Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Michael Lewis on Germany

I'm still busy watching the markets go crazy, so obviously I haven't been posting much lately. But if you're looking for something to read, I highly recommend Michael Lewis' new piece in Vanity Fair about Germany and the European economy. Lewis is the author of Liar's Poker, Moneyball, The Blind Side, The Big Short, and more, and he's always fascinating to read (he's also a terrific researcher and a generally interesting guy).

Germany obviously found itself at the center of a significant amount of turmoil in the 20th century (we Americans love to refer to the 20th century as "the American century", but I'd argue that the Germans had a far more significant role in the global happenings of the past 100 years), and with the Eurozone economic crisis that is currently unfolding, Germany is once again playing a starring role. What the Germans choose to do in the coming months and years will have a lot to say about the long-term viability of a currency, an economic paradigm, and possibly an entire continent--again.

I'll print Lewis' lead paragraph, to set the stage for his piece. I haven't had a chance to read it in its entirety, but it definitely seems like a must-read. Enjoy.
By the time I arrived in Hamburg the fate of the financial universe seemed to turn on which way the German people jumped. Moody’s was set to downgrade the Portuguese government’s debt to junk-bond status, and Standard & Poor’s had hinted darkly that Italy might be next. Ireland was about to be downgraded to junk status, too, and there was a very real possibility that the newly elected Spanish government might seize the moment to announce that the old Spanish government had miscalculated, and owed foreigners a lot more money than they previously imagined. Then there was Greece. Of the 126 countries with rated debt, Greece now ranked 126th: the Greeks were officially regarded as the least likely people on the planet to repay their debts. As the Germans were not only the biggest creditor of the various deadbeat European nations but their only serious hope for future funding, it was left to Germans to act as moral arbiter, to decide which financial behaviors would be tolerated and which would not. As a senior official at the Bundesbank put it to me, “If we say ‘no,’ it’s ‘no.’ Nothing happens without Germany. This is where the losses come to live.” Just a year ago, when German public figures called Greeks cheaters, and German magazines ran headlines like why don't you sell your islands, you bankrupt greeks? , ordinary Greeks took it as an outrageous insult. In June of this year the Greek government started selling islands or at any rate created a fire-sale list of a thousand properties—golf courses, beaches, airports, farmlands, roads—that they hoped to sell, to help repay their debts. It was safe to say that the idea for doing this had not come from the Greeks.
[Vanity Fair]

1 comment:

  1. I heart Germans...

    "The senior official at the Bundesbank told me they already have thought about how to deal with the request. “We have 3,400 tons of gold,” he said. “We are the only country that has not sold its original allotment from the [late 1940s]. So we are covered to some extent.”"