In recession battle, Germany and China are winners. Why? One word: MANUFACTURING
Posted by Bert Maes on July 1, 2010
The Great Recession rolls on, but it’s not too early to single out the major powers that have come through the wreckage in the best shape. They are the ones the other major nations implore for help — to bail out weaker economies, to diminish their dominance of the world’s production and start consuming more themselves. There are just two such nations: China and Germany.
Germany and China don’t have a lot in common. Germany has a mature economy and is a stultifyingly stable democracy. China has a rising economy and remains disturbingly authoritarian. What sets them apart from the world’s other major powers, purely and simply, is manufacturing. Their predominantly industrial economies meet their own needs and those of other nations, and have made them flourish while others flounder.
Most Americans, I suspect, believe we’re losing manufacturing because we can’t compete against cheap Chinese labor. But Germany has remained a manufacturing giant notwithstanding the rise of East Asia, making high-end products with a workforce that is more unionized and better paid than ours.
Germany has increased its edge in world-class manufacturing even as we have squandered ours because its model of capitalism is superior to our own. For one thing, its financial sector serves the larger economy, not just itself. The typical German company has a long-term relationship with a single bank — and for the smaller manufacturers that are the backbone of the German economy, those relationships are likely with one of Germany’s 431 savings banks, each of them a local institution with a municipally appointed board, that shun capital markets and invest their depositors’ savings in upgrading local enterprises. By American banking standards, the savings banks are incredibly dull. But they didn’t lose money in the financial panic of 2008 and have financed an industrial sector that makes ours look anemic by comparison.
So even as Germany and China have been busily building, and selling us, high-speed trains, photovoltaic cells and lithium-ion batteries, we’ve spent the past decade, at the direction of our CEOs and bankers, shuttering 50,000 factories and springing credit-default swaps on an unsuspecting world.
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