Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The untold story of the Eurozone crisis

Everyone knows that the Eurozone suffered a crisis from 2010 to 2012, as periphery countries could no longer sell their debt. A superficial analysis puts this down to profligate governments, but look more closely and it becomes clear that the formation of the Euro itself led to an excessive monetary stimulus in these periphery countries. This is widely understood.

But this is not the whole story. It leaves out one key element that is vital if we are to understand the situation today. Here is a chart of nominal wage growth (compensation per employee) in the Eurozone and selected countries within it before the Great Recession.

Percentage change in compensation per employee (annual): source OECD Economic Outlook

Between 2000 and 2007 German wages increased by less than 10% compared to over 20% in the Eurozone as a whole (which of course includes Germany). This difference was not primarily caused by excessive growth in the periphery countries: wages in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain all increased by between 20% and 30%. The outlier was Germany.

Of course growth in nominal wages of less than 2%, and sometimes less than 1%, is not consistent with a consumer price inflation target of close to 2%. It was for this reason that the ECB lowered short term interest rates from 4.4% in 2000 to 2.1% in 2004. They were not worried by excessive inflation in the periphery - they had to lower rates to counteract the effect of low nominal wage growth in Germany. [1] 

So the reason why Germany seems to have largely escaped the second Eurozone recession of 2012/3 is that it pursued (perhaps unintentionally) a beggar my neighbour policy within the Eurozone. Low nominal wage growth in Germany led to lower production costs and prices, which allowed German goods to displace goods produced in other Eurozone countries both in the Eurozone and in third markets. This might make sense if Germany had entered the Eurozone at an uncompetitive exchange rate, but my own analysis suggests it did not, and Germany’s current relative cyclical position and its current account surplus confirm this.

As I argued in an earlier post, I do not think this divergence in cyclical position is the main reason why Germany resists expansionary measures in the Eurozone. But it is a lot easier to take up these obstructive positions when you are benefiting from this beggar my neighbour policy, and other countries that have suffered as a result appear not to understand what you have done.

[1] One of the comments on my earlier post tried to justify this beggar my neighbour policy using the following argument. Although the ECB's inflation target was close to 2%, they suggested that inflation below this was clearly desirable. What the Eurozone provided was an incentive system to try and achieve below target inflation by becoming more competitive. Germany had successfully risen to this challenge, and now it was up to other countries to try and do the same. Now if this competitiveness had been achieved by improvements in productivity, then this idea - although still mistaken - would be worth discussing. When it is achieved by cutting nominal wages (such that real wage increases are below productivity growth), it is not clear what efficiency gains are being achieved.

Postscript: Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform makes much the same argument here (HT Zoe Keller). 

38 comments:

  1. Lowering wages was a resonable instrument then. Germany suffered from exceptionally high unemployment, especially between 2003-2005. See for example
    https://moneyandblogging.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/impossible-germany/

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    1. I disagree. The problem in the early 2000s in Germany was weak consumption and especially investment. Perhaps this was the mirror image of the periphery boom. But temporary shortfalls or booms in domestic demand within a currency union should be dealt with using national fiscal policy, not by moving away from a sustainable real exchange rate, which is a beggar my neighbour policy

      But why it was done is not the main point. I just wish more people would recognise that it was done, that it was a beggar my neighbour policy, and that it is a big factor in the problems of today.

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    2. Perhaps similarly, German banks were eager to lend to the periphery. When it turned out many of these loans were made recklessly, Germany insisted the periphery prioritize repayment of debt.

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    3. "Perhaps similarly, German banks were eager to lend to the periphery. When it turned out many of these loans were made recklessly, Germany insisted the periphery prioritize repayment of debt."

      Quite. This suggests such capital movement needs some state direction which requires a fiscal framework.

