Greek Prime minister makes reasoned defense of Greece’s pension system:article in German paper Der Tagesspiegel

The Greek drama is approaching the crisis stage of the expiry of the current bailout and the unwillingness of its IMF. and EU creditors to reach a compromise deal to release funds to Greece in order to prevent it from defaulting on its debt and to reduce the amount of austerity that has been imposed upon Greece. As part of this drama, the Prime Minister of Greece has very sensibly written an article for the German newspaper Tagesspiegel which presents quite clearly and informatively the Greek point of view about its difficulties and about why it feels it cannot sensibly impose further austerity cuts on its pension system. I think the Prime Minister’s statement is an important contribution to the debate and so courtesy of the Government of Greece which has translated the document into English I reproduce it in whole below. As you read it keep in mind that the original vision of the IMF and the European project was to ensure peace and stability through the promotion of trade and more equal development and in the case of the IMF to act as an international banker of last resort to assist countries with debt and exchange rate difficulties to grow their way out of them not through austerity but through accommodation and stimulus.This was intended to be financed by the surplus countries as part of the responsibility of the stronger to protect the weaker nations in order to promote peace and development. People should go back and read the history of the original Bretton Woods meeting which founded the IMF and World Bank and the debate between John Maynard Keynes, his Canadian allies and the Americans.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ article in Der Tagesspiegel:  German taxpayers are not paying for Greek pensions

June 18, 2015 | categories : Articles and Statements, Prime Minister

During a negotiation, an exchange of arguments is legitimate so long as there is sincerity and good faith between the parties.
Otherwise, when the dialogue is ongoing with no end in sight then the methods used are akin to those described by the great German philosopher Schopenhauer in “The Art of Always Being Right”!
For example, it is unfair to selectively use statistical indexes — even if they are endowed with the prestige of distinguished economists, such as Olivier Blanchard– to produce unsupported generalizations that obscure reality.
As such, I’d like address a popular myth that the average German taxpayer has been led to believe.
Namely, that he is paying for the wages and pensions of the Greek people. This is absolutely false.
I don’t deny that our social security system has problems. But it’s important to point out the root of the problem and how it can be resolved. There were many cutbacks in recent years that only served to further the recession and make the problem even worse.
It may sound somewhat suspect that 75% of the primary expenditure is used to pay for salaries and pensions. If it sounds unbelievable—that’s because it is: only 30% of the primary expenditure concerns pensions. Moreover, it’s important to note that wages and pensions are not the same thing, and assessing them together is a serious methodological error.
The comparison with Germany’s pensions is also rather misleading. According to the Ageing Reports (2009, 2015), pension expenditure in Greece rose from 11.7% of GDP in 2007 (slightly higher than the 10.4% in Germany) and reached 16.2% in 2013 (while in Germany the numbers remained almost stable).
What caused this increase? Was it due to an increase in pensioners or an increase in pension amounts? The answer is: Neither. The number of pensioners has essentially remained unchanged and pensions have shrunk dramatically due to the implemented policies.
Simple arithmetic is sufficient to reach the conclusion that the increase in pension expenditure as a percentage of GDP is entirely due to a decline in GDP (denominator), and not to an increase in expenditure (the numerator). In other words, GDP declined faster than the pensions.
Concerning retirement ages, could it be that in Greece employees retire much younger?
The truth is that the retirement age in Greece is 67 years for men and women, i.e. two years more than in Germany.
The average exit age from the labor market for men in Greece is 64.4 years, i.e. eight months earlier than the 65.1 years in Germany, while Greek women retire at 64.5 years, about 3.5 months later than German women who retire at 64.2 years.
I wanted to highlight the above –again, not to deny the ailments of our social security system- but to prove that the problem is not one of supposed generous pensions.
The most significant disruption to the pension funds is due to dramatically lower revenues in recent years. These were caused by the loss of assets due to the PSI (haircut of Greek bonds held by the Pension Funds, totally approximately 25 billion euro) as well as – and most importantly – by the sharp drop in contributions that resulted from soaring unemployment, and the reduction in wages.
In particular, during the period 2010 – 2014, approximately 13 billion euro were removed from our social security system through a series of measures with a corresponding reduction in pensions and allowances at a rate of about 50%, a fact which has exhausted any margin for further reductions without undermining the operational core of the system.
Moreover, we must understand that the system is being mainly pressed on the revenue side and less so on expenditures, as is often implied.
I would also like to call attention a matter that is unique to the Greek crisis. The social security system is the institutionalized mechanism of intergenerational solidarity, and its sustainability is a main concern for society as a whole. Traditionally, this solidarity has meant that young people, through their contributions, fund the pensions of their parents. But during the Greek crisis, we’ve witnessed this solidarity being reversed as the parents’ pensions fund the survival of their children. The pensions of the elderly are often the last refuge for entire families that have only one or no member working in a country with 25% unemployment in the general population, and 50% among young people.
Faced with such a situation we cannot adopt the logic of blind and horizontal cuts, as some have asked us to do, which would result in dramatic social consequences.
On the other hand, we are not indifferent to the present condition of our social security system, and we are determined to ensure its sustainability.
The Greek government submitted specific proposals concerning the social security system’s reorganization. We agreed to the immediate abolition of the early retirement option that increases the average retirement age, and we are committed to moving forward immediately with the consolidation of the pension funds, thus reducing their operating expenses and restricting special arrangements.
As we analyzed in detail during our discussions with the institutions, these reforms function decisively in favor of the sustainability of the system. And like all reforms, their results will not be apparent from one day to another. Sustainability requires a long-term perspective and cannot be subject to narrow, short-term fiscal criteria (e.g. reducing expenditure by 1% of GDP in 2016).
Benjamin Disraeli used to say that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. Let us not allow an obsessive-compulsive use of indices to destroy the comprehensive agreement that we prepared over the previous period of intensive negotiations. The duty rests on all of our shoulders.


About haroldchorneyeconomist

I am Professor of political economy at Concordia university in Montréal, Québec, Canada. I received my B.A.Hons (econ.&poli sci) from the University of Manitoba. I also completed my M.A. degree in economics there. Went on to spend two years at the London School of Economics as a Ph.D. student in economics and then completed my Ph.D. in political economy at the University of Toronto. Was named a John W.Dafoe fellow, a CMHC fellow and a Canada Council fellow. I also was named a Woodrow Wilson fellow in 1968 after completing my first class honours undergraduate degree. Worked as an economist in the area of education, labour economics and as the senior economist with the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation for the Government of Manitoba from 1972 to 1978. I also have worked as an economic consultant for MDT socio-economic consultants and have been consulted on urban planning, health policy, linguistic duality and public sector finance questions by the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan,the cities of Regina and Saskatoon, Ontario and the Federal government of Canada. I have also been consulted by senior leaders of the British Labour party, MPs from the Progressive Conservative party, the Liberal party and the New Democrats on economic policy questions. Members of the Government of France under the Presidency of Francois Mitterand discussed my work on public sector deficits. I have also run for elected office at the municipal level. I first began to write about quantitative easing as a useful policy option during the early 1980s.
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