Comparing the working hours of dissimilar economies is like comparing apples and wheels

Comparing the working hours of dissimilar economies is like comparing apples and wheels

12 May, 2023 3 min read
economics, culture, industry, macroeconomics, GDP, critical thinking

People often post OECD stats about working hours on LinkedIn, and then you get nonsense arguments like “ooooh look how hard Greeks work!”, “look at the powerhouse of Germany!”, etc.

This is the kind of post I am alluding to

Think harder. What are the differences between the two very dissimilar economies?

One easy difference that might have a large impact on hours worked: types of activities causing the GDP, i.e. the structure of the economy.

Economies with a larger share of early-stage value-added work (e.g. R&D and product development instead of resource extraction and processing) both have

  1. a higher GDP (they capture a larger share of the global value pie, since what they mostly do is valuable, rare and inimitable)


  1. do so by engaging in activities in which time invested doesn’t link directly to higher output, due to unpredictability, serendipity, and other things that make each hour of development different to each hour of producing a widget or mining the resources for a widget.

In other words: fewer hours are needed, for a higher value that’s being created.

In an economy geared towards tourism, services, and resource extraction and processing, one hour worked is linked more tightly to a certain range of prices commanded for the output of this hour. And, these prices are lower on average than in the following case, because the output is a commodity.

In an economy geared towards research, product development, and technology-driven manufacturing, one hour might be wasted in useless corporate meetings or it might generate ideas for a new business model or product that will generate millions of fresh revenue.

In the latter case, the expected marginal value of one hour to the economy is higher than the former case. The entrepreneurial requirements are higher (think electronic products instead of cafeterias or hairdressers), and the returns are more variable..

…but when they arrive thanks to a differentiated outcome, they dwarf the returns on activities that are commoditized (renting hotel rooms, selling coffees and alcohol, selling haircuts, serving food, mining ore, etc.)

So no, I don’t think that the conclusion of the poster below is correct. And I don’t agree with the convenient self-soothing argument I’ve heard numerous times from many of my younger compatriots about how hard they work, compared to others abroad.

Yeah, many work longer hours, maybe even two jobs. Not because they want to but because each job doesn’t deliver enough cash.

Some might work harder per hour. But it’s because the economy they work in is a very different one to that of a truly advanced economy.

And from what I see, this is still a country where the working culture reeks of presenteeism and counting hours.

And that is why I find it an excellent idea for Greeks to spend some time working abroad, ideally within a truly advanced economy, but even experience in an economy similarly stuck in the past to that of Greece would suffice to blunt the self-aggrandizing nonsense many Greeks tell themselves.

Greece is in the EU. This means free movement of labor too. Use it!