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    4. Diff Anonymous here:

      It also simply suggests that the international (or European region) financial analysts at German banks were improperly incentivized or incompetent at their analytical job. Germany was by no means alone in this global problem with the banking industry, but since it had so much funds to potentially use productively for good investments, it relatively stands out. Good, smart banking is crucial to modern economies, and German bankers seems to have been really bad at delivering on one of their core competencies for their clients. Those clients--the creditors in the Eurozone debt debate--now apparently feel more visceral hatred and contempt for the debtors than for their incompetent service providers, the German bankers.

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    5. Have you any evidence that it was only the German banks have transferred money to the periphery? It was most likely also American, French, British, Chinese banks. The difference is that now German taxpayers have to pay those credits back to rest of the world through the various bailout measures that have been installed.

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    6. if keeping your wages low is a beggar my neighbor policy, how do you call the policy of letting jobs go to low wage countries?
      Making your neighbor rich policy?

      I rather live in a country that is serious about keeping (manufacturing) jobs, than in countries that do not care and think they can solve all with fiscal or monetary policy, blowing bubbles on the way, or low level service industry jobs (and than find out inequality his risen or jobs don't keep up with inflation)

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    7. It`s even worse. A lot of people in Germany can`t even afford to life on a very low level these days. Since the "Hartz 4" - Reforms (2005) unemployed people have to work for every wage, no matter how low and no matter what they studied or used to work before unemployment. The only exception is if the work is "immoral" (like Sex, Drugs..) or the unemployed person is too sick/weak for the job which the Jobcenter choose for him/her (in this case the unemployed person needs proof of the degree about the short- or long-term inability via doctor's certificates). Privacy protection - not if you are unemployed in Germany.

      If they don`t they loose their unemployment-payment. In this case, there is a possibility to receive food-stamps, but it`s up to the "Jobcenter" to provide the stamps (same people who decided to cut the unemployment-payment for the unemployed person down to zero.) And in Germany, a lot of grocery-stores don`t even accept food-stamps; there is no law that they have to. They don`t accept food-stamps because it`s a lot of bureaucracy.

      We ( a German here) have quite a lot of people in our country who work fulltime but have to get additional money from the German State to survive on a poor level. This is called "Aufstockung". This money comes from the German taxpayers. In other words: German taxpayers have to pay for the profit of employees.

      And this new law about a minimum-wage in Germany, starting 1. January 2015 (8.50 € / hour)? A lot of exceptions and possibilities for the companies to avoid it. Full of holes like a Emmenthal cheese. Plus: live in Germany is very expensive; especially the rents. 8,50 € / hour means to stay on a very low life-level.

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  2. I often wonder how many people realize the goal of policy (or at least the instrument of policy) is to keep their wages low, including by having an economy below full employment. Most people I know prefer being employed and to get raises.

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    1. most people would also prefer to keep their job over seeing it offshored to a low wage country

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  3. "Low nominal wage growth in Germany led to lower production costs and prices, which allowed German goods to displace goods produced in other Eurozone countries both in the Eurozone and in third markets. "

    Are you sure? How substitutable are the goods produced in Germany and the Southern Eurozone periphery? Did they not prevent an acceleration of German deindustrialisation and the replacement of German manufacturing with East Asian and Eastern European production?

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    1. I'm sure plenty of German goods are substitutable with those produced in France, or the Netherlands, which is what I'm talking about. Movements in the Euro will undo any attempt by the Eurozone as a whole to remain competitive by cutting wages.

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    2. I would like to see some proof for this claim too. Germany did well during the first euro decade mainly because exports outside the eurozone did increase (60% of exports of Germany go to outside the eurozone).
      I doubt German goods did replace the goods produced in the periphery.
      The periphery could borrow more easily and at lower cost after the eurozone introduction, they started to import more. Possibly from Germany, but I am sure from outside the eurozone (Asia) too.
      For the effects on France and Netherlands you would need to show some trade flow numbers that support your claim.

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    3. "Movements in the Euro will undo any attempt by the Eurozone as a whole to remain competitive by cutting wages."

      I have a question: how big is the lag until such a competitive edge gets undone in its entirety? How fast does the exchange rate respond?

