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国民的积蓄必然在海外烧掉?

德国人节省、储蓄,因此积累了很多外汇储备,和海外资产。德国人落得什么呢?

2008年的美国次贷危机和后来的欧盟危机(希腊、西班牙危机等)几乎消灭了德国人的海外资产。

比较一下中国人。眼下的第三世界国家债务危机(与新冠的直接关系不大)会不会消灭中国人的海外资产呢?

这是FT专栏作家Martin Wolf 在评论一本新书时的问题。这本书 Trade Wars Are Class Wars. By Matthew Klein and Michael Pettis.

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Now consider Germany. Since the end of the post-reunification boom of the 1990s and the labour market liberalisation of the 2000s, corporate profits have been high and domestic corporate investment weak. Remarkably, “[German] consumption did not grow at all between 2001 and 2005.” Domestic spending fell far behind trade-fuelled income. The German government has, until Covid-19, also run a very tight budget. As a result, a gigantic and persistent current account surplus — excess savings, in other words — emerged.

Until 2008, the excess savings of Germany and several other smaller European countries (such as the Netherlands) were offset by unsustainable credit and spending booms in countries such as Greece, Ireland and, above all, Spain. The global financial crisis ended that. Since then the entire eurozone has moved into a globally destabilising current account surplus, in a damaging attempt to turn the second-largest economy in the world into a bigger Germany in the midst of a global savings glut.

What benefit have Germans obtained from their huge excess savings? Remarkably little. “Germans, who have been such avid exporters of financial capital over the past two decades, are almost uniquely bad at investing abroad,” write the authors. “Since the start of 1999, the German private sector collectively spent a little over €5.1tn acquiring assets in other countries. Yet over the same period, the amount of these foreign assets grew by only €4.8tn.” Over almost two decades, unwise purchases of US subprime mortgages and Greek sovereign debt have resulted in a valuation loss of 7 per cent. This is a fruitless form of frugality.

If some countries have excess savings, others must be in the opposite position. Occasionally, capital flows have generated large deficits in emerging or weaker high-income countries, such as Spain. But the biggest and most persistent deficit country has been the US. Global supply and demand are balanced there, mainly by the Federal Reserve, in effect the world’s central bank.

This has not been so easy to do, particularly since the US, too, has had a big shift in income towards the high savers. With the current account deficit largely driven by external demand for safe US assets, the offsetting excess domestic demand has come from two sources: financial bubbles and the federal deficit. The former emerged in the stock market bubble of the 1990s and again in the housing bubble of the 2000s; the latter emerged after both bubbles burst and, more recently, with Trump.

The housing bubble was particularly fascinating not only because of its disastrous end, but because of the way in which Wall Street generated the safe dollar-denominated assets the world wanted by alchemy: the conversion of bad mortgages into triple-A securities.

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