Wednesday 1 July 2015

Some Brief Remarks On The Use Of The Word "Austerity".

Over-Ruling Market Forces: Middle Class housewives queue to collect their rationed goods and services. In the first Age of Austerity (1945-1951) the newly elected Labour Government made sure that the inevitable discomforts and shortages of the immediate post-war period were shared equitably across the population. In the second Age of Austerity (2010-Present) precipitated by the Global Financial Crisis, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, off-loaded the cost of bailing-out capitalism on to the shoulders of the young and the poor.
SOME WORDS ENJOY a second lease on political life. Although, it’s almost never the case that a political term retains its original meaning the second time around. The word “austerity” is a good example.
Originally, the word was used to characterise the period in British history immediately after World War II. The Age of Austerity is remembered as a time of economic stringency when food was rationed, luxuries unheard of outside all but the most exclusive circles, and housing was in desperately short supply.
There was, of course, a very good reason for all this. Great Britain had just emerged from a six year war in which, for a few crucial months, the very existence of the British nation hung in the balance. Britain had come through, but not before hundreds-of-thousands of her citizens had been killed or injured, and tens-of-thousands of her houses, factories, ports and other key pieces of infrastructure had been destroyed. To win, the British had been forced to engage in a prolonged period of unprecedented military and economic effort. In attempting to pay for the war, Britain had liquidated nearly all of her financial assets and borrowed heavily from the Americans. By 1945 the cupboard was very bare indeed.
What this meant was that Britain had to manage what meagre resources it still possessed (or could borrow) extremely frugally. Consumer demand was tightly constrained – both by rationing and by continuing the tight wartime economic controls. It was not a joyous time. Life was hard. Indeed, in the fat years that followed, many British people looked back on the Age of Austerity and shuddered.
If you think all these measures sound a lot like the so-called “austerity” policies implemented by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, between 2010 and 2015, then you really need to think again. Because, historically-speaking, the two periods could not be more different.
In 1945 the British Labour Party was elected in a landslide to implement what they openly described as a “socialist” manifesto. The immediate effect of Labour’s election was that, from the very outset, the “peace” – at least in its early years – was to be a time of social equality. Inherited wealth was targeted quite ruthlessly and the near confiscatory taxes on high incomes that had been levied during the war persisted. The distribution of goods and services was organised not by “market forces” but according to need. For the upper and middle classes this over-ruling of the market was utterly unacceptable. For centuries, the ownership of wealth had conferred all manner of advantages: social, economic and political. But for the first 5 years after the war the upper classes ability to avail themselves of their customary advantages was severely constrained.
There may, therefore, be an element of cruel historical irony in the Conservative Party’s political appropriation of the word “austerity”. Because Osborne’s response to the Global Financial Crisis and the huge debts it had forced the British Government to incur was very different from that of Clement Attlee’s socialists. Rather than sharing the burden of recovery equally, Osborne piled virtually all of it onto the shoulders of the poor and the young. This was achieved by imposing swingeing cuts on public expenditure – especially spending on the unemployed, beneficiaries, students and even, unconscionably, the disabled.
The original Age of Austerity was a time of enforced social equality, Osborne’s austerity was an exercise in looking after the interests of the well-to-do at the expense of the poor. Unlike Labour’s post-war Britain, market forces were in no way restrained and all the advantages of wealth were taken by those fortunate enough to possess them.
The other significant difference between the late 1940s and the post-GFC years is that, in 1945, the world’s great creditor nation, the USA, had to exercise a measure of common sense in recovering the money it had lent during the war. The Red Army loomed over Europe just waiting for poverty and starvation to drive the peoples of the West into the arms of soviet-style socialism. The Americans were careful ensure that the anticipated social and economic collapse did not eventuate.
How different it was after the crises of 2008-09. Governments had been forced to borrow the money needed to keep capitalism afloat and the financial institutions who had purchased the instruments of their own rescue demanded the full repayment of every Pound and/or Euro that they were owed. And this time there was no Soviet threat to moderate the financiers’ greed, or to convince them that unregulated market forces are, politically, their own worst enemy.
Austerity, then, possesses a very different meaning, depending on whether it is being used to describe the enforced social equality of the post-war years, or the punitive imposition of the costs of rescuing capitalism upon those sectors of British and European society least able to bear them.
Greece, according to Radio New Zealand has been issued with an “austere” set of economic demands. Seldom has the true meaning of a word been so carelessly traduced. What is being asked of Greece bears little resemblance to anything “plain and unadorned” unless it is plain and unadorned cruelty.
Between 1945 and 1951 the British learned to live “without unnecessary things”, but they were not forced to starve on their knees so that their creditors could stay on their feet.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 1 July 2015.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

