality an aggressive fantasy: union enthusiasts dreaming of industrial action that brings the world to a halt, fundamentalist Christians looking forward to the Rapture, libertarians reading about entrepreneurs leaving the world behind in Atlas Shrugged, unpopular kids fantasising about their own funerals, abusive husbands telling their wives no one else would want them. But it also comes with a kernel of truth - bullshit jobs don't deliver value to the people who pay for them - but to someone else entirely.

Passing the second hurdle of a bullshit job is almost too easy. As successive recessions have shown, there are few limits to how much 'stuff' we can do without - even in the so-called 'core economy'. And since many of our 'needs' are not 'core,' what people would notice on day 1 is not what they would notice on day 30. Millions of kids would notice (for a day) if Justin Bieber's PA's PA stopped tweeting for him - yet that MUST be a bullshit job if ever there was one. The real test is not 'who would notice' but whether, a few months later and with no other coercion involved, people would get over the loss and substitute the missing service with something else.

Of course, consistent with his audience, Graeber is trying a neat little reversal with this comment - by hinting that the meaningfulness of a job should be assessed based on the prospective impact of temporary industrial action. But he should instead consider the impact of permanent industrial action. Before long, another group will work around the gap unless the law is twisted to ban them from doing so (think Greek refuse collectors and their private sector counterparts).

What the data have to say

I cannot directly test Graeber's hypothesis. However, I do have weighted, nationally representative EVS data from over 30,000 interviews across the EU in 2008, detailing employees' job satisfaction and perceived level of autonomy by detailed occupation (both on a scale of 1-10) as well as the share of respondents who mentioned either achievement or public service as a characteristic of a 'good job'. To make double sure, I've also looked at what share of mentions these two characteristics took of each group's 'definition' of a good job. The only other possible options denoting 'meaning' would be mentions of responsibility at work. I chose, however, to leave this one out as it could confuse vanity and the desire for social status with the pursuit of meaning.

You can find the detailed findings by occupation group here. But more important, to me, is the chart below, which shows the correlation between a need for meaning at work and job satisfaction, at least for the bulk of jobs out there. The area of each bubble corresponds to the number of people working in each occupation in Europe, back in 2008. What is quite remarkable is that people who emphasise meaning in their choice of occupation also tend to be happier employees, and the vast majority of European employees rate their job satisfaction over 5/10. This cannot be the same world that Graeber is discussing.


The people suffering the most from Graeber's 'bullshit job' angst (i.e people who want a decent amount of meaning at work but are deeply unhappy at work) are most likely to be, not office workers with made-up jobs, but farm hands and machine operators - the traditional workers whose loss Graeber laments. Sure, customer services also emerge as a massive graveyard of hopes and dreams but the real rump of the market are these guys, plus maybe textile workers and miners. In short, the usual suspects since the industrial revolution. The biggest occupational group with far more longing for meaning than their job can accommodate are, in fact, high school teachers; but they're not nearly unhappy enough.

Another approach is to classify Europe's workers into clusters based on these two characteristics - desire for meaning at work and job satisfaction. The result is a system of seven 'satisfaction' groups, and by looking how many workers in each occupational group belong to each 'satisfaction' group we can perhaps infer the prevalence of bullshit jobs. My idea is that we should be on the lookout for people with medium levels of desire for meaning and low or very low job satisfaction. I've ranked the bigger occupation groups according to their propensity to produce such people here.

Again, Graeber strikes the opposite of gold. Turn the test around and search for occupations with the fewest people reporting high desire for meaning and extremely high levels of satisfaction - the same. His favourite occupations turn up more depressed, bullshit workers than the ones he rejects as meaningless.

You can also find a very detailed decision tree explaining the determinants of job satisfaction here. Hint - autonomy at work is by far the strongest determinant.

The reality of bullshit jobs

Still, as I said, I believe Graeber is right in asserting that bullshit jobs exist. I have my own set of tests for Bullshit Jobs, though:

Test one: Every bullshit job supports a rentier or group of rentiers.
Test one-and-a half: Progression in bullshit jobs is asymptotic: it forever approaches but never reaches a rentier position
Test two: Similar bullshit jobs across organisations cross-subsidise each other and each other's rentier masters, instead of competing with each other
Test two-and-a-half: Bullshit jobs give rise to greater network effects, thus creating more bullshit work, the better one performs them 
Test three: The content and output of bullshit jobs is opaque to the people that ultimately fund them, i.e. it is hard to know what one is getting for one's money
Rule three-and-a-half: Bullshit jobs provide ultimate value to internal stakeholders, but are paid for by external stakeholders who receive little or none of it.
Test four: Because bullshit jobs aren't about doing anything, they rely on bullshit skills and bullshitting skills far more than on real ones
Test four and a half: Any job in which a candidate's eventual performance can be predicted accurately by interviews is a bullshit job, although the inverse is not necessarily true.

