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Kieler Diskussionsbeiträge 399
Strengthening potential output is high on the agenda for economic policy in the European Union. While there is widespread agreement that structural policies have a positive impact on long-term growth, there is a controversial discussion whether coordination of macroeconomic policies can contribute to this goal. Against the background of the new economic conditions in the euro area, we analyze what could be gained from a combination of wage policy and monetary policy. Using a small theoretical macroeconomic model, we show that coordination between wage policy and monetary policy can be beneficial under certain assumptions. A policy of sustained wage moderation results in an increase in employment and potential output. Assuming that expectations are not completely forward-looking and prices are sticky, the upward shift in potential output will not be matched by a similar increase in aggregate demand. To prevent an output gap from emerging, the optimal monetary policy is to lower interest rates. However, a central bank aiming at price stability will only do so when the announcement of a policy of sustained wage moderation is credible. Simulations with a large macroeconometric multicountry model confirm that a coordination of German wage policy and ECB monetary policy would help to realize the beneficial effects of wage moderation somewhat faster, although the quantitative effect is relatively small. The long-run gain in employment would accrue regardless of a coordination with monetary policy. According to the simulations, employment in Germany would increase by about 750,000 persons in the long run if wages increase one percentage point slower than usual over a period of five years. Frequently, countries with a particularly positive economic development are said to have benefited from a coordination of macroeconomic policies. However, only a small part of the growth and employment success in these countries can be accounted for such a coordination. In the case of the United States, it is hard to see any evidence of ex ante policy coordination at all. In the Netherlands and in Ireland, a consensual strategy of wage restraint for improving the competitiveness of the economy and stimulating employment has been a significant factor of the economic success. It was important in both cases that significant supply side reforms were implemented by the governments at the same time, whereas monetary policy played no active role. Coordination of macro policies is severely complicated by the pronounced differences in national wage bargaining systems. The systems would have to be harmonized and centralized to create a single European wage policy. It is, however, unlikely that centrally designed harmonization of labor market institutions in the EU can cope with the differences across Euroland regarding productivity and employment. In the framework of the European Union, the presumed positive effects of policy coordination are stressed over and over again, for example in the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines. However, clear definitions and mechanisms how such a coordination can be achieved are missing. The fundamental difficulty concerning a coordination between wage policy and monetary policy arises from two facts: First, there is no such thing as “the” wage policy at the European level. Second, the statute of the ECB does not allow a binding commitment by the central bank. This does not mean, however, that the ECB would not take account of what is happening, for example, to wage developments. According to the monetary policy strategy, it should react if there is an increase in the growth rate of potential output as a result of wage moderation. For example: If the social partners in a large country such as Germany give a credible signal that wage increases will be moderate for several years, the ECB could accommodate this change. However, such a strategy cannot be reversed in that the ECB moves first hoping that wage moderation will follow.
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