Germany is likely the only country in the world where Ricardian equivalence — the theory that the government cannot stimulate private consumption by cutting taxes because rational actors know that taxes will eventually have to rise again and therefore put aside savings — actually holds true.
As for reasons behind Germany’s obsession with savings? Other than the demographic pressures and a cultural of frugality?
History plays a role:
Whereas the Anglo-Saxon world is characterized by what one could call pragmatic optimism, Germans instinctively think about the long term, and they aren’t disposed toward cheerfulness. Whereas America’s recent history teaches hope, Germans see in their history the need to be cautious: In the last 100 years, Germans have experienced two currency reforms and the rise and demise of three regimes.
A distinctly German view on economic activity and the role of trade:
It’s an economic model that traces back to the beginning of the postwar period, when booming exports were the backbone of the Wirtschaftswunder, or economic miracle — the period of strong growth in the 1950s that transformed the destroyed country into a major world economic power. When Germans saw Volkswagens on roads all over the world, it wasn’t only a source of income, but proof that the country was once again an accepted member of the international community. Add Germany’s traditional obsession with engineering and its distaste for the service sector, and it may become clearer why the country is prone to mercantilism.
How government sees its place in macro-economic policy-making:
Germany simply does not have a tradition of macroeconomic policy, at least not in the American sense of managing aggregate demand. Contemporary German economics has its roots in Ordnungspolitik, a unique school of thought that emerged in the 1940s and for which there is no English translation. Ordnungspolitik accepts that government intervention is necessary for the economy to function properly, but the role it assigns to the state is fundamentally different than in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Whereas most American macroeconomists believe in discretionary intervention in the way of countercyclical monetary and fiscal policy, German economists encourage the government to only alter the framework within which economic agents interact.
And as for Germans’ infamous fear of inflation?
By staking such a hard line, [Germany’s central bankers] managed to claim more influence for themselves in the West German political order. Germany’s contemporary fear of inflation is the product of an invented history — one that the mythmakers themselves came to believe.