Sunday, June 17, 2012

Will Greeks today say "danke" or will they "call the bluff"?

The short answer to this question is: neither! Politics is neither a business for gratitude nor for uncivilized threats.

It is interesting to note that people who are farther removed from the blame-game are voicing opinions which would not be supported by a majority in, say, Greece. Fareed Zakaria, for example, wrote a piece for TIME magazine titled "Time to say Danke". In it, he says: 

"Throughout the euro-zone crisis, it has become conventional wisdom to regard the Germans as narrow-minded, ungenerous and dogmatically wedded to prescriptions of austerity to treat Europe's problems. Those criticisms are vastly overstated. Consider that Germany is being asked to take its taxpayers' money--in a democracy--and use it to bail out a country like Greece, which is guilty of mismanagement, poor competitiveness and financial fraud. And it has said yes! In return for this, Germans are being called Nazis in Greek newspapers".

The Swiss Joseph Ackermann, after 10 years at the helm of Deutsche Bank certainly a connaisseur of Germany, says in an interview with Handelsblatt:

"...should Germany devote more resources to the survival of the Eurozone? The pressure on the Berlin government is growing, it doesn't only come from other European countries but also from the USA. Here are two facts: the American help for Mexico in the 1990s, of which the USA were very proud, represented 1,3% of the then American budget. The guarantees and loans which Germany has already committed represent 70% of the German budget. To explain to German tax payers that they should shoulder even more risk would be very difficult..."

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung wrote in an editorial: 

"The EU has succeeded where Versailles and Potsdam had failed. The voluntary union brought peace to the Continent and created a stable framework for its diversity. That is the purpose of the European Union and not the recycling of money from North to South combined with strong disciplinary measures for the South. Europe's elites put this inheritage at risk when they break with European traditions and vote for fiscal uniformity and a single political standard".

All those Greeks who are voicefully calling for solidarity from other Eurozone countries (n. b.: but not calling for solidarity from their own non-tax-paying compatriots) should understand that there are natural limits to solidarity. That limit is reached when people feel that the principal of fairness is being breached.

Take Germany, for example. Germany has a fiscal union among its 16 federal states. At present, only 3 states (Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse) are payers in the fiscal untion; 13 states are payees. The fiscal union treaty is up for renewal in a few years. Already the state of Bavaria is making noises that they are not prepared to renew it as it is. Why? Bavarians cannot understand why they should pay for social luxuries of Berliners when the only reason that they would have the resources to do that is because they cut those social luxuries for Bavarians.

Also, to pay for the cost of unificiation, an 8% tax surcharge was levied over 20 years ago, allegedly to last for only a few years. It is still in place today. Today, the infrastructure of most East German cities is better than that of some cities in the Western state of North-Rhine-Westphalia. Over the years, some West Germans have expressed their feelings that "the Wall should be built again".

My point is: even within one and the same nation solidarity can/will reach its limits when it violates the perceived principle of fairness. Not a chance of an icycle in hell that such solidarity can persist among different nations.

In conclusion: today is neither a day to say "danke" nor to call the bluff. Instead, it will hopefully be the beginning of the realization that there is no such thing as a free lunch and if the kitchen no longer produces lunches, one has to fix the kitchen.

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