Over on Economists View, where the left seems to hang on like dirty ruffians intent on downgrading the local bar, Mark Thoma posts a misleading article: “About That Mediterranean Work Ethic” Do Greeks work less than Germans?, which states that Greeks work a lot of hours, perhaps more than germans. Which is a pointless and false because it is intentionally misleading, because it assumes individuals are equally productive and the societies are collectively equally productive, when in fact, the term ‘productive’ means ‘the market price of stuff produced per human hour’.
One of the people who leaves a comment sees through the veil and says: “These kind of statistics are not enough….”. Which is correct. They don’t tell us anything. Another who lives in Italy says “The problems here are political and cultural. It’s very frustrating to see…”. Which again is correct. Work is an individual expression.Productivity is an INSTITUTIONAL problem: people lack the institutions and habits by which to create productivity by forming capital alliances in GROUPS. In Italy (like in southern california) business stay artificially small because of tax and benefit predation by the government, rather than encouraging competitive business, and taxing the very large corporations with whom the state must do business and support. Another says “Greece has crazy early retirement ages and a tax collection system that is pathetic?” Which is true. These are institutional problems. Largely political problems. But people in democracies CHOOSE their governments, now, don’t they.
And Another (by a leftist sycophant who goes by the pseudonym of Paine) attempts to avoid the cultural and institutional predicament, as well as the problem of the productivity of the greek people, as well as the culture of corruption, by saying it’s all a problem of insufficient TAXATION.
But WHAT KIND of taxation? Let’s look at this a bit.
Yes, the chart is misleading (and so are Paine’s arguments, and in so many dimensions, per usual, that refutation is the process of tedious swatting of gnats who by virtue of their simplistic reproductive capacity put a drain on one’s energy simply by their volume.)
First, the Greek problem is productivity not work hours: the market competitiveness of one’s goods and services in relation to one’s trading partners, divided by the number of human work hours necessary to produce the goods and services. The Greeks work longer hours to produce goods of lower value than that of their neighbors.
Second, the institutional reasons within the system that either encourage or enforce that behavior: lack of return on efforts due to a) silly cultural ideas, b) lack of education in productive information, c) lack of advanced institutions, d) private and political corruption and political impediment, e) political predation on the productivity is out of proportion to the marginal effort and risk needed to produce increases in productivity, f) cultural regression due to status impact of success on group cohesion (the urban african american versus the eastern orthodox ethos versus the jewish or protestant ethos.
Third, the cooperative and competitive relationship between groups of different cultures: groups ‘fund’ shared objectives by forgoing opportunities. Forgone opportunities are a cost. Taking advantage of opportunities is a theft from those who forgo them. Since different cultures have different ambitions embedded in their habits, there is a forgone opportunity competition that permanently divides people with dissimilar interests. This is WHY people of different grope dimensions compete with one another: differences in forgone opportunity costs.
Fourth, the status economy is material to people because they ACT as though it is material to them. Just as the race-preference is material to people because they ACT as thought it is material to them. Just as the creed-preference is material to people because they ACT as though it is material to them. And, precisely because of the forgone opportunity costs associated with those preferences. Most cultural differences have to do with the impact on social status of different forgone opportunity costs. People do not want to give upon their investments. Biases are NOT fanciful or meaningless: most often they directly impact mating choices, social status and therefore group-economic status. Ie: people stay in-group often because they are given better status signals in-group than extra-group. They transact across group, but they status-seek within group.
Argument by emphasizing the material economy alone is a convenient way of distracting the argument from the forgone opportunity economy (discipline), and the opportunities, resources, financial, and labor costs that are required to create those institutions.
In the cast of Greece, it is a poor and corrupt culture that cannot create hard-working low-friction institutions that allow people to increase productivity by the process of constant creative destruction. It appears that Greek IQ is declining slightly probably due to poor urban education. And this has material impact on a society: assuming a broad enough population, people with IQ’s above 122 design machines, people with IQ above 105 repair machines, and people with IQ’s below 105 are limited to using machines. IQ distribution matters because it affects the general set of institutions that a body of people can develop. Education differences can depress IQ means by as much as twenty points. (Exactness of this is disputed but it’s certainly ten points). This mean limits the productivity of any nation, and in turn the appropriate institutions for any body of people. We are not equal in ability to comprehend abstractions, nor in our group ability to produce abstraction-producers and consumers in sufficient numbers to lather the group’s competitive advantage.
Germany is a nearly land locked, oceanic temperate and continental temperate country of rivers and friction-able land transport that despite constant attempts of external containment has remained productively competitive for two millennia. This is accomplished by the discipline of forgone opportunity in order to create institutions that accumulate competitive advantage at a material cost to the citizens as individuals, but which is a cumulative investment of high returns for the group. Greece is a geographically advantaged, climate advantaged, port-rich country with limited agrarian potential, and a large urbanized population with few choices but to increase productivity.
Institutional development costs are the HIGHEST productive cost paid by any civilization. That is why the non-corruption habits are so rarely developed in the world. (We do not yet know why some cultures have such a difficult time forgoing opportunities for gratification and developing longer (lower) time preferences. There are both biological and cultural and environmental hypothesis.)
