Namerno siromašenje sosedov in nemška odgovornost za krizo

Tisti, ki ste dlje časa v tem “biznisu”, ste gotovo že slišali za Petra Bofingerja, in sicer kot enega izmed bolj s svojo glavo razmišljujočih nemških ekonomistov. Ta teden je Bofinger lansiral pravo malo bombo, ko je v VoxEU (portalu CEPR) objavil kratko analizo, v kateri dokazuje, kako je Nemčija z namernim in med vlado in sindikati usklajenim paktom pred desetletjem in pol zamrznila nominalne plače in s tem (prek znižanja inflacije) povročila povečanje nemške izvozne konkurečnosti glede na ostale države v evrskem območju. Hkrati je z zmanjšanjem kupne moči plač vplivala tudi na zmanjšanje domačega in uvoznega povpraševanja ter dramatično povečanje nemškega izvoznega presežka in nemškega izvoza kapitala.

Bofinger ni sicer povedal nič takšnega, česar ne bi že vedeli, zanimivo pa je, da je to povedal član peterice nemškega vladnega sveta ekonomskih svetovalcev. Sveta, ki sicer slovi po radikalni konzervativnosti svojih nasvetov (tudi v nedavnem mnenju, kjer so zahtevali konec sedanje ekspanzivne monetarne politike ECB). Bofingerjeva analiza se zato bere kot nekakšno njegovo ločeno mnenje.

Večina v Nemčiji in najbrž večina ljudi tudi pri nas, sploh pa v raznih strokovnih gospodarskih združenjih, meni, da s to nemško politiko ni bilo nič narobe. Kaj je slabega v tem, če vlada, in to v soglasju s sindikati, zamrzne plače? Saj res, kaj je lahko narobe s tem?

Da bi to razumeli, je treba malce razumeti makroekonomijo v trgovinsko povezanih državah. Ko imate opravka z državami, ki med seboj veliko trgujejo in se ena izmed držav odloči devalvirati svojo valuto, da bi tako povečala cenovno konkurenčnost izvoza, bodo ostale trgovinske partnerice zelo besne. Ker je s tem enostransko posegla v medsebojna razmerja in na račun drugih držav umetno povišala svojo konkurenčnost – povečala svoj izvoz in zmanjšala uvoz. To se v literaturi imenuje “politika siromašenja sosedov” (beggar-thy-neighbour policy). In ker trgovinskim partnericam to ni všeč, da nekdo izboljšuje svoj relativni položaj z nelojalnimi sredstvi, se pač “maščujejo” s povračilnimi ukrepi. V 1930-ih  je to vodilo v serijske konkurenčne devalvacije in valutne vojne. Končalo pa se je z drugo svetovno vojno.

No, zdaj pa si predstavljajte, da imate monetarno unijo, denimo evrsko območje, kjer se države odpovejo svoji valuti. Torej ne morejo uporabljati menjalnega tečaja, da bi z njim manipulirale svoje izvozne in uvozne cene. Lahko pa uporabljajo plače in cene. Članice lahko z zadrževanjem cen ali plač spremenijo cenovna razmerja med državami v svojo korist, kar imenujemo “interna devalvacija“. Torej, kar je Nemčija kot članica evro območja naredila, je, da je z zamrznitvijo nominalnih plač (torej z znižanjem realnih plač) znižala realni efektivni tečaj in s tem relativne cene izvoza. Ali še drugače rečeno, s spornimi sredstvi je popravila svoj konkurenčni položaj glede na druge države. Uporabila je politiko “siromašenja sosedov“. Posledica je povečanje nemškega izvoza in dramatično povečanje izvoznih presežkov z ostalimi članicami.

Toda zgodba se ne konča pri tem. Z zadrževanjem plač je Nemčija tudi zmanjšala domače agregatno trošenje in zmanjšala povpraševanje po uvoženih izdelkih, kar je neposredno prizadelo ostale trgovinske partnerice in še dodatno poslabševalo trgovinske bilance ostalih držav do Nemčije. Dodatno k temu pa je z izvoznimi presežki Nemčija generirala povišane dobičke podjetij (povečane prihranke), ki so se nato prek nemških bank v obliki povečanih kapitalskih (finančnih) tokov prelili v irske, španske, portugalske, grške, slovenske itd. banke in v teh državah zakuhali nepremičninske in kapitalske balone ter kasnejšo finančno krizo.

