Bloomberg Businessweek on UADPhilEcon – the progressive Athens University PhD Economics Program that is now threatened by the Crisis

A few days ago, Brendan Greeley, of Bloomberg, got in touch with me to discuss UADPhilEcon, the Doctoral Program in Economics that I helped set up at the University of Athens. The following article was the result:

Greece’s Brain Drain Has Begun

Apparently, Brendan had heard me say, in some interview, that one of the reasons I have left Greece is that UADPhilEcon (the said PhD Program) had fallen on hard times due to the trifecta of losses: loss of  funding, loss of adjunct lecturers (plus loss of more senior positions who had been approved but which were starved of funding) and, last but not least, loss of the optimism which was important to keep at bay forces within the University who had never liked the idea of a high-end PhD program that deprived them of their ‘feudal rights’ over graduate students. After a few telephone and email exchanges with Brendan, an article appeared in Bloomberg’s Businessweek. I am pleased that it did for two reasons: First, because it is important for those outside of Greece to understand that some of the costs of Greece’s implosion have long term repercussions and repercussions beyond Greece. Secondly, because I intend to use this publicity in an attempt to secure funds for UADPhilEcon, a truly significant PhD program, from outside of Greece. 

For more on UADPhilEcon, you may read a chapter of a book I wrote some years back describing UADPhilEcon, its history and philosophy: A most peculiar success – The making of UADPhilEcon, in Robert F. Garnett JrErik OlsenMartha Starr (eds.). Economic Pluralism, London and New York: Routledge

A copied/pasted version of Brendan’s Bloomberg’s article follows below:

By the end of 2011, Yanis Varoufakis was a celebrity. The director of the Ph.D. program in economics at the University of Athens, Varoufakis had been arguing for two years that Greece was insolvent and the country should default while staying in the euro region. In late December, after a day when supporters mobbed him on the street and abusive phone calls reached him at home, his wife told him, “Either enter politics or we must leave the country.” So, as many of his students and professors had already, Varoufakis left.

It was a hard decision. After training and teaching abroad, Varoufakis returned to Athens in 2000 to build a Ph.D. program to solve one of his profession’s problems: the excessive reliance on economic models that often failed to predict what happened in the real economy. His curriculum, which expected students to master the demanding math of models while learning the history and philosophy that debunked them, drew praise from prominent economists such as Axel Leijonhufvud at the University of California at Los Angeles and James Galbraith at the University of Texas at Austin. “I have a fair feel for his perspective and we are kindred spirits in some ways,” Galbraith writes in an e-mail. The program lured foreign Ph.D. candidates and brought Greek students home.

Data: Panteion University

Seed money from the European Commission got Varoufakis started, and in 2005 a group of private trade unions offered the program €150,000 ($188,600) a year for student stipends and travel costs for visiting professors (salaries were paid by the university). In 2006, Varoufakis gave a talk in Athens predicting a financial crisis that would start in U.S. real estate, move through Wall Street, and on to Greece.

In 2010 the crisis hit home. Varoufakis says he got a phone call from his union contact: He had to stop inviting guests. Greece’s national pension fund, which collects union dues, had begun slashing disbursements to cover its liabilities. This left the doctoral program at the mercy of a state-run higher education system that has seen its budget cut by 23 percent since 2009.

The View From Greece: 'Ethos' (May 7, 2012) By Yannis IoannouThe View From Greece: ‘Ethos’ (May 7, 2012) By Yannis Ioannou

In late 2010, Tassos Patokos, an adjunct professor in the department, learned he probably wasn’t going to get paid for a year’s worth of lectures he had already delivered for the Ph.D. program. Unemployment had swelled applications, though, and Patokos says he was teaching some of the best students he’d ever had. “I remember feeling quite optimistic,” he writes in an e-mail, “despite the lack of funding and the associated practical problems, for example no photocopy machine, no toner for the printers.” Then last summer, Greece dismissed almost every adjunct professor in the country, and Varoufakis urged him to leave. Patokos now teaches at the University of Hertfordshire. Other ex-adjuncts from the program landed at the City University of New York, the University of Warwick, and several Greek think tanks. The remaining full professors run the doctoral program on hope. They are, says Varoufakis, “exhausted and battered.”

