Saturday, 18 December 2010

Just how great is the euro for Germany?

I am at a conference in Berlin on sovereign debt. Last night, at one of the many pleasant restaurants serving remarkably good food at reasonable prices, one of our German colleagues held forth with a view I read a lot in the newspapers - that Germany should just bear the cost of endless bailouts since its industry was "benefitting so much" from the euro. Wage and price inflation elsewhere in the Eurozone made countries uncompetitive; Germany's wage restraint paid off, at the expense of the free-spending peripheral countries. The NYT has a story on changes in export shares of European countries in the last 10 years. The allegedly unfair advantage of the euro for German exporters should matter much less with the ROW -- the exchange rate versus the dollar, the pound, the yen can still adjust. What does the chart show? Germany's export share (relative to the rest of the continent) is up -- but it grew no faster within the Eurozone than for exports to the rest of the world. This doesn't prove that exports to the Eurozone wouldn't be lower if we had the DM, and it had appreciated a lot; but it takes the wind out of the sail of those commentators who argue that swapping shiny cars for junk bonds is such a great deal for the Germans that they should happily carry on doing it forever...

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