Eurozone Economy: When Paradigms Collide

When scientific paradigms collide everyone should duck, at least that is the best advice I can offer at the present moment. The provisional German retail sales for January are now in, and they don’t make especially pleasant reading:

European retail sales dropped for the first time in 10 months in January as spending in Germany slumped, adding to signs economic growth is slowing, the Bloomberg purchasing managers index showed…..German retail sales had the biggest drop in two-and-a-half years, with its index declining to 43.9 from 55.2 in December

Now for those who have been following the German economy in recent months none of this should be particularly surprising, since as is reasonably well known Angela Merkel’s government has just upped VAT from 16% to 19% in an attempt to address the ongoing federal deficit problems. And of course, one months data never offer a complete picture. But this decline in retail consumption in Germany forms part of a much longer ongoing weakness in domestic consumption (and here), one which many were arguing had finally come to an end in 2006. Some of us, however, seriously doubted that this was the case, and hence the initial significance of today’s reading. In particular what we may be faced with are changing structural characteristics of economies as median population ages rise. In particular – and following the well-known life cycle pattern of saving and consumption – more elderly economies may have a higher rate of saving and a lower rate of consumption increase than their younger counterparts.

Some more evidence to back this point of view comes from Japan, where today we learn that household spending in December declined for a 12th straight month, dropping 1.9 percent from a year ago. Yet the Japanese economy is not in recession, and output is actually rising. As Bloomberg say:

Japan’s factory production rose to a record and household spending fell, underscoring the central bank’s concern that growth has bypassed consumers and left the economy dependent on exports.

So please note: growth appears to have by-passed consumers, and the economy is ever more dependent on exports. The same goes for Germany, and this is why I talk about paradigm collision, since the neo-classical theory of economic growth – with its core conception of ‘steady state’ growth – was never built to handle median age related changes in economic performance and structural characteristics. Something new is clearly needed.

Over the coming weeks I will undoubtedly have more to say about all this, as we get to see more of the 2007 Eurozone data, but for now let me point you in the direction of Claus Vistesen, who has been patiently toiling away trying to work through a hypothesis which, in terms of the data we are now seeing, certainly seems more in keeping with current economic realities than the view we currently see emanating from the ECB. His arguments on Japan can be found in depth here, and his latest piece on the eurozone is reproduced below the fold.
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Methinks We’re On The Slippery Slope

OK you may be in for a bout of solid over-posting. There seem to be some signs in the air that push may be about to come to shove. Tomorrow I will try and do something on financial architecture and the euro. Meantime this is a ‘light’ warm-up post. The efficient cause is today’s news from Portugal, which suggests that the supposed Harrod-Balassa-Samuelson free-lunch-honeymoon (which has to count as one of the worst pieces of ‘justifying what there is simply because it is’ pieces of quackery where there should have been solid science known to recent history) may be about to come to an end. One of those darned ‘catch up’ economies may have just caught up so hard that’s it’s come to a dead halt. The Bank of Portugal has predicted growth of only 0.75% this year, and even that only if there is the anticipated growth in global demand (which I doubt extremely). Those who have read my Parmalat post will have seen that I am already begining to speculate about whether we are about to see the end of growth in the Italian economy, well just remember Portugal is lined up nicely in the queue to see where lunch is going to be served.
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