On German TV, stand-up comedian Dieter Nuhr exposes the contradictions of calls for justice and equality that characterize much of the German public debate. His hour-long performance could well serve as a lecture in economics and ethics.
In the NZZ,
Shoppers have been crossing the border for ages although governments have tried to prevent this with varying fervor. Exchange rate regimes have affected which goods are bought, where.
The Economist discusses the North-South divide in Germany which increasingly replaces the East-West division. The Southern states (Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Thuringia, Saxony) do better along many dimensions.
Germans in the southern states … go to better schools, get jobs more easily, earn more and live longer to enjoy it. Their governments have healthier finances, so they can invest more … crime rates are “strikingly” lower in the south.
In the FT, Claire Jones reports about the German Federal Constitutional Court’s decision to refer a case against the European Central Bank’s PSPP program to the European Court of Justice.
“In the view of the [court] significant reasons indicate that the ECB decisions governing the asset purchase programme violate the prohibition of monetary financing and exceed the monetary policy mandate of the European Central Bank.” …
While Germany’s constitutional court said the OMT programme was legal, it stipulated, based on an earlier ECJ judgment, that bond purchases had to meet a number of requirements. On Tuesday the Karlsruhe-based court said there were “several factors” to indicate that one of these requirements — that bonds must be purchased on secondary markets and not directly from governments — was being violated under QE.
From the court’s statement:
… any programme relating to the purchase of government bonds on the secondary market must provide sufficient guarantees to effectively ensure observance of the prohibition of monetary financing. The Senate presumes that the Court of Justice of the European Union deems the conditions which it developed, and which limit the scope of the ECB policy decision on the Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) programme of 6 September 2012, to be legally binding criteria. Against that background, the Senate further presumes that contempt of these criteria would amount to a violation of competences also with regard to other programmes relating to the purchases of government bonds.
… several factors indicate that the PSPP decision nevertheless violates Art. 123 AEUV, namely the fact that details of the purchases are announced in a manner that could create a de facto certainty on the markets that issued government bonds will, indeed, be purchased by the Eurosystem; that it is not possible to verify compliance with certain minimum periods between the issuing of debt securities on the primary market and the purchase of the relevant securities on the secondary market; that to date all purchased bonds were – without exception – held until maturity; and furthermore that the purchases include bonds that carry a negative yield from the outset.
… the PSPP decision can no longer be qualified as a monetary policy measure but instead must be deemed to constitute a measure that is primarily of an economic policy nature.
… the ECB Governing Council may be able to modify the rules on risk sharing within the Eurosystem in a way that would result in risks for the profit and loss accounts of the national central banks and also threaten the overall budgetary responsibility of national parliaments. Against that background, the question arises whether an unlimited distribution of risks between the national central banks of the Eurosystem regarding bonds in default where such bonds were issued by central governments or by issuers of equivalent status would violate Art. 123 and Art. 125 TFEU as well as Art. 4(2) TEU (in conjunction with Art. 79(3) GG).
Previous, related post.
Berlin Tegel airport (TXL). Air Berlin flight to Zurich. Passengers have been waiting in the cabin for about half an hour. Apparently, some disagreement or confusion among ground staff on how to deal with delayed passengers. Enter the Maître de Cabine:
Ja, meine Damen und Herren. Sie haben es sicher schon bemerkt: Hier wieder mal völliges Chaos in Berlin Tegel … (Well, Ladies and Gentlemen: As you surely realize, we have once again complete chaos here in Berlin Tegel …)
While Berlin (and specifically BER) has recently been a recurring source of embarrassment for the “Made in Germany” label the chaos at Tegel is surprising. And while passengers are used to frustration with their carriers (on the outbound Air Berlin flight with a connection at TXL, I waited 5 days for my luggage) it is unusual to see airline staff vent their frustration in front of customers in such honesty.
What’s the source of the problem: The airport, the airline, or the city?
In its April 2017 Quarterly Report, the Deutsche Bundesbank discusses the role of banks in the creation of money. Findings from a wavelet analysis indicate that in Germany, money and credit move in parallel in the long run.
In an appendix, the report mentions possible welfare costs of curbing maturity transformation, with reference to Diamond and Dybvig’s work. This is not convincing. Unlike in the typical (microeconomic) banking model, aggregate central bank provided money need not be scarce, so there is no a priori social need for the private sector to create money.
In the FAZ, Patrick Bernau und Manfred Schäfers report that the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs invited five research institutes to produce economic forecasts although the call for bids had stated that the Ministry would contract with at most four institutions. Legal experts agree that this procedure is illegal.
