From the category archives:

Germany Seminar

Discovering the Limits of Ordnungspolitik

by Tobias Schulze-Cleven on January 20, 2011

As the Euro crisis deepened, the German government’s crisis management became the object of increasingly intense criticism. Being perceived to have “fallen out of love with Europe,” the country seemed to be “making a huge profit at the expense of the other Europeans, while simultaneously, at the political level, relinquishing its European responsibility.” 1 Many of the individual charges directed at Germany were right on the mark, particularly those about the one-sidedness and self-serving nature of German discourse about the country’s economic renaissance, which largely failed to acknowledge the strongly positive impact of the Euro on the economy. But other accusations were remarkable for their own biases. With the often clearly defined drawbacks of German actions, it has been relatively easy to criticize them. However, given the complexity of the challenges facing the Euroarea, it is far harder to say what German positions should actually be.

[click to continue…]

Germany: The Necessary But Not Sufficient Nation?

by Sheri Berman on January 20, 2011

During the global economic crisis, Germany has received more attention than probably most scholars and observers would have predicted. Early on, much attention was paid to the country’s purported decision to go the “austerity” rather than the “Keynesian” route; more recently scrutiny has been focused on its purportedly obstructionist role in the European Union’s meltdown. While both of these claims have some truth on the surface, neither really captures fully what is going on.

[click to continue…]

Most of the contributions to this seminar begin with Germany’s internal politics and work outwards. This short piece instead emphasizes the external consequences, asking what they mean for European Union politics, taking Ireland as a test case. Ireland is the only ‘Anglo-Saxon’ member of an economic and monetary union which was built largely in order to match German preferences. Both its current crisis, and the ways in which Germany (and other EU member states) are seeking to respond to it, provide evidence about German preferences, and their intellectual and material limitations when they become generalized as policy prescriptions at the European level. Because Economic and Monetary Union only provides fiscal restraints, and no very useful means of intervening in private markets, Germany and other member states face stark limits in their ability to prevent, and even to respond to crises that originate in the private sector. Moreover, when they do, they are likely to find their interventions politicized, and strongly resented by the populations of the countries that are intervened in.

[click to continue…]

Germany Seminar Conclusion

by Henry on January 20, 2011

I’m about to post the final contributions to the seminar on Germany. Many thanks to the participants and to the Center for German and European Studies and Mortara Center for International Affairs at Georgetown, who hosted the original meeting. The URL for the entire seminar is http://crookedtimber.org/category/germany-seminar/. Those who would prefer to read the seminar on paper, or using your PDF-compatible portable reader of choice, can find the complete seminar here.

The German question never dies. Instead, like a flu virus, it mutates. (The Economist, 21 October 2010)

In late September 2010, Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega commented in Sao Paulo that the world was “in the midst of an international currency war.” His comments effectively ended all the premature praise for the G-20’s efforts at international cooperation with regard to the global financial crisis. In vogue came the assessment of the actual lack of cooperation as evidenced by the growing tensions and fault lines between the new global institution’s main protagonists, China and the United States, who disagree so starkly on the origin of the global macroeconomic imbalances. Those systemic imbalances – a large US current account deficit balanced by large current account surpluses in China, Japan, and Germany – have been identified as one of the main causes of the credit crunch of 2007-8 which led to the Great Recession. The central issue preventing a unified solution to the current crisis is whether the main cause of those imbalances is a global savings glut in Europe and Asia, or deficient savings and too loose monetary policy in the United States. This disagreement has risen to the forefront of the existing crisis debate as evidenced by Mantega’s remarks. No one point of view, or ‘’narrative,’’ so far seems to have won the day and allowed cooperative steps forward.

[click to continue…]

Germany: Europe’s Company Store

by Wade Jacoby on January 19, 2011

Two popular views of Germany have dominated the current debate about the European financial crisis. Both are wrong. The first view sees Germany as an economically virtuous island in a sea of European profligacy. This is the view of most German voters and of their chancellor, Angela Merkel. In this view, Germany was industrious and prudent while others (Greece, Ireland, Hungary) were profligate. Therefore, these countries should rebalance their accounts without a “bailout” from Germany. This view conveniently ignores that German firms and banks financed these imbalances and that absent external demand for German goods and capital, Germans would be poorer. To put it bluntly, Germany can profitably do what it does only if most others do not.
[click to continue…]

In the aftermath of the current economic downturn, German policy makers turned to Keynesianism with ambivalence, hesitation, and no small amount of bad faith. Notoriously fearful of debt, government spending, and state power, the German government was among the last in the G-20 to adopt a stimulus package, as one might well have expected. And yet, German stimulus measures were actually more than met the eye and represented one of the more extensive efforts in Europe, though the rhetoric surrounding the debate over the package hewed closely to traditional German narratives about fiscal probity, debt, and inflation. This inconsistency between rhetoric and reality also characterized the German turn to austerity in summer 2009. While excoriating the Greeks for fiscal profligacy and egged on by an unsavory public discourse about southern European work habits, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced plans to cut euro 80 billion from the German federal budget over the next four years. And yet, these cuts amounted to less than they appeared and spared politically powerful groups.
[click to continue…]