      Also, as has been pointed out before: currency appreciation is what Germans want. It forces them to adapt and get even better.

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    4. Maybe instructive in this debate would be to look at the car makers: SEAT in Spain, Peugeot and Renault in France, Fiat in Italy, Volvo in Sweden, all suffered and only survived through mergers or buyouts. Maybe it was just bad management & poor investment decisions, but the external environment certainly played its part. Compared this to the experience of the German car manufacturers: Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler Benz, Porsche. They were often the ones able to "rescue" the other car makers.

      Yes, Rover in the UK also suffered even though it is not part of the Eurozone. However, higher wage inflation in the UK, driven by booming finance industry, would have placed similar pressure on car manufacturers.

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  4. ''Of course growth in nominal wages of less than 2%, and sometimes less than 1%, is not consistent with a consumer price inflation target of close to 2%.''

    maybe not, but maybe we have reached the era of permanent low interest rates in our aging and shrinking societies and globalizing economy, maybe the 2% inflation target doesn't make sense anymore.

    '' It was for this reason that the ECB lowered short term interest rates from 4.4% in 2000 to 2.1% in 2004. They were not worried by excessive inflation in the periphery - they had to lower rates to counteract the effect of low nominal wage growth in Germany.''

    do you have any proof for this claim?
    The period you mention was after the internet bubble bursted, The FED lowered the rate too during that period.


    ''So the reason why Germany seems to have largely escaped the second Eurozone recession of 2012/3 is that it pursued (perhaps unintentionally) a beggar my neighbour policy within the Eurozone. ''

    you call it a beggar my neighbour policy. However, Northern European countries have followed this tradition of wage moderation already before the euro was introduced. It's part of the pact between unions, employers and government that values employment over wage growth.
    I am not aware of any agreements made before the introduction of the euro wage moderation is not allowed, and Northern European countries are not going to change their economic model just because it doesn't suit the periphery.
    The reason The Netherlands did not follow Germany during the early eurozone years was because they had a housing bubble too.

    If your objective is eurozone wide macroeconomic policy, than you should advocate full political and fiscal union. Cherry picking some variables and demanding that Germany is going to take action to help the periphery is never going to work without political and fiscal union.

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  5. So the ECB lowered inflation rates from 2000 to 2004 because it could not figure out that temporary low inflation in Germany was caused by stagnant wages?
    Also, you describe trade as a zero-sum game, as if Germany's gains come at the expenses of other european countries. But this leaves out the rest of the world. But Germany's share of world exports has declined since 2003.
    https://www.destatis.de/EN/FactsFigures/NationalEconomyEnvironment/ForeignTrade/ForeignTradeIndicators/WorldmarketshareExports.html
    Even more striking, Germany's share of intra European has declined as well.
    https://www.destatis.de/EN/FactsFigures/NationalEconomyEnvironment/ForeignTrade/ForeignTradeIndicators/EUTrade.html
    So how could Germany be in this good position, while its relative position to the world declined? The answer is that the position of other european countries against the world also declined, but stronger than Germany. The other countries lost competitiveness not only against Germany but against the rest of the world and THAT is independent from german wages. The blame should not go to german wages, but to the inadequacy of the Eurosystem. The Euro is too strong for the PIIGS but too weak for Germany. Of course, we can help the PIIGS if we just kill Germany's competitiveness on the world markets, but this strikes me as the opposite of good policy.

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  6. I largely agree with the macroeconomics of your piece: Over the past decade, wage growth in Germany was low and that helped the Germany economy in recent years and provided problems for other Euro area countries.

    I disagree with your evaluation. The concept of a beggar-my-policy is not usefull in this case. Most probably there are not many cases at all where it is - apart from a fixed exchange rate system with an option to devalue your currency in nominal terms.