The report suggests that the institution that just made it (DIW) is led by Marcel Fratzscher who is politically close to the Minister.
The German Federal Constitutional Court has decided that the policy decision on the OMT program does not “manifestly” exceed the competences attributed to the European Central Bank:
If the conditions formulated by the Court of Justice of the European Union in its judgment of 16 June 2015 (C-62/14) and intended to limit the scope of the OMT programme are met, the complainants’ rights under Art. 38 sec. 1 sentence 1, Art. 20 secs. 1 and 2 in conjunction with Art. 79 sec. 3 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz – GG) are not violated by the fact that the Federal Government and the Bundestag have not taken suitable steps to revoke or limit the effect of the policy decision of the European Central Bank of 6 September 2012 concerning the OMT programme. Furthermore, if these conditions are met, the OMT programme does not currently impair the Bundestag’s overall budgetary responsibility.
… by year, country and status, from the FT.
Like Mr Piketty, he begins with piles of data assembled over years of research. He sets the trends of different individual countries in a global context. Over the past 30 years the incomes of workers in the middle of the global income distribution—factory workers in China, say—have soared, as has pay for the richest 1% (see chart). At the same time, incomes of the working class in advanced economies have stagnated. This dynamic helped create a global middle class. It also caused global economic inequality to plateau, and perhaps even decline, for the first time since industrialisation began. …
Mr Milanovic suggests that both [Kuznets and Piketty] are mistaken. Across history, he reckons, inequality has tended to flow in cycles: Kuznets waves.
In the FT, Martin Wolf argues that a significant part of the (British) welfare state is about insurance rather than redistribution:
Evidence for this comes from another IFS study … This examined the effects of the tax and benefit systems on people born between 1945 and 1954 …
First, income is far less unequal over lifetimes than in any given year. This is because a big proportion of inequality is temporary … Second, largely as a result, more than half of the redistribution achieved by taxes and benefits is over lifetimes rather than among different people. Third, in the course of adult life, only 7 per cent of individuals receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes, even though 36 per cent of people receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes in any given year. Finally, in-work benefits are just as good as out-of-work benefits at helping people who remain poor throughout their lives but they do less damage to incentives to work. Higher rates of income tax, meanwhile, target the “lifetime rich” relatively well because mobility at the top is relatively modest.
Marcel Fratzscher also wrote a book on the topic, focusing on Germany. He argues that the “Verteilungskampf” (redistributive struggle) intensifies and that equality of opportunity is being lost. In the FAZ, Jan Hauser summarizes a critique of the book by another Berlin based professor, Klaus Schroeder, who argues that the text is very short on substance.
The German Ministry of Finance has decided (p. 55, nr. 129a) that for tax purposes, negative interest rates are not to be treated as the opposite of positive interest rates. Instead they are considered fees. This treatment lowers taxable income to a lesser extent than would be the case under a symmetric treatment.
In the FT, Murad Ahmed and Richard Waters report about Microsoft’s strategy to regain customer trust in cloud services in light of widespread US government surveillance. According to the report, Microsoft outsources data storage to a German company. The idea is that
T-Systems will act as a “trustee” of the facilities, with Microsoft insisting its employees will have no access to the data held at the facilities without the German company’s permission. The companies believe this arrangement means Microsoft will not have to respond to governmental demands for information held in these data centres, forcing official requests to go through German authorities instead.
The Economist compares asylum processes in major destination countries.
How many years of care in a nursing home does a typical single family house buy? In Der Spiegel, Christina Elmer, Patrick Stotz und Achim Tack have done the math for Germany. Accounting for price variation in care and real estate yields large regional differences: 3 years in poor regions in Eastern Germany versus 40 years in downtown Munich (see the map in the article).
In the FT, Duncan Robinson and Christian Oliver report about Eurozone finance ministers’ approval of the third bailout for Greece, amounting to 86 billion Euros.
Contrary to Germany’s recent demands, the approval came in spite of the fact that the IMF has not committed to participate in the new program. In fact, the IMF has committed not to participate unless Greece’s debt burden is further reduced. Finance ministers effectively promised such further cuts in the future.
The deal falls short of what the German government had hoped to secure (see also this previous blog post).
Social networks blame the German negotiators at the recent Euro summit for trying to humiliate Greece and dictating policy. This does not make any sense if one views the agreement as a loan contract between parties that are free to choose. But does it make any sense from a broader, political perspective?
According to Open Europe,
Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan told Il Sole 24 Ore, “Almost all [Eurozone countries] were against a new [bailout] programme. Only the French, tiny Cyprus and we were in favour of a compromise. Maybe this isn’t well understood.”
