|Meet your new boss.|
Then, with hardly a pause, he breathlessly began to explain why. His answer went something like this...
"Why?! Let me tell you why, people..." [turns head to the left] "As I look over here, I see and Audi and a BMW..." [turns head to the right] "...and as I look over there, I see a Mercedes and a Volkswagen!" [turns to camera--big light bulb flashing over his head] "Greece is an extremely important export market for Germany!"
Well, as the following diagram shows, this certainly does appear to be the case (source):
So as far as I can gather, what the fellow is trying to tell us is this. The Germans should forgive Greeks their debts because, well, how else will the Greeks continue to afford importing German-made cars? After all, it is the Greek consumer that is selflessly keeping the German autoworker employed. Moreover, it has been a fine recipe for keeping German unemployment low, and growing German wealth. Yes, that's right...wealth in the form of...well, you know...grade A assets, like Greek government bonds.
Now where on earth might a fellow get an idea so bizarre as this? Well, how about here: Germans and Aliens (Paul Krugman):
But the Germans believe that their own experience shows that austerity works: they went through some tough times a decade ago, but they tightened their belts, and all was well in the end. Not that it will do any good, but it's worth emphasizing that Germany's experience can only be generalized if we find some space aliens to trade with, fast. Why? Because the key to German economic affairs this past decade has been a truly massive shift from current account deficit to surplus.
Now, other countries within Europe could emulate Germany's past if Germany herself were willing to let its current account surplus vanish. But it isn't, of course. So the German demand is that everyone run a current account surplus, just like they do -- something that would only be possible if we can find someone or something else to buy our exports. It remains remarkable to see with how little wisdom the world is governed.Now, I'm not sure whether any German really has made an explicit demand for all countries to run current account surpluses. But if anyone did, it would clearly be silly. The current accounts of all countries must necessarily sum to zero; at least, in the absence intergalactic trade.
But then, that sort of gave me an idea. Why not a world current account surplus? What is an account, anyway? It's just a book-entry object. Let's give the account owner a proper name. And what's in a name? May as well call the account holder "Space Alien," with a "local" delivery address, say, the Pacific Ocean.
Next step. Contract some agency to print up Space Alien bonds, rate them AAA, then use them to acquire goods from all over the world, including ocean vessels. That should lower world unemployment. Then load the vessels with the newly purchased cargo, sail them out to their delivery point (the mid Pacific, say), and sink them all. (This last step is absolutely necessary, as sending the goods to any country on earth will mean job-killing imports for that country, jeopardizing their current account surplus). Alas, the Space Aliens will ultimately have to default on its debt but, you know, who really cares? Just means more work is needed to replenish our lost wealth.
Now, if you think this sounds a little loopy, let me direct you to this: Fake Alien Invasion Would End Economic Slump.
Of course, this is all just a variation of the old Keynesian prescription of employing people to dig up holes and fill them up again. And, contrary to what you may be thinking, the purpose of this post is not to argue against the ability of such a program to increase net employment. What I want to question instead is why running a current account surplus is necessary for all this hocus pocus to work?
Here's an idea. Instead of exporting vehicles to Greece, why don't German car manufacturers ship their cars to domestic German residents instead? The domestic purchasers could pay for the cars by issuing fake paper, just like their foreign counterparts. And when the time comes to default, well, at least all the BMWs, Audis, Mercedes, and Volkswagens will be residing on German soil.