Macro-economic policy and votes in the thirties: Germany (and The Netherlands) during the Great Depression
Erwan Mahe is mad about the ECB. And the Germans. And leads us to a graph that shows that it wasn’t hyperinflation which made people vote for the NSDAP – but economic depression. I’ve added data from the Netherlands to this graph to show that the Netherlands, which unlike Germany after 1933 did stay in the gold block, did much worse than Germany (it was actually the last country to leave gold). Which does not mean that I endorse the NSDAP or the German re-armament programs: post-war history clearly shows that aggregate expenditure can be increased by increasing purchasing power of households, too. But in an economic sense (employment, production) the reflation of the German economy did work.
from Erwan Mahe (graph slightly adapted, M.K.)
The present German monetary position is based on a totally skewed view of their own history. I am constantly told that Germany’s intransigence is fuelled by fears of a return of the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic and the ensuing rise of the Nazi Party (NSP). Despite the conventional wisdom, the Nazis were not carried to power in 1933 by fears of hyperinflation which dated from 1921-1924, but by the population’s utter frustration with the extremely painful deflation drive imposed by Heinrich Aloysius Maria Elisabeth Brüning from 1930!
from Peter Radford
Did I read that correctly?
Paul Krugman just blogged about the Microsoft introduction of its new tablet to compete with Apple’s iPad. He sees it through the prism of the theory of the firm. Unfortunately he cites Oliver Hart’s 1993 article about incomplete contracts and leaves aside comment on why that article became so important. For the interested: it has to do with unifying the explanation of vertical integration and transaction costs under one roof where previously there were two separate explanations with people like Alchain and Klien on the integration side and Coase and Williamson on the cost side. Read more…
J.W. Mason has a post, on The Slack Wire, which shows the importance of a good grasp of the arcania of economic statistics as well as the importance of the long term view:
* The current account includes income transfers, like EU agricultural subsidies
* But it does not include lending and borrowing, which are part of the capital account
* It seems that at least in Greece transfers were replaced by lending by foreign private banks
* Which, when private banks retreated, was replaced by Target 2 imbalances (Target 2 is kind of the VISA-card of countries at the ECB).
According to J.W. Mason (he corrects and greatly improves upon a Krugman blogpost, I leave the citations of the Krugman post, if you’re interested consult The Slack Wire):
The blue line is the current account balance, same as in Krugman’s graph, again extended back to 1980. The red line is the current account balance not counting intergovernmental transfers. And the green line is the current account not counting any transfers… Read more…
The ILO estimates that 20.9 million people are victims of forced labour globally, trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived and which they cannot leave. Human trafficking can also be regarded as forced labour, and so this estimate captures the full realm of human trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation, or what some call “modern-day slavery”. The data from which the estimate derives cover the study reference period of 2002- 2011. The estimate therefore means that some 20.9 million people, or around three out of every 1,000 persons worldwide, were in forced labour at any given point in time over this ten-year period. This figure represents a conservative estimate, given the strict methodology employed to measure this largely hidden crime.