It's like a religion with the right. They mutter about credit cards and family budgets and stuff. But countries are not families.
We know it doesn't work. Economists have finally come round to the opinion that it doesn't work. Greece has had a number of years of so-called austerity and it hasn't worked. And according to the IMF there's no way it's going to work.

It's just a nutty right-wing mantra. "When will they ever learn?"

pat said...

excellent would appear that austerity also repeats as farce.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, had Stafford Cripps been a bit less stringent in his austerity measures, it is very likely that UK Labour would have been in power throughout the 1950s - with all the associated policy paraphernalia of that (as it was, had Attlee even waited until 1952, UK Labour would have been re-elected; the 1951 election was held at the least politically opportune time). Greater nationalisation, no Suez Debacle, Tories out of power until the mid-1960s, by which point they might have had to change their name, as per Macmillan's idea, but just in time for Vietnam...

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
Austerity replaces " trickle down " now that the trickle is revealed to have been just "trick".
The obscenity of the programme in Greece particularly, but it applies to the whole western world, is that while ordinary decent honest people are being subjected to this, there are unfathomable trillions of dollars in the hands of people who are desperate to find somewhere to put it that it won't shrink. Hundreds if not thousands of times as much as is needed to resolve Greece's problems and every other state's too.
During the 20s and 30s depression when lots of countries were in Greece's present situation ,as I remember Bob Jones saying, after the initial Wall st crash, the share markets boomed throughout. People who had control of the money found it had become safer to speculate with it on existing shares regardless of returns rather than to invest in any enterprise that employed people.
In those days the share market was about the only receptacle for this idle wealth, but now with the invention of futures and derivatives , default swaps etc. ad nauseam ,coupled with the abandonment in the last decade of any constraints on the issue of bank credit worldwide, (money multiplication) has grown into a gigantic store of wealth or buying power that overwhelms by many times over the real economy down here where the Iguanas live (apologies to Carole ).
The current dalliance with Laissez Faire ,neoliberalism is close to its end. having hoovered up most of the value easily extracted from the masses they must now starve to complete the extraction.
Cheers David J S

Geoff said...

If the Greeks hadn't borrowed what they could NEVER pay back, they wouldn't be in the predicament they now find themselves ! Please tell me why the Germans, or anyone should else fund the Greeks' previous borrowing beyond their means ?? They don't have anyone to blame for their situation than themselves. End of story, sorry.

Chris Trotter said...

Really, Geoff? Is that the extent of your analysis? That the millions of Greeks who are suffering at the hands of the Troika are each individually responsible for their own misery?

Not the politicians who actually incurred the debt. Not the German and French banks who, in the years prior to the GFC, continued the 185-year-old tradition of keeping the Greek economy afloat with loans. Not the so-called "economists" whose prescriptions for Greece's recovery have succeeded only in shrinking its economy by 25 percent, and whose only answer to the current crisis is to demand even more sacrifices.

No, according to Geoff's analysis, none of these factors have any bearing on the situation. The Greeks are severally and individually liable for their past leaders' financial delinquency. They are getting no more than they deserve.

Well, two Nobel Prize-winners for Economics, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, have publicly declared that if they were voting in the forthcoming Greek referendum it would be in line with the Syriza Government's recommendation - i.e. "No."

That's good enough for me.

Davo Stevens said...

The Troika want the Syrisa Govt. to collapse so they can put in Mario Draghi or some-one similar. They were shocked speechless when Syriza got control of the Greek Parliament.

The Greek Banks are owned by the Greek Oligarchs and the ECB has been pouring cash into them. Syriza wants to tax them but Christine Legarde of the IMF said no. Not only did Stiglitz and Krugman et al say it wasn't working but so did Straus-Kahn which is why he was tossed out of the IMF. He had to go so there was a set-up in the hotel.

