Earlier in December Germany passed some much-needed economic reforms. Germany hopes to avoid its growing reputation as the “sick man of Europe.” It has been plagued by slow growth and double-digit unemployment for decades now. The key measures of the reform included the following:
1. An $18.9 billion tax cut, adding $11 billion to a previously planned cut. Note that this is a tax cut, not a spending cut.
2. A weakening of job protection rules, especially for firms of less than ten people. This is the best element of the package.
3. Stronger financial incentives for the jobless to take work. That being said, most of these changes are small adjustments in the numbers rather than a real kick in the pants.
4. Consolidation of some unemployment and social help benefits. Nowhere do I see this described as a real spending cut, although perhaps it will eliminate some costs of administration in the long run.
5. Restrictions on various tax exemptions and a greater unification of the tax code. Read: some small tax increases. This includes an explicit tax increase on tobacco, an elimination of tax deductibility for some commuting expenses, and a tax amnesty designed to raise a burst of revenue. Of course the long-term implications of amnesty encourage more tax cheating.
My take: These measures are better than nothing but they address only a small fraction of the German problem. Looking at who voted for them — the Social Democrats — is enough to illustrate their weakness. That being said, Germany appears to be in the midst of a mild recovery of expectations, so if these reforms get the credit all to the better. It might make further improvements possible.
Perusing the German articles is revealing, whether or not you read German. The country has policies called the “Werbungskostenpauschbetrag,” “Vermoegensbeteiligung,” and of course the “Bewirtungsaufwendungen.” As Mark Twain might have suspected, simply pronouncing and spelling out these words is likely to put a dent in your growth rate.