I’m No Germanophile

Germany FlagRegular readers of this blog are well aware that I am a Francophile and an Anglophile. What I am not is a Germanophile, or as I would put it (because I’m not a nice man) a Krautophile. The amazing thing is that it is not because of the Nazis. But I’ll come back to that issue. The problem for me is that culturally the Germans have an attitude—an attitude that I am familiar with because of individuals I have known.

No one walks around thinking that they are morally superior because they are really good at math. They might be obnoxious in many other ways but not in that way. But when it comes to things like diet or credit rating, many people really do think in terms of morality. I know from my own experience of being thin throughout my life that there was nothing I was doing that make me thin. Similarly, most people with stellar credit ratings have never been tested: they have had easy, affluent lives and have never been forced to make a decision about which of too many bills to pay.

But it is worse than this. Many people develop a kind of addiction to feeling morally superior. These are the kinds of people who will pass up a drink in order to feel superior to those who don’t. I don’t especially have a problem with these people. Everyone has mechanisms for feeling special. But the mere fact that they are acting as they do to feed this feeling of moral superiority means that they are not, in fact, morally superior. It’s like people who think religion is a game where they behave in order to get into heaven. What kind of lame-ass God wouldn’t see through that?

Germany Coat of ArmsThis is the impression that I’ve always had of Germany. As a culture, it seems to act as though it is better than everyone else. And this has really been on display since 2008. To a large extent, Germany is the European Union. It is over 20% of the whole economy. And it hasn’t been hit that hard by the recession. Yet it’s attitude toward the other countries in the EU (especially in the south) has been like a cross parent toward a naughty child. If only the other countries would behave like them, everything would be fine. Of course, that isn’t true. And as Paul Krugman likes to say, “Economics is not a morality play.”

Germany stands as the naturally skinny broccoli-loving girl looking down her nose at the pudgy girl with her unfortunate genetics and attraction to fatty foods. But as usual, it’s even worse than that. Because in the case of Germany, its smug attitude toward the other EU countries is harming those countries. It would be like the skinny girl, instead of eating a slice of pizza force fed it to the pudgy girl.

Paul Krugman posted a number of articles the last couple of days on this subject. It all started when the US Treasury Department released a report that showed that Germany’s trade surplus was hurting the global economy. I haven’t read the report, but Krugman produced a graph that showed that since the financial crisis, Spain’s account balance has gone from -10% to about +1%. That’s what we would expect. But during the same time, Germany’s account balance has been constant at about 6%. This is very simple: the way to recovery is not for everyone to have a positive account balance because that can’t happen. Germany is a rich country; they should be importing more. But instead, they are pointing a finger at the poorer countries and complaining they aren’t more like Germany.

In another article, Krugman notes that the European Commission (EC) estimates of structural unemployment in Spain are way wrong and this is forcing the country to do more austerity than even it thinks is reasonable. So the EC was going to change the way it was calculating this rate, but Germany stepped in and blocked it! It’s almost unbelievable.

That brings us back to the Nazis. I think that the German people were largely victims of the Nazis. But you can see how a culture that thinks itself morally superior to everyone else might breed a political movement like the Nazis. Regardless, that attitude is now not only hurting Europe, it is hurting the whole world. Germany has nothing to feel superior about.

Afterword

For the record, the United States is very much like Germany in this regard. I could definitely see fascism taking root here the same way it did in Germany in the 1930s. And we as a people have a tendency to think of ourselves as better than other people. We aren’t the biggest economy for historical reasons. We are the biggest economy because we are “exceptional”! And look, I’m very fond of many of our eccentricities. But every country has its own style and things that make it special. Being simply better than other countries in an absolute sense is not one of them. I am not a fan of hubris and this is something that both Germans and Americans have in abundance.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

6 thoughts on “I’m No Germanophile

  1. I know exactly two germans, and they are a bit know-it-all-y. Fine people, but they do get cross if you start disagreeing with them. So I just don’t disagree.