    A couple of questions to clarify my point:

    1. Ten years ago, Germany had both high cylical and structural unemployment. Recall, the country was called "Europe's sick man" at that time. The high cyclical component alone would have - according to wage setting theories - implied that real wages grow less than productivity. In addition, from 2004 onwards, labour market reform were implemented to reduce the high structural component and these depressed wage growth further. Effectively, what happened at that time in Germany is exactly what we currently see in Spain and in Greece. Are you critizing these countries for ("perhaps unintenionally") pursuing beggar-my-neighbour policies, too?

    2. Assume a EMU country implements other policy measures to raise its potential GDP. Germany, for instance, is currently called upon to increase its infrastructure investments. Over the medium term, this should raise labor productivity and that may not immediately be reflected in wage growth. Would this be a "beggar-my-neighbour policy"? By the same token, Germany is also called upon to liberalize its service sector. On the one hand, that may increase business opportunities for service providers from other European countries in Germany. On the other hand, it would probably increase competition in the service sector, lower services prices and may via input-output-linkages increase German competitiveness abroad. Again, would this be a "beggar-my-neighbour policy"?


    3. Assume a closed economy with high structural unemployment. The government implements labour market reforms. Standard macro analysis would suggest that as a result wage growth would be dampened, inflation would go down and a possibly a negative output gap would emerge as potential GDP is higher as a result of the reforms but GDP has not increased. A Taylor-rule-obeying central bank would lower interest rates and that would provide the monetary stimulus to bring GDP to the now higher potential GDP. That's more or less exactly what happend in Germany over the last ten years. The only difference is, that under the conditions of EMU, the monetary stimulus came went via improved German competitiveness, not much via lower interest rates.

    Can measures that also work in a closed-economy setting be called "beggar-my-neighbour" policies? If at all, they can be called "uintentional beggar-my-neighbour". But then, that only makes clear that, strictly speaking, there cannot be such a thing as an "uintentional beggar-my-neighbour policy". It's an oxymoron.

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  7. As expected, this post has elicited a comment stream of German defenders. (It has worked this way in the past too.) In the spirit of unburdening macroeconomics from moralism, let’s agree on this: Germany’s decision to suppress wage growth at the end of the 90s was not specifically directed at the rest of the eurozone. In fact, the biggest fears at the time had to do with competition from Eastern Europe and China. The result of large imbalances within the zone was unanticipated—although it certainly could have been. (A few prescient Post Keynesians made this point at the time, as I recall from conferences I attended.)

    So I would not want to say that Germany intended to prosper at the expense of its neighbors; it saw itself as defending its social and employment model from being undermined by (other) neighbors and distant competitors. I can understand why Germans and their supporters bristle at the moralism of an expression like “beggar your neighbor”. But all of this is about intention, not outcome. The outcome was that the imbalances arose and were made particularly severe because of the divergence in unit labor costs.

    Here are two further observations.

    1. The very fact that we are talking about national competitiveness within the eurozone is a sign that it is a dysfunctional monetary union. National competitiveness *cannot* be managed in the absence of exchange rate adjustment. Most of what we hear on this topic from EZ bigwigs is simply magical thinking.

    2. The fallacy of composition, “saving is virtuous, therefore countries with external surpluses are collectively virtuous”, is now well understood outside Germany. There is a corresponding fallacy on the supply side, “a company that increases its market share is virtuous, therefore a country which increases its market share (internationally) is collectively virtuous.” There is quite a bit of discussion in Germany, and elsewhere, that treats countries like companies.

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    1. Peter

      Your point (2) certainly chimes with many of the comments I have received. On (1) I think you can influence (manage is to strong) competitiveness through national fiscal policy - the big failure of the EZ was not to recognise that this needed to be done.

      On moralism, I agree that it is generally unhelpful, but in this case I was trying to use the language that seems to dominate discussion in Germany. I suspect part of the problem in not realising the consequence of low nominal wage growth was a prevalent view that Germany had joined the Euro at an uncompetitive exchange rate. Quite what the analytical basis for that view was I'm not sure (my own work suggested otherwise), but the view might have been encouraged by low German growth in the early 00s.

