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ECONOMY

Jealous of an unsatisfied Germany

Success breeds resentment – so it's little wonder other countries including the United States are jealous of Germany's booming economy. But even Germans don't seem to like it when things are going well, says Malte Lehming from Der Tagesspiegel.

Jealous of an unsatisfied Germany
Photo: DPA

American track athletes dominate the 400 metre race. They’ve won Olympic gold in that discipline 19 times, and have stood atop the winner’s podium since 1984. That sticks in the craw of the global competition, which is why a new proposal has been submitted to the International Olympic Committee. In the future, all US 400-metre runners must carry a five-kilo backpack. This would level the playing field for the competition.

As silly as that sounds, the US government is making a similar argument about the German economy these days. Well-crafted German products are in demand all over the world, and this is driving growth. At the same time, unemployment is sinking to ever-lower levels, the national debt is relatively low by OECD and EU standards, and the country’s DAX stock index is on the rise.

But rather than welcome the success of his European partner, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has suggested that Germany’s trade surplus be capped: in other words, that exports be banned if they go above a certain level. He is supported by voices from EU headquarters in Brussels and Germany’s socialist Left party. This is an odd coalition of free trade opponents, but they are united by one thing: envy.

US President Barack Obama adopted his finance minister’s proposal ahead of the G20 in Seoul, South Korea last week, but fortunately Chancellor Angela Merkel resisted his pressuring. After all, she is in a strong position: the Americans are criticizing Germany for what it is apparently doing right.

While the economies of countries like the US, Britain, France, Spain or Greece are still struggling or facing drastic austerity measures and angry street protests, Germany has weathered the global financial and economic crises well. There is no sense of a divided society here.

It’s all due to a convergence of contributing factors: the delayed effect of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s labour market and welfare reforms known as the Agenda 2010, wage restraint by trade unions, the ‘cash-for-clunkers’ car purchase scheme, a relatively moderate stimulus plan, and propping up the eurozone by involving the International Monetary Fund. More than once, Merkel was criticized for any and all of these measures. But at the end of the day, she was always proved right.

Success breeds resentment, and it’s no surprise that German opposition parties and certain nations are grinding their teeth, because the German example puts pressure on their leaders to explain themselves. But why are Germans themselves not more proud of the achievements they have helped produce?

Even as their country has escaped the maelstrom of the crisis – and with an even healthier job market than before – Germans are lost in raging debates about disillusionment with politics and democracy, deep social insecurity and other supposed anxieties of the zeitgeist.

The country’s mood is fundamentally anti-cyclical. But we already know that from other concerns. While life expectancy rises every year, so does anxiety about chemicals in food, healthy diets and fitness. Will Germans ever be relaxed and satisfied? Apparently that’s the last thing we’d want.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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ECONOMY

‘Tougher times’: Sweden’s economy to slow next year

Consumers in Sweden are set to crimp spending over the rest of the year, pushing the country into an economic slowdown, Sweden's official economic forecaster has warned in its latest prognosis.

'Tougher times': Sweden's economy to slow next year

A combination of record high energy prices over the winter, rising interest rates, and inflation at around 10 percent, is set to hit household spending power over the autumn and winter, leading to lower sales for businesses and dragging economic growth down to just 0.5 percent next year. This is down from the 1.2 percent the institute had forecast for 2023 in its spring forecast. 

“I don’t want to be alarmist,” Ylva Hedén Westerdahl, forecasting head at the Swedish National Institute of Economic Research, said at a press conference announcing the new forecast. “We don’t expect the sort of economic slowdown that we saw during the financial crisis or the pandemic, where unemployment rose much more. But having said that, people who don’t have a job will find it tougher to enter the labour market.” 

She said that a shortage of gas in Europe over the winter, will push electricity prices in Sweden to twice the levels seen last winter, while the core interest rate set by Sweden’s Riksbank is set to rise to two percent. 

As a result, Sweden’s unemployment rate will rise slightly to 7.8 percent next year, from 7.7 percent in 2022, which is 0.3 percentage points higher than the institute had previously forecast. 

On the plus side, Westerdahl said that she expected the Riksbank’s increases in interest rates this year and next year would succeed in getting inflation rates in Sweden under control. 

“We expect a steep decline in inflation which is going to return to below two percent by the end of 2023,” she said. “That depends on whether electricity prices fall after the winter, but even other prices are not going to rise as quickly.” 

After the press conference, Sweden’s finance minister, Mikael Damberg, said he broadly agreed with the prognosis. 

“I’ve said previously that we are on the way into tougher times, and that is what the institute confirms,” he told Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT. “There’s somewhat higher growth this year, at the same time as fairly high inflation which will hit many households and make it tougher to live.”

Damberg called on Sweden’s political parties to avoid making high-spending promises in the election campaign, warning that these risked driving up inflation. 

“What’s important in this situation is that we don’t get irresponsible when it comes to economic policy,” he said. “Because when parties make promises left, right and centre, it risks driving up inflation and interest rates even more, so Swedish households have an even tougher time. Right now, it’s important to prioritise.” 

 The call 

Sverige är på väg mot lågkonjunktur enligt Konjunkturinstitutets (KI) senaste prognos. Enligt finansminster Mikael Damberg (S) är det därför viktigt att Sverige sköter sin ekonomi ansvarsfullt och vågar prioritera.

– Jag tror att alla partier behöver vara lite återhållsamma och inte lova för mycket, säger han.

Mikael Damberg tycker att KI tecknar en realistisk bild av Sveriges ekonomiska verklighet.

– Jag har sagt tidigare att vi går mot tuffare tider och det är väl det som KI bekräftar. Något högre tillväxt i år men sämre tillväxtförutsättningar nästa år samt fortsatt ganska hög inflation som slår mot många hushåll och gör det tuffare att leva, säger han.

Och vad vill regeringen göra åt det?

– Det är viktigt att vi i det här läget inte är ansvarslösa i den ekonomiska politiken. För när partier lovar vitt och brett till allt riskerar vi att driva upp inflationen, öka räntan ytterligare och svenska hushåll får det svårare. Nu måste man våga prioritera.

Se intervjun med Damberg om konjunkturläget klippet ovan.

“Electricity prices are going to be twice as high as last winter,” said 

Elpriserna kommer att bli dubbelt så höga som förra vintern, säger Ylva Hedén Westerdahl, chef för Konjunkturinstitutets prognosavdelning, på en pressträff.
Den lågkonjunktur som KI ser framför sig kallar hon trots det för en mjuklandning. Den handlar främst om att människor kommer att ha mindre pengar att konsumera.

“Brist på gas i Europa gör att energipriserna ser ut att bli rekordhöga under vintern”, skriver KI, och ser att inflationen kommer att närma sig 10 procent.

Deras prognos för styrräntan är att den ligger på 2 procent vid årsslutet, vilket gör att inflationen faller tillbaka snabbt under nästa år och Riksbanken låter då räntan ligga still.

KI tillägger att de offentliga finanserna är fortsatt starka och de bedömer att det finns ett budgetutrymme på runt 120 miljarder kronor för de kommande fyra åren.

Vad gäller BNP spår KI en blygsam tillväxt på 0,5 procent nästa år – en nedskrivning från tidigare 1,2 procent.

Prognosen för arbetslösheten under 2023 är 7,8 procent, 0,3 procentenheter högre än tidigare prognos.

Fredrik Fahlman/TT
Johanna Ekström/TT

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