The real problem for the euro: Germany’s productivity is increasing much faster than any other Eurozone country’s. While the world is focused on the short-term crisis, Prof. Alan Blinder makes a persuasive case that the long-term problems will be even less tractable. In an op-ed column in the Dec. 13 Wall Street Journal, Dr. Blinder argues that Germany’s labor market reforms have been far more extensive than those of other Eurozone members. That means German real wages will rise faster than wages in other Eurozone countries. Under the pre-euro exchange rate system the deutschemark would have appreciated, other currencies would have depreciated and relative balance would have prevailed. But with a single currency Germany finds itself running large current account balance surpluses with the other Eurozone countries. Without an exchange rate adjustment mechanism, German living standards will continue to improve much faster than the other member countries. Which, in turn, will mean ever-increasing demands for fiscal bailouts from the wealthier Germans.
Twenty years ago, Paul Krugman and Bob Mundell declared that the euro experiment would most likely not work out very well. The basis for their forecast was Mundell’s theory of optimum currency areas. How come economists never get credit when one of our forecasts is correct?