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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Is the culture war over?
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And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
A new book by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tackles arguments that the two institutions are compatible.
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People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.
How a re-creation of its most famous battle helped erase the meaning of the Civil War.
"No person should die without seeing this cyclorama," declared a Boston man in 1885. "It's a duty they owe to their country." Paul Philippoteaux's lifelike depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg was much more than a painting. It re-created the battlefield with such painstaking fidelity, and created an illusion so enveloping, that many visitors felt as if they were actually there.
For all its verisimilitude, though, the painting failed to capture the deeper truths of the Civil War. It showed the two armies in lavish detail, but not the clash of ideals that impelled them onto the battlefield. Its stunning rendition of a battle utterly divorced from context appealed to a nation as eager to remember the valor of those who fought as it was to forget the purpose of their fight. Its version of the conflict proved so alluring, in fact, that it changed the way America remembered the Civil War.
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
The retired general and former CIA director holds forth on the Middle East.
ASPEN, Colo.—Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus pioneered America’s approach to counterinsurgency, led the surge in Iraq, served as director of the CIA for a year, and was sentenced to two years probation for leaking classified information to his mistress. On Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was interviewed by my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, about subjects including efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program; the civil war in Syria; ISIS and the threat it poses to the United States; and the Iraq War.
Here are several noteworthy moments from their conversation, slightly condensed:
The Risks of Attacking Iran
Jeffrey Goldberg: So you believe that, under certain circumstances, President Obama would still use military force against Iran?
David Petraeus: I think he would, actually. I know we’ve had red lines that didn’t turn out to be red lines. ... I think this is a different issue, and I clearly recognize how the administration has sought to show that this is very, very different from other sort of off-the-cuff remarks.
Goldberg: How did the Obama administration stop Israel from attacking Iran? And do you think that if this deal does go south, that Israel would be back in the picture?
Petraeus: I don’t, actually. I think Israel is very cognizant of its limitations. ... The Israelis do not have anything that can crack this deeply buried enrichment site ... and if you cannot do that, you’re not going to set the program back very much. So is it truly worth it, then?
So that’s a huge limitation. It’s also publicly known that we have a 30,000-pound projectile that no one else has, that no one else can even carry. The Massive Ordinance Penetrator was under design for almost six years. ... If necessary, we can take out all these facilities and set them back a few years, depending on your assumptions.
But that’s another roll of the iron dice, as Bismarck used to say, and you never know when those dice are rolled what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what risks could materialize for those who are in harm’s way.
You don’t know what the response could be by Iran.
There’s always the chance that there will be salvos at Israel, but what if they decide to go at the Gulf states, where we have facilities in every single one.
This is not something to be taken lightly, clearly.
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."