Is Germany competitive? Is Norway?

Every now and then, I read an article or a commentary in which the author complains about or praises Germany’s alledged competitiveness. For authors and readers, this claim probably seems obvious. After all German cars and machinery are worldwide without comparison (not sure that is true, though) and it runs a huge current account surplus. Combine that with the cliché about oh-so efficient Germans and the story must sound plausible. But is any of that true? How do we know whether a country is “competitive”? And what does that mean anyway?

Before we start our exploration, let’s review why people think Germany is competitive:

  • it has very successful firms,
  • it has a high current account surplus,
  • its wage growth has been relatively low during the last 20 years,
  • and random observations on Germans in general “show” their compeitiveness.

The concept of comparative advantage is incompatible with the first argument, so let’s leave that. The fourth is story-telling to fit a predefined image of what Germans “are like”. No need to comment there. So let’s focus on the second and take Norway as a first and extreme example. I will come back to the third later.

Norway’s production of natural resources led to a current account surplus of almost 20% of GDP in 2008 (China’s is around 9%, Germany’s highest was 7.6 % in 2007). Does this mean, Norway is “competitive”? Well sure, its natural resources make output per capita among the top 5 of the world. That sounds “competitive”. But what if Norwegians were not as thrifty and thoughtful about the future as they are? Wouldn’t they rather spend the petro-money they earn, making their current account surplus, well, zero?

Having some very compeititive industries in a country, or some highly productive sector, is not sufficient for having a current account surplus. It is saving and investment that move last, if you will.

What about saving and investment then? Let’s say that Norway’s economy is very “competitive” in the sense that it attracts a lot of investment in physical and human capital. If the propensity to save (government-mandated, or private) in Norway is still much higher, we should observe a current account surplus. And that is what we in fact observe. My knowledge of the Norwegian economy is limited, but I guess that is a fair approximation. A country like the US on the other hand is also “competitive” in a way that it attracts a lot of investment, but the saving is low, resulting in a deficit.

Which brings me to Germany. Sure, there are some very productive sectors in the economy, but if saving and investment move last, what do these two tell us? Well, this:

This figure shows that the current account surplus of Germany between 2002 and 2009 was driven by two forces: rapidly increasing saving, and plummeting investment. Let me add a figure to show these two forces, saving and investment, by sector.

Since the early 1990s net domestic investment (on the right)  was in almost constant decline, masked somewhat by the dot-com bubble. The state invested almost nothing (net), the households less and less, and also firms’ investment declined. Especially firms’ investment does not point towards a competitive economy. What about saving? It is remarkable that again firms were at the core of the rise in saving. This saving by firms is non-distributed profits – either to invest it abroad or to pay down debt.

One more indication is lending in Germany:

Lending to domestic non-banks stagnated for almost 10 years. There might be other reasons such as the change in how firms finance their investments, and the pattern is almost too striking to be true (it seems there are straight lines in economics after all, Nick), but it  doesn’t point to any plausible definition of the word “competitive”, does it?

The most plausible story is this: German firms had for historical, regulatory and monetary policy reasons relatively low cost of finance. The Euro and the transformation, liberalization and integration of financial markets in Europe ended this period, leaving German firms with a relatively high and costly capital stock. So they paid down part of their debt (see saving of firms above) and slowed down on investing domestically. Wages, still not fully adjusted to the reunification shock, came under further pressure. Considering these effects, Germany entered the Euro overvalued and therefore saw wage increases way below the European average.

This wage adjustment took long because even though Germany’s labor unions are moderate and economically sensible, nominal rigidity is strongest at zero. And why did Germany have very low inflation for such a long time? It was facing a monetary policy that was too tight for its economy. This was not the ECB’s fault, the inflation pressures from the European periphery needed to be contained. Still, whoever claims that Germany has greatly benefitted from the Euro up to now has to come up with a different story to explain these facts and I doubt there is one.

