The Transatlantic Growth Gap

The key to the economic-performance gap between the US and the EU in the last three years is the resilience of private consumption by American households. How were US households able to reduce their debt burden during a period of high unemployment and almost no wage gains while sustaining consumption growth?

BRUSSELS – The global financial crisis that erupted in full force in 2008 affected Europe and the United States in a very similar way – at least at the start. On both sides of the Atlantic, economic performance tanked in 2009 and started to recover in 2010.

But, as the financial crisis mutated into the euro crisis, an economic gulf opened between the US and the eurozone. Over the last three years (2011-2013), the US economy grew by about six percentage points more. Even taking into account the increasing demographic differential, which now amounts to about half a percentage point per year, the US economy has grown by about 4.5 percentage points more over these three years on a per capita basis.

The main reason for the gap is the difference in private consumption, which grew in the US, but fell in the eurozone, especially in its periphery. A retrenchment of public consumption actually subtracted more demand in the US (0.8 percentage points) than in the European Union (0.1 points). This might appear to be somewhat surprising in light of all of the talk about Brussels imposed austerity.

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