ON AUGUST 24th Germans received news to warm any Teutonic heart. Figures revealed a larger-than-expected budget surplus in the first half of 2016, and put Germany on track for its third year in a row in the black. To many such excess seems harmless enough—admirable even. Were Greece half as fiscally responsible as Germany, it might not be facing its eighth year of economic contraction in a decade. Yet German saving and Greek suffering are two sides of the same coin. Seemingly prudent budgeting in economies like Germany’s produce dangerous strains globally. The pressure may yet be the undoing of the euro area.

German frugality and economic woes elsewhere are linked through global trade and capital flows. In recent years, as Germany’s budget balance flipped from red to black, its current-account surplus—which reflects net cross-border flows of goods, services and investment—has soared, to nearly 9% of German GDP this year.

The connection between budgets and current accounts might not be immediately obvious. But in a series of papers published in 2011 IMF economists found evidence that cutting budget deficits is associated...Continue reading