The world is struggling to rebalance its great savings imbalances and is not advancing much. In Europe, and as I discussed in my very long May 11 blog entry, it seems that Germany is still unable to force though the adjustments needed in internal demand and is hoping to foist its imbalances onto the rest of the world now that the rest of Europe is too sick to absorb them.
Germany is currently running the largest trade surplus in the world, while the deficits of peripheral Europe are being squeezed down through unemployment – which is certain to remain high for many more years. Two weeks ago a couple of economists from the EU spoke at my central bank seminar, and among other things they presented us with what I would call the scariest graph in the world. Here it is:
The graph makes it pretty clear that the surge in European surpluses, which was largely matched before the crisis by the surge in deficits in peripheral Europe, is expected to be maintained even as surpluses in China and Japan, the other leading surplus nations, have dropped dramatically, but since these northern European surpluses can no longer be counterbalanced by deficits within peripheral Europe given how indebted and troubled are their European trade partners, the hope is simply to force them abroad. In a world with weak demand and deteriorating trade relationships, in other words, the northern Europeans have decided that rather than boost domestic demand they will resolve their domestic problems by absorbing far more than their share of global demand, to the tune of 2-3% of Europe’s GDP.
This is absurd. If they succeed it will only be temporarily and at the expense of their already-suffering trade partners, and as a consequence it will just be a question of time before global trade relationships get even nastier than they have been. Of course if trade relationships deteriorate enough, and so force the imbalances back onto Europe, the result will be a surge in German unemployment with no corresponding relief in unemployment in the periphery.