So what is “competitiveness” then? Here is a plausible way to define it: wages are at market clearing levels. Then all resources of an economy are used to their full potential. Of course, labor market institutions, education and research policies, taxes and social policies, or even industrial policies could further add to making the economy more productive, but this is not the same as competitive.

Because many commentators don’t realize that Germany was actually uncompetitive and therefore had a high current account surplus, they suggest that Germany should not become even more competitive. If my argument is correct, that is nonsense. Germany’s progress in becoming competitive (in the above sense of that word) will lead to a falling current account surplus. And we see first signs of exactly that happening.

So please, commentators of the world, stop this competitiveness-cum-current-account gibbrish. First, we need to define what competitiveness really means and then ask whether a proper definition of that term applies to Germany. I have given you my answer. And if you are having aggregate demand (AD) problems, start focusing on what you (or better: your central bank) could do about them instead of blaming a country that has struggled through 15 years of stagnation and adjustment to become comeptitive at all.

HT: Henry Kaspar for figures and helpful links

Kommentare

  1. Jonas Dovern schreibt:

    See a short piece of two former colleagues of mine on the related issue of “unmeasurability” of the level of competitiveness: Link

    • kantoos schreibt:

      @ Jonas

      Thanks, I will look into it. Your HMTL was almost correct, the Link was hiding behind the “.” at the end. I added a “Link”.

  2. Schwabe schreibt:

    Kantoos,

    thanks for this very interesting article. I fully agree that it is annoying to read all these wrong beliefs about competitiveness. Still, one question: If I understand you correctly, you argue that German financing costs have increased with financial deepending and the introduction of the euro which led to lower (net) investment. I am not sure whether this was indeed the case. Have borrowing rates for German corporations really increased compared to the years before the euro? The fact that lending and investment was subdued after 1999 does not prove much in my view. It could also have been related to other factors.

    • kantoos schreibt:

      @ Schwabe

      Thanks for your comment. The lending and investment figures are not proof, and not meant as proof. Still, they are indicative of what was going on regarding competitiveness. My argument about financing costs is a suggestion. And it seems like they did increase. Have a look at the GS paper I linked to in the text.

  3. Richard Stott schreibt:

    Interesting observations re savings and raises the question as to how much public saving in Norway may encourage more risky behaviour in private saving – something which we see a tendency towards

  4. fl schreibt:

    @ Kantoos

    Well, I’d say you are absolutely right when you say that competitiveness can not be measured by the current account position. However, price-competitivness can be measured – that is called the real exchange rate – and real exchange rates in a region with fixed nominal exchange rates are mainly determined by unit labor costs.

    At least in such simple models as the Mundell-Fleming model, real exchange rates drive the current account. Now, we can and should argue about why wages lagged behind productivity growth as long as they did, but we can not deny that price-Germany’s price competitiveness as it is measured by real exchange rates has increased – and tremendously so. Since the concept “competitiveness” is a relative concept, Germany’s competitivenss has improved bacause others’ competitiveness has deteriorated, or vice versa.

    However, It does not make a lot of sense to call “full employment” for whatever reaseons competitive – against whom should the labour market compete?

    The other issue is this: Why do you know that Germany’s exchange rate was overvalued before entry into the Euro? Do you have some literature showing that? Kiel writes that it can’t see any evidence of the Mark having been overvalued:

    http://www.ifw-kiel.de/publications/wipo/volumes/resolveUid/ad59ebfee23741457a5d2503966423df

    (chapter 8.1)

    • kantoos schreibt:

      @ fl

      I am not sure what competitiveness means at all, countries don’t “compete”. When I say that wages are at market clearing levels, it means that the workers are “competitive” in the sense that they can find a job.

      Regarding overvaluation Kiel looks at purchasing power parity, not sure that gets you very far. I just observe that German wages had to adjust over 10 years, so in retrospect, this seems like coming down from an overvaluation, doesn’t it?

