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Should Germany’s surpluses be punished?

By Henri Sterdyniak

On the procedure for macroeconomic imbalances

Since 2012, every year the European Commission analyses the macroeconomic imbalances in Europe: in November, an alert mechanism sets out any imbalances, country by country. Countries with imbalances are then subjected to an in-depth review, leading to recommendations by the European Council based on Commission proposals. With respect to the euro zone countries, if the imbalances are considered excessive, the Member state is subject to a macroeconomic imbalance procedure (MIP) and must submit a plan for corrective action, which must be approved by the Council. suite…»

Poverty and social exclusion in Europe: where are things at?

By Sandrine Levasseur

In March 2010, the EU set itself the target for the year 2020 of reducing the number of people living below the poverty line or in social exclusion by 20 million compared with 2008, i.e. a target of 97.5 million “poor” people in 2020. Unfortunately, due to the crisis, this goal will not be reached. The latest available figures show that in 2013 the EU had 122.6 million people living in poverty or social exclusion. Surprisingly, the EU’s inability to meet the target set by the Europe 2020 initiative is due mainly to the EU-15 countries, the so-called “advanced” countries in terms of their economic development [1]. suite…»

Can students evaluate teaching quality objectively?

By Anne Boring, OFCE-PRESAGE-Sciences Po and LEDa-DIAL, www.anneboring.com.

The author will present her work at the International Symposium on Gender Bias in the Governance and Evaluation of Research Bodies organized by the EGERA (Effective Gender Equality in Research and the Academia), which will take place on 23 February 2015 at Sciences Po, on the CERI premises in Paris.

Anglo-American universities generally rely on the evaluation of teaching by students to measure teaching quality. They hypothesize that students are the best placed to judge the quality of teaching in that they observe the teachers throughout a course. The evaluations usually serve two purposes. First, they are used as a tool for pedagogical management for the teachers themselves, by providing them with suggestions for improving their teaching; and second, these evaluations are also often used by the administration to make decisions about promotions or the extension of teaching contracts. The evaluations then act as incentives: they encourage teachers to give the best of themselves so as to be rehired the following semester or to obtain a promotion. suite…»

Redistributive policies and the demand for fairness

par Gilles Le Garrec

Six years after the onset of the Great Recession, France’s economic situation is still gloomy: growth is sluggish, there are almost 3.5 million unemployed in mainland France, and the public debt is approaching the threshold of 100% of GDP (95.4% according to the 2014 Maastricht criteria according to the OFCE). One cause for satisfaction has been the ability of the social protection system to mitigate the increase in income inequality. The Gini index [1] calculated on the labour force (population age 18 to 65) shows that, between 2008 and 2011, inequality in market income increased by 2.9 percentage points while inequality in disposable income increased by only 1.8 points. To achieve this, social spending rose by 0.8 point, bringing it to 19% of GDP excluding old-age pension expenditures [2]. However, one of the fears associated with the crisis (due to its duration and magnitude) is that France can no longer afford to provide people with such a high level of social protection. Is this fear justified? Not necessarily. suite…»

Is France’s trade deficit entirely structural?

By Eric Heyer

The issue at the heart of the debate between those arguing that a lack of supply is behind the low level of activity in France over the last four years and those arguing that the problem is a lack of demand is the nature of the country’s trade deficit.

On the one hand, the French economy has a number of symptoms characteristic of an economy experiencing a shortfall in demand: strong disinflation, high unemployment, businesses declaring substantial spare capacity due mainly to a lack of demand, etc. But, on the other hand, the existence of a persistent deficit in the trade balance (Figure 1) casts doubt on the competitiveness of French firms and on their capacity to meet additional demand, which would thus express a problem with supply.

G1_Post1901ang

So, after more than ten years of trade surpluses, which represented over 2 GDP points in 1997, France’s trade balance turned negative in 2005. After widening gradually until 2010 when the deficit reached nearly 2 GDP points, the trend turned around. In 2013 (the latest available figure), the trade deficit still stood at 1 GDP point.

This observation is not however sufficient to dismiss all the arguments of the proponents of a demand shortage that France simply suffers from a supply problem. What is needed at a minimum is to analyze the nature of the deficit and try to separate its structural component from its cyclical component. The latter is the result of a difference in the economic cycle between France and its major trading partners. When a country’s situation is more favourable than that of its partners, that country will tend to run a deficit in its trade balance linked to domestic demand and thus to more buoyant imports. A trade deficit may thus arise regardless of how competitive the country’s domestic firms are.