Chronicles of the Second Great Depression (5). Changes in government expenditure and revenue. 5 graphs
from Merijn Knibbe
Main points. Though the ‘peripheral’ Euro countries, except for Italy, had the largest initial increases of their government deficits during the initial phase of the Second Great Depression, they often also knew the largest subsequent decreases. As a consequence, the total change of the deficit during the entire crisis up until 2011-IV in countries like Greece or Portugal or Italy was not too different from the total change in countries like Austria or Belgium or even Germany. Spain and Ireland are outliers, in the first case because of a disastrous decline in government revenue (compared with the other EU countries) and in the second case, as is well-known, because of large income transfers to the banks. Countries with a high initial surplus and or an AAA status or their own currency often knew larger increases of the deficit during the crisis up till 2011-IV which was mainly caused by an increase of expenditure. Hungary is an outlier because of a-typical transfers of household wealth to the state (well, maybe not that a-typical…). Despite the remarkable success of countries like Greece and Italy there are at present no signs that ‘confidence’ has returned; countries which much larger increases in their deficit but their own currency seem to suffer much less from financial turmoil than the peripheral Eurozone countries
Some meta. During the first phase of the Second Great Depression, government deficits in the EU increased with about 6,7% of GDP +/-2%. This was intended to happen. ‘Automatic stabilizers’, like social security for the unemployed, were supposed to stabilize the economy. And it worked. Government expenditure increased. And according to a very rough estimate of three economists on Voxeu, GDP would have declined with about 20% without these stabilizers (link will be added, Voxeu is having a makeover at the moment of writing this). But what happened subsequently? And how much did government expenditure increase and/or decrease? And what happened to government revenues? In a number of previous blogs I’ve looked at government deficits (which, in the EU, are relatively small in most countries and which, in the EU, declined quite fast after the first phase of the Second Great Depression). In this blog, I’ll show the development of government expenditure and revenue. The main ‘analytical’ tool is a distinction between the first and the second phase of the crisis, which can differ per country. The fist phase is supposed to have started when quarterly government deficits started to increase, compared with the same quarter one year before, and is supposed to have ended once government deficit started to decrease again, compared with one year before.
The graphs. There are five graphs:
1. The deficit before the crisis and the maximum deficit
2. The increase during the first phase and the subsequent decrease (until 2011-IV)
3. The increase of government expenditure during the first phase and the subsequent decrease (in some countries: increase)
4. The decrease/increase of government revenue during the first phase and the decrease/increase during the second phase
5. The increase/ decrease of revenue as well as expenditure during the entire period
C = core Euro country, P is peripheral Euro country, NE is a non-Euro country, Lithuania and Latvia are classified as peripheral countries
Just a thought. Maybe nonsense, maybe not. People often talk about the German ‘hyperinflation’ trauma. But I just read the interview with Wolfgang Schauble. I’ve been thinking about the German point of view on the Euro. And I’ve been reading a bit about and by Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht, the intruiging guy who ended the German inflation of the twenties and reflated the German economy in the thirties (for some years actively working together with the NAZI’s, occupying the three (!) economic top posts in the state/government as well as clearly underestimating youknowwho and enabling rearmament, though there was an increasing rift between him and the NAZI’s from about 1935 on).
The real trauma might not be inflation. After all, the Germans were perfectly able to handle and stop it. That’s not the stuff historical traumas are made of. The real trauma, the real hidden, unconscious, poisonous, nevernevernever again thing might still be the unilaterally imposed WWI reparations which could not be paid. No more unilaterally imposed unpayable megabills (for Germany). Never again. Even if that means a break up of the Euro. Or a federal European state. That’s at least something you can handle. But no more debt bondage (for Germany). Never again.
Eurostat has recently published new information on price levels in the Eurozone, in the EU and in the EU plus ten additional countries of which Turkey is the most important. Stunning. The graph shows the “variation coefficient of price level indices of final household consumption expenditure, 1995-2011”. Such coefficients increase when differences become larger and decrease when differences become smaller. The most remarkable aspect of the graph: After 2008 the Eurozone coefficient continued to decrease, while the EU coefficient (including the Eurozone countries!) stalled and the one also including the extra countries increased. For better or worse: the Euro works. Convergence keeps taking place.
Variation coefficient of price level indices of final household consumption expenditure, 1995-2011
EA 17 = Eurozone
EU 27 = Entire EU
All 37 = Entire EU plus 10 additional countries, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, Turkey, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia. Within some years, some of these countries will be members of the EU.
Declines were expected as it was expected that poorer countries would catch up, which among other things would lead to higher wages which directly and indirectly translates into higher price levels (some wages, like those of auto mechanics, are more or less directly billed to consumers. The same holds for ‘mixed income’ of dentists or hairdressers). According to many, this convergence has however been to fast, which was financed by capital flows which enabled higher incomes in Southern European countries. But that’s not the point at this moment: the decline within the Eurozone even continued after 2008, when flows of private capital reversed. At the same time, differences in the entire EU stalled. And differences in the 37 countries sample even increased. The devaluation of (already cheap) Turkey and the revaluation of (already expensive) Switzerland might have something to do with the last development.
