Stereotypes of the ‘lazy ouzo-sipping irresponsible’ Greek has grown so rampant in the press that it has virtually become a truth. The negative press that the Greek work ethic has received has created a scathing picture of Greeks. This schema has added to the stereotypes that are creating rifts among Germans and other Northern Europeans. The stereotype has expanded to the US media, as evidenced by this recent report from “On the Media” which interviews well-known left-leaning political-economist at Brown University, Mark Blyth.
Here’s the interview:
Articles with such titles as “Are Greeks lazy?” Slate, “Germans tell Greeks to rise early and work harder to avoid a financial crisis” Telegraph, abound and have added to the misinformation that a harried public takes and runs with.
The facts do not support the stereotype however. Here they are:
- 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. Only Koreans work longer.
- The average Greek is working a full 40% longer than the average German. (BBC)
- The paid leave entitlement in Greece is on average 23 days, lower than the UK’s minimum 28 and Germany’s whopping 30 (The NewStatesman)
- Looking at Eurostat’s data from 2005 the average age of exit from the labor force in Greece (indicated in the graph below as EL for Ellas) was 61.7; higher than Germany, France or Italy and higher than the EU27 average. Since then Greece have had to raise the minimum age of retirement twice under bail-out conditions and so this figure is likely to rise further.
Alex Andreou’s piece in The NewStatesman “Exploding the myth of the feckless, lazy Greek” is spot on. It remains as true today as it did three years ago. He blows up many of the myths haloing around the Greek crisis. He points out as well to the misinformation that media outlets take and run with, packaging it as “real” news. Here’s an excerpt that proves the point from his article:
Greeks retire early. The figure of 53 years old as an average retirement age is being bandied about. So much so, that it is has become folk-fact. It originates from a lazy comment on the New York Times website. It was then repeated by Fox News and printed in other publications. Greek civil servants have the option to retire after 17.5 years of service, but this is on half benefits. The figure of 53 is a misinformed conflation of the number of people who choose to do this (in most cases to go on to different careers) and those who stay in public service until their full entitlement becomes available.
I completely agree with Alex Andreou’s deconstruction of media myths, especially the one that states, “Greeks want the bail-out but not the austerity that goes with it.” I quote from his piece in entirety:
This is a fundamental untruth. Greeks are protesting because they do not want the bail-out at all (or the foreign intrusion that goes with it). They have already accepted cuts which would be unfathomable in the UK. There is nothing left to cut. The corrupt, the crooks, the wicked, our glorious leaders, have already transferred their wealth to Luxembourg banks. They will not suffer. Meanwhile Medecins du Monde are handing out food packages in central Athens.
Greece’s total annual deficit is €53bn Euros. Of that, our primary budget deficit is, in fact, under €5bn. The other €48bn is servicing the debt, including that of the two bail-outs, with one third being purely interest. Europe is not bailing out Greece. It is bailing out the European banks which increasingly unwisely gave her loans. Greece is asked to accept full responsibility as a bad borrower, but nobody is examining the contribution of the reckless lenders.
Western politicians have developed a penchant for standing on balconies and washing their hands like Pontius Pilate; lecturing from a great height about houses on fire with no exits. This conveniently draws a veil over the truth – that our house may have been badly built, but it was the arsonists of Wall Street and the Square Mile that poured petrol through our letterbox and started this fire.
I remember taking an international media analysis class with Professor Loory at the University of Missouri, Columbia’s graduate school of journalism. It forced us as journalists-in-training to conduct a media analysis on a specific topic across the global press. This was an exercise to make us aware that what is touted as “truth” depends on who is telling it. Frankly as consumers of news we must become much more critical of what we hear and read.
Greece has become the scapegoat for the crisis, as a way to skirt scrutiny from a much larger, more complicated series of unfortunate events on the global stage. Frankly it is criminal to blame a nation the size of the state of Alabama whose economy makes up 1.8 percent of eurozone GDP, 0.47 per cent of World GDP according to 2010 IMF figures)and whose debt after all pales in comparision to what other Euro nations owe for the unraveling of the EU. It amounts to little more than raping the beautiful princess Europa who was led into the great deep blue by holding onto the horns of a bull. “Bull” is what much of the media is perpetrating on the Greek maiden.
It is time we became more critical consumers of media before we too join in the gang rape.