The Economist has recently published an article about the current state of Germany's economy. At this time, Germany faces persistent structural problems affect the dynamics of economic performance. The sub-prime mortgage mess has not been stretched to German market as less than 10 percent of German exports go to the United States and thus, German exposure to U.S slowdown is not huge. Germany's economic growth is estimated to fall from 2,6 percent in 2007 to 2 percent or less in 2008. What is actually behind a lingering growth performance? The growth of export performance is likely to decline, facing a drop from 8 percent in 2007 to 4,8 percent in 2009.
Among the economic issues, there was a significant surge of inflation which hit 3,1 percent annually in 2007 mostly due to higher food and energy prices. A detailed analysis of the demand conditions may reveal that the coefficients of price and income elasticity of demand have been quite inelastic, moving somewhere in the interval between 0 and 1. The suppliers know very well, that if demand is quite inelastic and consumer behavior quite monotonic, price increases could prop up their income. Germany's inflation rate may be transiotry as there are strongly supported expectations about the normalization of energy and food prices in the period to come.
Although consumer sentiments remained well-positioned, consumption-inflated spending may not boost the potentials of German economy on the way to recovery from low overall growth.
Germany's future and prosperity will crucially depend on the pace of economic reforms. The policy outcome of current government coalition is mixed. Labor-market reforms contributed one fifth to overall growth but there is a number of issues hampering the ability of German economy to operacompete successfully in a global environment. Bundesbank, German central bank, has shown that the contribution of labor to economic growth is likely a result of drawing unskilled workers into labor supply. Also, German government cut public spending and put limits on the growth of overall spending. Quite logically, the investment picked up an incentive and grew at a higher rate.
An impeding obstacle to Germany's prosperity is the attitude oriented against the economic reforms. The preference of economic justice over the need for tomorrow's change is a road to self-destruction. The consequence of such a misty combination of political and voting behavior is the lack of willingness and political courage to implement much-needed reforms. Steming away and streaming for status quo is what causes riots, dissatisfaction and an endless cycle of statist propaganda inflated by politicians, interest groups and the media.
Unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage in public sector and similar policy implementation strongly discourage the economic performance from going to growth to searching for privileges from the state through various mechanism such as tax system, collective bargaining and public sector. In Germany's case, the raise of minimum wages in a state-controlled postal company, is nevertheless a sign of rent-seeking. If such collective demands are granted, the steps in the wrong direction will multiply. There is hardly any argument for the minimum wage. On demand side, minimum wage is a form of taxation that raises the overall cost of labor and increases the probability of being fired or unemploymed in the future. On supply side, the minimum wage reduces the productivity potentials and does not stimulate labor supply to spend more hours in the market.
Regulating job market will not boost job creation subject to external pressure on the allocation of labor resources and productivity of the labor supply. The pursuit of various form of unemployment insurance, which has flipped Germany into a mirage of structural unemployment, discourages laborers from seeking a job. It rather encourages seeking priviliges from the state and the lack of incentives to search job due to unfavorable working environment and the influence of trade unions on job growth and labor market.
The question is whether Germany will move out of the cage of low growth and discouraging structural picture. The answer is mix of particular sets of policy conditions and macroeconomic estimates. On macroeconomic level, inflation expectations remain favorable and consumer price index is expected to normalize subject to transitory shock on particular prices. On fiscal level, estimates suggest that more should be done to decrease public spending, cut taxes on productive behavior and reduce government size and consumption. Many futures answers to thequestion of where Germany will stand in the future, will depend on whether the polocymakers will give up the political payoffs emerged from rent-seeking and special interest groups.
Going in the reverse way, where political decision-making neglects economic costs, further makes it quite difficult for policymakers to implement long-range reforms regarding health-care, welfare state and labor market. In those areas, the presence of pressures from interest groups and trade unions will radically oppose the economic reforms to protect the benefits handed to special groups and priviliged from the state. There is no need to endure old-styled western European type of corporatist society where the interests of stakeholders are protected at first hand.
There is always a need for change in economic and structural terms, just as deregulation and openness created German economic miracle after the World War 2. Change is the engine of tomorrow's freedom and progress and an opportunity is rare, while a clever man will never let it go.
Rok SPRUK is an economist.
Copyright 2007 by Rok SPRUK