Global Economic Group OECD: Greeks, Italians Work Harder Than Americans

Thursday, 12 Jan 2012 01:21 PM

By Michael Kling

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Greeks and Italians are in a debt crisis because they don't work as hard as Germans or Americans — at least that's the common perception. But there's a problem with that belief. It's not true.

Greeks and Italians work more than both Americans and Germans, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international research group.

In fact, they work longer than all nationalities in the 34-member OECD.

Alone among the members, Greeks worked more hours in 2008, the last year with data, than in 1998. Greeks were also the only nationality to work over 2000 hours in both 1998 and 2008, according to an OECD chart Marc Chandler, of Brown Brothers Harriman, sent to The Wall Street Journal.

In 2008, Greeks worked an average of 48 percent more than Germans, and Italians worked an average of 25 percent more than Germans, Chandler told the Journal.

The information shoots a hole in the argument that the euro zone debt crisis is due to Greeks or Italians not working hard enough. That argument has been used to advocate austerity measures, public spending reductions and tax increases that worsen their economies and their debt problems.

The issue, notes the Journal, is the not how much Greeks work, but the productivity of the country's economy. Their lack of competitiveness is partly to due to structural issues.

Sure, Greece could use some reform to its worker benefits, but then so could the United States. But Americans resist those reforms.

Although perhaps counter-intuitive, the information makes sense, Chandler said. Richer countries work smarter and poorer countries work longer. Greece relies more on agriculture and services than Germany and other eurozone countries.

Many observers agree that austerity is hurting peripheral euro zone economies. Those countries need less austerity and more reform of pensions and labor markets, argues Hugo Dixon in an opinion piece for Reuters.

For instance, the countries can push up workers' retirement age and make it easier for companies to hire and fire.

"Other desperately needed reforms — privatization, liberalization of product markets, and increasing the efficiency of the public sector and the judiciary — would also improve long-term growth," he writes.

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