Who is to blame? A response to John Bruton


This is a comment I posted on an article by the chairman of the IFSC lobby group (not mentioned in the bio – an oversight surely) and former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton, on the Irish Times website today, titled Don’t blame Germany for Europe’s woes.

Perhaps we could go one further and point out that there is no such thing as ‘Germany’ to blame. Rather, we should be looking at structures of power in the European Union at the present time, and asking ourselves, under present circumstances, who wins? Who loses?  

 No doubt it’s true that many workers in Germany do not feel wealthy. No-one who has to work for a living under a regime of minijobs is going to feel wealthy. And such people do not have any control over the Bundesbank or hence ECB monetary policy. Hence there is no point blaming them for the predicament of countries on the periphery.  

 The same, however, cannot be said of the owners of the German press, which uses racist caricature to represent the populations of periphery countries, portraying them as workshy parasites who live off the taxes of German workers. Nor can it be said of the directors and major shareholders in German banks such as Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank. Peter Böfinger, an economic advisor to the German government told Der Spiegel in 2011 that “[The bailouts] are first and foremost not about the problem countries but about our own banks, which hold high amounts of credit there.” 

 Thus the entire premise of this article: that ‘Germany’ is solving Europe’s financial problems but cannot go it alone, is preposterous. It is Europe (which is to say, the populations of Ireland, Greece, Spain, and Portugal) that is solving Germany’s (which is to say, German banks) problems, and they are paying for it in massive austerity.  

 (In passing, I should point out that the practice of placing “austerity” in scare quotes is usually to address the fact that it really means a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in order to save the financial sector. This is also why John Bruton does it here, but for entirely different reasons.) 

 So yes, indeed we should park the notion that ‘Germany’ is to blame, since the people who are really to blame in Germany are those in its media, political and financial establishments. But it is not just they who are to blame. It is also those who seek to perpetuate the idea that the working populations of Europe are the people who ought to pay -with their health, education and living standards- to clean up the vomit after the European financial sector has had its party.

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