  5. fl schreibt:

    @ Dovern

    Interesting read, the Kiel article. However, here are some remarks:

    1. If we look at levels of unit labour costs as a measure of real exchange rates – which, I think is the purpose of the policy brief – than we have also to look at nominal exchange rates and multiply nominal unit costs with them. Unit labour costs as such are not of very high interest, the level of exchange rates is. This is easy to grasp: divergences in nominal unit labour costs are corrected by movements in the nominal exchange rate – as long as there is any. This is called PPP.

    2. Thus, it very much makes sense to base unit labour costs to a particular year – the year when nominal exchange rates are fixed – only then do changes in nominal labour costs also influence real exchange rates. And if we look at the divergences of both unit labour costs and current acconts since the Euro’s introduction, we see a very high correlation.

    3. Just a short note on Flassbeck: He has the same conclusion that the paper has, namely that unit labour costs have to be adjusted – by a little more growth of unit labour costs in Germany and less by the others. He does not advocate the same rate of growth in unit labour costs – that, he argues, should have been done from the Euro’s start.

  6. rubycon schreibt:

    Hier nochmal der wunderschöne Verweis von Nick Rowe aus seinem Text.
    Besser kann eine mathematische Kurvendiskussion nicht beschrieben werden.
    Bin einige Straßen im VK selber erlaufen.

    “The Rolling English Road
    by G.K.Chesterton

    Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
    The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
    A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
    And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
    A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
    The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.
    I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
    And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
    But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
    To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
    Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
    The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.
    His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
    Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
    The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
    But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
    God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
    The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.
    My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
    Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
    But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
    And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
    For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
    Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green. ”

    “Meine Freunde wir werden vergangene Wildheiten nicht wiederholen oder nachäffen,
    oder die Dummheiten der Jugend verlängern als Schande im Alter.”

  7. rubycon schreibt:

    @ kantoos
    “So what is „competitiveness“ then? Here is a plausible way to define it: wages are at market clearing levels. Then all resources of an economy are used to their full potential. Of course, labor market institutions, education and research policies, taxes and social policies, or even industrial policies could further add to making the economy more productive, but this is not the same as competitive.”

    Bitte erkläre Deine Sichtweise des Unterschieds zwischen Produktivität und Wettbewerbsfähigkeit.
    Ich ziehe okölogischorientierte örtliche Produktivität vor oder?
    Denn markträumende Löhne auf indischen Niveau sind kein Vorbild globalen Wettbewerbs.

  8. M.G. in Progress schreibt:

    Ever heard about productivity and labour and market organization?

  9. Dr. Gonzo schreibt:

    I can’t imagine investors deciding where to invest by looking at the clearest labor market. Don’t you think, like mentioned, these investors are just trying to find the lowest unit labor costs? Do relatively low labor costs need market-clearing wages?

    Also perhaps the term “competitiveness” is wrong, i think “investmentfriendly” would be more exactly to express what most people are thinking of. If more investors invest in country A than in country B, A is more investmentfriendly than B. Whether because of low labor costs or because of something else like lower taxes.

    just my 2 cents

  10. fl schreibt:

    @ Kantoos

    Well that’s the question: was German wage restraint just a reaction to overvaluation? If you can not show that there was any, how can your say that wage restraint was a reaction to it?

    No, the argument goes like this: If you have flexible nominal exchange rates, trying to bring down unit labour costs is likely to lead to your currency appreciating. But if you don’t have a flexible nominal exchange rate, changes in real unit labour costs mean a depreciation – which can not be corrected by movements in nominal rates and that’s why further wage restraint will bring improve price competitiveness – at least to the point that others are not doing the same.

    • kantoos schreibt:

      @ fl

      Maybe I wasn’t clear here: the fact that Germany needed to “internally devalue” (aka depreciation absent a currency) is an indication that Germany entered the Euro overvalued.

      “at least to the point that others are not doing the same.” This sounds like international competition is a zero-sum game, which of course it is not. That is why I don’t like the word “competitiveness”, people start to think too much of a country as a firm. Wages need to be at market clearing levels everywhere, then comparative advantage will take care of the rest, and there is no need to devalue further. I think the notion of competitiveness is dangerous, and should be used with care.