But with regard to the Eurozone, the hypothesis that the Euro-system itself unleashed developments which despite the best efforts of economists and politicians still lead to ever smaller differences in price levels without offsetting changes in
productivity power, monopoly positions, world-class clusters of companies with world-class employees and a well-organized state and the like can, at this moment, not be dismissed. If this developments can only be counteracted by massive, permanent income transfers – Germany will opt out. I’m not kidding. If the real Italian problem is not technology or export sectors or sclerotic markets but increasing corruption and the succesful business model of the maffia (the economic consequences of mr. Berlusconi), as Daniel Gross indicates, we’re just wasting time. Lowering wages and increasing unemployment will only increase the structural problem.
(Plenty of other options of course, like legalizing marihuana (only the variety cannabis sativa Όλυμπος of course) and making it an official EU ‘Greek agricultural specialty’. But somehow I’ve the idea that Mrs. Merkel won’t approve of this and would give up on the Euro – as this would be a kind of transfer union, too, even though the monopoly profits would this time be cashed by legal companies and the state instead of organized crime).
Chronicles of the Second Great Depression (3). The increase and subsequent decrease of government deficits in Euro countries
The present Euro problems are not caused by the (consolidated) Eurozone deficit. The consolidated deficit of the Euro area is half the size of the UK/USA/Japan one and total government debt is manageable (though we do have to ring-fence the banks). Which means that the problems are political, connected with the design of the Eurozone (thanks to Hans-Werner Sinn we now know for instance that Target-2 like problems in the USA are solved with a kind of ‘Mickey Mouse’ dollars! In Europe they can partly be solved by combining the central banks of Germany and Italy as well as the central banks of the Netherlands and Spain).
The political problems may however arise because of free rider policies of some countries, which keep squandering the money which others earn and which continue to have high deficits. In earlier post we’ve however seen that deficits increased everywhere and, in most countries, with roughly the same amount (6,7% of GDP+/- 2% of GDP). Differences between countries are not really caused by this increase (except for Ireland, which with the 100% approval of the ECB and the IMF and the EU spent so much on saving the banks). Differences might however be based upon subsequent developments. Are they? From the fourth quarter of 2009 onwards deficits started to decline again in an ever-increasing number of countries, Ireland being the last. Though the cut off point (2011-IV) is somewhat artificial these data are quite interesting: the hypothesis that somebody like Jan-Kees de Jager, minister of finance of the Netherlands, tries to squeeze the Greece to enable the Netherlands to mitigate the reduction of its deficit can not be rejected.
The graph shows the increase of deficits in Euro countries during the first phase of the Second Great Depression and the subsequent decline afterwards (country specific periods, until 2011-IV). The net increase of deficits during the entire period is also shown. Mind: the graph shows changes. The net change in for instance Finland was quite negative, but as this country had sizeable deficits before the crisis its present deficit (2011-IV) is limited. The Eurozone countries Cyprus, Malta and Luxembourg were left out, Lithuania and Latvia were added to enable a better comparison of developments in Greece and Portugal.
What stands out?
* Deficits decreased everywhere, during the second phase of the Second Great Depression. No free riders there.
* But they are everywhere still larger than before the crisis. No free riders there.
* Deficits decreased fast: the developments shown in the graph took place in between 8 (Belgium, Estonia) to 4 quarters (Finland, Germany).
* Deficits in Portugal and Greece and the Baltics decreased very fast, at the cost of wrecking these countries. This cost has clearly been too high. However – if there are any free rider it’s not Portugal or Greece.
* Countries like Finland and the Netherlands did a really good job when it comes to government deficits. Instead of wrecking their societies they chose to mitigate the decrease. Well done, this was a wise and thoughtful policy(at this moment, the Netherlands are even without additional austerity already in the middle of an outright depression in combination with an ever faster decline of house prices which, That’s not the moment to slash the deficit). However. People like Jan Kees de Jager should really stop telling that Greece has to keep wrecking its society to bring down the deficit – as the Greek already did this and as the Dutch at home clear didn’t do this. If any country is free-riding it’s not Greece.
