Ko se čednost sprevrže v pekel za druge: Nemčija s šparanjem siromaši ostale države

O tem, da je nemški velikanski presežek v zunanji trgovini (zdaj že 8% BDP) katastrofalen za ostale države, sem v preteklih letih sicer že večkrat pisal. Problemu, da nemška gospodinjstva držijo nazaj trošenje (le 54% BDP, medtem ko Američani in Britanci potrošijo 69% oziroma 65% BDP) in več varčujejo, se je pred leti pridružilo še pospešeno varčevanje tudi s strani nemških podjetij, ki svojih izvoznih presežkov ne investirajo, pač pa jih držijo v obliki vse večjih depozitov. Oboje skupaj pa pomeni, da kadar tako velika država letno privarčuje za 8% (nemškega) BDP, imajo njene trgovinske partnerice precejšnje težave, kako nadomestiti ta izpad agregatnega povpraševanja. S tem pa Nemčija s sicer čedno lastnostjo varčevanja dejansko ostalim državam preprečuje, da bi lahko pognale svoja gospodarstva na višje obrate in pospešila gospodarsko rast. Nemčija ječedno lastno lastnost s pretiravanjem spremenila v pekel za druge države.

Zdaj se je tega problema (končno) odločno lotil tudi The Economist (spodaj je nekaj odstavkov).

(No, nekateri bodo seveda protestirali proti tej logiki in pritrdili Nemcem, da pač oni niso krivi, če so bolj konkurenčni od ostalih. Kar pa seveda ne drži. Prvič, Nemci so svojo stroškovno konkurenčno prednost dobili z nelojalnimi metodami – z zadrževanjem plač v industriji, kar je nelojalna praksa znotraj monetarne unije in pomeni enako, kot če bi enostransko devalvirala svojo valuto. Slednje bi sprožilo povračilne ukrepe ostalih držav. In drugič, tega ne morejo narediti vsi hkrati. Če bi ostale države naredile enako, bi se začela dampinška vojna s stroški dela med članicami evro območja, s čimer bi vse skupaj še bolj zmanjšale agregatno povpraševanje.)

At bottom, a trade surplus is an excess of national saving over domestic investment. In Germany’s case, this is not the result of a mercantilist government policy, as some foreigners complain. Nor, as German officials often insist, does it reflect the urgent need for an ageing society to save more. The rate of household saving has been stable, if high, for years; the increase in national saving has come from firms and the government.

Underlying Germany’s surplus is a decades-old accord between business and unions in favour of wage restraint to keep export industries competitive (see article). Such moderation served Germany’s export-led economy well through its postwar recovery and beyond. It is an instinct that helps explain Germany’s transformation since the late 1990s from Europe’s sick man to today’s muscle-bound champion.

But the adverse side-effects of the model are increasingly evident. It has left the German economy and global trade perilously unbalanced. Pay restraint means less domestic spending and fewer imports. Consumer spending has dropped to just 54% of GDP, compared with 69% in America and 65% in Britain. Exporters do not invest their windfall profits at home. And Germany is not alone; Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands have been piling up big surpluses, too.

For a large economy at full employment to run a current-account surplus in excess of 8% of GDP puts unreasonable strain on the global trading system. To offset such surpluses and sustain enough aggregate demand to keep people in work, the rest of the world must borrow and spend with equal abandon. In some countries, notably Italy, Greece and Spain, persistent deficits eventually led to crises. Their subsequent shift towards surplus came at a heavy cost. The enduring savings glut in northern Europe has made the adjustment needlessly painful. In the high-inflation 1970s and 1980s Germany’s penchant for high saving was a stabilising force. Now it is a drag on global growth and a target for protectionists such as Mr Trump.

Can the problem be fixed? Perhaps Germany’s bumper trade surplus will be eroded as China’s was, by a surge in wages. Unemployment is below 4% and the working-age population will shrink, despite strong immigration. After decades of decline, the cost of housing is rising, meaning that pay does not stretch as far as it used to. The institutions behind wage restraint are losing influence. The euro may surge. Yet the German instinct for caution is deeply rooted. Pay rose by just 2.3% last year, more slowly than in the previous two years. Left to adjust, the surplus might take many years to fall to a sensible level.

The government should help by spending more. Germany’s structural budget balance has gone from a deficit of over 3% of GDP in 2010 to a small surplus. Officials call this prudence but, given high private-sector savings, it is hard to defend. Germany has plenty of worthwhile projects to spend money on. Its school buildings and roads are crumbling, because of the squeeze on public investment required to meet its own misguided fiscal rules. The economy lags behind in its readiness for digitalisation, ranking 25th in the world in average download speeds. Greater provision of after-school care by the state would let more mothers work full-time, in an economy where women’s participation is low. Some say such expansion is impossible, because of full employment. Yet in a market economy, there is a tried and trusted way to bid for scarce resources: pay more.

Vir: The Economist

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