As Mark Twain once observed, “The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that aren’t so.’” The aphorism is appropriate in light of the current confusion concerning Germany’s role within Europe. According to German public and political discourse, Germany is experiencing a second economic miracle (look no farther than the FT Deutschland’s Wirtschaftwunder blog ) thanks to balanced social and economic policies, fiscal responsibility, and respect for the rules and institutions of the European Union. Although much attention has been paid to this “new” German model, little has been focused on how this reading of events was constructed or, to use Twain’s formulation, how and why many among the German public and elite are convinced of so many “things that aren’t so.” Doing so not only helps clarify the seemingly contradictory or ad hoc nature of contemporary German politics. It also sheds light on how problematic the current German approach is as a perceived solution to Europe’s woes.
[click to continue…]

Things Continue, `Till they Don’t …

The end game for the Germans, and the rest of Europe, in terms of resolving the current Eurozone crisis is pretty straightforward. There are four ways to deal with a financial crisis: devalue, default, inflate, or deflate. For any country in the Eurozone who transferred private debt from the banking sector to their public balance sheets, and thus blew a hole in their debts and deficits, neither inflation nor devaluation were options. That leaves default, which pushes the costs onto bondholders, or deflation, through domestic wages and prices via the public balance sheet, which places the costs onto taxpayers. For a host of reasons, as guardians of the Eurozone, as an inflation-averse savings-culture, we would expect the Germans to prefer austerity to expediency, and force deflation, but there are real and obvious limits to any such strategy, which is what I have found puzzling since the crisis began just over a year ago.
[click to continue…]

Why is Germany in Europe’s catbird seat? Yes, it’s Europe’s largest economy, but not so long ago it was the “sick man of Europe,” earning only disdain or indifference from its European neighbors. What really matters is what didn’t happen: the German economy did not blow up in the global financial crisis like its erstwhile Anglo detractors – the UK and the US. Thanks to the Chinese stimulus plan, German exports quickly boomed again and without a huge domestic debt or banking crisis holding it back, Germany was the only one in a position to bail out the rest of Europe (to a point) and thus call the political shots. So, why did Germany come through the financial crisis of 2007-09 in relatively good shape? The answer lies in understanding why the German financial system (and economy generally) didn’t come to depend on a derivatives pyramid and debt-driven growth.

[click to continue…]

After nearly a half century, the “Germany through Europe” bargain, intended to help Germany overcome the political and cultural legacies of World War II, has unraveled. In just a few years, Germans have demanded a rebalancing of the European budget, strict rules governing monetary union, have pushed Eastern European member states into the hands of the International Monetary Fund, and balked at a quick bailout of Greek sovereign debt. In short, the European free ride on the German economy is over.

[click to continue…]

Over the next few days, Crooked Timber will be publishing a seminar, based on a workshop organized by Abe Newman and Mark Blyth at Georgetown University some weeks ago. The workshop was intended to get a bunch of political economy/political science people with an interest in Germany together, to figure out what was driving Germany’s economic policy. This is a topic which has received a lot of attention from e.g. US commentators such as Paul Krugman, and for good reason. German preferences seem to be dominating European Union policy making (e.g. the continued effective veto on proposals for a genuinely European bond arrangement), and are arguably (through pressures for ‘austerity’) having a broader global impact too. Abe and Mark asked a variety of people to think about the causes and consequences of Germany’s policy stance – we’ll be publishing the results over the next few days.

Academic workshops like this are not uncommon. However, given the time horizons of academic publishing (which are better measured in years, if not geological epochs, than days or weeks), their findings are usually outdated by the time they see the light of day. Blogs (which get more attention usually than e.g. departmental websites) seem a nice way to get the results out in a more timely fashion. Thanks to the Mortara Center and Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown for hosting the original event. The participants in this seminar are as follows:

  • Sheri Berman is Associate Professor of Political Science at Barnard College.
  • Mark Blyth is Professor of International Political Economy at Brown University.
  • Aaron Boesenecker is Assistant Professor at the School of International Service of American University.
  • Richard Deeg is Professor and Department Chair of Political Science at Temple University.
  • Henry Farrell is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.
  • Wade Jacoby is Professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University.
  • Matthias Matthjis is Assistant Professor at the School of International Service of American University
  • Abraham Newman is Assistant Professor at the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.
  • Tobias Schulze-Cleven is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Bamberg.
  • Mark Vail is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Tulane University.

The posts by Abe Newman, Richard Deeg and Mark Blyth will go up shortly. The others will follow over the next two days. On Thursday, I’ll also put up a PDF of the seminar, for those who prefer to read on paper or via iPad, Kindle or whatever.