What Europe Doesn't Need the Euro , by the firebrand writer Thilo Sarrazin, means for Germany.
Thilo Sarrazin poses with his new book. (Reuters)
It's hard to think of a good American equivalent to Germany's Thilo Sarrazin, the politician turned best-selling author. The closest one could be Pat Buchanan: in some circles, he and his writings are considered entirely legitimate. In others, they're considered shocking and revolting to the point of scandal. The last time that Sarrazin, the former German central bank director, wrote a book, he suggested that African and Middle Eastern immigrants were destroying the country, in part because of "hereditary factors" that made their children stupid and violent. He suggested educated Germans out-breed them. Controversy raged for months.
Now, Sarrazin is addressing the euro crisis. Tuesday, his new book Europe Doesn't Need the Euro, hit the shelves. If you're just paging through idly, it doesn't seem to be as provocative, and, on balance, it really isn't: you'd expect as seasoned a provocateur as Sarrazin, especially with his leanings towards ideas of ethnic and educational superiority, at least to say some obnoxious and offensive things about Greek people or their ability with a balance sheet. He doesn't do that. The book, nevertheless, has immediately drawn fire -- and with good reason.
If it's hard to think of an American equivalent for Sarrazin the man, it's not too hard to think of an analogy for Sarrazin's book: it's like the schoolboy's tame little poem that turns out to be an acrostic spelling out a vulgar suggestion regarding the schoolteacher's mother. Many of the paragraphs are entirely reasonable, picking apart the questionable logic of Germany's euro-savior syndrome with remarkable dexterity. But Sarrazin's underlying message is this: Germans are being taken for a ride by countries that aren't holding up their end of the bargain -- and Germans are willing to go along with it because they feel guilty about the Holocaust.
The theme is a subtle one. Though Der Spiegel ran a story on publication day pointing it out, to see it you have to be thinking about European history, current European dynamics, and Sarrazin's own reputation. The far-right National Democratic Party in Germany was quick to praise the new publication, but Sarrazin throws in a few (some might say token) lines clearly intended to distance him from some of the nastier figures he appeared in bed with in his last book. One such line comes as he pushes back against German Chancellor Angela Merkel's pronouncement that "if the euro fails, Europe fails":
Angela Merkel has been wildly successful with the formula "if the euro fails, Europe fails," as no one in Germany, aside from a couple of German nationalists and right-wing populists, wants to be responsible for the failure of Europe.
In other words: "ew, those nasty German nationalists and right-wing populists. That's not me. And it's not most people. That's why Merkel's phrase works." Sarrazin distances himself from the far-right while setting up his argument.
Nevertheless, this is a little bit, like an American treading awfully close to a racial stereotype while prefacing his statement with "now, I don't want to be called a racist." Why? Because what Sarrazin is really saying is that Germans are hostage to their sense of not wanting to be responsible for Europe's failure. Germans are hostage to their sense of historical guilt. To use Der Spiegel's translation for one of the pre-publication excerpts, pro-euro Germans "are driven by that very German reflex, that we can only finally atone for the Holocaust and World War II when we have put all our interests and money into European hands."
Heady stuff. Is it representative of the whole of the book? Not exactly -- the whole of the book says much less about the Holocaust than that excerpt would suggest. But does the excerpt fit in with the book's broader architecture? Definitely.
"Europe Doesn't Need the Euro" is a book obsessed with both history and with an odd and alternating sense of German victimhood and saviorhood. And in some ways it's this broader approach which is more problematic. The euro, in Sarrazin's view, is just the old German deutschmark extended to a lot of countries with less robust currencies. And that is exactly how countries like Greece treated it, he argues.
The introduction of the euro was seen economically as nothing less than the commitment of the deutschmark to all members of the eurozone. Oftentimes many partner states thought, just as the markets did, that the deutschmark currency zone was bound up with a promise of solidarity to the newly introduced members.
Germany, in other words, is being used as a guarantor of other countries' debts. According to this view, the euro is the old deutschmark, renamed and redistributed as an act of semi-conscious misguided German charity.
This is a tricky view to advance, not least because Sarrazin has some sidestepping of his own to do: he admits in the book that he himself became a euro convert in the '90s. He writes the euro off, however, as a sort of failed bet. ("With the advance payment of the common currency," he says, "the German political class bet that the political union would follow shortly thereafter almost as a matter of natural law, because without that the common currency wouldn't be stable. That bet has failed.")