The Troika have been issuing demands not negotiating in good faith and coming to a compromise. They are hard and fast in what they want and won't budge.

Anonymous said...

Chris Geoff is correct, you cant lump Greece with Britain and other countries going through austerity, Britain did not behave irresponsibly and is more a victim of bad US banking regulations (very badly subprime lenders underwriting to be exact). Greece on the other hand is basically a corrupt third world shit-hole that should never have been allowed into the EU, I mean they retire at 50, in election year the politicians take all the tax collectors off the street (for a whole f**g year) and no one who works for themselves pays taxation - you have doctors running lucrative practices paying no taxes, you have plastic surgeons earning fortunes and paying no taxes, builders, plumbers sparky's, sex workers - none of them pay taxes, Chris read and stop treating the Greeks like anything other than victims of they're own stupidity. The message to the greeks is simple, I want I work I pay I get. Forget austerity those airheads need a brain transplant.

Anonymous said...

The Greeks should vote No in the coming referendum, which is a vote on EU membership. Sure there will be immediate economic agony, all theyre banks will collapse and they will have to implement massive austerity either via huge cutbacks in public services and tax increases or via hyperinflationary financing of unaffordable spending, but that must be better than the slow grinding austerity necessary to meet the demands of the reviled troika. While the greeks are certainly the architects of they're own fate the current policies required to remain members of the EU are to painful - especially given they are being force fed to the Greeks, better to leave a system they were never ready to join in the first place and take the pain of bankruptcy and rebuild from that. One thing is certain it will make a great chapter in the economic history books, Im definately going to read it.

pat said...

The lie that Greeks dont pay their taxes is easily disproven (well avoidance/evasion is no more so than any western economy).... will note that Greece collects more tax as a percentage of GDP than those other tax haven socailist bastions such as the USA, Austrailia,Japan and South Korea

Jd said...

interesting, be it it orthodox eco, analysis of events

Trotsky said...

You can add an NZ ex reserve bank monetary economist and now blogger (and darn good one) to your list of the economically erudite condeming Greeces lean years: he says of Greece:

Perhaps the saddest bars on both charts are those for Greece. Running structural fiscal surpluses, in an economy at the zero bound and with 27 per cent unemployment, would not normally be considered sensible. But that is what happens when a country loses market access, and yet lingers on in a straitjacket like the euro. I stand by my assertion a month or two ago that there is no politically acceptable deal (politically acceptable in both other countries and in Greece) that can allow Greece to stay in the euro and yet begin to make material ground reversing the catastrophic loss of output and the appalling unemployment rate. It increasingly looks as though the break is coming soon. When and if it does, it will be messy for a time, but it finally offers a way back towards a more fully-employed economy.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The Germans have over time, been bankrupt and obtained debt relief more than the Greeks. Though the German bankruptcies tended to be the result of aggressive wars. I suppose that makes it all right.

Brendan McNeill said...

While the Greek people may not have all voted for the politicians who took them down the path of financial ruin, they have all participated in a culture where tax avoidance was the norm. According to the BBC who dismissed some of the recent myths about Greeks and Porsches:

“Income tax receipts as a percentage of GDP are only 4.7%, the lowest in the eurozone and less than half the 10% in the UK. It would be good to think this is just because Greece has rock bottom tax rates but it hasn't - this is because for some people, what they actually earn and what they put on their tax forms are often different figures. Last year, Horst Reichenbach, head of the EU taskforce offering technical help to the Greek government, said the amount of unpaid tax was estimated to be "in the order of 60bn euros [£49.49bn]".

And so a culture of dishonesty invokes a culture of austerity, and inevitably financial collapse.

As Margaret Thatcher is reported to have said ‘The facts of life are conservative’.

Perhaps what she really meant was ‘There is no substitute for virtue in a nations character’.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

And who is avoiding the taxes Brendan? Not those workers who have their taxes extracted at source. It's the self-employed and middle-class professionals. The entrepreneurs, the salt of the earth, the job creators. Your people. :-)

Victor said...


You've missed the point entirely.

Austerity, 21st century style, doesn't work. It just stops countries from growing and being in a position to pay off their debts, should that be what their governments wish to do.

