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Blame Germany If Europe Implodes

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The Greeks have received all the blame for the crisis, but the bankers in Frankfurt deserve the lion’s share of the culpability for making such ill-advised loans in the first place.

In 1919, the European nations that had prevailed in WWI imposed onerous peace terms on Germany via the Treaty of Versailles. The harsh economic sanctions and reparations imposed on Germany led to economic catastrophe, massive unemployment, hyperinflation and eventual political turmoil, which led to the rise of fascism a little more than a decade later. After only five years of strict enforcement, France finally relented and canceled some of the more onerous terms of the treaty, but by then the economic and political forces in Germany that would see the rise of Adolph Hitler were already in motion. The Second World War was already inevitable.

The insistence of the WWI allies on political humiliation and economic punishment for Germany presents a remarkable parallel to the position taken by German chancellor Angela Merkel over the question of economic austerity and debt repayment for Greece and other heavily indebted nations in Europe. After the human and economic pain of losing two world wars, is it possible that Germany’s leadership has not learned the key lesson of economics, namely that benevolence is always a better course than retribution? Just ask Vladimir Putin of Russia, who has set back his nation’s economy by decades in order to resist the fearsome specter of a Ukrainian free trade agreement with the EU.

As Fred Feldkamp noted, Adam Smith demonstrated more than two centuries ago that benevolence is the driving force by which the invisible hand of economics can produce optimal benefits. The work of Smith in “The Wealth of Nations” supports the approach of Washington with the post-WWII Marshall Plan, whereby the United States rebuilt much of the industrial world using debt forgiveness and copious amounts of new credit. All nations benefitted from America’s generosity. Smith also demonstrates the futility of nations that attempt to punish actual or potential trading partners via reparations and other sanctions, like those applied to Germany via the Versailles Treaty.

By insisting on austerity to enable repayment of debt by nations such as Greece and Spain, to use just two examples, Germany is repeating the very same mistakes that led to disaster for Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. We need to keep in mind that Germany, France and other larger EU nations extended loans to nations like Greece in order to drive exports of goods and services. A lot of short-sighted politicians, corporate executives and bankers enabled this process of lending to a nation that clearly lacked the ability to repay. And now no one in the major capitals of the EU wants to talk about debt restructuring for Greece and other southern European nations.
“There is an odious component in Greece’s sovereign debt,” notes Berlin-based analyst Achim Duebel. “There have also been already two rounds of Greek debt restructuring, but of course the creditors have in the meantime changed.”

The elections in Greece have brought to power Syriza, a left-wing nationalist tendency that bypassed the existing political parties on a platform of rejecting the German-imposed austerity and debt rescue plan, a scheme which essentially requires Greece to follow in the footsteps of 1920s Germany. Greece’s new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has denounced German-inspired threats by the European Central Bank (ECB) to cut off funding for Greek banks as “political intimidation,” “warning in fiery language that his country’s democratic revolution will not be crushed into submission,” reports the London Telegraph.

Meanwhile in Spain, a poll showed this week that the anti-austerity Podemos party would come second in an election to the ruling People’s Party, but ahead of the Socialists. “Support for the conservative People’s Party (PP) and the Socialists,” Reuters reports, “the two dominant parties since Spain’s return to democracy in the late 1970s, has fallen to a record low after a series of corruption scandals and tough welfare cuts.”
As with Syriza, Podemos is a relatively new political party—in fact, less than a year old. But this insurgent bloc now threatens to force the ruling Socialist Party into a coalition, if not take the election at the end of 2015 outright. But in both Greece and Spain, the central lesson is that austerity in the name of paying foreign creditors does not sell, either in economic or political terms.