One way to take this cyclical gap into account is to compare the gaps between an economy’s actual output and its potential output (the output gap). At the national level, a positive output gap (respectively negative) means that the economy is in a phase of expansion (respectively of contraction) of the cycle, which, other things being equal, should lead to a cyclical deterioration (or improvement) in its trade balance. In terms of the trading partners, when they are in a cyclical expansionary phase (positive output gap), this should lead to a cyclical improvement in the trade balance of the country in question.

Using data from the latest issue of the OECD’s Economic Outlook (eo96), we calculated an “aggregate” output gap for France’s partners by weighting the output gap of each partner by the weight of French exports to that country in France’s total exports.

This calculation, shown in Figure 2, highlights two points:

  1. The first is that, according to the OECD, France’s output gap has been negative since 2008, signalling the existence of room for the French economy to rebound.
  2. The second is that the economic situation of our trading partners is even worse. The cyclical gap, measured by the difference between the output gaps of France and of its partners, indicates a significant difference in favour of France.

G2_Post1901ang

It is then possible to assess the impact of the cyclical situation of the country and that of its main partners on the trade balance.

A simple estimate using Ordinary Least Squares over the period 1985-2013 shows a relationship of cointegration between these three variables (trade balance, output gap of France and output gap of its partners) for France. The signs obtained are consistent with what we would intuitively expect: when France is in an expansionary phase, its trade balance tends to worsen (coefficient of -0.943). In contrast, when rival countries are experiencing a boom, this makes for an improvement in France’s trade balance (coefficient of +0.876).

France’s structural trade balance since 1985 can then be calculated by subtracting the cyclical effect (national and competitors) from the observed trade balance.

Figure 3 shows this calculation. First, the fall in the euro in the late 1990s led to a structural improvement in France’s structural balance. The sharp deterioration in the trade balance between 2001 and 2007 would then be entirely structural: it would be explained in particular by China’s entry into the WTO, by the competitive disinflation policy adopted by Germany, and by the appreciation of the euro. Since the 2008 crisis, however, an increasingly substantial portion of the French trade deficit would be cyclical. So even if French growth were sluggish, the country’s economic difficulties were nonetheless less dramatic than in the case of some of its trading partners[1]. It is this relatively more favourable performance compared to its major trading partners that would have led to the rise of a trade deficit, part of which was cyclical. By 2013, the imbalances in the current account would be entirely cyclical in origin.

G3_Post1901ang

This result echoes the analysis provided by the French national accounting office on the factors driving growth over the last four years: the level of real GDP in the third quarter of 2014 was only 1.4% higher than in first quarter 2011. An analysis of the factors contributing to this performance is unambiguous: private demand (household and business) was down sharply (-1.6%), particularly household consumption, the traditional engine of economic growth. While there are more households today than four years ago, their total consumption was 0.6% below their 2011 level. However, while the French economy’s ability to deal with the global competitive framework is being questioned by the dominant discourse, foreign trade has in fact had a very positive impact in the last four years, with a boost from exports, which contributed a positive 2 GDP points to growth. In short, for four years the French economy has been driven mainly by exports, while it has been held back by private demand.

This analysis is of course based on an assessment of output gaps, whose measurement is tricky and subject to sharp revisions. In this respect, while there is an institutional consensus on the estimate that France has a negative output gap, there is also a broad range in the magnitudes of the room for a rebound, ranging in 2014 from 2.5 to 4 points, depending on the institution (IMF, OECD, European Commission, OFCE).

This diagnosis would be somewhat attenuated if an output gap were used for France that was more negative than the one calculated by the OECD: using the OFCE’s estimate for France (an output gap of -2.9 GDP points in 2013 instead of the OECD’s -1.4 points) and retaining the OECD measure for its partners, France’s more favourable relative performance compared to its major trading partners would now explain only half of its trade deficit[2]. Part of the deficit observed would therefore be explained by the competitiveness problems of French business (Figure 4).

G4_Post1901ang

In conclusion, as with any measurement of a structural variable, the evaluation of the structural trade balance is sensitive to the measure of the output gap. Nevertheless, it is clear from this brief analysis that:

  • If the French economy is considered to suffer mainly from a supply problem (output gap close to zero), whereas our partners, mainly European, face a shortfall in demand (negative output gap), then the deficit in our trade balance would essentially be cyclical.
  • However, if France, like its partners, is also experiencing a shortfall in demand, then only part of our deficit is cyclical, and the rest is related to a problem with the competitiveness of our companies.