In the Eurozone, there is clearly no reason to panic about deficits. But there is reason to panic about the social and political and even economic fabric of entire countries – as they really try to wreck each other. Never thought that I would write that.
Below is the first part of an article by Tyler Durden on ZeroHedge that relates directly to the Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzanpaper “The asymptotes of power” published yesterday in the RWER #60. At the bottom of the excert their is a link to the full article.
Capitalists have been gripped by ‘systemic fear’ making them worry not about the day-to-day movements of growth, employment, and profit, but about ‘losing their grip’. An interesting recent article by the Real-World Economics Review on the Asymptotes of Power focuses on the fact that the capitalists are forced to realize that their system may not be eternal, and that it may not survive in its current form. The authors fear that, peering into the future, the ‘1%’ realize that in order to maintain (or further increase) their distributional power (their net profit share of national income – which hovers at record highs) they will have to unleash even greater doses of social ‘violence’ on the lower classes. The high level of force already being applied makes them increasingly fearful of the backlash they are about to receive (think Europe to a lesser extent) and nowhere is this relationship between the wealthy capitalists and social upheaval more evident than in the incredible correlation between the Top 10% share of wealth and the percent of the labor force in prison. In order to have reached the peak level of power it currently enjoys, the ruling class has had to inflict growing threats, sabotage and pain on the underlying population. Read more…
real-world economics review
– Subscribers: 20,120 Subscribe here ISSN 1755-9472
– a journal of the World Economics Association (13 months old; 10,099 members)
– back issues at www.paecon.net recent issues: 59 58 57 56 55 54 53 52 51 50
Issue no. 60, 20 June 2012
You can download the whole issue as a pdf document by clicking here
In this issue:
Neo-classical economics: 2
A trail of economic destruction since the 1970s
Erik S. Reinert download pdf
The asymptotes of power 18
Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan download pdf
The Greek financial crisis and a developmental path to recovery 54
Nikolaos Karagiannis and Alexander G. Kondeas download pdf
Open peer review, open access and a House of Commons report 74
Grazi Ietto-Gillies download pdf
Llimits to growth and stochastics 92
Nicolas Bouleau download pdf
Democracy and sustainable development 107
Peter Soderbaum download pdf
Rethinking macroeconomics in light of the US financial crisis 120
Victor A Beker download pdf
Marginal productivity theory of the price of capital:
an historical perspective on the origins of the codswallop 139
Roy H. Grieve download pdf
Past Contributors, etc. 150
In a previous blog, I estimated how much government deficits increased since the crisis, using quarterly data and country specific periods. Graph 2 (the previous blog contained graph 1) shows the maximum size of the deficits.
The difference between the top of the red bars and the bottom of the blue ones is equal to the increase shown in the previous blog. Mind however, that though this arithmetic is rather straight forward, the change is the net result of changes in government revenue, government expenditure and changes in GDP. I’ll come back to this in following blogs. Mind also that these increases are not necessarily the consequence of an activist, Keynesian type of policy but the result of shrinking income and an in increase in spending based upon ‘automatic stabilizers’, like unemployment benefits. Table 1 shows the duration of the increase of the government deficit.
Table 1. The duration of the increase of the deficit
5 quarters – Belgium
6 quarters – Estonia
7 quarters – Italy, France, Germany, The Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, UK
8 quarters – Denmark, Slovakia, Finland, Austria
9 quarters – Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Greece
10 quarters – Portugal, Spain
14 quarters – Slovenia
16 quarters – Ireland
What stands out?
* Before the Great Financial Crisis, only Greece had a deficit to speak of. Italy had a deficit. And the other countries were financial poster children. Did it make the economy more stable?
