Saturday, March 23, 2013

Don't Blame the Lutherans!

Perhaps you've been following the Cypriot debt crisis, which is only the latest chapter in the European Union's fiscal car-crash.  If so, you know that it is generally reported this way:  "Germans are sick of paying other people's debts, and certainly don't want to bail out the wealthy Russians who have parked their rubles in the shaky banks of Cyprus."

Meanwhile Cypriots, who are being asked to pay a tax on their own bank accounts as the condition for a partial bailout, complain that the Germans are abusing them.  Mean, mean Germans.  And yes, odious comparisons to Nazis are routinely thrown around.

Timothy Spyrou, writing in the Cyprus Mail, argues -- in broad strokes, but to our mind convincingly -- for another view.  Cypriots, and most southern Europeans, have one view of "solidarity;" Germans, and most northern Europeans, have another.  He roots these in the difference between a Catholic/Orthodox worldview and a Lutheran one.

In fact, Spyrou says, southerners ought to take notice of Germany's great generosity during the crisis, and remember that when Germany was shown similar generosity by the US after Word War II, it responded in a very specific way:

West Germany’s new democratic leadership, its industrialists, small businesses, workers and society as a whole used this opportunity in true civic Lutheran fashion-they fashioned an economic miracle....
It was returning the interest back in spades by becoming a pillar of the free world. Germany’s civic responsibility towards Europe did not end there. As part of its efforts to atone for the past, and lay the groundwork for a mutually prosperous future of a union of European nation states with strong market economies and healthy welfare states, it was ready to put its financial muscle-essentially the money of German voters and taxpayers, towards achieving that goal.

The Germans, says Spyrou, expect southern Europeans to do likewise.   They are nonplussed when this does not happen, because of that quite different understanding of "solidarity."

We are deeply suspicious of the Max Weber thesis, which is either too simple or plain wrong, depending on how you look at it.  And Spyrou is certainly jumping off of Weber here.  Protestant theology is not the root of all hard work and thriftiness, much less capitalism.  Still, darn it, his argument fits with what we have seen and heard ourselves in the relationships between southern and northern Europeans.  (Nota bene: we have seen this difference of worldviews in the relationship between the Lutheran churches in Germany/Scandinavia and Romania.)

So if the Germans are not the cause of Cyprus's problems, then who?  Spyrou names several villains:  the Cypriots themselves, the feckless Greeks and Italians, the City of London.  But first and foremost he mentions the people who have mishandled the US economy, specifically the Bush Administration and
... the radical fringe of the Republican Party, who, because they could never accept a liberal African-American president, let alone the son of a Muslim Kenyan immigrant, did everything possible to throttle the economic recovery during Obama’s first term. 

This guy may be on to something.

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