The same, of course, was true in the 1930s. But, hey, it's so much easier to be self-righteous than to learn from history!

You can't get blood out of a stone. So your moralistic posturing is just a form of self-indulgence.


An excellent post.

It seems to me that one of the current problems of most western countries is that we've been encouraged and cajolled into become "financially literate".

But most people remain "economically illiterate". Hence, they cannot see beyond their pathetically inadequate household analogies.

As the old saying goes: "a little learning is a dangerous thing".


I'm sure you're right about austerity and the fate of the UK's post-war Labour government.

In the early 1950s, the Tories effectively offered watered-down Keynesianism and the Welfare State without austerity and over-rigorous control.

This proved an electorally winning formula despite the subsequent brickbats, initially from duffel-coated, leftish schoolboys such as my younger self and later on from the Thatcherites.

And, despite Profumo, they'd probably have won again in 1964 with a leader other than the 14th Earl.

Brendan McNeill said...


I don't know how the tax system is structured in Greece (do you?) so I cannot comment as to the veracity of your remarks. What I can tell you however, is that people who avoid their moral and social responsibility to pay tax are not 'my people'.

Benjamin Franklin understood the issue very clearly:

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Benjamin Franklin

It's not surprising that the Germans grew tired of filling the Greeks ATM's, or that the money eventually ran out. No doubt there are elements of injustice all round, but Victors observations around household analogies not withstanding, no Western economy can be sustained by growing debt forever - Eventually creditors want to be repaid, or at least believe they can be - surely?

Anonymous said...


Guerilla Surgeon said...

I left three links on my comment Brendan. Some of them had graphs. Are you not interested in actual evidence? Or do you believe with Charles, that it's a bad thing? And as I said, Germany has had its fair share of bankruptcies and debt relief. Mind you, the Germans are a bit po-faced/hypocritical on debt.

Davo Stevens said...

Greek Oligarchs pay no tax at all Brendan and it is similar for the higher Middle class there too. Remember Onassis? The man who made millions shipping goods around the world in rust buckets that kept losing bits overboard then married Kennedy's widow. According to his own words he said that he had never paid any tax in his life and was quite proud of the fact!

Brendan, the business colleagues of yours here also are adept at dodging tax, they do it all the time.

Getting back to Greece, yes the country is not perfect, no country is but it doesn't deserve what the Troika are trying to do, i.e. get rid of Syriza and make sure that the other countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy don't have the temerity to vote in a Leftish Govt. The money that was going into the banks (who don't pay tax either there) was so that ordinary people could survive.

The bloody Germans need to realise that if they drive Greece deeper into poverty, it has no hope of ever paying it's debts. So they need to ease up. It's all Ideology driven and has nothing to do with paying bills.

Charles E said...

Greece is simply bust, which is nothing new or unfair or another's fault usually as in this case. They spent too much and earned too little. They did it with their eyes open, probably thinking they would be bailed out endlessly. It was perhaps additive. like betting.
Not paying taxes is only one part of an equation, the other is spending too much unproductively. So just as with an individual, you can borrow a lot to fund things that will produce enough to pay interest and repay some capital. Like a business. Or you can buy cars, go on holiday and over-capitalise your lovely pretty house but none of those things are good assets. In fact they are more like liabilities. Result: bust and blaming the lender.
Of course austerity can work, but in Greece's case it was unlikely too since they found no way to transform their economy to be productive enough to earn enough to pay the interest let alone capital. So those economists who said it would not work were right and they should have gone bust years ago instead. But again, it was largely in their hands, but they did not want to leave the Euro & EU. A mistake. Now that have to.

Simon Cohen said...

Unfortunately my sympathy for the Greek people is tempered by the fact that they have continued to elect governments which have made extravagant promises that have led to their current position
Only three countries previously have defaulted to the IMF.
Zimbabwe (2001), Somalia (1987) and Sudan (1984).
All three are amongst the most dysfunctional in the world.
For Greece to be now in their company shows just how dysfunctional the country has become.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I think the consensus among New Zealand economists – as I heard on the radio some time ago – is that austerity only works if you're the only one doing it. Other economists have a harsher view, i.e. that it never works at all. I'd post some links, but Charles simply believes that that's the sign of someone who has no original ideas :-). However evidence is not difficult to find. The problem is of course, that psychologists have shown that giving people with irrational beliefs evidence to the contrary of their beliefs only hardens those beliefs. Charles would need a full-blown intervention. Like this chap:

manfred said...