Now, says Patokos, Greece’s Ph.D. candidates in economics often finish a few courses and go abroad, which seldom happened in the early years of the program. According to a January poll by Panteion University, 53 percent of university-age Greeks said they might emigrate, and 17 percent already planned to.

In late 2011, through Galbraith, the University of Texas offered Varoufakis a chair in economics. He’s also chief economist for Valve, an online gaming company in Bellevue, Wash., that uses a virtual currency in its games. About to board a plane for Seattle, he writes from his phone that the company “asked me to study their ‘economy’ so as to prevent the formation of bubbles.”

The bottom line: A brain drain from Greece has begun as more than half of university-age Greeks say they may move abroad.

Brendan Greeley
With Oliver Staley and Eleni Chrepa
Greeley is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.


    • I remember reading about Valve hiring economists to help with their virtual economies. I had no idea one was Yanis Varoufakis, Valve sure surrounds itself with some very very bright people.

  • “Greece’s Brain Drain Has Begun”???

    This is correct, but it began 50 years ago and has never stopped since. When I studied in the States in the late 1990, Greeks were one of the largest foreign student groups and the one I got along with best.

    While most French and German returned to their countries after graduating, most Greeks stayed in the US. And I am not talking about some middle class or poor people with useless degrees.

    • “This is correct, but it began 50 years ago and has never stopped since.”

      Absolutely correct. The state never – ever put these minds to good use.

    • You do not know the history of Greece. The Greek diaspora has always been a vital aspect of Greekness, and the new state of 1832 was actually a rather weird and illogical phenomenon. Emigration of Greeks from the Kingdom of Greece (especially to hte USA) was common throughout the early 20th century, and was later obscured by territorial expansion, exchange of populations, world war, civil war… There was Gastarbeiter migration (mainly to Belgium and Germany) in the late 1950s and 1960s — but more than half had returned by 1979.

      As far as student migration is concerned, my information is that the very great majority of Greeks who studied abroad did return. 50 years ago, only the rich or very talented were able to study abroad, and the numbers were small. Those from the rich families — like Samaras and Papandreou — clearly had no future in a meritocratic society like the US and were much better off returning to Greece, with its corruption and patronage.

      Of course, the fact that there is much more opportunity for skilled persons in the labour markets of the USA, Australia etc, is an important reason why many do not return from there — as is also true for almost all countries with weak anti-meritocratic economies, such as those of North Africa. This does not mean that there is a brain drain: it means that there is actually no work for them in their country of origin. Probably most would return to Greece given appropriate employment, pay and living conditions (it ain’t goin to happen).

    • Guest (xenos)

      Good post.
      My parents were immigrants (and not only).

      And i would like to add this concerning the lazyiness of the Greeks.

      My mother worked in a German factory. All women. She was one of the few Greek women there.

      The factory had an exact limit of production output. The calculations were very accurate. In 8 hours of work you should have made 200 door hinges (if that is the right word and if i remember the number correctly).

      The women were producing that number of hinges in exactly 8 hours.
      Well ,they had a problem with my mother. She did it in 4h.

      I guess because she was lazy.

      They said that after the required limit had been reached she should stop working. She got bored and wanted to leave the factory. So the boss gave her more money. The other women were jealous ,but not for long since my mother talked back.

      That is only a small example ,because i have a big family that worked abroad. Germany ,Australia ,Africa. They all made friends because of their hard work. They also made money ,only to bring them back and vanish in payments for welfare that was never received properly.

      And it always was a deal with a foreign business behind the money vanishing through welfare investments.

      I do not forget.

    • @Demetris_(Λ). Thank you! (Migration and labour markets is my principal area of publication)

      Concerning work effort, I believe you. The issue is rather one of average productivity — which is quite low in Greece — than of Greek alleged laziness. With the much lower ratio of capital to labour in Greece (and all that that entails, such as limited technology usage, weak vocational training, no continuous training of workers) along with small Greek firms, a corrupt state and its high taxation of small companies — Greece is guaranteed severe problems of competitiveness. Furthermore, I am sure that the range of work effort across Greek workers is very wide — especially in the state sector. This means that the average level of productivity is also likely to be lowered, if there is no minimum effort ensured.

      Thus, the foolish simplification (as most politicians do) to “lazy Greeks: is both inaccurate and insulting. However, there are socio-economic problems to be addressed in employment in Greece: it is just that the Troika has no idea what to do, if indeed it cares.

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