After forgone opportunity costs. The second highest cost is human capital: literacy, education and training. The third highest cost is the political institutions. The fourth highest cost is economic institutions (credit, banking, contract) And lastly comes the material cost of resources. These costs, when combined with the realities of group IQ differences, when combined with the realities of territorial resource availability, are the primary reason for development differences between cultures.
We do know that Greece and spain were more productive cultures before Spain experienced new world gold, and before Greece was administered by the ottomans. So it would appear that these are not biological problems, but institutional (cultural and habitual, and political) problems.
Greece is less productive because it’s institutions are poorly paid for by forgone opportunity, because their government is corrupt and bloated, because their people work in unproductive efforts, and because they have no group incentive to work otherwise – and so Greece is poorer because of its instutions. And since germans pay the forgone opportunity cost as well as the monetary cost, they are (rightfully) resentful of it. And the convenient myopia of quants is that they disregard REAL costs of action in preference for visible monetary costs simply because of the ease in which the data can be collected. A convent way of perpetuating leftist ideas – ignoring the majority set of costs in preference of the confirmation bias permitted by the data that’s easier to collect.
As the right always says “we are not against taxes we are against bureaucracy”. The problem is not taxation. It’s the USE of taxes to steal the productive result of forgone opportunity costs : double taxation on the productive which only serves to limit the investment by the non-productive in the bank of forgone opportunity costs, which are, in reality, the primary cost any civilization must pay : behavioral costs. Property itself is a forgone opportunity cost. The more granular and abstract we make our definitions of property the more opportunity that people have to steal it. Objective truth telling is a forgone opportunity cost. Each forgone opportunity for deception and fraud is a high cost. One does not need to be materially wealthy to pay that cost. One simply needs to forgo opportunities to profit from deception. One does not need to be deprived of good pay as a bureaucrat, one needs only to forgo opportunities to charge for one’s services rather than render them at the lowest cost to the beneficiary.
Or put another way: the secret to the success of the pacifist monotheistic scriptural religions is that they undermine the forgone-opportunity-cost economy via redirection of opportunity costs toward the group-persistence costs of a new social institutions, and away from materially productive institutions. In other words, they are a non-participation rebellious movement, a form of economic tax evasion. (In case this isn’t clear, there are two forms of tax evasion: monetary and forgone opportunity, with the productive classes seeking to evade monetary taxation and the unproductive classes seeking to evade forgone opportunity costs.) This is the moral argument for redistribution of wealth: if you conform to forgone opportunity costs, you may receive redistribution from the results of productive ends. But ONLY if you pay your ‘taxes’ in forgone opportunity costs. In other words: conform or no redistribution. This effectively is the german argument against Greece.
Or more precisely, monotheistic religions are resistance movements and they are what people like Paine advocate: the adoption of a lower cost forgone opportunity strategy that undermines the productivity of the more productive classes, making them subservient to the resistance movement.
Greece needs an austerity program. It needs freedoms to compete disruptively internally, it needs to concentrate its capital on goods that are competitively productive, it needs to improve its infrastructure. It needs a broken window policy of zero tolerance (the place is a dump), it needs regulations on quality (which are underrated as a social institution), it needs better education. But most of all it needs the elimination of a predatory state whose members see their positions as personal property to be exploited rather than a public service to be rendered at the lowest cost to the population.
Leftism is predation on the productive classes. Rightism is too often predation on the non-productive classes. (Productivity being different from labor hours). The issue for any culture is to reduce predation in favor of cooperation, maximizing the productivity of the group in response to other groups. Acknowledging inequality is only acknowledging rarity. we are vastly unequal in our abilities. Therefore we are vastly unequal in our productive capacities. However, we are equally productive in our ability to forgo opportunity from theft or fraud, especially theft by over breeding one’s self into permanent poverty. If you conform to these institutions, then you are PAYING for these institutions, and therefore you are EARNING some amount of redistribution. But if you are not willing to work regardless of the job (as are the Japanese and chinese) and if you are not willing to forgo drugs and violence and theft, and if you are not wiling to forgo the effort of manners and ethics and morals, then you are not worthy of redistribution of the productive gains because you have not PAID for the effort needed to create the institutions that make such productive gains POSSIBLE. We can all equally forgo opportunity.
In this context, Universal egalitarianism is simply another means of predation on the productive classes. Which means predation on the society itself.
Greece needs to pay it’s taxes. It needs to pay it’s forgone opportunity tax. It needs to pay it’s monetary tax on the result of productive efforts. The most important feature of taxes on productivity, is that it incentivizes the government to enforce forgone opportunity costs, for the purpose of increasing productivity. This creates cultural unity, class unity, and competitive advantage for the group.
Ie: Paine is advocating thievery, economic and social destruction here on a daily basis, by simply replacing the absurd moral arguments of monotheistic scriptural religion with the one-sided absurd argument of economics and egalitarian redistribution of productive gains in order to fund his predation on the productive classes, so that he, and others, do not have to pay the forgone opportunity costs needed to create institutions that permit productivity. Yet another silly religion that is simply a rebellion movement that justifies tax evasion.
And “it is not taxes that are paid, but unpaid” is true. It is the unpaid tax of forgone opportunity cost which is the very ‘charge’ for entering the civilized market, and becoming a citizen rather than a barbarian.
Hayekian knowledge is economic knowledge: it’s an institution. And it’s the most expensive institution we have to pay for.