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Reviews |  How Germany Became Putin’s Catalyst

What strikes me – a parallel that for some reason I haven’t seen many people make – is the contrast between Germany’s current reluctance to make moderate sacrifices, even in the face of horrific crimes of war, and the immense sacrifices that Germany exacted from other countries during the European debt crisis ten years ago.

As some readers may recall, at the start of the last decade much of southern Europe faced a crisis as lending dried up, sending interest rates on public debt. German officials were quick to blame these countries for their own plight, insisting, with great moralizing, that they were in trouble because they had been fiscally irresponsible and now had to pay the price.

It turns out that this diagnosis was largely wrong. Much of the spike in Southern European interest rates reflected market panic rather than fundamentals; borrowing costs plunged, even for Greece, after the president of the European Central Bank said three words – “whatever it takes” – suggesting that the bank would step in, if necessary, to buy up debt from struggling economies.

Yet Germany has taken the lead in demanding that debtor countries impose extreme austerity measures, especially spending cuts, regardless of the magnitude of the economic costs. And those costs were immense: between 2009 and 2013, the Greek economy shrank by 21% while the unemployment rate rose to 27%.

But while Germany was willing to impose economic and social catastrophe on the countries it claimed had been irresponsible in their borrowing, it was unwilling to impose much lower costs on itself despite the undeniable irresponsibility of its policies. past energies.

I don’t know how to quantify this, but I feel like Germany got far more and clearer warnings about its mindless reliance on Russian gas than Greece ever did about its borrowing. before the crisis. Yet it seems that Germany’s famous willingness to treat economic policy as a game of morality only applies to other countries.

To be fair, Germany has moved on from its initial reluctance to help Ukraine; Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany claims, although the Germans deny it, that he was told there was no point in sending arms because his government would collapse within hours. And maybe, maybe, the realization that refusing to cut off the flow of Russian gas makes Germany de facto complicit in mass murder will ultimately be enough to induce real action.


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