The mythical German economic boom, along with Santa Claus and the Loch Ness Monster, made an appearance in Roger Cohen's NYT column this morning. (Actually, Santa is still recovering from his busy Christmas and Nessie is hiding, but the German boom is there, really.) Cohen tells readers that Germany did the right thing when its Social Democratic government weakened its welfare state. He now is pleased that France's Socialist President Francois Hollande is about to follow suit.

"The German left partially dismantled the welfare state built by the German left. Unemployment fell, the economy boomed. Germany today is Germany and France is France."

Let's see, Germany boomed and France is France. Let's check the score on that one. Here's growth from 2002 to 2013 in the two countries. [I have corrected this to show more recent data, thanks Mark.]


Germany shows a hair more growth through the summer of 2013, but is a cumulative difference of 2.4 percentage points of growth over 11 years (0.2 percentage points a year) the difference between a booming economy and France? This is not trivial, but I'm not sure it is exactly the difference between a booming economy and a stagnant one. (The difference is somewhat larger in per capita terms. Germany's population is shrinking slowly while France's is growing. Some folks consider the latter a big positive, although I'm not in that camp. I have nothing against French people, but I don't see how they are doing the world a service by producing more of them.) 

While the difference in growth rates since Germany's weakening of its welfare state may not justify Cohen's celebration of a booming German economy, there is a notable difference in labor market outcomes. In the most recent data Germany has an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent while France has an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent.

This gap cannot be explained by the differences in growth rates in the two countries. Rather it stems from Germany's aggressive use of work sharing and other policies designed to keep workers on the payroll even if it means a reduction in work hours. If Hollande wanted to copy a policy from Germany he might have looked to its success with work sharing. That policy has been far more successful in lowering unemployment than cuts in the welfare state have been in promoting growth.


Note: In response to comments, France is red, Germany is blue.