Germany and the other core nations of the EU need to admit that much of the debt incurred by Spain and Greece was unsustainable from the start and was only extended to drive the appearance of economic growth in the EU. Just as the United States used a domestic housing finance boom in the 2000s to fashion the pretense of economic solidity, the loans to Greece were likewise a canard.
Without a change in the stance taken by the ECB and, behind it, the German financial and business establishment, the politics of Europe will continue to radicalize and deteriorate in an almost perfect replay of the 1920s. As Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998-2005, wrote in Project Syndicate:

“Even before the leftist Syriza party’s overwhelming victory in Greece’s recent general election, it was obvious that, far from being over, the crisis was threatening to worsen. Austerity—the policy of saving your way out of a demand shortfall—simply does not work. In a shrinking economy, a country’s debt-to-GDP ratio rises rather than falls, and Europe’s recession-ridden crisis countries have now saved themselves into a depression, resulting in mass unemployment, alarming levels of poverty, and scant hope.”

Germany’s leadership must somehow come to understand that the real threat today is not the inflation of Weimar Germany, but the political unrest caused by the crushing burden of foreign debt. “There has already been voluntary debt forgiveness by private creditors, banks have already slashed billions from Greece’s debt,” Merkel told the Hamburger Abendblatt. “I do not envisage fresh debt cancellation.” But without additional reductions in Greek debt, the country is likely to default on its remaining obligations and begin a process of financial repudiation and political radicalization that could spell the eventual unwinding of the EU itself.

Germany needs to tone down its rhetoric and admit that the debt forgiveness and bailout loans provided to Athens so far have largely saved banks in Germany and other EU nations via the back door, rather than actually helped Greece itself. The Greeks have received all the blame for the crisis, whereas the bankers in Frankfurt deserve the lion’s share of the culpability for making these ill-advised loans in the first instance. But does Merkel have the courage to make this case to the German public? The fate of Europe hangs in the balance.

First published by the National Interest

Economy

Extending people’s working lives could add US$3.5 trillion to OECD GDP in long run

MD Staff

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Extending people’s working lives to reflect the ageing of their populations could release massive untapped value for their economies to the tune of US$3.5 trillion across the OECD as a whole in the long run.

Iceland, New Zealand and Israel are the leaders in boosting employment rates among older workers, setting a model for others to follow, according to the latest research by PwC.

Between 2015 and 2050, it’s estimated that the number of people aged 55 and above in the 35 OECD countries will increase by almost 50% to over 500 million. But how many of these half a billion people will be working?

PwC’s Golden Age Index benchmarks, ranks and analyses the performance of OECD countries in fostering older people’s participation in the workforce through employment and training data. It reveals how large potential economic gains are available if employment rates for those over 55 can be raised to those of the top performers.

Current employment rates for workers aged 55-64 vary dramatically across the OECD, from 84% in Iceland and 78% in New Zealand to 38% in Greece and 34% in Turkey.

For example, increasing the over-55 employment rate to New Zealand levels could deliver a long-run economic boost worth around US$815 billion in the US, US$406 billion in France and US$123 billion in Japan – with the total potential gain across the OECD adding up to around US$3.5 trillion. This economic uplift would be combined with significant social and health benefits from older people leading more active lives and having higher self-worth through continuing to work where they wish to do so.

John Hawksworth, Chief Economist at PwC UK, comments:

“Of course, it’s good news that we’re living longer. But an ageing population is already putting significant financial pressure on health, social care and pension systems, and this will only increase over time. To help offset these higher costs, we think older workers should be encouraged and supported to remain in the workforce for longer. This would increase GDP, consumer spending power and tax revenues, while also helping to improve the health and wellbeing of older people by keeping them mentally and physically active.”

For governments, ways to realise these benefits include reforming pension systems and providing other financial incentives to encourage later retirement – steps that several countries are already prioritising.

Significantly, the top-performing countries on the Index tend to share a number of characteristics, including a labour market that supports flexible working and the implementation of reforms targeted at older workers, such as redesigning jobs to meet physical needs. Successful policy measures include increasing the retirement age, supporting flexible working, improving the flexibility of pensions, and providing further training and support help older workers become ‘digital adopters’.

To help governments take the right actions, PwC has used this year’s update of the Golden Age Index to carry out a rigorous statistical analysis of the underlying drivers of higher employment rates for older workers across 35 OECD countries.