It's also problematic, though, because some economists and commentators hold that Germany actually profited quite a bit from the introduction of the euro, and is in fact even profiting from the current eurozone instability. The theory isn't without its detractors, but it's got enough support to be taken seriously. German exports, this argument goes, became extra competitive with the introduction of the euro and the lack of trade barriers allowed Germany to sell huge quantities of stuff to its European neighbors. Now, with the euro sinking, Germany can't sell as much to completely bankrupt and unemployed Greeks, but it's still cranking out products which, thanks to a fallen euro, are now cheaper for the rest of the world to buy than if Germany had stuck to the deutschmark.
Sarrazin counters with numbers showing German trade to non-euro states rose farther than trade with euro-states. But, as Der Spiegel also points out, "he doesn't factor in that the increase in trade outside the euro area was largely due to soaring economic growth in Eastern Europe and Asia over the last decade." Furthermore, "the figures give no insight into how trade inside the euro zone would have developed without a single currency."
What we're left with is a book that has some superficial similarities to Günter Grass's controversial poem about Israel and Iran back in April, though Sarrazin's economic credentials are significantly better than the poet's foreign policy credentials. It's not that the arguments themselves don't have merit. It's that the author doesn't seem all that concerned with complexity. Toss in a casual suggestion that Germans are suppressing their natural reactions due to Holocaust guilt, and the whole thing starts to look offensive -- not least because the Holocaust argument reinforces the idea that the debate isn't really a complex one: implicitly, were the Holocaust shadow banished, everyone would come to the same conclusion as the author, because it's the only rational and natural conclusion available.
The really provocative and revealing part of Sarrazin's book isn't the oft-repeated quote about Holocaust guilt, it's sentences like, "It's certainly very complicated, but on the other hand not as complicated as many want to make it!" or "Everyone who has an opinion on the euro also has either consciously or unconsciously an opinion on Europe." It's sentences comparing Angela Merkel to "the friendly woman on the navigation system in my car."
These sentences reveal that, despite his dismantling of Merkel's "if the euro fails, Europe fails," Thilo Sarrazin himself thinks in similarly tidy phrases. Outside of Sarrazin's head, it is possible to have an opinion on the euro and have no idea whether Greeks are fundamentally culturally and ethnically similar to Frenchmen. It's possible for Germany both to have profited and to be suffering for its part in instituting the current euro zone apparatus. And it's possible for uneducated immigrants to produce the next generation's engineers and poets -- and, even if they don't, to be no more or less morally deserving than ethnic Germans with a university degree. Thilo Sarrazin's two books, when you get down to mechanics, aren't all that different.
Why the ingrained expectation that women should desire to become parents is unhealthy
In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a "safe haven" law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe-haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off in a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.
Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here's the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family -- nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.
A unified theory of why political satire is biased toward, and talk radio is biased against, liberals in America.
Soon after Jon Stewart arrived at The Daily Show in 1999, the world around him began to change. First, George W. Bush moved into the White House. Then came 9/11, and YouTube, and the advent of viral videos. Over the years, Stewart and his cohort mastered the very difficult task of sorting through all the news quickly and turning it around into biting, relevant satire that worked both for television and the Internet.
Now, as Stewart prepares to leave the show, the brand of comedy he helped invent is stronger than ever. Stephen Colbert is getting ready to bring his deadpan smirk to The Late Show. Bill Maher is continuing to provoke pundits and politicians with his blunt punch lines. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is about to celebrate the end of a wildly popular first year. Stewart has yet to announce his post-Daily Show plans, but even if he retires, the genre seems more than capable of carrying on without him.
Americans are optimistic about the communities they live in—but not their nation. Why?
I have been alive for a long time. I remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when I was a 10th-grader, and then watching with my family through the grim following days as newscasters said that something had changed forever. The next dozen years were nearly nonstop trauma for the country. More assassinations. Riots in most major cities. All the pain and waste and tragedy of the Vietnam War, and then the public sense of heading into the utterly unknown as, for the first time ever, a president was forced to resign. Americans of my children’s generation can remember the modern wave of shocks and dislocations that started but did not end with the 9/11 attacks.
Through all this time, I have been personally and professionally, and increasingly, an American optimist. The long years I have spent living and working outside the United States have not simply made me more aware of my own strong identity as an American. They have also sharpened my appreciation for the practical ramifications of the American idea. For me this is the belief that through its cycle of struggle and renewal, the United States is in a continual process of becoming a better version of itself. What I have seen directly over the past decade, roughly half in China and much of the rest in reporting trips around the United States, has reinforced my sense that our current era has been another one of painful but remarkable reinvention, in which the United States is doing more than most other societies to position itself, despite technological and economic challenges, for a new era of prosperity, opportunity, and hope.
To many white Trump voters, the problem wasn’t her economic stance, but the larger vision—a multi-ethnic social democracy—that it was a part of.
