经济学人官方译文 | 德国经济的黄金时代可能行将终结

Germany’s economy
Time to worry
An economic golden age in Germany could be coming to an end

The world is used to a thriving German economy. A decade ago, during the financial crisis, it shed relatively few jobs, as unemployment soared elsewhere. Since then it has been an anchor of fiscal stability while much of the euro zone has struggled with debt and deficits. Its public debt is below the target of 60% of gdp set by eu treaties—and falling. Thanks to labour-market reforms introduced during the 2000s, Germans enjoy levels of employment that beat job-friendly Britain, even as inequality is barely higher than in France. Its geographically dispersed manufacturing industries, made up of about 200,000 small and medium-sized firms, have mitigated the regional disparities that have fuelled populism across the West.
全世界已经习惯了德国经济的兴旺发达。十年前的金融危机期间,其他地方失业率飙升,德国减少的岗位相对较少。自那以后,欧元区多数地区都受困于债务和赤字,而德国一直是财政稳定的主心骨。其政府债务占GDP比重低于欧盟条约设定的60%的目标,而且还在下降。得益于在本世纪头十年开展的劳动力市场改革,德国的就业水平更胜失业率不高的英国,同时不平等情况也不比法国高多少。地区发展不平衡助长了西方的民粹主义,而德国的制造业(由约20 万家中小型企业组成)分散于全国各地,有助于缓解地域差距。

Yet the German economy suddenly looks vulnerable. In the short term it faces a slowdown. It only narrowly avoided a recession at the end of 2018. Temporary factors, such as tighter emissions standards for cars, explain some of the weakness, but there is little sign of a bounceback. Manufacturing output probably fell in January. Businesses are losing confidence. Both the imf and the finance ministry have slashed growth forecasts for 2019. In the longer term, changing patterns of trade and technology are moving against Germany’s world-beating manufacturers. In response, on February 5th Peter Altmaier, the economy minister, laid out plans to block unwanted foreign takeovers and to promote national and European champions.
但现在,德国经济突然显得脆弱起来。短期来看,德国将面临经济放缓。2018年年底它险些出现衰退。当前的疲弱一定程度是由于更严格的汽车排放标准等暂时性因素,但几乎看不出有反弹的迹象。1 月份的制造业产出可能下滑。企业信心渐失。国际货币基金组织和德国财政部都调低了对2019 年增长的预测。长远来看,贸易和技术模式正在改变,不利于德国那些世界一流的制造企业。作为应对,2 月5 日,德国经济部长彼得·阿尔特迈尔(Peter Altmaier)制定计划,阻止不合心意的外国收购案,并扶持国内和欧洲领军企业的发展。

Germany is getting both the short and the long term wrong. Start with the business cycle. Many policymakers think the economy is close to overheating, pointing to accelerating wages and forecasts of higher inflation. In their view, slower growth was expected, necessary even. That is complacent. Even before the slowdown, the imf predicted that in 2023 core inflation will be only 2.5%—hardly a sign of runaway prices. In any case, higher German inflation would be welcome, as a way to resolve imbalances in competitiveness within the euro zone that would elsewhere adjust through exchange rates. The risk is not of overheating but of Europe slipping into a low-growth trap as countries that need to gain competitiveness face an inflation ceiling set too low by Germany.
从短期和长期来看,德国的行动都是错误的。先说商业周期。许多政策制定者认为德国经济接近过热,凭据是工资上涨加速和预计通胀上升。在他们看来,增长放缓是意料之中的,甚至是必要的。但这是自满的看法。即使在经济放缓前,国际货币基金组织预测到2023 年核心通胀率仅为2.5%,根本谈不上是价格失控的迹象。在任何情况下,德国通胀上升都是好事,是解决欧元区内竞争力失衡的一种方式——在世界其他地区可以通过汇率来调整这种失衡。风险不是经济过热,而是德国把通胀上限设定过低,令欧元区内需要提升竞争力的国家受限,导致欧洲陷入低增长困局。

The slowdown also portends deeper problems for Germany’s globalised economic model. Weakness in part reflects the fallout from the trade war between China and America, two of Germany’s biggest trading partners. Both are increasingly keen on bringing supply chains home. America is due soon to decide whether to raise tariffs on European cars. Trade is already becoming more regionalised as uncertainty grows. If global commerce splits into separate trading and regulatory blocs, Germany will find it harder to sell its goods to customers around the world.

Reform has made Germany’s labour market strong, but it will soon face new challenges. Industrial jobs look particularly vulnerable to automation, yet lifelong learning and retraining are relatively rare in Germany. The workforce is ageing. Neither the government nor business is much digitised and neither invests enough. If technological change demands that its economy embraces digital services, Germany will struggle.

The government is not blind to these problems, but Mr Altmaier’s protectionism is the wrong medicine. The left, meanwhile, wants to roll back labour-market reforms. Better to expand a recent boost to infrastructure spending and press ahead, at scale, with tax incentives for private investment. Both should help growth today and boost the economy’s long-term prospects. Significantly lower taxes on households would encourage a rebalancing away from exports and towards consumption. A dose of competition could invigorate coddled service industries. The German economy has had an impressive run, but cracks are appearing. It is time to worry.