  11. fl schreibt:
  12. T.B. schreibt:

    I think it is correct to argue that the Euro resulted in capital outflows from Germany and low domestic investment, a development that is likely to stop now. Another important structural change that took place, more recently, is the labor market reforms. This commentator remembers 30 years of ever increasing unemployment in (West-)Germany only until quite recently the Hartz reforms were enacted. These reforms created a low wage segment in the German labor market that seemingly has been strong enought to exert pressure on wages also in higher quantiles of the wage distribution. If this is correct, some part of the gain in competitiveness as depicted by the real exchange rate should be attributed to these reforms.

  13. fl schreibt:

    @ Kantoos

    That was my point, whether it really “needed” to devalue. I don’t see it. You have to make the point that it was overvalued when entering EMU – showing that there was a real devaluation caused by wage restraint does not show that it “needed” to be done. The Chinese central bank does not “need” to keep its currency down, but it does everything it can to do just that.

    On competitiveness: Yes, countries should not compete against each other, and economic competition is not a zero sum game. But current account balances are – that’s the whole point. Current account surpluses – which drove 50 % or more of Germany’s growth in the last decade – are other countrys’ current account deficits.

    That does not show who is “responsible” – but basic textbook economic theory makes the claim that real exchange rates have something to do with current accounts – just sayin’.

    • kantoos schreibt:

      @ fl

      Well, the facts are that Germany internally devalued for 10 years. And we are not a centrally planned economy. If you think that was unnecessary, ok. But the unemployment figures strongly suggest otherwise.

      “which drove 50 % or more of Germany’s growth in the last decade” What is the basis of that statement? The drivers of growth are a bit more complicated than that, aren’t they? Just because net exports made up a larger share of GDP doesn’t mean that the CA surplus was the “driver” of growth.

  14. OGT schreibt:

    I agree that CA balance is not a great way to think about ‘competitiveness.’ (At least in normal times that aren’t suffering through a demand shortfall!)

    But a better, and I think accurate, way to think about the term competitiveness is the place on the value food chain. A country that is becoming more ‘competitive’ is one who is able to produce and sell increasingly complex and high valued goods. This was the case with Korea and Taiwan in the eighties or nineties and China today. It’s very much not the case with much of Latin America in the last twenty years.

    Here’s good paper expanding on the relationship between ‘complex’ goods and prosperity:

    http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp_616.pdf

    And a Dani Rodrik piece on the sectoral undevelopment in parts of Latin America.

    http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/rodrik54/English

    And finally to relate this back to Europe, here it is argued that yes the inter-European competitiveness argument is flawed, but that the periphery of Europe does indeed have a ‘competitiveness’ issue with the developing countries of Asia.

    We have argued that the recent debate about the need to reduce unit labour costs in the peripheral countries of the Eurozone is misguided. This is the consequence of using aggregate data to measure a variable that is only meaningful in physical terms. Indeed, aggregate unit labour costs are not just a weighted average of the firm’s unit labour costs. We have shown that aggregate unit labour costs can be interpreted as the product of the share of labour in output multiplied by the price deflator. The increase in aggregate unit labour costs observed across the Eurozone is the result of the increase in the second component, the deflator. In fact, except in Greece, labour shares have either remained stable since 1980, or declined. We have also argued that comparisons with Germany are also incorrect, as Germany’s export basket is significantly different. Wage reductions would do probably cause more damage through a compression of demand.

    http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/6299

  15. matt_us schreibt:

    I just read this Voxeu piece by two economists at the Asian development bank, which ODP refers to above. First of all, another piece by voxeu to confirm my suspicion, that this site mainly exists to publicise anti-Euro propaganda. This time it is taking isssue with the fact that reducing wages, which everyone else recommends as a way to internally adjust competitiveness, when in the Euro area other means are not available, does not help.

    They (Felipe/Kumar) say, simplified, as Euro peripherie countries do not export as much as Germany, hence reducing wages will reduce internal demand, and not improve competitiveness, as it did for Germany.

