06 July 2015

If True, Then the Germans Are up to Their Old Tricks, but One Must Consider the Source

Somehow or Other, this got deleted from my blog, and so I am reposting:

Andrew Ross Sorkin (of all people) teases an interesting tidbit out of Timothy Geithners self-serving and factually challenged memoir, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, specifically that in discussions with German FM Wolfgang Schäuble, Angela Merkel's go to guy on finance had as his goal maximizing pain for the Greeks with the hope that they would be compelled to leave the Euro:
In July 2012, Timothy F. Geithner, the United States Treasury secretary at the time, traveled to Sylt, an island off Germany in the North Sea.

Mr. Geithner was there for a meeting with Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, who would spend his summers at his vacation home on the tiny island.

The topic was Greece.

In the home’s library, the two men spoke about Greece’s prospects and begun discussing ways for the European Union to keep the country in the eurozone.

To Mr. Geithner’s dismay, however, Mr. Schäuble took the conversation in a different direction.

“He told me there were many in Europe who still thought kicking the Greeks out of the eurozone was a plausible — even desirable — strategy,” Mr. Geithner later recounted in his memoir, “Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.” “The idea was that with Greece out, Germany would be more likely to provide the financial support the eurozone needed because the German people would no longer perceive aid to Europe as a bailout for the Greeks,” he says in the memoir.

“At the same time, a Grexit would be traumatic enough that it would help scare the rest of Europe into giving up more sovereignty to a stronger banking and fiscal union,” Mr. Geithner wrote. “The argument was that letting Greece burn would make it easier to build a stronger Europe with a more credible firewall.”

Fast-forward three years. What Mr. Schäuble articulated that summer afternoon to Mr. Geithner is finally taking shape.


A crucial decision made over the weekend had largely gone unremarked upon but is telling. The European Central Bank decided to halt an expansion of its emergency lending facility to Greek banks. That facility could have allowed the banks to continue operating without as much panic and helped avoid some of the capital controls by providing additional liquidity.


By closing the cash spigot, the E.C.B. managed to instill additional fear and panic into the day-to-day lives of the Greek people, ahead of the vote on the referendum.

That panic could cut two ways. The Greeks could look at the lines around the banks as a warning of what’s about to come, which would undoubtedly be worse in the short term, and vote in favor of the latest bailout agreement.

Of course, they could also view the lines as further evidence of their subjugation to the eurozone and the continued austerity they would experience under the bailout, pushing them to vote against it.

The E.C.B.’s decision also has another important purpose outside of Greece: It might be a warning to countries like Spain and Italy, should they ever consider following Greece out of the eurozone — if that comes to pass.

It may seem counterintuitive, but rather than make a Greece exit easy and seamless to avoid dislocations in financial markets, the E.C.B. has the perverse incentive to make it messy and difficult to deter others.

None of this is to suggest that the E.C.B. is the source of Greece’s problems. They were largely self-inflicted. Regardless of whether you think that the creation of the euro was a terrible mistake, Europe has severely mishandled the situation in Greece.

“The economics behind the program that the ‘troika’ (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25 percent decline in the country’s G.D.P.,” Joseph Stiglitz, an economist and professor at Columbia University, wrote on Monday. “I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate.”

In his book, Mr. Geithner reflected on his conversations with European leaders about the measures they sought to take. “The desire to impose losses on reckless borrowers and lenders is completely understandable, but it is terribly counterproductive in a financial crisis,” Mr. Geithner said.

At one point, he told Mr. Schäuble: “You know you sound a bit like Herbert Hoover in the 1930s. You need to be thinking about growth.”
(emphasis mine)
If this report is true, and note that I do not consider Geithner's memoir to be much more than an exercise in self-hagiography, then much of the pain of the that Greece has experienced over the past 6 years has largely been an exercise in sadism for its own sake by the Germans.

If there is a flaw at the heart of the European Union, it is Germany hegemony, which allows them to enforce their chauvinism on the other members.


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