Michael Lewis on the Germans

By | August 11, 2011

I recently read Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, a very instructive book on the recent financial that looks at the crisis from the point of view those who made money from it. So when I learnt from the Planet Money blog that he has written a piece for Vanity Fair on the country I now call home, I decided to give it a look. Apart from a fair amount of information on the apparent obsession of Germans with the human rear-end and what comes out of it, bits of the article are about German bankers, Germans and the financial crisis, and Germany and the future of the euro.

On Germans bankers and the crisis:

They lent money to American subprime borrowers, to Irish real-estate barons, to Icelandic banking tycoons to do things that no German would ever do. The German losses are still being toted up, but at last count they stand at $21 billion in the Icelandic banks, $100 billion in Irish banks, $60 billion in various U.S. subprime-backed bonds, and some yet-to-be-determined amount in Greek bonds. The only financial disaster in the last decade German bankers appear to have missed was investing with Bernie Madoff. (Perhaps the only advantage to the German financial system of having no Jews.) In their own country, however, these seemingly crazed bankers behaved with restraint. The German people did not allow them to behave otherwise.

On Germany and the future of the euro:

Either Germans must agree to a new system in which they would be fiscally integrated with other European countries as Indiana is integrated with Mississippi: the tax dollars of ordinary Germans would go into a common coffer and be used to pay for the lifestyle of ordinary Greeks. Or the Greeks (and probably, eventually, every non-German) must introduce “structural reform,” a euphemism for magically and radically transforming themselves into a people as efficient and productive as the Germans. The first solution is pleasant for Greeks but painful for Germans. The second solution is pleasant for Germans but painful, even suicidal, for Greeks.

There is not much of the substance here that those who know a little about the financial crisis and are familiar with Germany wouldn’t know, but still, it is worth the read, if only to learn about German obsessions with the said derrière and what comes out of it. The piece is here.

By the way, I haven’t been able to find a German who will confirm the obsessions.

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