    That just shows what utter nonsense it is to let two Asian Development Bank economists (which is what they are) write about Europe. They have not got a clue. Tourism, for them, does not exist, even though it makes up a fifth of the economy in Greece and a large chunks in Portugal and Spain. Lower wages will, of course make tourism much more competitive – and hence are absolutely the right prescription for these countries in difficulty.

    A country does not have to produce complex goods to be rich. Austria is a good example. They “produce” excellent tourism, not really a high-tech industry, allowing Austria be competitive, running large current account surplusses.

    As a final point – the current account remains a better way of judging competitiveness than anything else, in my view. It is intuitively the same as a competitive firm or individual, more of the entity’s goods or services are demanded than anybody else’s. So ii a country is more competitive. it will run a current account surplus. Full employment, which kantoos suggests here as a proxy for competitiveness, is something else. It tells us how efficient an economy is, not how competitive.

    • kantoos schreibt:

      @ matt

      “As a final point – the current account remains a better way of judging competitiveness than anything else, in my view. It is intuitively the same as a competitive firm or individual”

      Not that I have a problem if you disagree with me, you often do. But as I argued above, no investment in a country will also lead to a relatively high CA surplus. That is not “competitive”, is it?

  16. Guy schreibt:

    The obvious reason why the euro would have raised the cost of financing for German firms is that it increased the competition for investments. Before the euro countries like Spain had unstable currencies, and were therefore perceived to be much more risky investments than Germany. Between the introduction of the euro and the financial crisis the gap in perceived riskiness went down a lot. This effect can be measured by the spread of the bonds rate between other euro economies and Germany, which indeed narrowed dramatically when the euro was introduced (and has opened up again for some economies after the financial crisis).

  17. OGT schreibt:

    Kantoos- I hope you find the links above interesting, as you’ll see most of the work revolves around the Hidalgo-Hausman growth model, which I think is a very powerful and useful way to look at development and growth.

    Re-reading your post I think I would quibble with your contention that market clearing labor markets is a good definition of ‘competitiveness’, even at ‘full employment’ few would characterize Nigeria or Cambodia as competitive. When we see the term competitveness used in the popular or financial press or by politicians I think the two most common meanings in fact are productivity and the ability to attract capital investment (at least here in the US).

    Of course, when one is using labor-unit costs as a basis for analysis there is an obvious assumption being made about the price of labor at its current level of productivity. Increasing productivity is one way to improve that equation, decreasing costs the other. Increasing productivity is a longer project, but by far the more important.

    • kantoos schreibt:

      @ OGT

      Thanks for your comment. I agree, the ability to attract capital (or entrepreneurs, or the best talents as Karl Smith has argued at Modeled Behavior) could also be a sensible definition. That would make Germany in the 2000s very uncompetitive indeed. The labor-focussed definition has the advantage to be compatible with comparative advantage, which most (popular) definitions are not. And at the current level of productivity, Cambodia (which I don’t know much about) might be competitive, why not?

    • kantoos schreibt:

      @ OGT

      Since you mentioned international development and Dani Rodrik: what about a definition of “(institutional) competitiveness”, in which the ability to quickly overcome binding constraints on growth could be the measure. Just a not very well thought-through idea.

  18. RL schreibt:

    @ kantoos

    I am not sure what competitiveness means at all, countries don’t „compete“.

    Countries do compete or else we would not have had the Peloponnesian War, the Great Game or the Cold War (or most other wars). The difference to the competition among companies is that among companies, success is well-defined and measurable: market share and profits.

    Countries, on the other hand, do compete for a number of different, scarce things: access to natural resources, investment, skilled people, international influence, prestige … Emphasis varies among countries, depending on their peoples’ and their leaders’ preferences. If they’re stupid enough, countries might even enter a competition for the highest current account surplus, the highest exports or the highest GDP.

    Actually, on most of the important fields, oh-so-competitive Germany clearly lose out to the USA. Still, Germany’s current account surplus is no purely negative indicator: It shows a lack of investment, but it also affords some influence among EU countries and apparently even some prestige.

