Versailles Redux? Eurozone Competitiveness in a Dynamic Balassa-Samuelson-Penn Framework

Article in the Journal of Globalization and Development. Reposted with permission.

May 1, 2015

Prima facie, competitiveness adjustments in the eurozone, based on unit labor cost developments, appear sensible and in line with what the economic analyst might have predicted and the economic doctor might have ordered. But a broader and arguably better—Balassa-Samuelson-Penn (BSP)—framework for analyzing these adjustments paints a very different picture. Taking advantage of the newly released PPP-based estimates of the International Comparison Program (2011), we identify a causal BSP relationship. We apply this framework to computing more appropriate measures of real competitiveness changes in Europe and other advanced economies in the aftermath of the recent global crises. There has been a deterioration, not improvement, in competitiveness in the periphery countries between 2007 and 2013. Second, the pattern of adjustment within the eurozone has been dramatically perverse, with Germany having improved competitiveness by 9 percent and with Greece’s having deteriorated by 9 percent. Third, real competitiveness changes are strongly correlated with nominal exchange rate changes, which suggests the importance of having a flexible (and preferably independent) currency for effecting external adjustments. Fourth, internal devaluation—defined as real competitiveness improvements in excess of nominal exchange rate changes—is possible but seems limited in scope and magnitude. Our results are robust to adjusting the BSP framework to take account of the special circumstances of countries experiencing unemployment. Even if we ignore the BSP effect, the broad pattern of limited and lopsided adjustment in the eurozone remains.