Enlightening analysis of the European situation from Nick Rowe:
Keynes worried about this asymmetry, but Bretton Woods never really resolved it. It’s one of the reasons that Bretton Woods fell apart. Countries that ran chronic balance of payments deficits sometimes were forced to devalue. I can’t think of a case where a country that ran a chronic balance of payments surplus was forced to revalue. Because they weren’t forced to do anything. (Though one of the reasons Canada chose to adopt a floating exchange rate in 1950 (pdf) was to allow the Canadian dollar to appreciate, which might be a partial exception?)
And I think that very same asymmetry is at work in the Eurozone right now. Germany should adjust one way, with higher prices, higher spending, or by leaving the Euro. And countries like Ireland and Greece should adjust the other way, with lower prices, lower spending, or by leaving the Euro. But Germany can choose to adjust. Ireland and Greece are forced to adjust.
And Germany doesn’t seem to want to change course; there are plenty of disagreements in Germany politics but fundamental support for an export-oriented economic model is across the board. So someone else will, in the end, have to adjust.