  19. matt_us schreibt:

    @kantoos
    “But as I argued above, no investment in a country will also lead to a relatively high CA surplus. That is not „competitive“, is it?”

    If you don’t invest in your own country, you might in the short term run a bigger current account surplus, and look like you are more competitive – in the long term you will, of course, become less competitive. Just like any company or individual. You increase short term profits, at the expense of longer term gains.

    Saudi Arabia invests now in its own industries, in case the oil runs out. That means that they have a smaller CA surplus than they could have.

    Or, the other way around. South Korea ran large current account deficits in the 70s and 80s (I have not looke it up – just from memory) in order to build up its economy. They were not competitive while they did that, but afterwards, with all the factories producing export good, they were.

  20. Dietmar Tischer schreibt:

    Just as an idea:

    Why not measure competitiveness by per capita income?

  21. rubycon schreibt:

    “Nach dem letzten US-Abschwung (und in geringerem Ausmaß nach den zwei Abschwüngen zuvor) lagen die Dinge allerdings anders. Dieser war nicht durch einen Liquiditätsengpass verursacht, also konnte die Fed nicht ihren Zauberstab heben und die Vermögenspreise auf das Niveau vor der Rezession zurückbringen. Und das bedeutet, dass die unternehmerischen Probleme viel komplexer sind. Die Erholung resultiert nämlich nicht aus der Wiederbelebung der in der Vergangenheit profitablen Produktion, sondern aus der Frage, welche Produktion zukünftig profitabel sein wird.”

    aus :

    http://www.ftd.de/politik/konjunktur/:top-oekonomen-j-bradford-de-long-die-fed-kann-ihren-zauberstab-nicht-einsetzen/60033494.html?page=2

    Der hatte ja irgendwie dieselben Gedanken …

  22. Johannes schreibt:

    @ Kantoos
    What I don’t really get about the whole argument is:
    1. that you say it was necessary for Germany, to adapt their wages and
    2. you define CA surpluses as “less competitiveness” (in the sense of lower investments)

    So my question is now, why our CA surplus was increasing with us getting more competitive because of our slower growing wages? (or why investments were going down even if our labor costs decreased?) Even if that changes now partly because investments in the ECU periphery get less lucrative and more risky, this is hardly an accomplishment of the German labor market.

    If your argument is really that we could afford higher wages in the past, because the interest rates were lower (and the investments were still relatively high), than why the hell have we left that path???

    • kantoos schreibt:

      @ Johannes

      No, I don’t define competitiveness using the current account.

      Why we left that path? The Euro is one part, the deregulation of financial markets another. But I am not sure what the counterfactual really is, and nobody knows. It is a point worth thinking about, though.

  23. Luis H Arroyo schreibt:

    All you say is quite interesting, but for me is the definite test that the euro has no sense. The euro is not an OCA, and facts prove it. Germany is the only country capable of internal adjustment. Now, you seem critisize the ECB action to stabilise financial market, only because Gernmany doesn´t need it. All is correct, except for one reason: the euro is on th verge of break up. Thanks to the enormous force of Germany… Congratulations. You argument very well, but that is not the question.

  24. Wirtschaftsjournalist schreibt:

    Lieber Kantoos,

    zu Ihrem Beitrag über die Competitiveness von Deutschland möchte ich gerne einige Anmerkungen posten.

    Zunächst eine definitorische Klärung: Das Attribut „wettbewerbsfähig“ wird üblicherweise Unternehmen zugeschrieben – diese sind kompetitiv, wenn ihre Produkte billiger und/oder besser sind als die der Mitbewerber. In diesem Sinne gilt: Unternehmen konkurrieren um Kunden.

    Ablesen lässt sich diese Wettbewerbsfähigkeit an den Marktanteilen. Vor zwanzig Jahren hatten die deutschen Autobauer einen kumulierten Anteil am weltweiten PKW-Absatz von rund 15 Prozent. Heute beträgt der globale Marktanteil rund 20 Prozent. Dies ist ein klares Indiz dafür, dass die Wettbewerbsfähigkeit der deutschen Autohersteller zugenommen hat.