In the FT, Gideon Rachman writes:
What nonsense. If anybody has capitulated, it is Germany. The German government has just agreed, in principle, to another multibillion-euro bailout of Greece — the third so far. In return, it has received promises of economic reform from a Greek government that makes it clear that it profoundly disagrees with everything that it has just agreed to.
German taxpayers seem to agree. According to Open Europe,
a snap Infratest Dimap poll for ARD found that 52% of respondents supported the agreement and 44% opposed it, while 62% said they want Greece to remain within the Eurozone compared to 32% who want it to leave. However, 78% of respondents said they did not trust the Greek government to fully implement the agreement.
The Economist’s Buttonwood column: “Even More on Debt and Democracy.”
Lars Feld’s comment in the FT.
Lee Jong-Wha’s comment on Project Syndicate.
At the 9 May 2010 meeting at which the IMF board approved the first bailout program for Greece, not all members approved. In fact, many members, including the Executive Director representing Switzerland, challenged the proposal, suggested less optimistic scenarios and asked for modifications. The Wall Street Journal published excerpts of the minutes in October 2013, see below.
Sebastian Bräuer in the NZZ am Sonntag also reports on the issue. He points out that the Swiss Executive Director asked what would happen if the Greek government were not to implement the agreed reforms; and if IMF and European commission were to disagree. Bräuer also reports that some European banks would have been prepared to bear losses resulting from their Greek exposure, see below.
The WSJ writes:
Swiss executive director Rene Weber in a prepared statement to the board for the May 9, 2010 meeting: We have “considerable doubts about the feasibility of the program…We have doubts on the growth assumptions, which seem to be overly benign. Even a small negative deviation from the baseline growth projections would make the debt level unsustainable over the longer term…Why has debt restructuring and the involvement of the private sector in the rescue package not been considered so far?”
“The exceptionally high risks of the program were recognized by staff itself, in particular in its assessment of debt sustainability.”
“Several chairs (Argentina, Brazil, India, Russia, and Switzerland) lamented that the program has a missing element: it should have included debt restructuring and Private Sector Involvement (PSI) to avoid, according to the Brazilian ED, ‘a bailout of Greece’s private sector bondholders, mainly European financial institutions.’ The Argentine ED was very critical at the program, as it seems to replicate the mistakes (i.e., unsustainable fiscal tightening) made in the run up to the Argentina’s crisis of 2001. Much to the ‘surprise’ of the other European EDs, the Swiss ED forcefully echoed the above concerns about the lack of debt restructuring in the program, and pointed to the need for resuming the discussions on a Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism.”
“The Swiss ED (supported by Australia, Brazil, Iran) noted that staff had ‘silently’ changed in the paper (i.e., without a prior approval by the board) the criterion No.2 of the exceptional access policy, by extending it to cases where there is a ‘high risk of international systemic spillover effects.’”
The NZZ writes:
[Swiss ED Weber asked:] “Wie reagiert der Fonds, wenn die Behörden die Sparmassnahmen und Strukturreformen nicht umsetzen?”
[IMF-deputy John Lipsky said:] “Es gibt keinen Plan B. Es gibt einen Plan A und die Absicht, dass Plan A erfolgreich ist.”
“Ich kann die Direktoren informieren, dass deutsche Banken Unterstützung für Griechenland erwägen”, sagte der deutsche IMF-Direktor Klaus Stein. Sein französischer Kollege Ambroise Fayolle ergänzte, auch die Banken seines Landes würden ihren Job tun.
The Economist offers a discussion on how Europe and Greece got into serious trouble. It all started with
- Greece adopting the Euro in 2001 and
- France and Germany breaking the Maastricht rules in 2003.
Joachim Jahn and Manfred Schäfers report in the FAZ about pressure by the European Commission and the IMF to liberalize personal services in Germany. The IMF expects less regulation/protection of architects, tax advisors and the like to increase services growth. The tax advisors warn that liberalization would create conflicts of interest for the service providers.
Reinhard Müller discusses legal aspects of recent Greek demands for German reparations in the FAZ. In the past, both German and international courts have ruled against similar demands.
In the NZZ, Elena Panagiotidis reports about the atrocities committed by German occupying forces during World War II and reviews the history of unsuccessful Greek demands for reparation (by government) and compensation (by individuals).
Addendum (March 25):
An article in The Economist provides still another perspective.
The Economist reports about migration within Germany: People move from rural to urban areas, in particular in the East. The figure from the Economist: