Clutching at straws: Europe's never-ending delusion feeds on Greece's unexpected 'growth'

Did you hear the latest? Greece’s economy grew by 0.8% in the first quarter of 2011. This is, surely, good news. Except that, in fact, the Greek economy shrank by 4.6% in the first quarter of 2011.

Confused? You should not be. “Lies, damned lies and statistics” was a phrase invented long before Greek statistics rose to prominence. It refers to the simple fact that if one looks at the data partially, the data will give one a partial, utterly misleading, picture.

In this particular case, what happened was that December of 2010 was a month when Athens was paralysed by strikes. The city centre and major shopping areas were closed for half the month, yielding a drop in commercial activity of more than 60%. Thus, compared with that abysmal fourth quarter of 2010, the first quarter of 2011 was marginally better. Which means, it was perfectly catastrophic!

Indeed, the official data shows that, compared to the first quarter of 2010, the Greek economy shrank by 4.6%. By the standards of any modern economy, this is a shattering datum. That the European Union should clutch at this straw as ‘evidence’ of improvement, as a ray of light, is testimony to the combination of desperation and disingenuousness which typifies Europe.