The findings from this analysis include that financial incentives like pension policy and family benefits can influence people’s decision to stay employed, and that longer life expectancy is associated with longer working lives. The study also shows that flexible working and partial retirement options can pay dividends for employers, as can redesign of factories, offices and roles to meet the changing needs and preferences of older workers.

A further area that the latest Golden Age Index examines concerns the implications for older workers of rising use of artificial intelligence (AI) and related automation technologies in the workplace. It finds that these technologies raise both potential opportunities and challenges for the over-55s.

Up to 20% of the existing jobs of older workers could be at risk of automation over the next decade, so retraining and lifelong learning will be critical to enable older workers to take up the many new job opportunities that AI and related technologies will create.

PwC UK Chief Economist John Hawksworth explains: “AI technology can boost economic growth, generate more labour demand and support longer working lives, for example through the use of digital platforms that allow older workers to market their skills more widely. However, our estimates suggest that older workers do face a higher risk of job automation compared to other age groups, with up to 20% of the existing jobs of over-55s at potential risk of automation over the next decade. Measures to support lifetime learning and retraining for older workers will be critical to maximising the gains from these technologies while mitigating the costs.”

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Further reforms needed for a stronger and more integrated Europe

MD Staff

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The European economy is growing robustly, helped by accommodative monetary policy, mildly expansionary fiscal policy and the global acceleration. The current economic expansion should be used to speed up implementation of reforms to the euro area architecture and EU policies that would support greater European integration and ensure stronger, more inclusive long-term growth, according to two new reports from the OECD.

The latest OECD Economic Survey of the European Union and Economic Survey of the Euro Area look at the factors behind the strong recovery, as well as the challenges facing Europe. The Surveys project growth topping 2% for the 2018-19 period, and lay out an agenda for boosting long-term growth and living standards across Europe.

The Surveys, presented in Brussels by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, highlight the need for EU budget reform, more efficient cohesion policies to reduce regional divides and further efforts to deepen the single market. The OECD also discusses how completing the banking union, creating a common fiscal support scheme and simplifying fiscal rules would strengthen the euro area by making it more resilient to economic shocks.

“After years of crisis, positive economic momentum has taken hold across Europe,” Mr Gurría said. “Growth continues at a solid pace, and has broadened across sectors and countries. The conditions are right for a new wave of reforms to revive the European project and ensure that the benefits are shared by all.”

The Surveys say that macroeconomic policy must be tailored to support economic expansion while reducing imbalances. Monetary policy should remain accommodative until inflation is durably back to the objective, even as the ECB prepares for a very gradual normalisation of its policy. With an economic expansion under way, governments should reduce debt-to-GDP ratios. Simplified fiscal rules and a stronger focus on expenditure growth should help achieve this objective without derailing the recovery.

Ensuring the stability of the monetary union and enhancing the common currency’s resilience to downturns will be critical to future economic progress. More risk sharing will be necessary. The Survey calls for a European unemployment reinsurance scheme to cope with economic shocks too large to be dealt with solely by national fiscal policies or monetary policy. Reforms to develop the capital markets union along with a rapid reduction of non-performing loans are also important to allow a better functioning of the Economic and Monetary Union.

Additional reforms to complete the banking union are also necessary, in particular the setting up of a common European deposit-insurance scheme and using the European Stability Mechanism as a backstop for the Single Resolution Fund; both reforms would help prevent any future banking crisis developing into a sovereign debt crisis. The introduction of additional capital charges for banks holding high levels of government debt from their own country should occur alongside the creation of a new European safe asset. This would favour the diversification of banks’ exposure to government debt and mitigate negative feedback loops between weak banks and stressed public finances.

Reforms to the EU budget can enhance growth and make it more inclusive. There is scope to increase member states’ contributions, including by reassessing how the European budget is financed, as the current financing does not reflect countries’ ability to pay. The EU Survey suggests that resources to finance growth-enhancing spending, including R&D, be freed up by phasing out production-based payments in the Common Agricultural Policy and better targeting regional policy to lagging regions.

