Why is Portugal lagging behind all other European countries in educational attainment?


Average Years of Total Schooling in 27 countries, 1950-2010, Population 25 and over (Source: Barro and Lee)

I don’t have the answer. I have just been playing with Barro and Lee’s dataset on education attainment. As the name indicates, it covers education attainment in 146 countries between 1950 and 2010 for different age groups. The two charts above show the average years of schooling of the population 25 and over since 1950 in 27 countries. I know that the first graph  is difficult to read, but the point is to show Portugal’s outlier status in comparison with all other European countries. With 7.73 years of schooling on average, the Portuguese workforce was the least qualified in the EU in 2010; the average for the countries showed in the graph is 10.62. Portugal started below everybody else in 1950 (compulsory schooling under Salazar was 4 years, and many were simply not enrolled) but I cannot really understand why it is still lagging behind Spain, which started from a similar position, namely a long fascist dictatorship keen on maintaining a docile and uneducated populace.


The three graphs below show the population (25 and over) between 1950 and 2010 in Portugal, Spain, and Sweden (as a point of comparison for “advanced” countries) by highest degree attained (but not necessarily completed). Even if a higher proportion of the Spanish population had no schooling at all in 1950, this share has been reduced dramatically while it has remained at high levels in Portugal. According to the data, 11.5% of the Portuguese population had no schooling at all in 2010, and 46% had gone through primary schooling only. The corresponding numbers are 1.6 and 25% in Spain, and 1.6 and 11% in Sweden. This happens in spite of the fact that Portugal has a fairly low student-teacher ratio and has invested massively in education over the past few decades. However, as the number of PhDs has exploded, the problem of low skills at the bottom is still huge. As we know, low productivity is a big problem in Southern Europe, and this is probably strongly related to low education levels. Cuts in spending certainly won’t help to solve this problem.


How Strong Are British Trade Unions, Really?

In Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron presented Unite’s Leader Len McCluskey as the real master of the Labour party. Len McCluskey is the alien creature about to take over the country with his horde of commies, the new Goldstein. But how powerful are British unions, really?

One can think of two ways to measure union strength: their representation within the workforce (union density), and their participation in public policymaking (how routinely they are involved in day-to-day decision-making). Jelle Visser’s database at the university of Amsterdam has data on these two things since 1960.

British union are weak compared to similar countries. Union density is higher than in France and Germany but way below Sweden.However, the real weakness of British unions is the lack of any significant institutional involvement in decision-making processes. This influence has been totally curtailed since Margaret Thatcher and hasn’t been restored under New labour: the lack of a bar does not represent missing data but a zero as decade average. When it comes to what we call concertation, (or the institutionalised participation of unions in policymaking), union influence in the UK is much weaker than anywhere else in Europe.

Now, this may be explained in part by the strong ties the trade unions have with the Labour party: when party-union ties are strong, it may be more rational for unions to lobby Labour rather than engage in direct negotiations with the government and/or employers like in other countries (there is a good paper comparing Denmark and Sweden about this here). However, it deprives them from any influence when Labour is not in power. Arguably, if Labour cuts its links with the unions, it may become more important for unions to institutionalize regular channels of influence within government, such as the tripartite bodies one finds in Continental Europe or at EU level. However, the window of opportunity for this seems to be long gone. Shameless plug: I discuss these issues here.


Union density, 1960-2010. Source: ICTWSS database, University of Amsterdam: http://www.uva-aias.net/208


Involvement of trade unions in decision-making, decade averages. 2 = full concertation, regular and frequent involvement. 1 = partial concertation, irregular and infrequent involvement. 0 = non concertation, involement is rare or absent. Source: ICTWSS, University of Amsterdam: http://www.uva-aias.net/208.

La Suisse est le pays d’Europe qui redistribue le moins


Inégalités de revenu avant et après impôts et transferts

AvenirSuisse a publié aujourd’hui une étude sur les inégalités en Suisse, pour contrer l’initiative 1:12. Ils affirment que les inégalités salariales en Suisse sont les plus basses de l’OCDE. D’après les données du Luxemburg Income Study 2005 (le graphe est basé sur les données de Lane Kenworthy, University of Arizona), c’est le cas seulement avant impôts et transferts. Les données datent en peu, mais on ne peut pas s’attendre à des changements fondamentaux. Après impôts et transferts, la Suisse est dans la moyenne en termes d’inégalités de revenu. Ce qui est particulièrement intéressant, c’est que la Suisse est le pays européen qui redistribue le moins, notamment en raison de beaucoup d’éléments régressifs, comme les primes d’assurance maladie. Seuls les Etats-Unis et le Canada redistribuent moins.