* The previous blog showed that countries with a large net inflow of capital (i.e. with large current account deficits) were hit early and hard. This information shows that they, with the exception of Estonia, were also hit quite long. The long duration of the increase in Ireland is of course directly (I mean: directly) caused by austerity policies, which to an extent do not consist of spending little money but, to the contrary, of lavish spending on bailing out banks.
* I was surprised to find out how fast deficits increased (often almost 1% of GDP per quarter…)
* With the exception of Greece and the Scandinavian states there is little relationship between the ex ante deficit and the ex post deficit. And even Denmark and Finland knew deficits larger than -3%.
* There is something special about Belgium, Italy did better than Germany and the countries with low deficits are not really the ‘Anglo Saxon’ societies but more of the ‘Rhineland’ type, which dare to levy taxes.
Constructing these graphs does not really strengthen my believe in the new EU policies, which aim at fine tuning the deficits: “Kurieren am Symptom”, in German. Treating the symptoms, not the malady. We don’t need stable deficits – we need a stable economy.
In some follow-up posts I’ll write a little more about government revenue and expenditure.
1. Germany’s beggar-thy-neighbour wages policy and 2. Shrinking the financial sector to its 1970s pre-bubble size
The above and related issues arise in two papers in the current issue 59 of the Real-World Economics Review.
Matías Vernengo and Esteban Pérez-Caldentey, “The euro imbalances and financial deregulation: A post-Keynesian interpretation of the European debt crisis” http://paecon.net/PAEReview/issue59/VernengoPerez59.pdf
Robin Pope, “Public debt tipping point studies ignore how exchange rate changes may create a financial meltdown” (co-author Reinhard Selten) http://paecon.net/PAEReview/issue59/PopeSelten59.pdf
Vernengo, Pérez-Caldentey and Pope all agree on the need for:
(i) fiscal stimulus while the private sector deleverages,
(ii) inter-country fiscal transfers to losers in a global downturn in order to reduce contagious adverse aggregate demand effects,
(iii) re-regulation of the financial sector to aid in averting future financial bubbles, and
(iv) an absolute rise in German wages – though for different reasons.
Robin Pope: in order to try to curb the dramatic increase in inequality in Germany between the upper echelon and the average German worker that has occurred over the past decade, an increase that damages democracy and damps internal demand.
Matías Vernengo and Esteban Pérez-Caldentey: in order to reverse the dramatic narrowing of the gap between wages in Germany and non-core countries that occurred over the past decade, a reversal that they believe would eliminate Germany’s dramatically increased export surplus to non-core countries that occurred over this same decade plus.
On where the three disagree, see their extremely interesting exchange below, and do, if inclined, append your comments. Read more…
from Merijn Knibbe
Some people, like Steve Keen, write and talk about the merits of a debt jubilee. Does it work?
I found this article fascinating: the Marshall plan was not essentially a loan to European governments but a giant, massive, enormous jubilee of German war-time debts. And it worked…
Also, Krugman weighs in about a somewhat comparable event in Texas: the financing of the savings and loans crisis (a banking crisis): the equivalent of roughly 25% of Texan GDP transferred to Texas, as a gift. And it worked…
Government deficits are not what they used to be, partly because of historical developments and partly by design:
* it has become much clearer that governments are responsible for bailing out banks
* the roll-over of debt (which during the last sixty years or so was completely unproblematic) of debt has suddenly become the central problem for the periphery countries in the EU.
* demographics are not as favorable as they used to be
* the financing of the government deficit has become much more international which means that the bond between domestic ‘surplus’ saving (i.e. saving not used for private investments) and the financing of government debt has been broken.