What baffles me is Brendan s support of taxation. I thought that was 'coercive'?
Or is it ok when used to line the pockets of filthy rich creditors but not when providing support for jobless families with hungry children? Malevolence indeed.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Manfred – I must confess that inconsistency worried me. But too harsh a line of questioning on that sort of thing tends to lead to accusations of ad hominem attacks. But even so inconsistency seems to be a function of being right wing. And you can't reason someone out of a position they haven't reasoned themselves into as someone said. Perhaps we could gently ask Brendan to explain :-).

Victor said...


"Eventually creditors want to be repaid, or at least believe they can be - surely?"

Greece's creditors are now, for all intents and purposes, primarily political institutions (the EU, the ECB and the IMF). And a major influence on them is the German government, which is, of course, also a political institution.

None of the above are limited liability companies with a duty merely to maximise shareholder advantage on as short a timetable as possible.

Whether they are aware of it or not, these institutions have far vaster and more significant responsibilities than acting as mere managerial technocrats, accountants or debt collectors.

Here are just a few of their responsibilities:

1) Preventing a failed state emerging on Europe's southeastern flank, in a country with a recent history of dictatorship, brutal foreign occupation, civil war and yet more dictatorship

2) Preventing such instability spreading to a neighbouring region still etched with ethnic conflicts

3) Preventing a weakening of Europe's institutional architecture, which, for all its sillinesses, remains one of the bastions of global stability, freedom and democracy

4) Preventing national antagonisms from returning Europe to the morass of hatreds that caused two world wars

and, oh yes:

5) Doing their level best to rescue ordinary folks from undeserved deprivation, distress and disease.

I have some sympathy for the German predicament. Having tried to eschew political dominance in Europe for the last seventy years, they've now been firmly vested with it by the strength of their economy.

Unfortunately, with Empire comes responsibilities and those responsibilites are not just financial or owed simply to your own voters and their understandable prejudice in favour of frugality. It's therefore long past time for Kaiserin Angela to start pulling-in her budget hawks and satraps.

Margaret Thatcher was in a sense right when, as you point out, she described ‘The facts of life' as conservative. But the facts of book-keeping are not the only ones at issue, as any true conservative should understand.

manfred said...

You have a point, Guerilla S. And I have also been too harsh towards you at times. I am a an occasionally grumpy fellow, I must confess. Please excuse me, folks.

Perhaps Brendan is not necessarily personally malevolent but rather it is the philosophy he subscribes to which is at fault. I confess to have subscribed to some fairly dodgy credo's at times - Leninism being one.

Yet the point still stands. We must be rigorously honest with ourselves - is the political-economic philosophy we subscribe to going to provide for the humanitarian needs for the greatest number of people?

Such pedestrian concerns may seem boring to Libertarians and Marxists, but they are they are the starting point for humanity's journey.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I've just found out that Greece was among the countries that forgave Germany's debt in 1953, helping to start the German sorry – West German 'economic miracle'. After what the Germans did to Greece in World War II, that was a handsome act. But then Germans are so 'rule oriented' that they won't cross a road at 3 o'clock in the morning, with absolutely no traffic, against the lights. Indeed they can get po-faced or actively hostile if you do. Also learnt that the German word for debt and the word for shame are identical. Ah well – at your feet or at your throat as my granny used to say :-).

Davo Stevens said...

@ GS, Quite right, Greece wrote off 80% of what was owing them by Germany in 1953. They are strange people too. Got a really superior attitude to anyone who is not German, a hang-over from the war years.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Charles E.

Message received.

Why don't the two of us just lean on our swords for a little while?

The battle rages with, or without, us.

Chris Trotter.

Jigsaw said...

Interesting talk on BBC radio today (Sunday 5th) about austerity and what it actually means. Apparently the way economists use the word and the way that politicians use the word hardly overlap at all. As to which way is best out of the sort of space that Greece is in now-well hard to say. A country that can bring in retirement at 55 when their creditor county is still working beyond that has to have been deluded in the extreme. cartoon in Greece of the German finance minister and calling him a blood sucker and a cartoon in Germany of the Greek PM with a gun at his own head and threatening to shoot unless he gets more credit seems to sum up the situation.

