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18/11/2013

SERVIÇO PÚBLICO: O que prejudica a recuperação europeia não é o superavit alemão – é a impressora do Fed

Recorrentemente o pensamento económico socialista (admitindo que tal coisa exista) vai criando novos mitos para empurrar para baixo do tapete as causas da recessão europeia e em particular dos PIGS. O último mito é o superavit das contas externas alemãs estar a prejudicar a recuperação europeia, mito pressurosamente adoptado pelos «200 palhaços que vão à televisão falar de economia», como um dia chamou João César das Neves a esses cultores da «economia mediática». Não por acaso, este mito é igualmente alimentado por fontes americanas interessadas em camuflar os efeitos do quantitative easing com que o Fed inunda de dólares a economia soprando a próxima bolha.

Apesar de este mito não resistir ao simples facto de a balança alemão de bens e serviços ser praticamente equilibrada com os países da UE e o superavit se circunscrever ao resto do mundo – de onde resultaria que equilibrar as contas externas só prejudicaria as economias dos países da UE – vou citar a análise de Simon Nixon a este respeito, ao arrepio da ortodoxia que momentaneamente se instalou até ser substituída por uma outra com o mesmo propósito.

«In recent weeks, critics have identified a new euro-zone fault line: Southern Europe, they say, is being strangled by a combination of deflation and German mercantilism. The U.S. Treasury last week pointed to Germany's vast current-account surplus of 7% of gross domestic product in 2012 as evidence that the country should be doing more to boost domestic demand and reduce its reliance on exports at a time when other euro-zone countries are being forced to implement austerity policies.

But to some European eyes, this new assault is as misdirected as past criticism of the euro zone's crisis response. It's true that annual euro-zone inflation fell to just 0.7% in September, well below consensus forecasts of 1.2%. That prompted the European Central Bank to cut its refinancing rate to just 0.25%. But few economists think the euro zone is on the brink of a Japanese-style deflationary spiral in which consumers hold off purchases in expectation of falling prices.

The euro zone's current low inflation is different. To the extent that low inflation in Southern Europe is the result of domestic policy as opposed to external factors such as the recent fall in energy costs, it partly reflects consumer prices adjusting to falls in real wages. This is healthy. In a currency union, falling labor costs are one of the main ways countries can regain competitiveness. It would be more worrying if wages were falling and prices still rising—as they have been in Greece—since this indicates a lack of flexibility in markets and a rising burden of private-sector debt.

Of course, it doesn't help that the euro appreciated over the summer. But euro-zone policy makers blame this largely on the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision to keep printing money alongside concerns that the U.S. might even default on its debts. The best help the U.S. could give Southern Europe would be to stop weakening the dollar.

What is less certain to help Southern Europe is action by Berlin to reduce Germany's current-account surplus. German policy makers are bemused by the suggestion that Germany's surpluses pose a similar problem to those of China in the last decade. After all, Germany doesn't operate a fixed exchange rate and isn't accumulating vast official reserves. Its surpluses are the result of competitiveness gains painfully achieved via a decade of reform and wage restraint during the years when it was seen as the "sick man of Europe."

What does the U.S. want Germany to do? Quit the euro? Make itself uncompetitive again, perhaps by forcing up wages? How would that help Southern Europe? Indeed, in an increasingly integrated single market, focusing on Germany's surplus in isolation is simplistic. Other member states have benefited from German competitiveness gains because they are integrated into Germany's supply chain or have received direct German investment. Perhaps the Treasury thinks Germany could help Southern Europe by embarking on a public-spending splurge? But Germany fiscal policy is hardly contractionary: Whatever government emerges from the current coalition talks is likely to pursue a balanced budget. Only the most fervent Keynesians would argue that Germany, with a government debt-to-GDP ratio of 82%, has fiscal space to fund a stimulus package. It's hard to find policy makers in Southern Europe clamoring for a new German road-building program.

Besides, this focus on Germany's current-account position risks obscuring the real issues. A sustained recovery in Southern Europe hinges on businesses having the confidence to start investing again after five years of underinvestment, including in Germany. This in turn will give consumers the confidence to start spending, causing deflationary pressures to ease and Germany's current-account deficit to shrink

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