Friday, September 26, 2014

26/9/2014: Those Fabled Euro Area Structural Reforms: Greece, Spain, Portugal & Italy

EU Commission has published some interesting research on structural reforms in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece (strangely, no Ireland or Cyprus).

The full paper is available here:

But here is an interesting set of charts, showing the effect of the said 'reforms' on the economies of these 'peripheral' states.

First chart shows employment growth against productivity growth in 2001-2008 and 2008-2013:

Above clearly shows that in two 'peripheral' countries covered, namely Portugal and Spain, productivity (as measured by value added per hour worked) rose during the crisis period, while the same fell in Greece and Italy. Productivity growth accelerated over the crisis period in Portugal and Spain and de-accelerated in Italy and literally fell off the cliff in Greece. And in all four economies, hours worked collapsed.

This all means two things:

  • Firstly, jobs destruction failed to sustain growth in productivity in Italy and Greece (in other words, the two economies suffered jobs losses dispersed across all sectors of activity), while jobs destruction did sustain improved productivity for the remaining active workforce in Spain and Portugal (where jobs destruction was more concentrated in several domestic sectors, such as retail and construction). 
  • Secondly, given that all four economies developed broadly similar 'structural reforms' packages, albeit with varying degree of implementation, the above suggests that the said reforms had zero-to-negative effect on economic performance in Italy and Greece, and potentially positive effect in Spain and Portugal. This is basically equivalent to saying that reforms overall effectiveness is not anchored in the structure of reforms, but is rather being driven by something else, something more idiosyncratic. Or, alternatively, that the reforms had no discernible effect whatsoever and instead nature of jobs destruction is driving differences in productivity growth.

The second chart shows annual trajectory in hours worked against productivity growth from 2008 through 2013.

Again, the above chart shows that in all four economies, relationship between productivity growth and employment is broadly negative. The diagonal line shows two segments of the chart: above the line, jobs destruction / creation effects are dominated by productivity growth effects. Below the line, the opposite takes place. So in a summary, the chart shows that the dominant driver in every economy as jobs destruction, not productivity growth. If structural reforms are of any significant help in driving productivity of workers, one would expect at least one of the economies to perform above the diagonal line. None do.

Quite surprisingly (or may be not) EU Commission offers an entirely opposite arguments on reforms efficacy. Even in the case of Greece - a country where both employment and productivity collapsed, the Commission paper argues that "Greece made a substantial adjustment in terms of employment while productivity stopped falling down". The folks in Commission believe that once the economy is completely exhausted on the downside, the lack of further declines is a sign of 'reforms-driven improvements'. This is about as crazy as cheering the fact that a lifeless body at the bottom of the empty pool is no longer falling.

Here is the Commission own guide to the above charts:

Do tell me which of the four countries locates in 'jobless growth' (early stage of reforms and structural changes working) area? Do note that other area of "Repositioning (growth less restructuring)" - which sounds exactly what it is: mindless demolition of jobs in hope that such a move can improve the remaining average. This is the best the 'periphery' has been able to achieve so far under the watchful eye of the EU Commission boffins.

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