The Pain of Bullshit Jobs 

Owners of bullshit jobs feel, among other things, shamed or guilty by association. Close contact with the rent-seeker they serve creates the sense of being soiled. How, precisely, the feeling is experienced is crucial. When it is experienced as guilt, it should not lead to the feelings of aggression towards holders of real jobs, as Graeber predicts. When it is interpreted as shame, it could, as long as the blame can be externalised. Whether the 'soiled' feeling will turn to shame or guilt can be shaped by the organisation itself, because feelings of shame and guilt are essentially mixtures of a simple affective element (a raw feeling) and a cognitive process (a 'knowing', I guess).

The categories of Bullshit Jobs

Bullshit jobs, in my view, come in the following flavours (the list continues to grow):

1. Template populators: A template is an abstract structure or order into which relatively simple information or actions can be inserted in order to produce complex but standardised outputs, meeting the template designer's specifications. When you prepare statutory financial reports or regulatory returns, write contract tenders (or invitations to tender, for that matter) for the private or public sectors, if you manage a standardised 'evaluation', 'impact assessment', or 'consultation' process, if you're a UK solicitor involved in conveyancing, a health & safety inspector, or an HR employee taking applicants through a structured behavioural interview, then you are a template populator.

Templates allow complex processes to be standardised and parcelled out, so that individual populators can be allocated tasks they are able to perform, even if they are incapable of efficiently carrying out the whole process. The entire task can thus be performed with the lowest possible level of skilled labour input while meeting the given specification - not what the client wanted necessarily, but what they can be proven to have asked for.

Templates create and protect elites in two ways. First, by making the work of the skilled individuals who design templates scalable. The designer of the template creates a saving by substituting more skilled (designer) labour with less skilled (user) labour and reducing (user) distraction - thus making unskilled (user) labour more productive and releasing skilled (designer) labour to more productive uses. The more they can effectively 'own' the template, the more the designers of the template can capture at least some of this saving as rents.

Second, a template allows the extraction of rents by insulating both its designer and their immediate reports (middle management) from risk, at the expense of pretty much everyone else. After all, a template approved by the principal is almost incapable of producing an outcome the agent can get into trouble over. Which is why, for instance, audit firms rarely get into trouble every time a business they audit fails spectacularly.

When designers aren't effectively able to keep users from replicating their valuable templates elsewhere, it is still possible to restrict usage of the templates, by law or convention, to a relatively small number of users. These user-designers are known as professionals, and they are forced to share the collective rents extracted through templates fairly equally.

2. Junior Lobbyists: a Senior lobbyist in the wider sense is a person who creates 'value' for a constituency by bending the coercive powers of the state in their favour - delivering legislation or, even better, institutions, that allow them to either capture rents, or avoid conceding them to other parties. A corporate lobbyist is only the most obvious example. But the sprawling 'policy' industries of the Anglo-saxon world, the corporatist institutions of Europe, and the well-connected mega-corporates of Asia and Africa, are the preserve of senior lobbyists as well.

Now, a junior lobbyist does none of these things. Junior lobbyists create 'value' by supplying the senior lobbyist with legitimate means of getting close to the people they need to influence, and overcoming initial resistance. They create audiences, venues and props that enable the senior lobbyist to do their job.

Through their work, the constituency cross-subsidises other constituencies' senior lobbyists in return  - especially once one considers that government ministers are themselves senior lobbyists to some extent, and their department staff are themselves junior lobbyists.

Finally, the existence of junior lobbyists provides reassurance to their constituents, who typically cannot observe the senior lobbyists at work, that their money is being spent in their best interests.

3. Outsourced compliance clerks, and their handlers: People usually speak of 'compliance' if they are in a regulated environment, and a specialist department has been given the role of checking that the business can be demonstrated to toe the line or better yet, stay off the regulator's radar altogether. I'm not too worried about them because they are essentially Template populators as per no. 1 above.

