Friday, November 16, 2012

What Angela Merkel Isn’t Admitting To



 Photo courtesy Wikipedia
Double standards and a very creative, resourceful capacity for denial have come to be almost the hallmark of western mainstream culture. Take the way we behave around borrowing and lending money. Financial lending institutions survive by lending, but when you sit across from your bank manager in a chair a few inches lower than theirs, to ask for a loan, they don’t treat you like an equal, even though without people like you they don’t have a job. 

They’ll never acknowledge the deal is mutually beneficial, and that therefore the terms should be too. Blame it on society’s values. Philanthropy is high on the list of admirable traits. But a person needing to receive is at the bottom of the pile. There’s a distinct absence of logic here. In reality, nobody lends money solely for the other person’s benefit. It’s always a mutual deal, and it’s usually about control for the lender. Between individuals generosity may be mixed in there, but it’s not always the motivating factor. 

Who is ever going to admit “I’m helping you because it gives me, at least in my head, the right to dictate to you and that gives me a sense of control in my world.”? Not many are honest enough with themselves to acknowledge it. They’re enabled by society’s blind spot around lending money: it’s only a mutual deal if the lender gets money back. Well, that’s a value, but it’s arbitrary. In politics it's more convoluted, but essentially the same double standard and blind spot play out.

As with Angela Merkel. Conveniently for her and her supporters, but rather less so for Greece, the world is fixated on Greece’s needs and irresponsibility. A big nasty word to apply to a whole nation. With this as the only perspective, it’s understandable that Germans should balk at bailing out the Greeks with their hard-earned money when they’ve been disciplined and the Greeks haven’t. It sounds good and righteous to say that Angela Merkel should have the right to dictate terms, no matter what impact they have on Greeks. But it’s not the whole truth. 

She doesn’t have the God-given right to dictate terms of the bailout to such an extent that they destroy lives, for this simple reason. Germany is getting something out of the deal also. Its economy strengthened because of sweeping welfare cuts and wages kept lower than elsewhere in Europe, so it can rest on its laurels for that, although I don’t think it makes for sustainable strength because it disempowers the middle class and encourages greed and exploitation. 

But setting that debate aside the competitive edge European countries gained with their regular currency devaluations was eliminated by the Euro. At that time Europe was Germany’s biggest export market. It’s done quite nicely by the Euro and by squeezing its own people. And even though it has shifted its export focus to growth markets, the declining Euro has made German goods more competitive. Plus Germany has got to be aware that growth markets are slowing, so where will it turn to sustain its own growth? Back to Europe?

I’m not taking away from the truth that Germany has rebuilt its economy, although off the backs of its own workers. So it’s easy to understand why people who work too hard for too little would get resentful of their country giving to people who have let things get out of control. But none of that takes away from the reality that the bailout is a quid pro quo. In reality Germany is saying “we need you so that we can remain strong, so you must do what we want, and we don’t care if you starve. We won’t, and that’s all that matters.” 

No wonder Greeks are angry. Angela Merkel wants to have her cake and to eat it also, and I don’t think she can pull it off. Greeks aren’t easily controllable. They’re a passionate race, hot blooded, and they’ve been pushed to the point of no return. This isn’t politics for them. This isn’t a game. It’s about real suffering. Politicians can’t just deal in the convenient world of figures and double standards. They have to take humanity into account. Otherwise humanity will take them down.