The Economist‘s latest cover is about the German balance of payments. The subheading of its editorial says, that it “[t]he country saves too much and spends too little”.
That’s welcome, although the article claims that the German government’s policy is not mercantilist, while at the same time saying that wages have been held down to achieve more competitiveness in exports.
Anyway, it’s good that it has recognized that this is a problem for the world economy. Funnily, the editorial is still defending free trade, without realizing that the ideology is based on the assumption that market forces will resolve imbalances. If the magic of the price mechanism works, why do you need active policy?
It’s important to remember that John Maynard Keynes recognized that active policy measures are needed to resolve global imbalances. He proposed to impose a penalty on creditor nations in his plan for Bretton-Woods and also require them to take measures such as:
(a) Measures for the expansion of domestic credit and domestic demand.
(b) The appreciation of its local currency in terms of bancor, or, alternatively, the
encouragement of an increase in money rates of earnings;
(c) The reduction of tariffs and other discouragements against imports.
(d) International development loans
– page 24 of The Keynes Plan
A lot of times, people argue that the moral stand that Germany reduce its surpluses is vacuous. Germany is independent and responsible for its own decision. Who are others asking German politicians to raise domestic demand?
The answer to that is Germany makes huge gains out of its success in international trade. What if deficit nations form a union and impose high tariffs and quotas on their imports? International trade runs under a set of rules (the “rules of the game”) and other nations have a right to demand this from Germany and ask for fairer rules.
Anyway, The Economist has finally accepted what Keynes was saying 80 years ago!