    Auf Staaten bezogen, hat Wettbewerbsfähigkeit jedoch eine völlig andere Bedeutung: Länder konkurrieren um Unternehmen bzw. Investitionen – nicht jedoch um Kunden und Absatzmärkte. Für die „Competitiveness of Nations“ sind m. E. die wichtigsten Parameter:

    — Löhne, Produktivität und als Resultante die Lohnstückkosten,
    — Steuern und Sozialabgaben,
    — Qualifikation der Arbeitskräfte, Qualität von Bildung und Forschung,
    — Infrastruktur (Verkehr, Telekommunikation, Stromversorgung),
    — Politische Stabilität, Rechtssicherheit und Planbarkeit für Investoren,

    Ist Deutschland gemäß diesen Kriterien in summa „wettbewerbsfähig“? Vor kurzem habe ich eine größere Geschichte gemacht, warum sich chinesische Unternehmen bei der Wahl eines europäischen Standorts zunehmend für Deutschland entscheiden.

    Größter chinesischer Investor in der Bundesrepublik ist, gemessen an der Beschäftigung, der Telekom-Konzern Huawei, der hierzulande rund 1500 Mitarbeiter hat. Vor einiger Zeit hat der Konzern seine Europa-Zentrale von London nach Düsseldorf verlegt.

    Wie mir Vertreter von Huawei erläuterten, waren für die Wahl von Deutschland vor allem folgende Faktoren wichtig:

    — Die zentrale Lage der Bundesrepublik in Europa, die guten Flughäfen und die schnellen ICE-Verbindungen, über die sich die meisten Kunden in Europa binnen weniger Stunden erreichen lassen.

    — Die gut ausgebildeten Ingenieure und Programmierer.

    — Die vielen Möglichkeiten, frei und ungehindert mit Spitzen-Universitäten und hochschulfreien Forschungsinstituten (Fraunhofer) zu kooperieren.

    Investiert hat Huawei in Deutschland bislang sehr wenig, nämlich insgesamt nur acht Millionen Euro. Die Programmierer arbeiten in angemieteten Büros und brauchen ansonsten nur ein paar PCs und Software-Tools.

    Damit möchte ich sagen: Die Höhe der Investitionen ist m. E. kein zuverlässiger Indikator dafür, wie „wettbewerbsfähig“ ein Land ist. Ein wesentlich besserer Maßstab ist die Beschäftigung, die in den vergangenen Jahren in der Bundesrepublik nachhaltig zugenommen hat.

    Und die Beschäftigtenzahlen können auch dann sehr kräftig steigen, wenn die Investitionen eher mäßig zunehmen. Denn die Kapitalintensität der Industrie hat in den vergangenen Jahren z. T. dramatisch abgenommen.

    Ein Beispiel dafür ist Siemens, eines der größten deutschen Unternehmen. Der Elektrokonzern betreibt in Deutschland kaum noch größere Fabriken.
    Die Produktion ist längst ausgelagert in Niedriglohnländer. In Deutschland befinden sich aber nach wie vor zahlreiche Forschungslabors, Entwicklungs-Zentren und Software-Labs – und die werden weiter ausgebaut.

    Am Siemens-Standort Neuperlach in München arbeiten mehr als 10 000 Menschen. Kein einziger davon steht am Fließband. Die meisten Beschäftigten tüfteln an Software-Lösungen, arbeiten Marketing-Strategien aus oder versuchen herauszufinden, wie Siemens seine Tausende von Patenten gewinnbringend ausschlachten kann.

    Mit anderen Worten: Investitionen sind, anders als sie suggerieren, m. E. kein vertrauenswürdiger Maßstab dafür, ob ein Land wettbewerbsfähig ist.

    Es wird in Deutschland keine Giga-Projekte wie Leverkusen, Ludwigshafen oder Wolfsburg mehr geben, die Milliarden über Milliarden verschlingen. Stattdessen blühen hierzulande Unternehmen, die vor allem Menschen statt Kapital benötigen.

