Germany, the biggest economy in the euro zone, has long been a major contributor to imbalances in the global economy. It exports far more than it imports and does too little to encourage the growth of domestic demand. That has made it hard for countries like Greece and France to increase their exports and revive their economies. Last year, Germany’s current account surplus was 7 percent of its gross domestic product; by contrast, China, which is often criticized for pursuing an aggressive export policy, had a surplus of just 2.3 percent.
Fawlty Europe: Will the European Commission dare to utter the unmentionable to the Germans?
The Harm Germany Does by Krugman
The Germans are outraged, outraged at the U.S. Treasury department, whose Semiannual Report On International Economic And Exchange Rate Policies says some negative things about how German macroeconomic policy is affecting the world economy. German officials say that the report’s conclusions are “incomprehensible” — which is just bizarre, because they’re absolutely straightforward.
Oh, and yes, the US inexcusably spied on Angela Merkel — but that has nothing to do with this, and anyone bringing it into this conversation thereby demonstrates his or her intellectual bankruptcy. Also, frank talk about German economic policies doesn’t make you anti-German or anti-European; again, anyone trying to evade the substance by bringing that kind of accusation in has in effect conceded the argument.
So, about the argument. Here’s a brief history of the euro zone, told through one number for two countries, Germany and Spain:
The creation of the euro was followed by the emergence of huge imbalances, with vast amounts of capital flowing from the core to the periphery. Then came a “sudden stop” of private capital flows, forcing the peripheral nations to eliminate their current account deficits, albeit with the process slowed by the provision of official loans, mainly through loans among central banks. The really bad news for the periphery is that so far the adjustment has taken place mainly through depressed economies rather than regained competitiveness; so the counterpart of that “improvement” for Spain is 25 percent unemployment.
Normally you would and should expect the adjustment to be more or less symmetrical, with surplus countries reducing their surpluses as deficit countries reduced their deficits. But that hasn’t happened. Germany hasn’t adjusted at all; all of the rise in peripheral European current accounts has taken place at the expense of the rest of the world.
And that’s a very bad thing. We are still in a world ruled by inadequate demand, and very much subject to the paradox of thrift. By running inappropriate large surpluses, Germany is hurting growth and employment in the world at large. Germans may find this incomprehensible, but it’s just macroeconomics 101.
You might argue that it’s not the German government’s fault that it runs surpluses — but you’d be wrong. (I’ve fallen into this trap, but acknowledged the error.) For one thing, Germany has pursued fiscal austerity despite its creditor status, contributing to an overall tightening of policy in the eurozone. And one way to think about Germany’s role within the euro is that it is in effect engaging in huge foreign exchange intervention via Target 2, which holds down the “shadow Deutche Mark”:
The Axis of Fools is the Republican Party first and foremost, Germany, and China. China, however is a poor country managing the trick transition(?) from authoritarian to democracy. Germany and the Republican Party should know better.
Of course, I don’t expect German officials to admit that there’s anything to what Treasury says. They’re not big on macroeconomics as we understand it; actually, they’re not big on accounting identities, since their view seems to be that everyone should be like Germany, and run huge trade surpluses.
But Treasury just stated the obvious and true.