MISE A JOUR: J’ai trouvé des données plus récentes dans le récent rapport de l’OCDE sur les inégalités. Les résultats (basés sur ces données) sont similaires. Après impôts et transferts, la Suisse n’est pas plus égalitaire que les pays nordiques, contrairement à ce qui est sous-entendu ici.



How Austerity Killed Greek Parties, While Portuguese Parties Survived


This shows the electoral score of the two mainstream parties in Greece and Portugal in 2009 (before the outbreak of the crisis) and in 2011 (in Portugal) and 2012 (in Greece), after the outbreak of the crisis. For Greece, this shows the results of the May elections; new elections were held in June as no governmnet could be formed. What is striking is how mainstream Portuguese parties have been resilient compared to Greek parties, and especially PASOK, which completely collapsed. The cumulative vote share of the PS and the PSD remained stable, while it lost 42% in Greece. As we know, support for fringe parties has soared in Greece (Syriza, Golden Dawn) while radical left  parties in Portugal (Bloco de Esquerda and the Communist Party) have remained at astonishingly low levels.

I see two explanations for this. First, as I argued here, Portuguese citizens seem to prefer “exit” (abstention, emigration) over “voice”. Second, the base of support for Greek parties drew heavily on a spoils system (public sector jobs, pensions, cartelistic rights) and they didn’t differ much ideologically. By reducing public spending and removing these cartelistic rights, austerity directly undermines their base of support. Since PASOK and ND could no longer offer rents to voters because the money was gone, voters abandoned them. In Portugal, austerity had started before the crisis, as the 2000s were a lost decade in terms of growth (no real estate bubble). Hence, parties could not rely on the kind of spoils system that PASOK and ND drew on. There is some data on party patronage that shows these differences.

Brazilian Guido Fawkes Masks and Capitalism as a Giant Squid

This is a factory in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro that produces Guido Fawkes masks – those used by Anonymous. The owner says they’re producing 800 a day to supply the protests that have been taking place in Brazil over the last few weeks. The masks have also been used by the Occupy movement. There is some irony in the fact that the symbols of movements that criticize capitalism actually feed it.

About 15 years ago, Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello wrote a book called “The New Spirit of Capitalism” that analysed just that: how capitalism is able to integrate its own critique to perdure. Their main argument is that new methods of management, flexwork and post-fordism have emerged out of the “artistic” and “social” critiques of capitalism in the 1960s and 1970s. While these critiques sought to bring capitalism down, capitalism digested them and developed new mechanisms of control inspired by them instead. Just like a giant killer squid that would eats its enemies, digest them and appropriate their skills to become stronger.

How big is the Greek public sector, really?


Employment in General Government as a Percentage of the Labour Force (2000 and 2008)

In the media you always read about the Greek “bloated and corrupt” public sector full of useless slags.  Now I have been unable to find actual data that can back up this claim. OECD data (picture above) indicate on the contrary that the Greek public sector is actually much smaller than elsewhere.

1) Are the numbers wrong? 2) Latest reported year is 2008. Have PASOK engaged in a recruitment orgy when they came to power? 3) Do comfortable stereotypes replace actual facts? 4) Other ideas?

The Size of Austerity


Cumulative size of austerity packages as a % of GDP, 2010-2013

The data come from Andrew Watt’s and Sotiria Theodoropoulou’s ETUI report, (p. 14) based on a survey of country experts. Some data, from Italy and Spain most notably, are missing. This is partly based on 2011 estimates, and as we know forecasts have been all but reliable. There is more data on this on the Washington Post’s wonkblog and the Guardian writes this about the UK.

What the Guardian doesn’t explain is whether the coalition wants to “shrink the state” through (1) net cuts in spending or (2) by keeping its progression lower than economic growth. From the data it seems that it’s been (1) until now and it should be (2) from now on. Of course, (2) depends on the return of growth, but since it’s still waiting for the confidence fairy, we may be stuck with (1).