Germany’s Characteristic Rigidity May Be on the Verge of Making the European Union Unattractive to Nations of Dissimilar Mind — Deutschland’s Treatment of Greece as a Prime Example

© 2015 Peter Free


13 July 2015



Living in Germany, as I am at the moment . . .


I see Deutschland’s many admirable strengths and surprising few weaknesses every day. The sense of self-disciplined order that Germans display certainly empowers the country’s safe and prosperous living.


On the other hand, there are a range of mental rigidities over here that cause me to shake my pragmatic American head. Deutschland’s inflexible bent frequently laps into what can only be described as concrete-like stupidity. Germany’s increasingly destructive handling of the Greece’s euro crisis may be an example of this.



Let’s go up a chain of anecdotal cultural indicators, from the trivial to the noticeably foolish


A hot bug free for all


As an American, one of the first things you will notice in Germany is their hostility toward window screens and air conditioning.


Germans have great windows. They are energy efficient and open like doors (for massive air flow and easy cleaning inside and out) or top-vented panes. Yet it seems not to have occurred to anyone that it might be nice to keep flies, mosquitoes and dust out of one’s living and restaurant space.


Similarly, despite a predictable number of hot and windless days, Germans rarely indulge in air conditioning or reverse-running heat pumps. I frequently notice that public buildings seem to prefer to suffer heat and stagnant humidity with all their windows closed, rather than to open a few and get a cross draft.


Then there are the asinine clothes washers and dryers


I am not an admirer of some aspects of overly complex, mission-busting German engineering. Take clothes washers. These are mostly tiny front loaders, which have trouble keeping up with even a family of two’s needs. And they run cycles forever, wasting energy.


Clothes dryers are the same. Building codes block the outside venting of American-style machines, so the German units condense extracted water into collection bottles. These dryers never completely dry anything, even after running for more than an hour. As a result, stores routinely sell drying racks, which take up a lot of space and (in a significant sense) defeat the purpose of having a dryer.



Speaking of building codes


There are no fans in the bathrooms, no ceiling fans in other rooms and most homes are constructed from air-tight concrete blocks.


As a result, one has to open windows fully to vent wet air to the outside. Which (of course) overwhelmingly defeats the purpose of not having outside-vented fans.


Our German house routinely grows mold on the walls, despite our attempts to dash around regularly venting out the humidity created by both the bathroom and the clothes dryer.


A German-made tire pump — as a catch-all symbol for “How dumb is that?”


My encounter with a laughably automated car tire air pump summed the occasional German mentality for me. One had to read instructions to use it. First, set the air pressure desired. There are (unnecessarily, given how this works) two scales — one for the air pressure as it exists in the tire and the other for the air pressure one wants to put into the tire.


Second, apply the nozzle to the tire’s valve stem. One has do the latter in one tight-fitting swoop or the pump will malfunction. If it does, go back to the unit and start completely over.


As a result of this tiresomely non-performing automation — which involves lots of back and forth walking — it took me 30 minutes to add 4 PSI to four Subaru tires. Incidentally, the German pump’s electronic pressure gauge was also incorrect against my own calibrated hand gauge.


A “dumb” American pump would have done the same job with much less hassle in 3 to 4 minutes.


My library’s rout of common sense


The German-run library I frequent told me that I had a book overdue out of the two that I had checked out at the same time.


The librarian was not satisfied with the fact that one of the returned pair was already back in the stacks. Nor was he willing to accept my previously written notation — on the electronically generated paper customer receipt  — which noted that I returned both books on the same day to the building’s outdoor book return.


I had to buy a replacement volume for the missing book from a source of my own choosing. Giving the library the cost of the book was not permitted. Nein!


That’s the stone-headed side of Germany. Competent customer service, common sense and flexible problem-solving are frequently missing. This inflexibility “gets” virtually every American who serves here.



With regard to Greece and the euro


Rigid thinking appears to challenge Germany when dealing with some aspects of diversity.


For example, Greek society is quite different from Germany’s admirable commitment to reasonable order and exceptionally competent governance. Greece’s politicians reportedly operate by a mix of nepotism and favoritism. Bribes are reportedly necessary at all levels of Greek social order, including seeing a physician.