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    2. I do not remember concern about an uncompetitive exchange rate in public debates at the time. In fact, when Schröder introduced his Hartz IV/Agenda 2010 reforms in March 2003, Merkel remarked in the Bundestag: "The crisis in which we find ourselves - I believe, looking at it matter-of-fact, we have to call it as such - is a crisis of the internal state of the federal republic of Germany." We blamed OURSELVES for our problems. Maybe that is part of why we expect from others to do the same.

      As for the fallacy of composition, it is not sufficient to point out that such a thing exists. What is also necessary is to make an argument why and how it applies here.

      When Mercedes or Bayer or Deutsche Bank increase their market share, tax revenues and employment in Germany tend to also increase. It is a given that German politicians (and voters) regard such as favorable news. Where exactly is the limit when such positive developments start to turn negative for Germany?

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    3. "There is quite a bit of discussion in Germany, and elsewhere, that treats countries like companies."

      It is certainly wrong to view countries as companies. However, sometimes Americans tend to look at all countries from the same viewpoint - from a standardised universally applicable "model". As I Peter I am sure you are aware this is big criticism generally of neo-liberalism in political science and neo-classicism in economics. Countries like Germany are highly dependent on exports. This structure developed out of necessity; it is highly prone to swings in the prices of fuels and strategically imported inputs. These will usually skyrocket when these countries are at their most vulnerable. The US does not face these types of security issues. It is also why countries highly dependent on such imports put a premium on hard currency. The US dollar is the currency of international trade which it reflects its political and economic hegemonic position. American economists and policy makers simply do not appreciate the importance of hard currency for countries that are dependent on exports because of import dependence.

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  8. @ Carsten-Patrick Meier,

    Responding to your numbered points:

    1) If we agree that Spain & Greece are overburdened by debt, then (assuming no debt default/restructuring) they need to spend less than they earn for some period in order to deleverage. This may indeed involve "beggaring" Germany, i.e. reducing Germany's CA surplus, but this would be a necessary and appropriate beggaring. A similar diagnosis is not usually applied to Germany 2003.

    2) Policies that increase German productivity without increasing German domestic demand will presumably indeed beggar its neighbors - or Germany itself (with an output gap). It's unclear why the scenarios you mention should exclude suitably increased domestic demand.

    3) This scenario is a helpful one to consider. But again, why could supply side reforms not have been accompanied by fiscal loosening to prop up demand?

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    1. how about just defaulting; why assume no default?

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    2. I tend to agree that default should have played a larger role. I was only assuming it away as an option since that seems to be the German consensus view: no (or very limited in the Greek case) default + fiscal austerity + structural reforms = success.

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  9. Dear Sir,

    you write:
    "When it is achieved by cutting nominal wages (such that real wage increases are below productivity growth), it is not clear what efficiency gains are being achieved."

    I would tend to think that the outcome is cheaper products for consumers. Germans are apparently willing to produce their goods at current price levels. Without this wage restraint, customers would have had to pay more than that and therefore more than necessary. And as far as German competitors now being forced to follow suit, this goes doubly so.

    And that is why I do not fully understand Joan Robinson's criticism of Beggar-Thy-Neighbour policies: sure, after a race to the bottom employment levels might be the same as before. But prices are lower. Isn't Beggar-Thy-Neighbour part of the price discovery mechanism in a globalized world? In particular via internal devaluation?

    Again, price fixing and guilds and crafts as an alternative come to mind. But it seems to me that in capitalism the customer has the right to get the cheapest price he can. And the mechanism to force labour to offer that cheapest price is competition (which should not be artficially limited).

    Is that view so wrong?

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  10. Please can you label your graph? (Did you mean it to be wage growth rather than wages?)

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  11. What is that chart? Compensation per employee? Euros per what? Change something? Percent change in something? Annual percent change?

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  12. Told this story long ago!
    http://thefaintofheart.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/saint-and-sinners-germany-the-periphery/

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  13. @ James and Simon
    Effectively, what you are saying is that in a monetary union all changes of real exchange rates should be outlawed and this should be administered by appropriate changes in national fiscal policies. I see the macroeconomic logic behind your view, but, again, we part company with respect to the evaluation.