Victor said...

I think it was only 50% of West Germany's debt that got written off in 1953 but I'm open to correction. But even that was a highly impressive figure, particularly by today's standards.

Even more interesting, however, is what the creditor nations decided with respect to the remaining debt, viz. that it had to be repaid exclusively from export earnings and that, at most, 3% of such earnings in any given year should be used for repayment purposes.

This, obviously, reinforced the creditor nations' stake in the success of West Germany's economy. Not that anyone with any sense needed reminding , back then, of the importance of prosperity to keeping Germany on the democratic path and to keeping Soviet-style communism out of western Europe.

Greece, of course, drew significant benefits from participation in this act of enlightened self-interest, in that there were plenty of jobs in Dusseldorf or Cologne for Greek workers (who, typically, sent substantial remittances home), as well as plenty of German holiday-makers to kick-start Greece's post-war tourism boom.

Where, I'd like to know, has all that pragmatism and good sense gone? Why have we all forgotten the obvious lessons of the recent past? Is each generation doomed to forget the truths learned by its parents and grandparents, only to repeat all the follies of its great-grandparents?

Meanwhile, I can only conclude that GS and Davo have met different Germans to the ones I know. Seventy years after the end of WW2, they remain, in my experience, one of the least xenophobic peoples on the planet, albeit that their postwar guilt is starting to rub a bit thin and can't be relied on for much longer.

They are, however, suffering from an advanced case if austerity-itis. They are certainly not alone in this but their collective memories and cultural mores make them particularly prone to the virus.

Their elected leaders are also showing an astonishing lack of vision over the Greek crisis. But, again, they're not alone in this.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I don't remember saying Germans were xenophobic. I said "rule oriented". I don't think even my granny's old saying could be taken to mean that they were xenophobic.

Davo Stevens said...

It depends on where in Germany you are or were Victor. Although on the outside the German people were friendly but a little reserved and underneath there was an undercurrent of they being the Superior ones and especially those from the south Europe as being not quite their equal. It is palpable amongst the smaller communities.

@Jigsaw; cherry-picking data again? Firstly the 55 yr retirement was dropped in 2002 as part of what was needed to join the Euro. It was ONLY for those Greeks who had worked for Govt. Depts on a relatively low pay. In return they were allowed to retire at 55 whilst all other Greeks had to wait until they were 60.

This issue with Greece and the Troika has little to do with debts and credits and is more about Regime Change. The Troika want a pliable Govt. that they can control. They don't want the Syriza disease to spread amongst the rest of the troubled countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

pat said...

pat said...

even if all the lies and half truths stated about the Greeks and their required bailout were true (which they are obviously not) that dosnt detract from the fact that what has been foisted on the people there was unworkable and unnecessary.....and still the EU refuse to see sense.

Charles E said...

Yes good idea Chris.
The news from Europe is so fascinating I want to read it all rather than write anyway.

Victor said...


I used to know the then West Germany rather well. I was always struck by how easily south European immigrants (including friends of mine)were received and assimilated into German society, although I certainly couldn't say the same about the experience of Turkish migrants.

But my point is that far too many of us are now falling into that vile old trap of reducing complex situations to sonorous generalisations about seemingly ineradicable and wholly negative national characteristics.

And so, to some, the Greeks are lazy, feckless, irresponsible wastrels, drowning their moussaka with Champagne at the expense of the virtuous industry of taxpayers in creditor nations.

Others, meanwhile,see the Germans as arrogant, racist, rule-obsessed and (yes, I've read it on this very website) seeking to achieve through their banks what they failed to achieve with their tanks.

We should know from experience where this kind of talk leads and we should eschew it. Part of my criticism of the EU's current leaders is that they've created fertile ground in which such destructive sentiments can flourish.

They should have known better. And Chancellor Merkel, a far from stupid woman, certainly should have known better.


Despite the above shibboleth, I would agree with you that Germany tends to be rule-orientated.

It's one of the pleasanter aspects of life there, provided the rules aren't made by thugs and their sympathisers, as has, horrifically, been true in the past.

