Remember when the European economy tanked and Greece needed a bailout?
Greeks got a bad rap for being lazy and for not paying their taxes. “If ignominy were tax revenue, Greece might be a big step closer to ending its budget problems,” the New York Times observed in 2013.
In a 2011 New York Times column, David Brooks wrote that prosperous nations such as Germany “believe in a simple moral formula: effort should lead to reward as often as possible….Self-control should be rewarded while laziness and self-indulgence should not.” Brooks lamented that the virtuous Northern European nations were being “browbeaten” for not wanting to bail out Greece and its allegedly lazy brethren, Italy and Spain.
As it turns out, Greeks work hard. Greeks work more hours than everyone else in Europe — even more than workaholic Americans, according to a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study.
(Caveat: Long hours at the office don’t always equate to high productivity).
The Paris-based organization found that Greece’s maligned workforce put in 2,034 hours on average in 2012, more than any of the 34 countries surveyed. Industrious Northern Europeans, on the other hand, were not so, well, industrious. Germans put in 1,397 and the Swiss, 1,619 hours — both below the OECD average of 1,765.
Though they work a lot, Greeks are, by and large, not rich. Like poor people everywhere, they have to work more just to get by. Almost one-quarter of Greece’s 11 million people are at risk of poverty, the highest percentage among European Union countries, the International Business Times reported, citing statistics from the Hellenic Statistical Authority. Greek wages have fallen well below the European average in recent years, the paper said, citing a Eurbank Ergasias report.
Meanwhile, the country’s tax problems persist. “I am afraid it will take several generations to change the mentality here that it is better to not pay your taxes,” George Samothrakis, an Athens-based accountant who specializes in Greek tax law, told the New York Times in 2013.