    Last time I visited friends in Denmark, we crossed the border to a positively lovely little German port town called Flensburg. And, boy, were the waiters (at two different restaurants!) snooty as hell. The Danes said it was a cultural condescension thing; like a student at Berkeley might sneer at a kid from Fresno. They were used to it, and still enjoyed visiting.

    Best salad I’ve ever eaten, at one of those restaurants. And the beer! Mein Gott! Brewed on-site, served on a porch in the shade where you can sit with the old men playing chess and watch the fishing trawlers come in. It doesn’t get much better than that. Except for the attitude . . .

  2. @JMF – I thought about complaining about German’s tendency not to tip because, "That’s not how we do it at home!" Whatever.

    Yeah, they can make beer. Of course, most of the German beer people know about here isn’t very good. I think America is probably the best beer brewing nation now. And all our big beers suck. [url=http://lagunitas.com/]Lagunitas Brewing Company[/url] is 15 minutes away from my door. One of the best in the world!

  3. So Germany is exporting too much and ruining other economies. Is Germany forcing people to buy its goods? Are the Germans at it again: striving for world domination? I think Mr. Krugman would be better advised if he concentrated on the state of America’s economy.
    As for Germans feeling morally superior to other nations, I think it is time they stopped feeling morally inferior, even if that means annoying the rest of the world (because the Germans have been so uniquely evil etc.).
    I was born and raised in England, but I have chosen to live most of my life in Germany. I tried returning to England once and managed two years. What a relief it was to get back to the north German coast and its sincere, unpretentious people!

  4. @valentine Gale – Good for you! Germany is a very nice country to live in. But that has little to do with what we are talking about. The other countries in the EU are not independent. Germany has been throwing its weight around forcing economic policies on other countries that are hurting them. And it is all justified by the supposed moral superiority of the Germans.

    You asked if Germany is forcing people to buy its goods. Well, that is really not the way economies work. But the better question is whether the southern countries were forcing Germany to loan them money. That’s now why Germany feels it can enforce harsh austerity on these countries. [i]Those profligate countries borrowing more than they should have.[/i] But no mention is made of those greedy German bankers who loaned more money than they should have.

    Economics is not a morality tale. Europe needs to be fixed and Germany’s constant claims to being better than other countries, when it absolutely isn’t true, makes the situation worse.

  5. Well, Mr. Moraes, I agree with you on your first two sentences. But apart from that we remain at odds. You insist that Germany feels superior to other countries and that seems to be the cause of these countries’ economic deficiency. Even if the perceived superiority-complex were true (I’m still looking for it), it would explain nothing. Rather than take Paul Krugman’s word for it, which you admit you have not read in full, perhaps you could turn your attention to these articles in the Economist: Dissecting the miracle – and – Europe’s reluctant hegemon (economist.com). Both offer fairly balanced insights into Germany’s current politicle and economic situation without resort to questionable attributes and allusions to less admirable German national traits.

  6. @Valentine Gale – What are you talking about? What did I not read in full?

    I don’t need to read [i]The Economist[/i]. I read it often and it has a distinct bias toward austerity in the UK and Europe. Stay off the issue of superiority. Is it good policy for Germany to demand austerity in Spain, which now has an unemployment rate above 20%? After all, we aren’t talking about what a German grocery clerk thinks. We are talking about what Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schauble think. And their rhetoric is that countries like Spain were profligate before the crisis and Germany was virtuous. That just isn’t the case. (That [i]is[/i] the case in Greece but I am [i]really[/i] tired of talking about that one exception.)

    This is not the first time I (much less Krugman) have discussed austerity in Europe. Think whatever you want of Germany, the question is whether the austerity policies pushed by the German government onto the periphery countries is good policy. But make no mistake: Germany explicitly uses moral language to push those policies and the implicit message is, "All you other countries should behave like we do."

    I am not the person who interjected morality into this discussion. It is the Germans and other top people in the EU who insist upon seeing the economic problems in Europe in moral terms. I’m a pragmatist and just want to see things improve. But the biggest thing that stands in the way of that is this idea that the "bad" countries must be punished. That’s the same thinking Europe had after WWI, and that didn’t work out well. Sometimes mercy (Or just pragmatism!) from the powerful is their salvation.

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