One of the great masterpieces of world literature is Gunther Grass’ The Tin Drum, cataloging how Germany fell into the abyss of madness. The eponymous drum is pounded upon by Oskar, who survives the horrors of war and gains fame only eventually to be consigned to a secure institution. Its as much a discussion of the perils of taking oneself too seriously as it is on the perils of taking others so. Modern Germans labour, unfairly it may be, under the yoke of the dreadful history of their great grandparents. And yet, outside Germany we are often more reluctant than perhaps is helpful to accept that that is part of their (and our) shared history and that the context therefore is unavoidable. We are all too much at times like the Noel Coward song…Here in Ireland we are all too aware of the context of the past, and while at times it can be a massive evasion “blame the brits” sort of awareness, it at least exists. Its not therefore too much to suggest that others might want to cultivate this awareness in their speech.
Dr Hans Werner Sinn has waged an increasingly lonely campaign to convince anyone, everyone, that Germany stands in massive danger, that German capital is being starved and German money sucked to the periphery through the Target 2 interbank settlement system. Despite devastating critiques of this view by amongst others Karl Whelan Dr Sinn holds fast to the notion that it’s a massive danger. It’s not, unless and until the euro zone breaks up and even then it’s much more an accounting exercise than a real issue. As head of the ifo , the major german economic think tank, Sinn is a major player in the German economic and political sphere. Topflight german magazine Der Speigel has a fantastic takedown of Dr Sinn, which portrays him as an intellectual bully, a man possessed of absolute certainty (in a world where most economists have at least rid themselves of that) and obsessed with publicity and the media, a man whose views have remained slow to evolve.
Yet, he remains a most influential man. And bearing his media savvy and his acknowledged influence in that regard one of his statements quoted in Der Speigel makes one wonder. He has long regarded the bailouts of the periphery as dangerous. He now states “Our children will be forced to go to southern Europe and get our money back” . This is to my mind and ear inflammatory stuff, by a man who knows or perhaps now we see does not but should know his history and his geopolitics. At best its crass bluster, at worst can be read as a oblique reminder of the invasion and occupation of Greece and Italy in WW2. One hopes that this time the children of Germany will be armed with lawyers writs and bond calculators. It is similar to the head of the ESRI musing on the usefulness of ANFO in bond negotiations when in the financial district of London (riffing on the IRA Bishopsgate and Canary Wharf bombings) . The euro crisis has done enough harm to intra-euro national solidarity. People of influence should know enough to not fuel this any further. Its a pity that the certainties of Dr Sinn do not extend to a knowledge of the past context and present realities.