Perhaps the clearest takeaway from the November election for many liberals is that Hillary Clinton lost because she ignored the working class.
In the days after her shocking loss, Democrats complained that Clinton had no jobs agenda. A widely shared essay in The Nationblamed Clinton's "neoliberalism" for abandoning the voters who swung the election. “I come from the white working class,” Bernie Sanders said on CBS This Morning, “and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to where I came from.”
But here is the troubling reality for civically minded liberals looking to justify their preferred strategies: Hillary Clinton talked about the working class, middle class jobs, and the dignity of work constantly. And she still lost.
The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves.
You’ve likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they’ll get two. Some do. Others cave almost immediately.
This “Marshmallow Test,” first conducted in the 1960s, perfectly illustrates the ongoing war between impulsivity and self-control. The kids have to tamp down their immediate desires and focus on long-term goals—an ability that correlates with their later health, wealth, and academic success, and that is supposedly controlled by the front part of the brain. But a new study by Alexander Soutschek at the University of Zurich suggests that self-control is also influenced by another brain region—and one that casts this ability in a different light.
Unless he divests himself of his business holdings, the president-elect could violate constitutional rules meant to guard against corruption.
With the recent news that two Republican electors are refusing to vote for Donald Trump, we have been inundated with inquiries asking whether other electors should decline to select Trump because of a particular constitutional issue. It’s one we worked on when we were advising Presidents Bush and Obama, respectively: the Emoluments Clause.
Every elector must search his or her own conscience, but after a blizzard of reporting on the president-elect’s foreign business relations in recent days, it appears that Trump will be in violation of this clause of the Constitution from the moment he takes office—and the plan for his business that he hinted at on Twitter last week does not solve the problem.
Strangling public-sector unions in Wisconsin has shrunk teachers’ pay and benefits. Who’s next?
Back in 2009, Rick Erickson was happy with his job as a teacher in one of the state’s northernmost school districts on the shores of Lake Superior. He made $35,770 a year teaching chemistry and physics, which wasn’t a lot of money, but then again, he received stellar healthcare and pension benefits, and could talk honestly with administrators about what he needed as a teacher every two years when his union sat down with the school district in collective bargaining sessions.
Then, five years ago, Wisconsin passed Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which dramatically limited the ability of teachers and other public employees to bargain with employers on wages, benefits, and working conditions. After Act 10,Erickson saw his take-home pay drop dramatically: He now makes $30,650. His wife is a teacher, too, and together they make 11 percent less than they did before Act 10. The local union he once led no longer exists, and so he can’t bargain with the school district for things like prep time and sick days. He pays more for health care and his pension, and he says both he and his wife may now not be able to retire until they are much older than they had planned.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Everyone has someone on their holiday shopping list who’s impossible to buy for. For the second year in a row, we asked Atlantic readers to describe their someone, and brainstormed a few perfect gift ideas for them.
There should be a word for it—the agony of loving someone, or feeling familially obligated to them, and having no idea what to buy them as the next gift-giving occasion draws near. Liebengeschenkenschmerz? We’ll workshop it.
Even if you’re a winter-holiday fanatic, that anxiety can put a damper on seasonal festivity. So, for the second year in a row, we set out to help, with a different take on the traditional gift guide. Last month, we put out a call to Atlantic readers to describe the person on their shopping list who’s the most difficult to buy for. We picked 15 across the spectra of relationship, age, gender, and location, and a collection of Atlantic staffers buckled down to brainstorm some fitting gift ideas. (Note: The descriptions from readers, in italics below, have been edited lightly for style and clarity.) Maybe one of our suggestions will suit the impossible someone on your list, or otherwise inspire some gift-giving greatness.
Babylonian tablets suggest that Earth’s rotation is slowing less than expected.
On the morning of April 15, 136 B.C.E., residents of the ancient city of Babylon, in what is now Iraq, experienced quite a sight. An hour and a half after sunrise, the moon moved across the face of the sun, blotting it out so only the golden halo of its atmosphere was visible. The sky went dark.
“Venus, Mercury and the Normal Stars were visible; Jupiter and Mars, which were in their period of disappearance, were visible in that eclipse,” a Babylonian astrologer inscribed in cuneiform, on a clay tablet now stored in the British Museum.
To measure the eclipse’s duration, the astrologer would have used a cylindrical vessel called a clepsydra, or a water clock, whose slow draining marked the passage of time. “It moved from SW to NE. 35 us [time duration] for obscuration and clearing up. In that eclipse, north wind which...” The rest of the observation is on a missing chunk of tablet and was lost to history, but the astrologer may have been noting that the wind shifted direction, which happens during a total eclipse.