* economic growth is faltering
However – governments run deficits and will continue to do so and we will have to solve some of the problems mentioned above. Any discussion about this will have to be based upon fact – what did really happen? To show how much deficits increased since crisis I’ve calculated the maximum increase in the government deficit for EU countries (except those with less than 1 million inhabitants), using the quarterly Eurostat data.
from Merijn Knibbe
According to neo-liberal dogma, low wages and ever more flexible labour markets are the snake oil with which to cure all economic problems. Some countries (the Baltics, Ireland) are trying this recipe. Some countries don’t, or have problems implementing such policies – and are scorned by economists becausd they do not listen to the neo-liberal gospel. But which countries do better? First the bad news. Except for Estonia, all the countries shown in the graph knew a decrease in the number of jobs in this period. And job growth in Estonia is dwindling, too. Even a succesful development of net exports does not suffice to mitigate the consequences of the crisis.
from Mark Weisbrot
Latvia, a Baltic country of 2.2 million that most people could not find on a map, has suddenly gotten more attention from economists involved in the debate over the future of Europe and the global economy. I responded in a column last week to remarks by Christine Lagarde, IMF Managing Director, who on June 5 said that Latvia’s policies in response to the economic crisis had been a “success story.” Paul Krugman has also weighed in several times, and has been joined by Harvard international economist Dani Rodrik, and now by the IMF’s Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard.
The reason it’s important to have an honest and realistic assessment of what happened in Latvia is that for the first time since the country suffered the world’s worst economic losses during the world recession (2008-2009), there are mainstream voices suggesting as Lagarde did, that it “could serve as an inspiration for European leaders grappling with the euro crisis.” Prior to the last week or so, it was only right-wing economists such as Anders Aslund who were willing to even consider this idea. Read more…
from Merijn Knibbe
Update. It is remarkable that the quarterly national accounts for Germany, first quarter of 2012, published on may 25, see link below, do contain elaborate data on hourly wage costs in Germany while this information (showing low wage increases in Germany) is not included in the Eurostat table, published three weeks later.
Do we need a world-wide increase of real wages (China, USA, Europe)? Probably. Is it happening? Not yet: new data on labour cost from Eurostat (total wages divided by total hours, first quarter 2012) shows that in most EU countries wage increases were lower than the rate of inflation. Some cherries:
* No data for Germany, these can be found here (+2,0%, table 2.18. Not exactly the same definition, but for 2012 differences were limited)
* No data for Greece. Third quarter data for 2011 (latest data available on Eurostat) however show a 7,5% decrease which followed an about equal decrease in 2010.
* Estonia, darling of the Austerians, however shows a 7,2% increase in the first quarter of 2012.
* The Netherlands, which are at this moment pursuing an aggressive, even ruthless, export strategy despite the fact that they already have the highest current account surplus of the EU witnessed a very low increase of wages which, contrary to the situation in Belgium, Austria and Germany, is also quite a bit lower than in Italy, Spain and Portugal. By the way – Dutch retail sales in April: -6%. Dutch exports in April: +6%.
from David Ruccio
Ben Polak and Peter K. Schott are right:
It has become commonplace to contrast the American and European responses to the Great Recession, with stimulus in the former and austerity in the latter. European austerity has been at the level of member states and local governments — there is no meaningful federal government of Europe to provide either stimulus or austerity. But the United States has also seen unprecedented austerity at the level of state and local governments, and this austerity has slowed the job recovery.
from Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve Board’s newly released triennial Survey of Consumer Finance (SCF) confirmed what most of us already knew: The middle class has taken a really big hit. It showed that between the 2007 survey and the 2010 survey, the typical family had lost 38.8 percent of their wealth. In fact, the wealth of the typical family was down 27.1 percent from where it had been a decade ago in 2001. This is in spite of the fact that the economy was more than 15 percent larger than in 2010 than it had been 2001.
It wasn’t just wealth that had dropped; the survey showed that income had fallen as well. Median family income in 2010 was down by 7.7 percent from its 2007 level and 6.3 percent from its level a decade ago. Read more…
from Kevin P. Gallagher
Early on in his term, US President Barack Obama pledged that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) would be a 21st Century trade treaty. This week a copy of the proposed investment chapter of the deal was leaked, only to reveal that the US still remains behind the times.
In these turbulent economic times for the world economy, what is among the most egregious aspects of the US proposal is that it would limit the ability of TPP members to regulate global finance. Yet emerging market negotiating partners have proposed bold alternatives that are a big step in the right direction. Read more…