  25. Wirtschaftsjournalist schreibt:

    Hallo Kantoos,

    vielen Dank für den Hinweis auf Dani Rodrik und seine Growth Diagnostics. (wollte Rodrik immer schon mal lesen, bin aber leider noch nicht dazu gekommen.)

    Ich finde Deine Anwendung auf die Wettbewerbsfähigkeit von Nationen sehr interessant. Wäre es korrekt, hierunter zum Beispiel die (ja nicht unumstrittene) „Agenda 2010“ zu subsumieren?

    Ich hätte nur zwei Anmerkungen:

    Zum einen sprichst Du von „institutional ability”. Ich denke, es geht auch darum, dass die Gesellschaft als Ganzes (und nicht allein die politischen und rechtlichen Institutionen) die Fähigkeit und Bereitschaft aufweist, einschränkende Faktoren für wirtschaftliches Wachstum zu identifizieren und zu beseitigen (wo immer dies akzeptabel ist).

    Andererseits denke ich, dass es sich bei der Definition eher um eine allgemeine wirtschaftspolitische Strategie handelt, also um ein Instrument, um Wettbewerbsfähigkeit herzustellen, und nicht um die Sache selbst.

    Wir wollen ja die Competitiveness von Nationen auf irgendeine nachvollziehbare Weise ermitteln und miteinander vergleichen. Hierfür erscheint mir Deine Definition ein wenig zu abstrakt.

    Wie ginge es besser? Meine spontane Idee wäre, die Wettbewerbsfähigkeit von Nationen dort zu messen, wo sie ganz unmittelbar auftritt – nämlich beim internationalen Handel. Ein Land, das sich auf den Weltmärkten mit den besseren und/oder billigeren Produkten behaupten kann, ist m. E. ex definitionem international konkurrenzfähig.

    Natürlich können wir nicht einfach die je aktuellen Prozent-Anteile einer Nation am Welthandel nehmen – größere Länder haben schlicht tendenziell größere Anteile als kleine Länder.

    Sehr aufschlussreich ist m. E. jedoch die relative Entwicklung der Weltmarktanteile über längere Zeiträume, sagen wir: ein paar Jahrzehnte.

    Seit dem Ende des Zweiten Weltkriegs hat sich der Anteil der USA an den weltweiten Exporten nahezu halbiert – er beträgt jetzt etwa acht Prozent. Eine ähnliche Entwicklung lässt sich für Großbritannien feststellen.

    Gleichzeitig ist der Anteil Japans am Welthandel von 1960 bis 1990 sprunghaft gestiegen. Dann aber hat er sich stabilisiert und ist in jüngster Zeit sogar etwas gesunken. Wie Japan in der Nachkriegszeit, steigert nun China in phänomenalem Tempo seine Exporte und Weltmarktanteile.

    Bleibt Europa. Neben England mussten auch Frankreich und Italien hinnehmen, dass sie im Welthandel auf hintere Ränge zurückgefallen sind. Ganz gut behaupten konnte sich hingegen die Bundesrepublik: Die deutschen Anteile an den internationalen Exporten schwanken seit zwei Jahrzehnten zwischen neun und zehn Prozent.

    Bemerkenswert ist, dass recht viele kleine Länder überraschend hohe Exporte aufweisen. Neben traditionellen Handelsnationen wie Belgien, Holland und Hongkong gehören dazu auch die jungen Industrieländer Korea, Malaysia und Taiwan.

    Ich finde, dass die Anteile am Welthandel und vor allem ihre langfristige Entwicklung recht gut überein stimmt mit unseren intuitiven Vorstellungen, wie wettbewerbsfähig die einzelnen Länder sind. Was meinst Du?

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  1. [...] the Euro nor on “a deliberate strategy to keep labour costs low and productivity high”. It is built on Germany having re(!)-gained its competitiveness (warning: shameless cross-linking) and an ECB that will have to conduct too loose monetary policy [...]

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