German labour reforms: Unpopular success
Tom Krebs, Martin Scheffel, 20 September 2013
Faced with stubbornly high and persistent unemployment in 2003-05 the German government implemented far-reaching labour-market reforms, the so-called Hartz reforms. This column shows that these reforms were highly successful in bringing down the non-cyclical component of unemployment in Germany but also argues that the Hartz reforms created winners and losers. This explains why these reforms have been hugely unpopular among the German public.
Just a few years ago, Germany was known as the sick man of Europe (Burda 2007). Starting from an average unemployment rate below 4% in the 1970s, Germany saw its rate increase to almost 9% in the period 1995-2005. As seen in Figure 1 the unemployment rate has a strong cyclical component but also a trend component that has been rising since the 1970s until the mid-2000s.
Topics: Labour markets, Macroeconomic policy
Tags: Germany, reforms, unemployment
Bowling for Adolf: How social capital helped to destroy Germany’s first democracy
Hans-Joachim Voth, Nico Voigtländer, Shanker Satyanath, 5 August 2013
The collapse of the Weimar Republic was a turning point in world history, bringing the murderous Nazi regime to power. This column argues that contrary to most conceptions of social capital, there can be negative outcomes to well-connected societies. Independent of ideology, dense social networks in interwar Germany greatly helped the Nazi party to rapidly and widely disseminate its messages. Putnam’s claims about the benefits of social capital for democracy need to be reassessed.
As recent events in Egypt and Tunisia demonstrate, establishing viable democracies can be a daunting task. Why do some democracies not just survive, but thrive – often in the face of adversity – while others buckle under strain and collapse?
Topics: Economic history, Politics and economics
Tags: civil society, Germany, Nazi, Weimar
Short-time work: Does it save jobs?
Almut Balleer, Britta Gehrke, Wolfgang Lechthaler, Christian Merkl, 12 July 2013
During the Great Recession, 25 of 33 OECD countries have used some version of short-time work, a form of publicly subsidised working-time reductions. This column argues that despite its popularity, knowledge of the macroeconomic effects of this measure is limited. Using Germany as a case study, it’s clear that the existence of a short-time work system stabilises the economy and reduces job losses by roughly 20% during a recession. However, short-time work is a lot less effective for Anglo-Saxon labour markets.
Short-time work means that the government subsidises the reduction of the working time of an employee to prevent firing. Many countries allow a firm to use this instrument when the demand for its products is lower than its production potential. Since more firms face a shortfall of demand in recessions, there is a rule-based component of short-time work.
Topics: Europe's nations and regions, Labour markets
Tags: Eurozone crisis, Germany, jobs, short-time work
Are Germans poorer than other Europeans? The principal Eurozone differences in wealth and income
Giovanni D'Alessio, Romina Gambacorta, Giuseppe Ilardi, 24 May 2013
The ECB’s recent survey on household finances and consumption threw up some unexpected results – counter-intuitively, the average German household has less wealth than the average Mediterranean household. In line with a recent VoxEU.org contribution from De Grauwe and Ji, this article analyses the principal differences in wealth and income between the main Eurozone countries.
The Household Survey (European Central Bank 2013) is a joint project of the ECB and all the Eurozone central banks providing harmonised information on the balance sheets of 62,000 households in 15 Eurozone countries (all except Ireland and Estonia).1
Topics: Europe's nations and regions
Tags: Eurozone crisis, Germany, Greece, household income, household wealth, Italy, Spain
Are Germans really poorer than Spaniards, Italians and Greeks?
Paul De Grauwe, Yuemei Ji, 16 April 2013
A recent ECB household-wealth survey was interpreted by the media as evidence that poor Germans shouldn’t have to pay for southern Europe. This column takes a look at the numbers. Whilst it’s true that median German households are poor compared to their southern European counterparts, Germany itself is wealthy. Importantly, this wealth is very unequally distributed, but the issue of unequal distribution doesn’t feature much in the press. The debate in Germany creates an inaccurate perception among less wealthy Germans that transfers are unfair.
Rarely have statistics been misused so much for political purposes as when recently the ECB published the results of a survey of household wealth in the Eurozone countries (2013a).1 From this survey it appeared that the median German household had the lowest wealth of all Eurozone countries.