It takes an enormous amount of hassle out of life, when things work just the way they're meant to work. There again, some people thrive on hassle.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I don't mind things working, and of course Henning Wehn makes rather a nice living pointing out the differences between working Germany and nonworking Britain – but when they dictate exactly when you can mow your lawn, and for that matter when you can flush your toilet, or rather the hours you are not allowed to flush your toilet and I think it's a bridge too far :-). Not to say that the Japanese aren't just as bad. But they seem to be able to get drunk and forget the rules for a little while.

Davo Stevens said...

Victor, perhaps I was being over-sensitive when I was there but I simply related my feelings at that time. I don't mean that the Germans are Xenophobic at all but I noticed an undercurrent of a sense of superiority in so many of them.

Greece is in for a very rough ride now. Peurto Rico is on the brink as well. They use the US$ and have a similar problem as Greece. Too much time left at the end of the money.

Davo Stevens said...

A book that everyone needs to read is 'The Confessions of an Economic Hitman' by John Perkins. It's chilling!!

"John Perkins: Essentially, my job was to identify
countries that had resources that our corporations want, and that could
be things like oil - or it could be markets - it could be transportation
systems. There're so many different things. Once we identified these
countries, we arranged huge loans to them, but the money would never
actually go to the countries; instead it would go to our own
corporations to build infrastructure projects in those countries, things
like power plants and highways that benefitted a few wealthy people as
well as our own corporations, but not the majority of people who
couldn't afford to buy into these things, and yet they were left holding
a huge debt, very much like what Greece has today, a phenomenal debt.

"[Indebted countries] become servants to what I call the
corporatocracy ... today we have a global empire, and it's not an
American empire. It's not a national empire ... It's a corporate empire,
and the big corporations rule."

And once [they were] bound by that debt, we would go back, usually in
the form of the IMF - and in the case of Greece today, it's the IMF and
the EU [European Union] - and make tremendous demands on the country:
increase taxes, cut back on spending, sell public sector utilities to
private companies, things like power companies and water systems,
transportation systems, privatize those, and basically become a slave to
us, to the corporations, to the IMF, in your case to the EU, and
basically, organizations like the World Bank, the IMF, the EU, are tools
of the big corporations, what I call the "corporatocracy."" From the book.

Posted en toto sorry Chris.

Also there is a discussion by Thomas Piketty that discusses Germany's role in all of this.

Victor said...


Um er ....Germans don't get drunk?

In the Rhineland at carnival time, they pee in the streets to relieve their bladders.

As to Bavaria.........

But I take your point over the pettiness of some restrictions.


I understand where you're coming from. I'm of Polish Jewish extraction and it took me half a lifetime not to see a sinister side to many quite ordinary aspects of German-ness, particularly when encountered in stand-offish rural communities.

Germany's recent past certainly contains some of the most horrendous crimes of human history. But I can't think of any country that has ever made so consistent an effort to remake itself or to make amends to the individuals and nations it has wronged.

What concerns me, amongst other things, is that Germany's postwar hair shirt is growing threadbare just at the point when its economy has achieved its greatest extent of dominance in Europe and just when the frugal personal habits of Germans have turned them into exemplars (not least in their own minds) of the globally-dominant economic orthodoxy. It's enough to turn anyone's head.

Even so,as I'm sure we agree, it's best not to view the Greek crisis as a remake of "The Guns of Navarone".

Davo Stevens said...

I know what your sayin' Victor I just expressed my own opinions on what I noticed when I was there. I worked for three German brothers and I couldn't have had better bosses!

There is comments about Estonia and how well it's doing. Well for a country of about 1.5 million, an extreme right wing Govt and a huge NATO military base near Maaku where Europe is pouring millions of Euro into, it not surprising that it's doing well under Austerity! But if people really want to find out, I suggest they go and talk to the ordinary people in the streets. Their opinions are more valid.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I have seen the odd drunk German :-). But the Japanese seem to do it every week :-). Never ever nasty drunk, just - legless. And even then they seem to remember the major rules :-).

Victor said...


We're probably talking about different degrees of inebriation.

I don't recall many legless Germans. Just a whole heap of tanked-up ones having a boisterous and often indecorous good time.

And then there was the 11 hour wine-tasting I participated in......