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4/23/2014

Greek Debt Grows as Samaras Looks to Creditors for Relief

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in an interview last week, “We expect by the year 2015 that we will have not simply primary surplus, but that we’re going to have a fiscal surplus.”.

Πηγή: Bloomberg
By Ian Wishart
April 23 2014

Greek state debt surged to a euro-era record last year, underscoring the urgency of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s push to lower the cost of the government’s bailout loans.

The country’s debt pile reached 175.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2013, up from 157.2 percent a year earlier, the EU’s statistics office in Luxembourg said today. For the euro zone as a whole, state debt rose to a record 92.6 percent of GDP from 90.7 percent.

“The surge in public indebtedness since Greece’s fiscal crisis erupted in 2009 is staggering,” said Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. “The fact that, technically speaking, it’s still debatable whether Greece is solvent says much about the management of its crisis.”

While Greece has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the 18-nation single-currency bloc, Samaras may get some welcome news later today, when the European Commission decides if his government posted a primary budget surplus in 2013.

Greece’s euro-area partners said in November 2012 that when the government in Athens registers a primary surplus, which excludes borrowing costs, they will “consider further measures and assistance” to help Greece meet the targets set out in its rescue-aid agreement, which foresees a debt-to-GDP ratio “substantially lower” than 110 percent in 2022.

Two-Party Coalition

The euro pared gains against the dollar after today’s data were released, trading at $1.3842 at 11:21 a.m. in Brussels, up 0.3 percent on the day. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index was down 0.3 percent to 336.15.

Seeking to bolster a shaky two-party coalition government, Samaras is keen to obtain a political reward for his cost-cutting measures before European legislative elections next month. His government has already said it achieved a primary surplus of 2.9 billion euros ($4 billion) last year, a figure that must be confirmed by the commission.

Today’s debt data came in below the European Commission’s forecast for 2013 of 177.3 percent of GDP.

While euro-area finance ministers could kick-start discussions on debt relief for Greece at their next meeting on May 5, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads such gatherings, has said the matter will not be taken up until after the summer.

Bank Aid

Greece’s headline deficit widened to 12.7 percent of GDP in 2013 from 8.9 percent in 2012, today’s data showed. This includes a one-time cost for recapitalization of the country’s banks. Without that added expense this year, the European Commission predicts the deficit will narrow to 2.2 percent of GDP in 2014.

“We expect by the year 2015 that we will have not simply primary surplus, but that we’re going to have a fiscal surplus,” Samaras said in an interview last week. “This means we will be able on our own to pay our debt, without borrowing at all. There are very few European countries that are doing this today.”

Greece went through the world’s biggest sovereign-debt restructuring and has so far received 240 billion euros in aid commitments. To receive payments, the country has faced a series of economic conditions including labor-market reforms and budget goals.

In recent weeks, Greece’s recovery has gained momentum. The government held its first bond sale in four years earlier this month and forecasts it will emerge from a six-year recession this year after six years of contraction.

Economic Recovery

Today’s data also confirmed that other fragile euro-area economies are still struggling to control debt levels even as recovery across the currency region takes hold. Italy’s debt mountain increased and remained as the second highest in the euro area after Greece, going up to 132.6 percent of GDP in 2013 from 127 percent the previous year.

Portugal, in third place, saw its debt rise to 129 percent of GDP from 124.1 percent, while in Ireland, next in line, debt rose to 123.7 percent from 117.4 percent. Both countries received international bailouts at the height of the euro crisis.

The data also show that some euro-area countries are struggling to reduce their budget deficits to with the EU’s 3 percent of GDP limit. France, the region’s second-biggest economy, posted a deficit of 4.3 percent, down from 4.9 percent. Spain recorded a deficit of 7.1 percent last year, narrowing from 10.6 percent the year before.


4/22/2014

Suicide rates soar in Greece as economic cuts bite

Apostolos Polyzonis, 55, out of work and out of money, set himself on fire outside a bank in Thessaloniki, Greece in 2011.
Πηγή: MedicalXpress
Apr 22 2014

The effect of economic cuts on debt ravaged Greece included a dramatic rise in the number of men committing suicide, according to new research.

The research, by Dr Nikolaos Antonakakis and Professor Alan Collins at the University of Portsmouth, is the first to examine the direct impact of fiscal austerity on suicide rates in any country.
The two economists are now calling for governments and agencies to find ways of stopping people being broken by harsh economic cuts.

The research is published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

According to the research, every one per cent fall in government spending in Greece leads to a 0.43 per cent rise in suicides among men. Put simply, 551 men committed suicide between 2009 and 2010 in Greece solely due to fiscal austerity.

Dr Antonakakis said: "We were surprised, this is a huge number, but the results were very clear – more men commit suicide as economic conditions worsen.

