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.
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It’s been said in many places and by many luminaries: Do what you love.
But what does this phrase actually mean?
Miya Tokumitsu, a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine and author of the new book Do What You Love And Other Lies About Success and Happiness, criticizes the pervasiveness of this idea in American work culture. She argues that “doing what you love” has been co-opted by corporate interests, giving employers more power to exploit their workers.
I recently spoke with Tokumitsu about work myths and why we should pay attention to them. The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for clarity.
Bourree Lam: Your book started as an essay, “In the Name of Love,” (which was later republished by Slate) that really touched a nerve with people. What were you talking about in that essay and why are people so drawn to it?
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What is the Islamic State?
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I coined the term—now I’ve come back to fix what I started.
O reader, hear my plea: I am the victim of semantic drift.
Four months ago, I coined the term “Berniebro” to describe a phenomenon I saw on Facebook: Men, mostly my age, mostly of my background, mostly with my political beliefs, were hectoring their friends about how great Bernie was even when their friends wanted to do something else, like talk about the NBA.
In the post, I tried to gently suggest that maybe there were other ways to advance Sanders’s beliefs, many of which I share. I hinted, too, that I was not talking about every Sanders supporter. I did this subtly, by writing: “The Berniebro is not every Sanders supporter.”
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The protesters held up big green camping tents painted with slogans such as “End the Class War” and “Stop Stealing Our Homes,” and chanted phrases blaming San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee for a whole range of problems, including the catchy “Hey Hey, Mayor Lee, No Penalty for Poverty.” They blocked the sidewalk, battling with tourists, joggers, and city workers, some of whom were trying to wheel their bikes through the crowd to get to the ferries that would take them home.
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“What is the truest form of human happiness?” Steven Cole asks.
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Cole, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, has spent several decades investigating the connection between our emotional and biological selves. “The old thinking was that our bodies were stable biological entities, fundamentally separate from the external world,” he writes in an email. “But at the molecular level, our bodies turn out to be much more fluid and permeable to external influence than we realize.”*
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The cat has other plans. We see its tiger-striped face peer through the hole and then disappear. We wait. Nothing. “It probably knows we're here,” says John Hutchinson, one of the expectant researchers. We move to the side so as not to be seen, leaning our heads around the wall of the cage like characters in a cartoon. We are, I realize, trying to out-stealth a cat. It's going about as well as you'd expect.
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