See, for example:


Hoi Lam Karen Kwok, What's Up With Greece's Envelope Economy?, Bloomberg Business (10 July 2015) (with embedded video)


Wealthy people evade paying taxes, making it difficult for their government to pay creditors.


Greece's current bankruptcy equation, and the lack of governance that led to it, arguably favor Germany’s understandably dim view of Grecian “laziness” and corruption. The two nations could not be more different.



On the other hand — European creditors knew (or should have known) what they were getting into


Greece’s “clientelism” culture is an artifact of history, as Heinz Richter most capably pointed out in the following three articles:



Heinz Richter, Another Type of European Democracy: The Emergence of Modern Greece, The Globalist (18 June 2015)


Heinz Richter, British Greece: The Political Culture of a Protectorate, The Globalist (19 June 2015)


Heinz Richter, Missed Opportunities: The Political Culture of Greece Since 1974, The Globalist (20 June 2015)


It is not as if creditors were lending to an unknown party, who had a concealed way of slithering away from debt repayment.


Therefore, German moralism (if we may fairly call it that) may be over-indulged in this instance. Especially in view of its own failure to repay loans made to it after World War II:



Hermann Josef Abs, head of the Federal Republic of Germany’s delegation in London on Feb. 27, 1953, sign[ed] the agreement that effectively cut the country’s debts to its foreign creditors in half.


To critics of Germany’s insistence that Athens must agree to more painful austerity before any sort of debt relief can be put on the table, [this] serves as a blunt retort: The main creditor demanding that Greeks be made to pay for past profligacy benefited not so long ago from more lenient terms than it is now prepared to offer.


But beyond serving as a reminder of German hypocrisy, the image offers a more important lesson: These sorts of things have been dealt with successfully before.


Major debt overhangs are only solved after deep write-downs of the debt’s face value. The longer it takes for the debt to be cut, the bigger the necessary write-down will turn out to be.


Nobody should understand this better than the Germans. It’s not just that they benefited from the deal in 1953, which underpinned Germany’s postwar economic miracle. Twenty years earlier, Germany defaulted on its debts from World War I, after undergoing a bout of hyperinflation and economic depression that helped usher Hitler to power.


© 2015 Eduardo Porter, Germans Forget Postwar History Lesson on Debt Relief in Greece Crisis, New York Times (07 July 2015) (extracts)



No doubt for these reasons, prominent economist Paul Krugman is exasperated with the Merkel Klan


He wrote bluntly:



Suppose you consider Tsipras [see here, Greece’s Prime Minister] an incompetent twerp.


Suppose you dearly want to see Syriza [the political party that Tsipras heads] out of power. Suppose, even, that you welcome the prospect of pushing those annoying Greeks out of the euro.


Even if all of that is true, this Eurogroup list of demands is madness.


This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief.


It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.


[W]hat we’ve learned these past couple of weeks is that being a member of the eurozone means that the creditors can destroy your economy if you step out of line.


© 2015 Paul Krugman, Killing the European Project, New York Times (12 July 2015) (extracts)



Stubborn stalwartness or sheer bloody mindedness?


Pertinent to this is another anecdote.


Last week I visited Normandy’s D-Day beaches. Walking the ground, it was clear to me that Germany had no hope of resisting the Allied advance, given the disasters it underwent in attempting to conquer the Soviet Union.


In June 1944, lacking air and naval superiority — and deficient in armor and troop strength — there was no realistic chance that the Reich was going successfully go nose to nose with Allies coming in on the beaches, then or later. Already beaten by these same nations in Africa and Italy, and in full view of the continuing slaughter at Soviet hands on the Eastern Front, only murderously intransigent block-heads would have sought to hang on.


The German High Command put the world through a prolonged and unnecessary blood bath because it was (arguably) too mentally rigid and/or (equally arguably) too cowardly or too regimented (which may be the same thing) to competently take Hitler out of the picture.



The moral? — German bloody mindedness appears to be still engrained


This anti-pragmatic trait represents a huge caveat regarding Germany’s exercise of European leadership.


In suspecting this, I am not an arrogant American throwing stones. We “Yanks” have to go all the way back to our allegedly Greatest Generation for a mildly successful example of international problem solving. Yet that example, as Eduardo Porter indicated, remains directly pertinent. It would be nice if someone would learn from it.