"Interestingly, the effects of fiscal austerity and economic growth are gender-specific, with no obvious rise in the number of women committing suicide."

Men aged 45-89 are the most likely to commit suicide in response to harsh economic cuts because they are most likely to suffer drastic cuts to their salaries and pensions.

Surprisingly, the study – which examined suicides and the economy over more than four decades – also found an increase in alcohol consumption and divorce helped reduce suicide rates among the over-45s.

Dr Antonakakis, a Senior Lecturer in Portsmouth Business School and an Assistant Professor in Vienna University of Economics and Business, said: "Despite its legal obligation to assess the health effects of EU policies, the Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection of the European Commission has been rather passive in terms of assessing the impact of the troika's push for austerity, and has rather limited EU commentary to advise how health ministries should cut their budgets.

"Only recently has the European Commission begun measures to release structural funds to support access to health care for those otherwise without cover.

"Euro zone leaders should put greater emphasis on stimulating debt-stricken economies to mitigate or even eliminate the negative effects of fiscal consolidation and austerity on suicides."

The authors are also calling for specialised suicide prevention programmes to be set up in Greece to help the most distressed and vulnerable.

The researchers studied the number of suicides in Greece from 1968-2011.

The results provide the most comprehensive and up to date picture of the effect of the economic downturn on Greece, which received its first bailout of €110 billion in 2010 with strict conditions including tough austerity measures; privatisation of government assets; and dramatic changes to the country's industries and government. The effects of these measures include soaring unemployment rates and a sharp decline in growth.

The researchers found:
  • As growth fell and unemployment rose, suicides among men rose by between 1.4 and 2.2 per cent, respectively;
  • Negative economic growth and rising unemployment lead to significantly increased likelihood of younger men, aged 25-44, committing suicide, with a one per cent increase in unemployment leading to a 3.5 per cent rise in suicides among this age group, though migration and receiving money from family members who had migrated is found to reduce suicides among both the youth and female population.
  • A decline in fertility rates of women aged 25-64 leads to an increase in suicides rates among men. This may be because fertility rate usually serves as proxy for the degree of social integration and a decline in fertility can be interpreted as an increase in social disintegration and exclusion;
  • And that alcohol consumption and divorce reduce the suicide risk among men aged 45 and older.
The outlook for Greece in the short to medium term does not look encouraging, Dr Antonakakis said.

"The situation in Greece is improving and the country recently returned to the bond markets to get self-financed for the first time since it needed international rescue loans in 2010. However, the road is still very steep. Unemployment is at 27 per cent, and among youth, it is 60 per cent, and the country's debt is still at an unsustainable 170 per cent, which cannot be self-served."

The researchers are calling for more research to discover if the effects of fiscal austerity found in Greece apply also to other countries.

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Explore further: Financial crisis drives up Greek suicide rate

More information: Social Science and Medicine, "The Impact of Fiscal Austerity on Suicide: On the Empirics of a Modern Greek Tragedy." Nikolaos Antonakakisa and Alan Collins (in press)

Journal reference: Social Science and Medicine


3/16/2014

8 Ways Tech Has Completely Rewired Our Brains


Πηγή: Mashable
By Rebecca Hiscott
March 14 2014

Technology has altered human physiology. It makes us think differently, feel differently, even dream differently. It affects our memory, attention spans and sleep cycles. This is attributed to a scientific phenomenon known as neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to alter its behavior based on new experiences. In this case, that's the wealth of information offered by the Internet and interactive technologies.

Some cognition experts have praised the effects of tech on the brain, lauding its ability to organize our lives and free our minds for deeper thinking. Others fear tech has crippled our attention spans and made us uncreative and impatient when it comes to anything analog.

Every emerging study and opinion piece is hotly disputed, yet each brings us closer to understanding how tech can fundamentally alter our minds. Below, we list some of the major ways tech has rewired our brains, for better or worse.

1. We dream in color.

Television impacts our psyche so thoroughly, it may even affect our dreams. In 2008, a study conducted at Scotland's Dundee University found that adults over the age of 55 who had grown up in a household with a black and white television set were more likely to dream in black and white. Younger participants, who grew up in the age of Technicolor, nearly always experienced their dreams in color. The American Psychological Assocation seconded these findings in 2011.

Previous dream research, conducted in the early 1900s through the 1950s, has suggested a correlation between exposure to black and white television and dreaming in black and white. In the 1960s, dreams returned to Technicolor with the advent of color film and television.

2. We experience FOMO…




The reports are anecdotal at best, but FOMO (fear of missing out), defined by The New York Times as "the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media," seems fairly legit.

