Professor Barry Eichengreen writes in The Guardian on the unbalanced German economy, which I have posted on many times. As he says, the country’s large current account surplus reflects the excess of domestic savings over investment, as a matter of accounting. But he puts this down to an ageing population prudently saving for retirement, so does not see any medium term reversal of the household sector’s resulting financial surplus.
What he does not mention is the large net savings of German companies. To put it another way, corporate savings, or retained earnings, are larger than corporate investment. Rebalancing the German economy, and arguably restoring much greater prosperity to the EU and the eurozone, requires an increase of investment relative to savings. This an either be accomplished by consumption rising and the savings rate falling, the investment rate rising, or some combination of the two.
Although it is widely believed that Germany is an economic success story due to its successful exporters and low unemployment, its imbalances are a problem for Europe and the rest of the world economy. Continue reading →
According to Tom O’Leary the underlying aim of austerity has been to restore business profits, by putting downward pressure on wages, and reducing taxes on business and the rich. But while wages have stagnated, profits have not recovered significantly. As profits lead investment, growth in the latter has been weak, and the basis for an improved growth performance and living standards has so far failed to materialize.
Those on the right would respond to this by engaging in deregulation and further austerity, which might include reducing workers’ rights and environmental protections, and deepening cuts in public spending and taxes. Such policies would be short-sighted and damaging. Those on the left would favour a large increase in public investment in order to ‘crowd in’ private investment. This could be far more beneficial, as growth in public investment has been weak for years, while the burden of regulation remains relatively low internationally. But at the moment the UK has an unassailable right wing government too distracted by Brexit to engage in such a progressive agenda. Continue reading →
Oxford Professor Simon Wren-Lewis blogs here that UK households are set to lose out from the effects of the vote for Brexit over the next few years due to slowing growth in overall income. This is according to recent Bank of England forecasts for the UK economy.
While overall growth in GDP is forecast to be relatively strong compared to other rich nations, average growth in household income may be zero or even negative during this period.
This is due to the sharp fall in the value of the pound, which makes imports more expensive, and is already contributing to a rise in inflation.
Higher inflation means that a typical consumption basket is more expensive than otherwise, and this reduces real household incomes, other things being equal.
A nice piece by the Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliott on the seemingly neverending tragedy of the (lack of) progress of the Greek economy. As he describes, Germany is refusing to follow EU rules and reduce its large current account deficit by boosting domestic demand, which would help Greece grow, rebalance and reduce its debt burden alongside its mountain of unemployment.
In the absence of a eurozone fiscal union, which seems unlikely, Greece can only come out of its nightmare, with all the mass human suffering that entails, if the eurozone countries running current account surpluses change course. The current ‘reforms’ in Greece will not do the trick in the absence of changes in the macroeconomic environment created at least in part by the policies of its neighbours. This is not about the lack of economic solutions, but of political and popular will.
Here is what would surely be an appealing narrative for ordinary Germans: how would you like a wage rise, and better public infrastructure, with the knowledge that this would help not only your fellow countrymen but also your southern european neighbours and in the process reduce their debt burden without you having to bail them out any further? Sound good? With support for the right economic policies, this much is possible.
Germany needs to lead the Eurozone in a different direction
The Eurozone is mired in economic stagnation. While overall growth is positive, it remains too weak, at under 2%, to reduce unemployment to satisfactory levels, particularly in countries such as Greece and Spain. A lack of widely shared prosperity is undermining the legitimacy of the EU political institutions, but there seems to be no appetite in the ‘core’ Northern countries to change course. What to do?
Two weeks ago I discussed the apparently different cultural attitudes to saving and consuming in the UK and Germany in recent years, and drew the conclusion that these attitudes were driven by economic factors. It would benefit both nations if their economies ‘rebalanced’, and in opposite directions. This would involve Germans becoming more ‘profligate’ by reducing net national savings and the British becoming more ‘prudent’ by increasing net national savings. Continue reading →
The Bundestag. Economic rebalancing is needed in Germany as much as abroad.
Germans save much more of their income than the British, taken as a whole. In Germany, both the private sector, consisting of firms and households, and the public sector, or government, are currently spending less than they earn. In the case of the private sector, they saved nearly 8% of GDP in 2016.
The government is also saving, but much less than the private sector. The German budget surplus was 1% of GDP last year. Still, it is closer to balance than many of their rich country neighbours.
Take Britain. The private sector there managed to borrow around 2% of GDP in 2016, while the government’s budget was in deficit by nearly 4% of GDP.
Is this prudence on the part of Germany, and profligacy on the part of the British? Continue reading →
How should we assess the effects to date of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union (Brexit) back in June? In the months since then, we have been inundated with a raft of conflicting evidence about its short term impact on the economy. For example, see here for some recent negative developments. Figures for overall growth, industrial and manufacturing performance, the stock market etc have been seized upon variously by ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ as proof of their sometimes apocalyptic warnings prior to the vote. Continue reading →