Euroland, Aching to Grow

Our Beautiful Money

When I listened to the Voice of Greece last time, probably on a Sunday morning in May, while doing my share of the chores, I caught myself thinking something like: Why the heck are they still broadcasting on shortwave, while other countries, including mine, are cutting their foreign radio stations’ budgets? My brain didn’t add “It’s our money”, because, despite reading Germany’s biggest tabloid once in a while, I know that things are a bit more complicated. It’s more like the banks’ money, or it’s becoming the money of the German state, several other European states, and the European central bank’s in that they are trying to save not only the commercial creditors’ existence, but actually every Eurocent the Greek state owes to the commercial banks.

I hope the Greek government won’t get this influential blog wrong. I love shortwave radio, and I don’t care how the Greeks find their feet again, as long as they do manage to bounce back at all. And while I do feel that, once upon a time, a Greek government did fool Berlin and many other Euroland capitals when it provided numbers seemingly consistent with the convergence criteria and joined Euroland – apparently in 2002 -, its European partners were only too willing to be fooled at the time. And I guess that next time a similar opportunity arises, they will be only too willing to be fooled, once again.

It would be heartening to think that even the most skeptical German might have some sympathy for the average Greek,

Inside Greece wrote in May, given that the average Greek, knowing nothing more than you or I about political economics, was still facing a barrage of opinions on debt restructuring.

Which is true. But it would be heartening, too, to think that even the most skeptical Greeks might have some sympathy for the average German, who has lived with very little growth in individual purchasing power ever since the mid-1990s, who has seen restructuring which spelled upheaval of sorts, and who is under the impression that this was exactly the restructuring the Greeks saved themselves, at about the same time, and at our costs.

Either way, the main question is no longer how we got into the mess, but how we get out of it again – as Europeans, if possible.

Want of Fresh Ideas

Premature Concept

Science and Politics

The Economist is in no doubt about which European state can do most to prevent the situation from aggravating further. But

[Germany’s] strategy, in so far as there is one, has followed a twin track. One has been to push others to adopt Germanic rigour through tougher fiscal rules and a “fitness programme” to make economies more competitive. This is meant to prevent a future crisis. As for today’s ills, caused by the sins of the past, the answer has often been just to play for time: to try to repair Europe’s banks, insist on deficits being trimmed and hope that growth makes the problem more manageable. (May 14, 2011, page 40)

And the same article pointed out that Germany had opposed Eurobonds, resisted immediately imposing losses on bondholders (while insisting that they had to share the pain from 2013), and backed arguments against Ireland burning its bank creditors.

What strikes me most is how resentful – and at the same time fatalistic – many of my compatriots seem to react to the bad  news they are showered with. Granted – Germans and revolutions live on two different planets. But innovative thought should be nothing outlandish here.

I am skeptical of too innovative ways of thinking, and frequently, what is meant to be innovative is in fact only dogmatic. The political Left and the Vatican aren’t as different from each other as they may like to think. But this country would deserve a much more open press which would discuss real political alternatives. There will be no change without new concepts. Christian Y. Schmidt, a journalist living in China, stated correctly in a talk half a year ago that even though the German press criticized the government – and the opposition – frequently and with pleasure, there were limits. Germany’s economic order wasn’t questioned. The idea that banks could be nationalized, as a result of the recent financial crisis, hadn’t been discussed in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Not that nationalizing the banks would necessarily be a great idea. But legislation that would make banks more responsible creditors, and less prepared to bet on bailouts with public money, is mandatory. Unfortunately, German politicians have preferred to defame the Greek pension system, rather than to address the actual issues.

I have shifted somewhat during the past few years, from reading mainstream printed papers to more “exotic” stuff online. Der Spiegelfechter is a website which provides posts from fresh (usually rather leftist) perspectives, and its contributors aren’t shying away from explaining  the background to the issues in the news (in German).

In many cases, I disagree with hopeful leftist articles about a European preparedness to address the real issues. When – mostly young – Spaniards began to protest at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, for example, I heard some of them vent their frustrations in front of a BBC microphone – in Spanish. It struck me because, whenever they can, BBC reporters seem to use  English-language statements from foreigners in their coverage, even from Joe Blow. Could it be that there were no protesters with sufficient confidence in their English language skills available? If so, don’t blame the state for that.

And am I jumping to conclusions when thinking that many “people in the street”  are just as prepared to have their lives subsidized, as are many commercial banks?

Change don’t come Easy

In the Grapes of Wrath (1939), chapter 14, John Steinbeck wrote:

The causes lie deep and simply – the causes are a hunger in a stomach, multiplied a million times; a hunger in a single soul, hunger for joy and some security, multiplied a million times; muscles and mind aching to grow, to work, to create, multiplied a million times. The last clear definite function of man – muscles aching to work, minds aching to create beyond the single need – this is man. To build a wall, to build a house, a dam, and in the wall and house and dam to put something of Manself, and to Manself take back something of the wall, the house, the dam; to take hard muscles from the lifting, to take the clear lines and form from conceiving. For man, unlike anything organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments. This you may say of man – when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back.

I hope this is true. And I hope that what followed in the same chapter, is not:

This you may say and know it and know it. This you may know when the bombs plummet out of the black planes on the market-place, when prisoners are stuck like pigs, when the crushed bodies drain filthily in the dust. You may know it in this way. If the step were not being taken, if the stumbling-forward ache were not alive, the bombs would not fall, the throats would not be cut. Fear the time when the bombs stop falling while the bombers live – for every bomb is proof that the spirit has not died. And fear the time when the strikes stop while the great owners live – for every little beaten strike is proof that the step is being taken. And this you can know – fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.

Human brains will need to be aching to work and to create, too.


» Creative Destruction or Development, March 15, 2010
» From Confederacy to Federation, Joschka Fischer, May 12, 2000


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