Nemčija je lahko pri tem uspela samo zato, ker so ji ostale partnerice to tolerirale. Če bi ravnale enako, Nemčiji ne bi uspelo. V tem primeru tudi do finančne krize v EU ne bi prišlo.

Razumete poanto? Nemška “neodgovornost” pred krizo nikakor ni nedolžna zadeva, pač pa Nemčija nosi svoj velik del krivde za kasnejšo finančno krizo in krizo evra. Države partnerice v monetarni uniji bi se morale vzdržati tovrstnih enostranskih in nekoordiniranih ukrepov, ker ima to, kot ste lahko videli, izjemno velike negativne učinke na celotno unijo.

Je Nemčija to naredila slučajno in nenamerno? Ne. Bofinger lepo islustrira (glejte spodaj), da je to naredila zavestno – v sodelovanju med vlado in sindikati. Res kot odgovor na svoje lastne težave, toda to ne zmanjša njene krivde za sedanjo krizo.

In 1999, when the Eurozone started, Germany was confronted with an unemployment rate that was too high by German standards, although it was still below the EZ average. The solution to the unemployment problem was typical of Germany’s corporatist system. Already in 1995 Klaus Zwickel, boss of the powerful labour union IG Metall, made the proposal of a Bündnis für Arbeit (pact for work). He explicitly declared his willingness to accept a stagnation of real wages, i.e. nominal wage increases that compensate for inflation only, if the employers were willing to create new jobs (Wolf 2000). This led to the Bündnis für Arbeit, Ausbildung und Wettbewerbsfähigkeit (pact for work, education and competitiveness), which was established by Gerhard Schröder in 1998. On 20 January 2000, trade unions and employers associations explicitly declared that productivity increases should not be used for increases in real wages but for agreements that increase employment. In essence, ‘wage moderation’ is an explicit attempt to devalue the real exchange rate internally.

‘Wage moderation’ is not necessarily an expression of weaker bargaining power of trade unions. They were convinced that this would help to create more jobs. They also explicitly accepted firm-level deviations from collective agreements, when a firm experienced economic difficulties. The government contributed to wage moderation by reducing social security contributions in exchange for higher indirect taxes and by shifting a part of the employers’ contribution rate for health insurance to the employees.

The effects of wage moderation are mirrored in the development of unit labour costs. From 1999 to 2008, unit labour costs in the German economy remained more or less constant. In the manufacturing sector, which is characterised by a high degree of unionisation, unit labour costs declined by almost 9%.

For the ideal functioning of the EZ, unit labour costs of each member state should increase in line with the inflation target of the ECB. This would lead to national inflation rates close to the ECB target rate.  Compared to this benchmark rate, which for the EZ is assumed to be 1.9%, wages in the German economy were almost 20% too low in 2008 (Figure 1). In the same period, unit labour costs in the rests of the EZ developed above this target rate, especially in Spain, Ireland and Greece.

Wage moderation’ contributed to the EZ imbalances through several channels:

  • First, the German HICP inflation was for many years below the ECB’s target rate and also below the HICP inflation of the rest of the EZ.
  • A second transmission channel was the very weak real domestic demand in Germany, which strongly decelerated due to the wage moderation.
  • While wage moderation had an immediate effect on German domestic demand, it improved its price competitiveness and its exports over time (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Germany: Real exchange rate vis-à-vis EZ and current account balance vis-à-vis EZ

Source: Sachverständigenrat (2014)

The improvement of the current account in the years 2000 to 2007 is due to the weak German import demand and to increasing exports to the rest of the EZ. This was different before 1999 when Germany’s imports from and its exports to the rest of the EZ were growing in parallel.

A study by Kollmann et al. (2015) comes to the result that strong external demand and German competitiveness gains (wage moderation and technological improvements) are important sources of the German external surplus. According to this paper, positive shocks to the German saving rate have been especially important since the mid-2000s. However, as that the saving rate of private households remained more or less constant, it is difficult to explain the increase of the current account with the aging of the German society or with pension reforms. In addition, household saving was much higher in the 1990s when the current account even showed a small deficit.

The real saving shock happened in the sector of non-financial corporations. In the period 1991 to 2000 the average saving rate of non-financial corporations was close to zero, in the period 2001 to 2010 it was 2% (Figure 8). This was caused by growing profits especially in the years from 1999 to 2007. As wage moderation has contributed to higher profits, it can be regarded as a determinant of the saving shock in the corporate sector.

Vir: Peter Bofinger, VoxEU

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