But compliance in practice can be more about internal policies than external regulations. Ever worked in a company that employs frequent travellers? I have. Our travel was ostensibly booked by a departmental PA, but in reality the poor lady was merely the first point of contact - she was required, by company policy, to forward our travel requests to a travel agent, who then came back with a quote. In all my years working for the company I was never able to get a quote from them that I couldn't beat with a simple search. They were costing, rather than saving, money. So the company, and our customers were getting negative value.

Why did this job exist? Because back in the day someone decided (correctly) that our department was spending too much on travel, with no one checking whether the travel was actually value-for-money and that people weren't treating themselves to the odd cheeky upgrade. The tough way to fix this would have been to speak to line managers and tell them it's their responsibility to keep travel costs down. Even better - give them a team budget each and end the tragedy of the commons. The easy way was to write up our policies, forward them to a contractor and say 'don't book anything that isn't compliant.' The travel agent isn't saving us money, or even making us waste less money. They simply ensure that we waste only within the boundaries of what is approved; and they skim a little bit of value out of this.

Our departmental PA (otherwise a highly competent person) wisely moved on to a better job. She didn't mention the word 'bullshit' but I think it was mostly out of courtesy.

4. Organisational Placebo Buttons

A placebo button is a button (e.g. on an elevator or a train door) that isn't actually wired to do anything, but exists in order to create an illusion of control. Placebo buttons exist because automation has advanced faster than the users it seeks to serve - and its purpose is to keep the latter content.

Organisational placebo buttons are created when senior decisionmaking bodies in organisations are stripped of their power or are forced to capitulate to an executive office. Alternatively they may be needed when decisionmaking bodies are ultimately powerless but their memberships aren't ready to admit this. This doesn't usually happen in purely commercial organisations, but it is very likely to happen in any kind of membership organisation, where the tension between management and membership needs to be management. The 'placebo button' is a person whose job it is to liaise with the fallen ex-decisionmakers for the sole purpose of assuring them they still matter.  The purpose of all this is to allow management to run the organisation according to its own interests and yet appear to be paying close attention to the membership, for whom the organisation supposedly exists.

The placebo button job holder serves management of course, but, as long as they are junior enough, will tend to be flattered by the opportunity to rub shoulders with the senior 'stakeholders' they are meant to reassure and soak in their wisdom. Once again, the progression is asymptotic - the placebo man or woman will almost certainly never become one of the stakeholders, or one of the senior manager rentiers they are covering for.

5. Scar tissue

Ursula LeGuin's The Disposessed  offers an interesting thought on how anarchist societies might fail; in LeGuin's world, crises, in her case natural but I guess also man-made ones, can have a lasting effect on even an ideal anarchist society. They do this by building a 'scar tissue' of control around the affected area, in order to resolve the crisis quickly and prevent it from arising again. The scar tissue never fades completly, and successive crises only add new, differently shaped layers to it. Commercial businesses, public sector bodies and non-profits act in much the same way.

When a product fails to click with its intended audience, you know a new layer of market research will e required before any further products get approved. When a newsletter or report prompts an angry response from important people, you know future editions will tend to require additional senior sign-off. When colleagues complain about being excluded from meetings, you know the organiser's response will be to copy them pre-emptively into everything remotely of interest in future.

Everyone's job incorporates scar tissue over time - eating away at the essence of their jobs even if they show no obvious signs of being bullshit jobs. The more 'stakeholders' and 'internal clients', the greater the potential for crises, and the faster the buildup of scar tissue. The scar tissue protects senior management by helping the organisations draw less of its stakeholders' attention - which is essential if they are to continue to believe they call the shots.

Some of these jobs are set up in order to artificially create an 'owner' for a diffuse risk, or an owner for the metrics of said risk. Suppose you hire somebody, a third of whose job it is to 'co-ordinate' action on hospital waiting hours. They will collate, analyse and present figures on hospital waiting hours; they will 'liaise' (that word again) with people who actually can make a difference to the situation. But when responsibility is diffuse, these people are likely to be too senior, too remote, or too culturally silo-ed to reach. The 'waiting hours' person will know within a month that their job is not to improve the waiting hours metric, but to own the metric, so that it can be somebody junior's fault when it's out of line.