Improving the functioning of the Single Market would boost growth and living standards, the Surveys said. There is scope to ease regulatory burdens and address barriers to trade in services, improve cross-border cooperation in the energy sector through better power system operation and trade, and help member states boost digital skills acquisition.

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Global Migration Can Be a Potent Tool in the Fight to End Poverty Across the World

MD Staff

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© Mapbox © OpenStreetMap

Global migration has lifted millions out of poverty and boosted economic growth, a new World Bank report finds. But destination countries risk losing out in the global competition for talent and leaving large gaps in their labor markets by failing to implement policies that address labor market forces and manage short-run economic tensions.

Large and persistent differences in wages across the globe are the main drivers of economic migration from low- to high-income countries, according to Moving for Prosperity: Global Migration and Labor Markets. Migrants often triple their wages after moving to a new country, helping millions of migrants and their relatives at home escape poverty. Destination countries often benefit as migrants fill critical roles, from advancing the technological frontier in Silicon Valley to building skyscrapers in the Middle East.

Despite the lure of higher wages, rates of migrants as a share of the global population have remained mostly unchanged for more than five decades, even as global trade and investment flows have expanded exponentially during this time. Between 1960 and 2015, the share of migrants in the global population has fluctuated narrowly between 2.5 and 3.5 percent, with national borders, distance, culture, and language acting as strong deterrents.

Highlights of key findings from the report include:

-Migration flows are highly concentrated by location and occupation. Currently, the top 10 destination countries account for 60 percent of around 250 million international migrants in the world.

-Surprisingly, concentration levels increase with skill levels. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia are home to almost two-thirds of migrants with tertiary education. At the very peak of talent, an astonishing 85 percent of all immigrant Nobel Science Prize winners are in the United States.

-Education levels of women are rapidly increasing, especially in developing countries, but opportunities for career growth remain limited. As a result, college educated women from low and middle-income countries are the fastest growing group among immigrants to high-income countries.

“The number of international migrants continues to remain fairly modest, but migrants often arrive in waves and cluster around the same locations and types of jobs,” said Shantayanan Devarajan, World Bank Senior Director for Development Economics and acting Chief Economist. “Better policies can manage these transitions in a way that guarantees long-term benefits for both citizens and migrants.”

The report recommends various policy measures to ensure the benefits of migration are shared by host and immigrant communities for generations to come. Key among them:

-Effective migration policies must work with rather than against labor market forces. For example, where there is large unmet demand for seasonal work, temporary migration programs, like those in Canada or Australia, could address labor market shortages while discouraging permanent undocumented migration.

-Quotas should be replaced with market based mechanisms to manage migration flows. Such tools can pay for the cost of government assistance to support dislocated workers. In addition, the most pressing needs of the labor market can be met by matching migrant workers with employers that need them the most.

-Creating a pathway to permanent residency for migrants with higher-skills and permanent jobs creates incentives for them to fully integrate in the labor markets and make economic and social contributions to the destination country.

“We have to implement policies to address the short term distributional impact of migration flows in order to prevent draconian migration restrictions that would end up hurting everyone,” said Asli Demirguc-Kunt, Director of Research at the World Bank.

The report argues that migration will be a fundamental feature of the world for the foreseeable future due to continued income and opportunity gaps, differences in demographic profiles, and the rising aspirations of the world’s poor and vulnerable.

“The public debate over migration would benefit from recognizing data and research,” said Caglar Ozden, Lead Economist and the lead author of the report. “What this report tries to bring to the debate is rigorous, relevant analysis to support informed policy making.”

Moving for Prosperity: Global Migration and Labor Markets is the latest in a series of Policy Research Reports that comprehensively review the latest research and data on current development issues. The new report presents the key facts, research, and data on global migration gathered from the World Bank, U.N., academia, and many other partners.

You can read the full report and accompanying datasets, based on extensive existing literature.

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