Friday, November 18, 2011

Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring, don’t panic. And please, please, please lay off the Germans


I thought I might start this entry with a cartoon (UPDATE: picture - couldn't find a useful cartoon) which strikes me as wholly apposite given the latest news on the euro crisis. Years ago when I still used to lie (I came to realise that in the long run lying is actually pretty pointless and self-defeating). I would find myself, as others did and those who are foolish enough to carry on the practive, always will, in an ever more complex, ever more unmanageable tissue of untruths. It was all very easy at first: the first lie would get you out of a fix, and the second lie would tidy up matters. Then came a third lie which became necessary because of an inconsistency between the first and second lies. This was usually swiftly followed by a fourth and fifth to iron out further problems, while the second lie was recalled to base because of a design fault. In no time at all, lies six, seven and eight were launched to give the whole fabrication some kind of cohesion, but they, of course, also brought further confusion as at this point exactly what was said became wholly unclear and the reason for telling that first lie was completely forgotten. You can see why I gave up lying.

I am not suggesting that Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron, Enda Kenny, the two chaps from somewhere or other who have been parachuted in to run Italy and Greece and the rest of the stalwarts intent on saving the world (no, sorry, that’s global warming, on saving Europe) are lying. But what they are doing is fire-firefighting on a grand scale, scurrying here, there and everywhere from one small blaze to another to keep each under control, but don’t seem to see that each measure is simply adding to the overall conflagration and that the overall conflagration is way beyond control. And, yes, I do realise that as a simile ‘fire-fighting’ sits rather uncomfortably with the simile in the cartoon with which I started this entry, but if it really does bother you, you can bugger off and read someone else’s blog.

There is a relevant piece of bad news every morning, and today’s bad news is that those investors and banks in Asia have decided that enough is enough and are selling any bonds they hold issued by European countries. (Incidentally, ‘selling’ would imply that someone is ‘buying’, but in view of the almost total fuck-up this has now become, I should imagine that no one in their right mind is ‘buying’. How someone is able to ‘sell’ when no one wants to ‘buy’ has always baffled me, although I realise it is perfectly possible, and I can only blame my confusion on this particular aspect of ‘the markets’ on the fact that my ‘knowledge’ of economics was gleaned over the years from breakfast cereal packets and suchlike, and what I don’t actually ‘know’, I make up. In my defence, however, I must stress that it doesn’t necessarily make me at all unrelieable: one of the better definitions of ‘an economist’ I’ve come across is that he is someone who can convincingly explain today why what he predicted yesterday didn’t happen.)

There are several entertaining sideshows to the Asian shrugging of shoulders and getting the hell out of it: Germany now sees salvation in speeding up plans for ‘full political and fiscal integration’ of the eurozone area. And, on paper, they have a point. But I stress ‘on paper’. Given that Germany is now pre-eminent in the EU - and given the geography of Europe, that was pretty unavoidable - it is pretty certain that if ‘political and fiscal integration’ did come about, Germany would once again be the loudest voice. And here I must come clean: granted that I think the question is wholly hypothetical, I really don’t think that would be a bad thing. Many might see the Germans as ponderous and unimaginative, and broadly they might have a point. But there’s no denying that they are at heart far better at organising themselves than many other countries and if there is a secret to their prosperity, that is it. If anyone were to run the show, I would be far happier if it were the Germans than, say, the Italians or Greeks. But, of course, that is pure fantasy. It well never get to that point and all talk about it is pie in the sky. Trying to establish ‘political and fiscal integration’ in Europe - or rather the eurozone - would be as futile as trying to herd cats.

Sadly, despite all the original hullabaloo of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men, every European country is reverting to the role ordained for it by history and geography. And that is especially true of what might crassly be seen as The Big Three: Britain, France and Germany. I know we Brits make jokes in poor taste about The Teutons, but when push comes to shove we get on rather better with them than with The Frogs. They in turn have been cosying up for these past 30 years with Les Boches, but that was always only a summer romance and the tiffs are now getting ever more spiteful. And The Frogs, in turn, still can’t - Lord knows why not! - drum up much trust in the treacherous Rostbifs. Time for a cliché? Of course, never one better: Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.

. . .

It might be that although I sprang from the loins of a stout Worcestershire man, I was nurtured in and emerged from the womb of a stout German woman, but I must come clean: in this whole very sorry saga, my sympathies are with the Germans. As far as I am concerned, a sober, not to say cold-blooded analysis of who has done what would be forced to conclude that they haven’t done much wrong. And the worst charge that can be levelled against them is that they are sticking to their guns and insisting on not doing the stupid thing.

From the dust and rubble of World War I and the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic, they emerged to resume a reasonable existence, although one in time blighted by the jumped-up little corporal from Linz (where, bizarrely, he went to the same school at the same time as one Ludwig Wittgenstein), only for it all to got to pot again. Yet once again, they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, re-established themselves and now once again live in peace, comfort and prosperity. And they are utterly paranoid about inflation.

They are also very put out that - well, the only appropriate word here is ‘feckless’ - Med types should threaten it all and all and sundry are now demanding that they should now do what they sincerely regard as utterly, utterly stupid to rescue nations not half as neat and tidy as themselves. What exactly have they done wrong? How exactly is the vilification which is now coming their way justified? Answers, please, on a postcard or even in an email. I should like to be enlightened.

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