Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stop Playing the Nazi Card

The reason that Germany is hesitating on providing leadership in the effort to save the Euro is really not well understood.  This article in today's WaPo helps provide context:

Adolph Hitler with SS Members
 Instinctively, Germans understood the deal that Chancellor Helmut Kohl struck with French President Francois Mitterand at the time: France consented to German reunification, and Germany gave up the cherished deutsche mark in favor of the euro. Regaining territorial and political sovereignty meant giving up monetary sovereignty. The French calculus was to use the euro to tie a larger Germany to Europe. And that has worked — until now.

From the outset, the German people had reservations about the euro. When the common currency was introduced, polls found that majorities did not support it. But Kohl, as the “father of unification,” reassured his countrymen. It is no coincidence that the very same Kohl, now an ailing elder statesman, warned Germans this past week that the risks of stepping in to resolve the crisis are smaller than those of a collapsing euro system. However, large majorities of Germans now oppose some of the proposals for dealing with the crisis. They fear they will be forever bailing out Greece and Italy and the rest.

The deutsche mark was the tool Germany used to inoculate itself from the malaise of those countries. The currency embodied the country’s postwar reemergence as a symbol of stability and success. In fact, it was the only national symbol in which Germans dared take pride. When West Germany won the soccer World Cup in 1954, for instance, nobody sang the anthem, hardly anybody waved the flag. The deutsche mark became the last redoubt of German nationalism — a nationalism that outlived the currency itself. Economic nationalists are at the core of the current German opposition to the joint underwriting of European debt. While Chancellor Angela Merkel calls for “more Europe” to end the crisis, the economic nationalists see further transfer of sovereignty as a cardinal sin.
"They fear they will be forever bailing out Greece and Italy and the rest."  A justifiable fear, I'd say.

Is there a serious downside to the collapse of the Euro.  I'm sure there is.  But I also sense that the ones really afraid of its collapse are the investors and bankers (including Americans) who stand to lose a LOT of money from their promiscuous investments in European sovereign debt.  The attempt to save the Euro reminds me a lot of our own TARP.  A bank bailout that doesn't solve the underlying economic problem.

And as I've said before, the Euroskeptics who kept Britain and Sweden, among others, out of the Eurozone, have been proven to be correct.  The Euro wasn't the panacea people were claiming, and it has caused all kinds of distortions which are now catching up with Europe. 

Europe will still be Europe without the Euro.  It will probably be just a little more economically unequal, for some obvious reasons, but countries will truly be more in control their own economic destiny, for good or ill.  And that's probably just as well.

In fact, according to another article in the WaPo, the Euro has, ironically, actually exacerbated European tensions.
War would not have come to Europe, with or without the euro. A prediction made by Harvard economist Martin Feldstein in 1997 seems closer to reality. He argued that the introduction of the euro would lead to major friction within the European Union, because the problems in maintaining a common currency among so many countries would create confrontations and a rebirth of nationalism.

Feldstein was right. The current euro crisis has frayed nerves so much that Europeans have become more aggressive and even nationalistic again.

The polite tone cultivated for decades by E.U. partners has disintegrated into a tirade of insults. Germans have called the Greeks lazy, corrupt and just plain stupid. The news media in Germany gleefully point out Greek billionaires who pay no taxes, workers who retire at 50and harbors filled with the yachts of the idle rich. German politicians have suggested that Greece sell some islands to repay its debt. In return, Greeks have pulled out the Nazi card, claiming that the Germans owe them billions in wartime reparations.
Everybody, Hitler and the Nazis are gone, and they're not coming back. Germany has changed. It's now the most responsible economic and political nation in Europe, without exception. So stop playing the Nazi card.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, the Germans might have to wait 150 or more years (kinda like the Confederate States of America-CSA) before their Nazi label wears off their brown shirt image. Of course the states that belonged to the CSA still fly the stars and bars as part of their state flags or literally fly the CSA flag next to Old Glory in front of their state houses. And although Germany is trying to keep the specter of Hitler in shadow, Deutschland shouldn't throw insults at EC member states. People who live in glass houses... (PS - I am a bit more sensitive to this issue because my husband is Jewish.)