Nicholas Kulish at NYT:
Germany has sparred with its European partners over how to respond to the financial crisis, argued with the United States over the benefits of stimulus versus austerity, and defiantly pursued its own vision of how to keep its economy strong.
Statistics released Friday buttress Germany’s view that it had the formula right all along. The government on Friday announced quarter-on-quarter economic growth of 2.2 percent, Germany’s best performance since reunification 20 years ago — and equivalent to a nearly 9 percent annual rate if growth were that robust all year.
The strong growth figures will also bolster the conviction here that German workers and companies in recent years made the short-term sacrifices necessary for long-term success that Germany’s European partners did not. And it will reinforce the widespread conviction among policy makers that they handled the financial crisis and the painful recession that followed it far better than the United States, which, they never hesitate to remind, brought the world into this crisis.
Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:
Germany is absolutely on a tear. The economy grew at an annualized rate of nearly 9 percent last quarter, stoked by huge export growth. In a weird way, the debt crisis has helped, at least temporarily. A weak Euro is making German products more affordable outside the Eurozone, just as the developing world emerges from the recession with income to buy the cheaper cars, machines and equipment that Germany is selling.
The question is whether or not this kind of growth is sustainable for a country whose largest export partner, the EU, is undergoing spending cuts and tax increases that will freeze some consumer demand. As the continent’s economy slows down in the second half of this year, there’s simply no way for Germany to keep up 9 percent growth all year.
Free Exchange at The Economist:
Unemployment in Germany has been steadily falling, in contrast to the trend in the rest of the euro zone—and America. Firms used a short-time working scheme and flexible hours to keep hold of workers when demand was weak. Many of the workers whose hours were cut have been drawn back into full-time work far more quickly than firms had dared hope. Unemployment in Germany is now lower than it was when the crisis began.
It seems almost strange that the euro-area economy was so strong at a time when a sovereign-debt crisis and regional imbalances seemed to threaten the single currency’s very existence. The GDP figures show that the latter problem has not gone away. Countries with strong ties to Germany’s export machine, such as Austria and the Netherlands, posted strong growth. The figures from France were solid, too (if based more on consumer spending than exports). But in Spain and Portugal GDP rose by a feeble 0.2% in the second quarter. Greece’s economy shrank by 1.5% (see chart).
That will not worry the German firms whose focus is increasingly Asia and Latin America. Nor will American complaints that Germany is living off the spending of others and adding little to global demand have much impact. There are some signs that Germany’s recovery is leading to more spending at home. The German statistical office said that consumer spending made a positive contribution to GDP. Some firms are already reporting skill shortages, which ought to be good for jobs, wages and (eventually) consumption. Even so, a more balanced recovery in Germany may yet be thwarted by fragile banks and by the inherent thrift of consumers. It is telling that Germany is one of the few places where sales of Mercedes cars have fallen this year.
The renewed hope in Europe contrasts with anxiety in America, where the economy is faltering and jobs growth is scarce. But just as these concerns are a warning to Europeans that the global recovery is not secure, the joy in Germany should comfort Americans. The fortunes of both economies are as tightly bound as ever. If German exporters are thriving, it means that someone out there in the world economy is still spending freely.
Exports are driving the German economic boom, but an expansionary fiscal policy laid the basis for market oriented growth. See, from last year, “Germany agrees biggest economic stimulus package since World War II“:
The plan, which Christian Democrats and Social Democrats hammered out late Monday, includes €17-18bn in infrastructure investments for education and highways, and tax cuts for firms and individuals.
It also grants families a one-off extra child benefit payment, cuts health insurance costs, simplifies rules for creating temporary jobs, and provides subsidies to encourage purchases of environmentally friendly cars.
And Germany has actually been cutting taxes for a decade, “German businesses enjoyed record tax cuts in last decade.”
Dean Baker at The Center For Economic and Policy Research:
It would have been worth noting that it is not possible for every country to follow Germany’s path of relying on a large trade surplus (someone must have a corresponding deficit). Germany and some number of other nations can create domestic demand through trade surpluses, but this strategy cannot be followed everywhere.
It also would have been helpful if this article reported economic data that would have been meaningful to its readers. For example, GDP is always reported as an annual growth rate, not a quarterly rate. Also, it would have been more useful to present the OECD harmonized unemployment rate for Germany (7.0 percent), which is measured in the same way as the U.S. rate, rather than the German official rate, which counts part-time workers as part of the unemployed.
There is much more of interest here. I would describe this as a major, still uninternalized lesson of the recent crisis, with its roller coaster-rapid dips. In a highly specialized modern economy, it is much easier to prevent jobs from being destroyed than to create them again, at least assuming those are “good” jobs in the first place. (Yes, people thought they knew this but it’s an even stronger difference than had been believed.) The U.S. auto bailout, for instance, worked better than did most of the stimulus program. Most of the Austrians would disown this point, but you can pull it right out of Lachmann’s Capital and its Structure.
We should have cut the payroll tax as soon as possible, an idea which I might add Alex was promoting quite early on.
Arnold Kling responds to Cowen:
Tyler strikes me as engaging in Krugmanesque intellectual combat here. First of all, he pulls a quote out of context, giving only the first sentence of a paragraph from the New York Times article that reads
A vast expansion of a program paying to keep workers employed, rather than dealing with them once they lost their jobs, was the most direct step taken in the heat of the crisis. But the roots of Germany’s export-driven success reach back to the painful restructuring under the previous government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
Second, he says that the auto bailout “worked better than did most of the stimulus program,” which leaves him plenty of wiggle room to say, “I did not say that the auto bailout was a success.” Finally, when he says “assuming those were ‘good’ jobs in the first place,” he leaves himself room to wiggle out of being accused of advocating keeping unsustainable jobs around.On the larger point, keep in mind that in an ordinary non-recession month 4 million jobs are destroyed and about 4.2 million jobs are created. Suppose that in a bad month of a recession, 4.0 million jobs are created and 4.5 million jobs are destroyed. Which of those 4.5 million jobs ought to be saved, because they might come back in a stronger economy? No one in Washington knows.
Trying to save existing jobs is a fool’s errand, comparable to trying to keep defaulting mortgage borrowers in their homes. When a firm lets an employee go, it is making a cost-benefit calculation that takes into account the cost of rehiring for that position when the economy turns up. The firm is unlikely to be making such a large mistake that government should try to change the decision.
UPDATE: Paul Krugman
UPDATE #2: David Brooks at NYT