    The benefits of the Hayekian price discovery mechanism do not only apply to indiduals or firms but also to societies/nations and their economic policies. This holds for the world economy in total, but also for a monetary union such as EMU. Clearly, current account surpluses or deficits have to remain sustainable, but that condition apart, there is nothing wrong with temporary changes in relative prices of national outputs and the trade imbalances they cause. There is no need to bann them and mandate fiscal policy once they threaten to occur. The partner countries simply have to adjust. Under normal circumstances this adjustment will well be possible even without a flexible nominal exchange rate.

    Currently, the problem is that Germany's partner countries in the EMU have two adjustment problems: They have to deleverage after the boom bust-cycle that interest rate convergence at the start of EMU had caused and they have to cope with high German competiveness. Clearly, that is more difficult. My assessment is that it is the competitveness problem that currently holds back the recovery in Italy and in France

    But note that the (economic and political) adjustment process is already working to restore balance: Not only have German wages been rising more strongly than those of most other EMU partners. In addition, the German goverment has decided to turn back the clock and undo most of the labour market reforms of 2003/2004 with its decision to lower the retirement age and with the introduction of a high mandatory minimum wage of €8.50 from next year onwards.















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    1. I don't think anything I (or SWL) said warrants your interpretation - on the contrary it's clear that we both think a real exchange rate adjustment is currently necessary between Germany and other EZ economies. On this we seem to agree, though one additional difficulty in the adjustment process is important, namely that it is qualitatively more difficult to achieve an adjustment requiring deflation than one requiring merely lower (but still positive) inflation than Germany. And in high-debt circumstances it even threatens to be not just harder but self-defeating.

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  14. Since when is lowering the price of ones goods a beggar thy neighbor policy? Is it not what we otherwise call competition? Is it not what is expected now from club med?

    Also, I never understand why people want to think in a (closed) European context when discussing German competitiveness (and hence regard relative changes in European countries` competitiveness a zero sum game). Germany exports to the entire world, not just Europe, and anyway a great many markets are today dominated by global players.

    If it is the case that several European nations priced themselves out of these markets, how on earth would it help them if Germany priced itself out as well? In a world of free trade, the void would be filled by U.S., Chinese and other non-European firms and not French or Italian ones. Am I missing something?

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    1. In the world as a whole, competitiveness (as opposed to productivity increases) is a zero sum game. If debtor countries in the EZ are to run CA surpluses in order to deleverage then at least some creditor countries will have to at least reduce their CA surpluses. In 2013 Germany had the largest CA surplus in the world in absolute terms (7.4% of the world's 4th largest economy). So while you could imagine only China and Japan losing competitiveness relative to EZ debtors, it's strange to exclude Germany from the rebalancing process.

      Also if EZ debtors were to increase competitiveness only with regard to non-EZ countries this would presumably produce a huge CA surplus for the EZ as a whole, placing upward pressure on the Euro, thus automatically undermining the gain of external competitiveness.

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    2. [Same Anonymous here]

      Thanks James for taking the time to react. I’m well aware of the accounting equations. Still they don’t say much about causality and they don’t explain, for me anyway, the logics you and Prof Wren-Lewis apply.

      First point, we agree that if Germany increased wages, it would lose competitiveness and German CA surplus would shrink. But do you seriously suggest that would materially benefit Greece’s, Portugal’s or Italy’s competitiveness? Would it be them who have the companies, the market knowledge, the technology, the scale of economies to step in Germany's place?

      I don’t think so. The competition is global. Germany held up so well in the crisis years because it maintained strong positions on non-European export markets such as China and the U.S.
      And while Germany succeeded in keeping the pace of a global competition for these markets, Club Med didn’t.

      I think if Germany priced itself out of its global markets, then the void would be filled by China, Japan, Korea, and the U.S. This seems rather evident to me, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right but I have not yet seen any argument from you or Prof Wren-Lewis about why it should be otherwise.