Before Instagram and Facebook, people who chose to spend a quiet Saturday night at home with a glass of wine and a copy of Anchorman might have felt a little guilty or sad they weren't out whooping it up. But thanks to social media, that feeling is compounded by pictures and posts of scrumptious dinners and raging parties, plus endless videos of friends chugging beer. Even if none of these activities are your idea of fun, you'll definitely recognize that pang: "Should I be doing something else right now?" That's FOMO.

There's even evidence that looking at pictures of friends' meals on Instagram and Pinterest makes your own meal taste bland by comparison.

3. … And "phantom vibration syndrome."

We are now hard-wired to assume our phones are ringing, even when they're not. In a 2012 study published in the journal Computers and Human Behavior, researchers found that 89% of the 290 undergraduates surveyed reported feeling "phantom vibrations," the physical sensation that their phone was vibrating, even when it wasn't, once every two weeks. A survey of hospital workers found similar results.

A research psychologist speaking on NPR suggested that physical sensations, such as an itch, may now be misinterpreted by our brains as a vibrating phone. "Something in your brain is being triggered that's different than what was triggered just a few short years ago," he said.

Since nobody is especially bothered by phantom vibrations, the sensation is more of a nuisance than a physiological problem. Still, it's pretty freaky.

4. We can't sleep.




We technophiles are accustomed to falling asleep with laptops glowing softly by our beds, playing a soothing Futurama episode to lull us into sleep. Others might end the day by reading a chapter of The Hunger Games on their iPad. But those comforting nighttime routines may actually be screwing with our sleep patterns.

Neuroscientists suspect the glowing lights emitted by laptop, tablet and smartphone screens mess with your body's internal light cues and sleep-inducing hormones. Exposure to bright lights can fool the brain into thinking it's still daytime, and can potentially have lasting effects on the body's circadian rhythms (your internal sleep clock). Our eyes are especially sensitive to the blue light emitted by screens. This makes it harder to fall asleep, especially for those who already struggle with insomnia.

5. Our memory isn't great, and neither is our attention span.

Back in the old, old, old days, learning by rote was a prized skill. So prized, in fact, that students were often expected to recite entire books from memory. In a Google-happy world, when virtually any scrap of information is instantly at our fingertips, we don't bother retaining facts, let alone whole book passages. Who needs to memorize the capital of Mozambique when you can just ask Siri?

In 2007, a neuroscientist polled 3,000 people and found that the younger respondents were less likely to remember standard personal information, such as a relative's birthday or even their own phone number. Similarly, studies have shown that calculators may decrease simple mathematical skills. Some people are unable to navigate their own cities without the help of GPS.

Social media and the Internet have also been shown to shorten our attention spans. Individuals immersed in digital media find it difficult to read books for long periods of time, and often skim articles online rather than reading every word. This phenomenon can be particularly troubling for youth, whose brains are more malleable and, therefore, may fail to develop concentration skills.

6. We have better visual skills…




A 2013 study found that first-person shooter video games, such as Halo and Call of Duty, boost decision-making and visual skills. These immersive games force players to make snap decisions based on visual cues, which enhances visuospatial attention skills, or the ability to parse details of your physical environment. Gamers are also better at detecting contrast between objects in dim environments.

Meanwhile, complex, strategy-based games like Starcraft may improve the brain's "cognitive flexibility," or the ability to switch between tasks, thus enhancing the much-disputed ability to multitask. This was particularly true among older study participants.

7. ...But poorer impulse control.

Unfortunately, that same 2013 study found video games like Halo can inhibit players' ability to rein in impulsive or aggressive behavior. Researchers concluded that forcing players to make snap decisions in violent situations inhibited "proactive executive control" over knee-jerk reactions and impulses, meaning they were more likely to react with immediate, unchecked hostility or aggression in real life.

Other studies have substantiated the idea of a link between violent video games (and other violent forms of media) and aggression and attention problems.
8. We create more.





Ending on a high note, tech makes it easier for artists and non-artists alike to engage with creative media. Author Clay Shirkey argues that the Internet enhances what he calls "cognitive surplus," the excess hours and brain power we can devote to pursuing activities and goals we enjoy. Social media, according to Shirkey, prompts users to engage with texts, images and videos in a way that simply watching television doesn't. As social media promotes a culture of sharing, users feel more inclined to create and share something of their own, be it a Flickr album, a book review, a contribution to Wikipedia or a DIY project.

"We do things because they're interesting, because they're engaging, because they're the right things to do, because they contribute to the world," said Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, in a conversation with Wired and Shirkey.

"Once we stop thinking of all that time as individual minutes to be whiled away and start thinking of it as a social asset than can be harnessed, it all looks very different," said Shirkey. "The buildup of free time among the world's educated population — maybe a trillion hours per year — is a new resource."