Optimism On The German Economy

Both New Economist and MacroBlog seem very upbeat about the prospects for the German economy. Macroblog cites Bloomberg and says “Things are definitely looking up“. New Economist is rather more guarded, pointing to the IMF forecast, and the recent Federal Statistics Office announcement that second quarter growth came in at 0%. But New Economist find faith in an (old) Economist view that things are getting better in Germany’s surprising economy (ask Doug on the main page about the surprising bit 🙂 ). As New Economist says “Of course the Economist can get it wrong, but in thbis case maybe they’re onto something”, while as Edward replies “of course the IMF can get it wrong, but in this case maybe they’re onto something”

The Financial Times definitely comes down on the side of the optimism camp, but in their case with significant prudence:

However, fears Germany?s election system might result in a fractious ?grand coalition? between the CDU and Social Democrats may have damped expectations more recently and economists remain cautious about the strength of any German upswing. Holger Schmieding, economist at Bank of America, warned that expectations were fickle and that ?the economic upswings heralded by major surges in the ZEW in mid-2002 and early 2004 both turned out to be disappointingly shallow and short-lived?.

As for me, well, for my part
Continue reading

Crisis Looming At The ECB?

A right royal row is brewing at the ECB. Basically the old guard theorists of the ‘one size fits all’ monetary policy are being challenged by more pragmatic observers of day to day realities. For the moments it is the politicians who are making the running (but there are plenty of competent economists in Germany and Italy who are ready to back them up), and yesterday the OECD joined the fray.
Continue reading

Triste Est Omne Animal

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the entry of ten new states into the EU. It was an anniversary generally celebrated amidst a notable lack of champagne and fireworks. Perhaps we are living in more discrete and austere times. Nonetheless there have been articles here and there in the press, amongst them the one in the Economist which I allude to in the title.

The Economist quote actually comes from one of the founding fathers of modern medicine – the second century Greek physician Galen – and the full quote is “Triste est omne animal post coitum” (no prizes for guessing the use to which the Economist puts this idea in the context of the recent enlargement, although if any of our commentators feels moved to provide anecdotal testimony on the soundness of Galen’s original idea, then please don’t let me stand in your way).

The article is provocatively entitled “Now that we are all bundled inside, let’s shut the door“, and is a survey of all the various kinds of ambivalences and ambiguities which can now be found among the 25 member states about the enlargement process in general. An interesting if not profoundly novel assessment of the state of play. Perhaps the most surprising discovery for me was the level of tension which currently seems to exist along the Brussels/Bucharest axis.

Perhaps a more balanced assessment can be found in today’s EU observer. Unusually for me I find myself entirely in agreement with the sentiments expressed by European Commission President Jos? Manuel Barroso who is quoted as saying that the anniversary “is a happy event for all Europeans” calling the enlargement “a reunification of not only nations and peoples but also of cultures”.

Outsourcing and the Global Optimum

The last week has seen the ‘great US ousourcing debate’ hit both new highs, and new lows. On the plus side would be the declarations of the oft maligned Greg Mankiw to the effect that the “outsourcing” of jobs is beneficial to the United States economy (even with the qualification ‘perhaps’ this has merit – since despite the fact that the suggestion may not be as well-founded as Mankiw imagines, it is at least courageous in a situation where the President he is advising doesn’t appear any too clear on the question himself). Among the more evident examples of the low points would be the statement from the Democratic Presidential aspirant John Kerry to the effect that company leaders who promote business process outsourcing are ‘Benedict Arnold CEO’s’.
Continue reading

Book Review: “European Integration 1950-2003: Superstate or New Market Economy?”

Once upon a time, there was a large, intellectually hegemonic, somewhat totalising ideology rooted in a heterodox school of economics. Its advocates proposed to make massive changes to the structure of society and claimed that only such a revolutionary realignment could alleviate the contradictions and failures of the existing order and save the world from stagnation and misery. They claimed that their programme would produce immediate results, and that the only reason it wasn’t immediately implemented was because entrenched interests were manipulating the public against them.

Ultimately, advocates of these principles did gain power in many places and were able to implement elements of their programme. Some came to power through revolutions of various kinds that granted them the near-dictatorial powers they needed to make the changes they believed necessary. Others were able to convince electorates and even elites that theirs was the way of the future. They turned public dissatisfaction to their advantage, especially during economic downturns when people were willing to turn to new solutions and elites feared that the masses would turn against them.

And, they had some arguable successes, but no unambiguous ones. In some places, particularly those where effectively unlimited power had shifted to them, they often maintained highly inequitable regimes which grew harder and harder to justify, faced ever growing public disaffection, and turned to more oppressive and manipulative means to sustain control. This undermined their movement, but despite the best efforts of their enemies was not quite able to kill it off.

In states where more democratic methods had been used, the need to compromise with established interests and to sustain public consent forced them to accept measures often contrary to their initial programme. Their ideological identity tended to shift over time as winning elections grew more important than ideological purity and as the drawbacks of real power became apparent. Actually being held responsible for results forced many members of this tradition to accept their enemies’ interests as at least partially legitimate, and compelled them to less radical legislative programmes.

In some of those nations, these radical parties became increasingly manipulative and difficult to distinguish from their former enemies. But, in a few places, the necessary dilution of their programme brought about an ideological synthesis that appeared successful, and this success in turn showed that the radical programmes they had once advocated were perhaps unnecessary. In the end, ideology had no real hold on them, and the models and methods that seemed to work became the political and economic programme that they were identified with. Their former allies who operated more dictatorial regimes were easily repudiated.

But others were unable to accept that option. They included dissidents who had been burned by the growing authoritarianism of their own failed revolutions, or who were simply unable to accept that their early ideological purity had become superfluous. They were isolated and powerless, only able to function in the states where their former allies had become moderates, leaving them without meaningful public support. They fumed at the world’s unwillingness to go the way they wanted, and increasingly recast the history of the world in terms of their own ideological predispositions. The past became, in their minds, an unending conflict between an ideologically pure vanguard and scheming established interests, a story of their courageous champions betrayed by back-sliding traitors. Ultimately, the world moved on and these radicals virtually disappeared outside of intellectually protected milieux like privately-funded think tanks and universities.

Of course, by the now the astute reader will have recognised that I am talking about the history of neoliberalism.
Continue reading

Stability Pact

First of all, let me say I’m flattered to be invited to guest-blog on Fistful of Euros, which I’ve long thought was the coolest name of any blog ever.

I’d hazard a guess at two big reasons nobody has much to say about the security pact unraveling: First, there’s simply not that much to say at this moment beyond the bare facts of the case (although neither The Economist nor US bloggers Daniel Drezdner and Atrios have really captured the outrage that European editorialists have spewed at Paris and Berlin over this). The message from Germany and France is pretty clear: Do as we say, not as we do. End of story.

Second, this is a pretty difficult topic for a layperson (such as myself) to get his head around. Hence the usage of compact but vague phrases like “Europe Rips Up the Rulebook,” the headline given my recent press review on Slate covering this topic. (Feel free to read that if you want a review of the basic facts of the case from a non-economists’ perspective, plus a dose of what the European papers have said about the topic; but naturally I can’t compete with The Economist‘s coverage.)

So they tore up the rulebook. Seems a little back-to-basics is in order here: What was the rulebook for anyway? And what does this mean for the future of the euro?
Continue reading