      Second point. Suppose it were true that German self-destruction is the key to restoring club med’s competitiveness. Even in this case I’m amazed to see the imposition of a moral obligation for Germans to do so. This is like you expecting Tesco to please increase their prices lest ASDA misses their earnings target; it is like asking London to impose a punitive tax on banking so as to give Lisbon and Athens a shot at developing a nice banking hub of their own.

      Do you entertain such expectations as well or is it just Germany that should shoot in its own leg for a questionable outcome?

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  15. The equation of "reduced CA surplus" with "self-destruction" is laughable. There are a number of possible self-interest reasons Germany might do the former:

    1) maybe avoiding the disintegration of the Eurozone is in Germany's interest, and maybe German prosperity at other EZ economies' expense (a premise you don't accept, but one being argued by SWL in this post) threatens such disintegration

    2) maybe European integration is premised on more affective ties among member-states than those that exist between Tesco and Asda (and maybe rational macroeconomic policy can't be derived from an analogy with rational behavior of firms)

    3) maybe Germans would be better off if they spent more money on consumption (presumably the ultimate goal of production) as well as on real investment, rather than accumulating foreign assets

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  16. "The equation of "reduced CA surplus" with "self-destruction" is laughable."

    So you're arguing Club Med would be better off by exporting more but Germany would not be worse off by exporting less? Interesting. Especially if one assumes a zero-sum game on European level, as you do.

    On your points:

    1)
    -The premise of Prof Wren-Lewis is one I don't accept because it is massively counterintuitive and none of you even tried to put forward anything to support it.
    I can show you a dozen industries and markets where a gap left by falling out German players would be filled immediately by U.S., Chinese and Japanese firms. Maybe Swiss ones. But only in negligible proportions by French, Italian, or Spanish ones (not to speak about Greek and Portuguese ones). What arguments do you have?

    - Even accepting the premise, the current strategy of Germany would still be superior as it keeps it in control of its own fate and able to decide when and how to step in if disintegration becomes an issue.

    The closest historic analogy to your suggestion I can think of is the Marshall plan, as an act of transferring wealth to one's political allies in order to strengthen them long term. But notice that what the U.S. did was not price itself out of its export markets in order to help Western Europe, but it handed over a predefined amount of cash. The same will probably be done by Germany (in some form) should it become necessary to save the Union.





    2) Of course European integration has a strong historic, emotional character but it won't change that nations ARE in a continuous economic competition with each other.





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  17. Nobody else has mentioned Germany exporting less in absolute terms. I have talked about Germany reducing it's CA surplus, which can also be achieved by Germany importing more. However, it is true that the path to a smaller German CA surplus would presumably involve both increased imports and a shift from external to domestic sources of demand for Germany, hence a lower exports/GDP ratio. Not clear why that should be bad for Germans (being "competitive" is not inherently good for you!) nor is it in contradiction with the idea that increasing exports/GDP would be good for highly indebted economies, because surplus countries and deficit countries are starting from different places.

    The argument is that one way or another, highly indebted countries need to spend some period of time running CA surpluses in order to deal with their debts.

    So far, this has happened through a move into surplus (2.4% of GDP in 2013) by the EZ as a whole and at the cost of depressed domestic demand and low growth within the EZ. So from the point of view of a stagnant, demand-starved (high unemployment, low-inflation) EZ economy, it would be better if surplus countries within the EZ (including the country with the largest surplus in the world) supported demand, rather than relying on non-EZ countries to do all the work.

    Presumably your alternative scenario is: debtor countries cut their costs and external demand comes to the rescue - the rest of the world is glad to sustain a very large CA surplus for the EZ. This seems to be working for Ireland, which has moved into a large CA surplus on the back of demand from its main trading partner Britain and the US. For countries whose main export markets are in the EZ, this will be harder. Crucially a large EZ CA surplus will also place upward pressure on the Euro.

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