Topics: Europe's nations and regions
Tags: Eurozone crisis, Germany
The decoupling of the US and European economies: Evidence from nowcasting
Lucrezia Reichlin, Domenico Giannone, Jasper McMahon, Saverio Simonelli, 29 March 2013
The Eurozone and US business cycles seems to have decoupled, but is Germany on the US or Eurozone side of the divide? This column presents recent results from the Now-Casting model on whether this US-Eurozone decoupling also applies to Germany. If this is right, the German stock market – which seems to predict Germany’s convergence to the US path – is due for a correction.
One of the most interesting features of recent business-cycle history is the decoupling of US real economic activity from that of the Eurozone (CEPR 2012, ECB 2013). CEPR's Euro Area Business Cycle Dating Committee estimates that the Eurozone entered a new recession in the third quarter of 2011, something the US has so far avoided.
Topics: Europe's nations and regions, Frontiers of economic research
Tags: decoupling, Eurozone crisis, Germany, nowcasting
Another look at Ricardian equivalence: The case of the European Union
Thomas Grennes, Andris Strazds, 28 February 2013
Can European countries share their debts? This column argues that higher government indebtedness means larger household net financial assets. Thus, any pooling of European legacy debt would be considered unacceptable by countries with less government debt unless it also involved the pooling of households’ financial assets. Yet, this would be legally and technically insurmountable. The EU must face forced Ricardian equivalence: the countries with the largest legacy-debt burdens must reduce them by increasing the tax burden or, alternatively, reduce their budget expenditure.
The so-called Ricardian equivalence suggests that a government will have the same effect on private spending whether it raises taxes or takes on additional debt to finance higher government spending. The logic behind it is that as the government gets more indebted, people would put aside more money in expectation of higher taxes in the future.
Topics: Europe's nations and regions
Tags: Eurozone crisis, Germany, Greece, Ricardian equivalence, Spain, UK
Caution to place makers: Greater firm density does not always promote incumbent firm health
William Kerr, Oliver Falck, Christina Günther, Stephan Heblich, 11 February 2013
Governments around the world are fostering industrial ‘clusters’, hoping to create agglomeration economies. Using the political division of Germany in 1949, this column argues that heightened firm density can raise costs for incumbent firms in addition to the often-cited agglomeration benefits. This is important for policymakers contemplating efforts to promote their local areas by targeted cluster initiatives and bidding to attract large firms. Policy efforts that are neutral in orientation – such as physical infrastructure investments or improving the generation and dissemination of knowledge – may be more effective alternatives.
A common theme in economic geography is that increasing returns to scale at the local level are essential for explaining the geographical distribution of economic activity. These agglomerative forces are often cited as a rationale for policy intervention to attract new firms to areas.
Topics: Industrial organisation
Tags: agglomeration, clusters, East Germany, Germany
Value-added exchange rates
Rudolfs Bems, Robert Johnson, 6 December 2012
With the rise of complex, globalised supply chains is the real effective exchange rate (REER), the most commonly used measure of competitiveness, now outdated? If it is, what should replace it? This column presents a ‘Value-Added REER’ and shows that it differs substantially from the conventional REER. Because it is possible to construct a new Value-Added REER from existing data, policymakers interested in improving their understanding of competitiveness might well consider including it in their toolbox.
Real effective exchange rates (REERs) are widely used to gauge competitiveness. Yet conventional REERs, based on gross trade flows and consumer price indexes (CPIs), are not well suited to that role when imports are used to produce exports – i.e., with vertical specialisation in trade.
Topics: Competition policy, Global economy, International trade
Tags: China, competitiveness, Germany, global imbalances, globalisation, iPhone, supply chains, trade
The role of wage setting institutions on wage cyclicality: Some unexpected patterns from Germany
Hermann Gartner, Thorsten Schank, Claus Schnabel, 22 September 2012
It is often argued that trade unions lead to higher wages but, according to the findings presented in this column, collective bargaining cannot be blamed for sticky wages in Germany during the 1990s.
Changes in real wages are an important vehicle for an economy’s adjustment to shocks. Discussions on the development of wages during the business cycle, therefore, have a long history going back to Keynes (1936) and beyond. Up to the early 1990s, most macroeconomists believed in evidence from aggregate time series showing that real wages were quite stable over the business cycle.
Topics: Labour markets
Tags: Germany, trade unions