10 November 2009

On the Berlin Wall

Three papers up on Voxeu examining the impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall, 20 years on.
Michael Burda's article Half-empty or half-full?East Germany two decades later concludes:
It’s my guess that East Germany in the 21st century will reproduce the existing north-south divide in the West. This is because convergence is not only about equating East and West Germans’ levels of physical and human capital but also endowing them with the same level of social, institutional, business and marketing infrastructure. On this metric, the Eastern German economy looks like a mixed bag, like much in life, a glass half-empty and half-full at the same time.

This is an important paper, its conclusion has interesting implications for all states with wide regional disparities

Volker Nitsch and Nikolaus Wolf's paper Tear down this wall:on the persistence of borders in trade  reports:
Notably, it makes hardly any difference whether we analyse data for 101 regional units and 10 industry groups or 27 regional units and 24 industry groups: the trade effect of the former Iron Curtain across Germany continued to be highly significant throughout the period under investigation, although this effect clearly declined over time. Given that we can extrapolate the results, we estimate that it would take between 33 and 40 years, or roughly one generation, to remove the effect of the former political border entirely.
These findings are difficult to square with the “political barriers” or the “artefact” explanation of border effects but strongly suggest that some fundamentals are driving the effect. We conclude that the biggest challenge to globalisation is neither technological nor political barriers to trade, but barriers stemming from economic fundamentals. While we can change infrastructure and even remove political borders, it takes at least a generation to tear down the wall in our heads.

Gerlinde Sinn and Hans-Werner Sinn's Muffed jumpstart puts their conclusion baldly:
Germany’s political unification has succeeded; its economic unification has not....
The failed unification of the East and West German economies has also dragged down West Germany in an international comparison. Until German unification, West Germany had grown properly and in terms of per capita national income had held a top position in Europe, at about the same level as Denmark. Under favourable conditions, it could have maintained this growth thereafter and Germany as a whole could have grown much faster than the rest of Europe due to the convergence of East Germany to the Western European level. But this is not what happened. Since 1995, both parts of the country have crept along in step and have taken turns with Italy for the lowest rung on the European ladder. Things turned out worse than we had expected.
The economic crisis has enforced a new realism in Germany. Net transfers to East Germany have been declining for a few years, wage increases have become more modest, and the constitution prohibits East German states to continue their policy of rising indebtedness from 2020. The times of easy money are past, and that is why a phase of growth may start now. Unfortunately, it is twenty years late.

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