This last point seems to us closer to the actual situation of the French economy. While French companies’ have undeniably lost some competitiveness, this should not be overestimated: the sluggishness that has characterized our economy for nearly four years is due not only to a lack of supply and the disappearance of the potential for growth – even if this is unfortunately likely to taper off – it is also due to a significant decline in demand.

 


[1] For example, Italy and Spain entered a second recession in third quarter 2014, leaving their GDP lower than its pre-crisis level by 9% and 6% respectively.

[2] We find a similar result when the previous version from the OECD (eo95) it used for France and all its partners.

The Greek debt – a European story …

By Catherine Mathieu and  Henri Sterdyniak

At end 2014, Greece’s debt was 317 billion euros, or 176% of its GDP, up from 103% in 2007, despite debt relief of 107 billion in 2012[1]. This debt is the result of a triple blindness, on the part of: the financial markets, which lent to Greece until 2009, heedless of the unsustainable level of its public deficit (6.7% of GDP in 2007) and its trade deficit (10.4% of GDP in 2007); the Greek government and ruling elite who, thanks to the low interest rates permitted by its membership in the euro zone, allowed unbalanced growth, based on financial and real estate bubbles, corruption, poor governance, fraud and tax evasion; and Europe’s institutions, which after the laxism of 2001-2007, imposed crushing, humiliating austerity programmes on the country, with the oversight of the troika, a strange threesome consisting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission (EC). suite…»

Who has the best playing field for tax competition: the United States or the European Union?

By Sarah Guillou

Two recent events demonstrate the differences in the American and European views on tax competition. First was the case of Boeing, which the European Union (EU) has brought before the World Trade Organization (WTO). The EU is challenging the tax incentives offered by the State of Washington to the American aircraft maker. Then there is the European Commission’s investigation of Luxembourg’s tax provisions that benefit Amazon, the Internet retailer. Boeing and Amazon both make massive use of tax competition. While this is widespread and accepted in the United States, it is being increasingly questioned in the EU, and even excluded by law if it is classified as illegal State aid. suite…»

Flexibility versus the new fiscal effort – the last word has not been spoken

By Raul Sampognaro

On 13 January, the Juncker Commission clarified its position on the flexibility that the Member States have in implementing the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). The new reading of the SGP should result in reining in the fiscal consolidation required for certain countries[1]. Henceforth, the Commission can apply the “structural reform clause” to a country in the corrective arm of the Pact[2], whereas previously this was only possible for countries in the Pact’s preventive arm[3]. This clause will allow a Member State to deviate temporarily from its prior commitments and postpone them to a time when the fruits of reform would make adjustment easier. In order for the Commission to agree to activate the clause, certain conditions must be met: suite…»

Working in the United States: longer, harder, and …. on weekends!

By Elena Stancanelli, Paris School of Economics, CNRS and Research Associate at the OFCE[1]

Americans now work longer hours than Europeans. Daniel Hamermesh and Elena Stancanelli show in “Long Workweeks and Strange Hours” that the lengthening of the workweek in the United States has gone hand in hand with more work at night and on weekends.

The authors’ results are based on mining a unique set of data, the American Time Use Survey and a panel of European individuals that accurately measures employee working time (weekly, week-ends, at night) as well as a range of other activities (leisure, child care, domestic work, rest periods, etc.) using daily time diaries [2]. The individuals are interviewed about the entire day (24 hours) using ten-minute slots (144 ten-minute slots are filled in for each individual). These data are collected by the national statistical institutes for representative samples of the population, on an annual basis in the United States but much less frequently in Europe. For example, in France, the Emploi du temps(EDT) survey is collected by the INSEE statistics institute once every twelve years.[3] suite…»

The Greek Sisyphus and its public debt: towards an end to the ordeal?

By CĂ©line Antonin

After its failure to elect a new President by a qualified majority vote, the Greek Parliament was dissolved, with early elections to be held on 25 January 2015. The radical left party Syriza is leading the opinion polls on the election, ahead of the “New Democracy” party of the outgoing Prime Minister, Anthony Samaras. While Syriza’s economic programme has met with enthusiasm from the population, it has aroused concern from the Troika of creditors (IMF, ECB and EU), particularly on three issues: the country’s potential withdrawal from the euro zone, the implementation of a fiscal stimulus, and a partial sovereign default. This last topic will be the main issue after the elections. suite…»