Sunday, July 19, 2015

Fourth Reich, Again?

A few years ago I remarked the way that the "E" word--empire--kept coming up in discussions of Germany's dealings with its neighbors. (George Soros, for instance, made a few headlines using the word back in public remarks in Italy back in 2012.)

The word's use did not quite disappear afterward, but it did seem to come up less frequently until this year, and especially the recent deal with the Greek government (which has brought another troubling word, "diktat," into wider use again).

What is more surprising than the frequency with which the word "empire" is the way in which it is being used--not as a thing that might happen, as Soros said it was, but an accomplished fact--and at least as much so, the places where this sort of rhetoric came up.

It is, perhaps, not so unusual that it came up in recent coverage of these events by Sputnik News. However, in this case Sputnik is citing a piece by David Dayen which ran in the very mainstream American Salon.

George Friedman of STRATFOR (you can read my reviews of his books The Next 100 Years and The Next Decade if you want a sense of his writing), also used the word in his comment, titled "An Empire Strikes Back: Germany and the Greek Crisis."

Interestingly, an article by the staff of Der Spiegel (the guys who ran this surprisingly offensive cover), while denouncing the political usage of the term and the memories it evokes, conceded that it "may not be entirely out of place."

Still, in light of the fact that holding the EU together is still broadly approved by not just Germany's but Europe's elites, and the short and long-term limits to Germany's economic power (the German economy is the continent's biggest, but not overwhelmingly so), it appears more a matter of the four decade-old fight of neoliberal globalizers against state intervention in economic life, welfare states and organized labor. The fact that a free-trading European Union serves German manufacturing well does not change this.

Still, there is no denying that economic nationalism had been drawn into the fight, on both sides. German economic nationalism is on the side of the EU in this matter, Greek economic nationalism opposed to it.

One might even wonder if the nationalists are not exerting a greater influence within the dialogue and the horse-trading than has been the case for some time. After all, for many years we have been hearing about a "revival" of statist economics. However, by and large this was a question of the behavior of exceptionally large states able to buck the conventional wisdom through sheer mass, and the power that it brings (China); of resource exporters advantaged by the boom in commodity prices during the first decade of the century (Venezuela); and especially those countries combining both those characteristics (Russia). That Greece would go similarly nationalist (refusing the deal, exiting the euro) would have extended this to a country in quite a different situation--a small nation (10 million people) which is not a noted producer of commodities like oil and gas, and a First World EU member to boot, suggesting the kind of challenge to globalization not really seen in a long time. However, Greece's falling into line only confirms the pattern that has prevailed thus far.

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