Germany: Land Of Poverty... Or Prosperity?

Time after time, it appears, in Europe 'beggars can be choosers'. That is, it seems, until Cyprus when the Merkel hammer was brought down and a new 'template' to avoid German taxpayers implictly taking on the burden of southern European largesse. The initial pro-Euro indifference to the bailouts has turned increasingly to resentment in Germany - and as we noted here, the rise of anti-Euro parties in the very heart of the political project. The following Bloomberg Briefs chart explains the tension and why the German 'five-wise-men' are pushing for a broad-based 'wealth tax' across Europe's periphery.

Simply put, the Germans bearing the burden are 'poorer' than the peripheral nations as the chart of median wealth so clearly indicates. Combine this with the fact that Germany has the lowest rate of home ownership in Europe and it is little wonder that 'Alternative-for-Germany' party is already at a 3% polling?

However, as discussed here, while it may not be reasonable to ask the ‘poor’ median German household to transfer resources to southern European countries, it may be more reasonable to make such demands on the richer part of the German households and the corporate sector. The problem is that this wealth is very unequally distributed in Germany, creating a perception among less wealthy Germans that these transfers are unfair.

Median Net Wealth...


Home Ownership...


It seems just another massively broad disparity in the European disunion...BUT...

Chart: Bloomberg Briefs

But as Paul De Grauwe and Yuemei Ji note from VoxEU,

Are Germans Really Poorer Than Spaniards, Italians, And Greeks?

Rarely have statistics been misused so much for political purposes as when recently the ECB published the results of a survey of household wealth in the Eurozone countries (2013a). From this survey it appeared that the median German household had the lowest wealth of all Eurozone countries. Figure 1 summarises the main results for the most significant Eurozone countries.

Figure 1. Net wealth of median households (1000€)

Source: European Central Bank (2013).

From Figure 1 it appears that not only the median German household has the lowest wealth, but also that the differences within the Eurozone are enormous. The median households in countries like Belgium, Spain and Italy appear to be three to four times wealthier than the median German household. Even the median Greek household is twice as wealthy as the German one.

The publication of these numbers by the ECB quickly led many observers to conclude that it is unacceptable that the poor Germans have to pay for the rescue of the much richer Greeks, Spaniards and Portuguese (see, e.g., Wall Street Journal 2013, Financial Times 2013, Frankfurter Allgemeine 2013).

Is this the right conclusion?

A first thing to note is that the ECB also published the mean net wealth of households in the Eurozone. Surprisingly, the mean household wealth numbers were not given much attention in the media, despite the fact that when compared with the median numbers they provide important information about the distribution of wealth in the different member countries. We show the mean wealth numbers in Figure 2. It is striking to find that the mean household wealth of Germany (approximately €200,000) is not the lowest of the Eurozone anymore.

Figure 2. Mean household net wealth (1000€)

Source: European Central Bank (2013).


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