Blog Post

Finland and asymmetric shocks

What’s at stake: Finland exemplifies the difficulty of dealing with asymmetric shocks within a Monetary Union as the Finnish economy has struggled to recover from a series of idiosyncratic shocks – the decline of Nokia, the obsolescence of the timber industry, and the fallout of the Russian crisis.

By: Date: December 21, 2015 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

Adjustment in the euro: Not a one-time problem

Paul Krugman writes that this is a reminder that the euro system creates huge problems for adjustment everywhere, that this isn’t a one-time problem. Adjustment can take place even with a single currency; but it’s a very slow and painful process. The single currency isn’t totally unworkable. It’s just extremely costly.

Paul Krugman writes that we’re increasingly seeing that the problems of the euro extend well beyond the troubles of southern European debtors. Economic performance has also been very bad in several northern nations with good credit ratings and low borrowing costs — Finland, Denmark (which isn’t on the euro but shadows it), the Netherlands. We’re seeing the classic problems of asymmetric shocks in a currency area that isn’t optimal. The problems of the euro, in other words, weren’t caused by an outbreak of fiscal irresponsibility that won’t recur if the Greeks can be brought to heel; they weren’t even, in a deep sense, the result of big capital flows that won’t come back again. The whole single currency project was flawed from the start, and will keep generating new crises even if Europe somehow gets through this one.

Lars Christensen writes that when the euro was set-up the general assumption was that asymmetrical supply shocks were rare and economically not important. However, the economic development in Finland over the past decade shows that asymmetrical supply shocks indeed can be very important economically.

Bad luck in Finland: Nokia, timber, Russia

Matt O’Brien writes that Finland has had some bad luck. It started when Apple made Nokia go from being synonymous with smartphones to being synonymous with old smartphones. As Finland found out, it isn’t easy to replace a company that, at its peak, made up 4 percent of your economy.  Obsolescence came for the timber companies next. There was nothing they could do to make people need as much paper, which until now had been a major export, in a post-paper world. And, on top of that, Finland has felt the effects of Russia, one of its biggest trading partners, staggering under the weight of low oil prices and Western sanctions.

BEBR 21 12 15 2

Source: Bank of Finland

Erkki Liikanen says that “four shocks” hit at the same time: the decline of Nokia and the country’s paper industry, the retirement of a generation of baby boomers, high labor costs, which have made the economy uncompetitive, and the fallout from the Russian crisis. Simon Nixon writes that the cumulative result is that Finland’s export market share has shrunk by a third since 2008, wiping out what was a large current-account surplus and accounting for much of the decline in growth. Lars Christensen writes that for Finland there is indeed a “New Normal” – real GDP growth looks set to be permanently lower than it was in the 1990s and 2000s.

Three Finnish Depressions

Marko Amnell writes that before it adopted the Euro Finland faced two severe recessions during its years of independence after 1917. The first was the Great Depression of the 1930s and the second was during the early 1990s (the causes of which included the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a banking crisis in the Nordic countries). Finland recovered from its economic downturns in the 1930s and the early 1990s, at least partially as a result of devaluing its currency, the Markka. Finland gave up the gold standard in October 1931, which was followed by a very strong economic recovery. Similarly, during the early 1990s, Finland followed a “strong Markka” policy of high interest rates, tying the Markka’s exchange rate to the ECU currency basket (in the lead up to the launch of the Euro in 1999). This policy was abandoned in September 1992, allowing the Markka to float freely and devalue, which was followed by a strong economic recovery.

BEBR 18 12 15

Simon Nixon writes that it is easy to exaggerate the role devaluation played in recoveries during the Great Recession. The U.K. recovery began only as its substantial post crisis devaluation started to reverse. In a world of increasingly open economies and interconnected supply chains, the benefits of devaluations aren’t clear-cut, potentially pushing up manufacturing costs and depressing consumer demand. Conversely, two of the fastest-growing economies in the EU now are Ireland and Spain, both of which are in the eurozone. It is also an open question what would have happened to Finland’s funding costs had it retained its own currency and tried to devalue and spend its way back to growth.

Erkki Liikanen writes that our challenges are based on structural facts. An adjustment of our currency would not make up for those challenges. If we had a little weaker Finnish markka, Nokia would still not beat iPhones and young people would not suddenly start to read printed books and newspapers and create demand for the products of Finnish paper mills.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

View comments
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Trade Wars: what are they good for?

Following the US announcements in early March of their intent to impose steel and aluminum tariffs, and the subsequent threats from China to retaliate with their own tariffs, the global trade picture remains uncertain. The IMF and the World Bank Spring Meetings set off amid US-Japan bilateral negotiations and Trump’s hot-and-cold approach to the TPP. This week we review blogs’ views on tensions over international trade and how they can impact world economic growth.

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: April 23, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The debate on euro-area reform

A paper jointly written by 14 French and German economists set off a debate about the reform of euro-area macroeconomic governance. We review economists’ opinions about it.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: April 16, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Latvia’s money laundering scandal

Latvia’s third largest bank ABLV sought emergency liquidity from the ECB and eventually voted to start a process of voluntary liquidation, after being accused by US authorities of large-scale money laundering and having failed to produce a survival plan. What does it mean for the ECB?

By: Silvia Merler Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: April 9, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Milton Friedman's " The role of monetary policy" - 50 years later

In March 1968, Milton Friedman’s “The Role of Monetary Policy” - after his famous presidential address to the American Economic Association - was published in the American Economic Review. 50 years later, economists reflect on this famous work.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: April 3, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The Brexit Transition Deal

Michel Barnier, the European Union’s Brexit negotiator, and David Davis, Britain’s Brexit secretary, announced a transition deal on March 19. We review recently published opinions about the deal and its implications.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: March 26, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Central banks in the age of populism

Two years of elections have shown that we live in an age of increasing political and economic populism. What are the consequences of that for central banks? We explore opinions about it, from both 2017 and more recently.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: March 19, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Are we steel friends?

The U.S. administration is considering to impose tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminium (10%), based on a national security argument. We review economists’ views about this major shift in U.S.’ trade policy.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: March 12, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Getting accustomed to Brexit - UK and the customs union scenario

The Labour Party’s support of customs union membership has the potential to change the course of Brexit, with 13 months left to close negotiations. This week we review the commentary around the possibility of a post-Brexit EU-UK Customs Union.

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: March 5, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The Italian elections

Italy goes to the polls on March 4, with a new electoral law that is largely viewed as unable to deliver a stable government. We review recent opinions and expectations,  as well as economists’ assessment of the cost/coverage of parties’ economic promises. 

By: Silvia Merler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 26, 2018
Read article More by this author

Blog Post

Venezuela’s hyperinflation

The International Monetary Fund forecasts Venezuelan inflation spiralling to 13,000 percent this year. As President Maduro is expected to introduce the “petro” cryptocurrency next week, we review economists’ recent (and less recent) opinions on the current crisis.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: February 19, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The stock market slide

The stock market dropped last week, leading to questions and debates as to the underlying reasons. We review economists’ views on the issue.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: February 12, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Trust in the EU? The key obstacle to reform

The challenges that Europe faces both from within and from outside require immediate, concerted counter-efforts. While efforts to advance the European economic architecture are desirable and useful, can Europe realistically attempt to integrate further on the basis of such little trust?

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 9, 2018
Load more posts