There is a nice piece in this week’s New Statesman by economics commentator Grace Blakeley on the dangers of the unresolved eurozone crisis, with Germany at its heart. With growth in the eurozone currently slowing, after a brief spurt, unemployment is set to remain unsatisfactorily high in a number of countries, not least Greece and Spain. Germany itself is teetering on the brink of recession.
As Blakeley argues, resolving the crisis requires the northern states of the currency block to expand domestic demand. This is particularly necessary in Germany, the largest economy in the eurozone, which is running a current account surplus of nearly eight percent of GDP. It is thus overly dependent on external demand, and growth in world trade.
What the piece misses, maybe in order to avoid unnecessary complexity, is that a decade of wage stagnation in the 2000s, while rendering German exporters more competitive and profitable, and boosting employment, has also squeezed household incomes and raised national savings relative to investment. This is reflected in the aforementioned large current account surplus, which is by definition equal to the gap between domestic savings and investment. Continue reading →
Tracing a connection between rising inequality and the Great Recession of 2008 is appealing to leftist economists. It suggests that what they see as two of the potential downsides of capitalism and in particular the neoliberal economic order can perhaps be mitigated via appropriate policies. Thus, a more egalitarian capitalism can become less prone to crisis or recession.
Of course, what is appealing as social and economic outcomes is not a good enough reason to investigate linkages between them, though I suspect that I am far from the only one who is drawn to particular ideas as a matter of bias.
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with that as a starting point, followed by economic analysis of the chosen object of study.
These three countries had the largest current account imbalances in absolute terms in the run-up to the recession. The US ran a deficit, and Germany and China were running surpluses. Since these imbalances have been pinpointed by some economists as a cause of the recession itself, analysing them is important. Continue reading →
This surplus, which means that Germany is lending its equivalent abroad, is equal to the excess of national saving over national investment.
It means that the rest of the world is running a current account deficit with Germany, since the sum of all the world’s current account surpluses and deficits is zero. If the rest of the world is running an overall deficit with Germany, this means that it is accumulating debt, funded by Germany lending its net savings, or the savings that are not invested domestically.
I have discussed these matters in previous posts, but the article cited above makes a useful point. The potential for reducing the German current account surplus is being played out as a conflict between economic and institutional forces. Continue reading →
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 →
This paper by Jorg Bibow has a useful take on how an ideology of anti-Keynesianism among German policymakers and its economic outcomes as a popular mythology result from a misreading of economic history. This faulty economic analysis has arguably played a major role in the eurozone crisis, and recent improvements in the eurozone economy are at the expense of the rest of the world. This is a form of ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policy, as a weak euro is stimulating demand for eurozone exports from its external trading partners, while domestic demand in the region remains weak. The eurozone economy is therefore improving by making the zone as a whole more like Germany in recent history, which has ‘succeeded’ via a dependence on export-led growth. Continue reading →
The German Bundestag. Change is needed on all sides involved in the current crisis, not least in Germany.
The German government’s ‘record’ post-unification budget surplus of nearly 24bn euros was in the news this week. As a percentage of GDP it is a mere 0.8%, but compared to the UK’s deficit of just under 4%, they seem to be doing relatively well, at least in terms of the desire expressed by many politicians for governments to ‘live within their means’. And this surplus does not seem to have come at the expense of economic growth. The German economy grew by 1.9% in 2016, the fastest in the G7 group of the largest economies in the world.
So how is this possible? Quite simply, it is down to the competitiveness of German exporters, achieved at the expense of ordinary German workers over the last decade or so.
Firstly, the deregulation of the labour market put downward pressure on wages at the bottom of the scale, so that Germany now has record numbers of low-wage, insecure jobs. Continue reading →
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.