back to e-flux.com

Is Germany a "neocolonial" force in the global economy?


#1

Two weeks ago, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble allegedly joked about trading Greece for Puerto Rico, while on the phone with Jack Lew, his US counterpart. Particularly peculiar is that the finance minister finds it adequate to share this “private” joke with us. In this video link you can see Schäuble gloating with smug satisfaction while pointing out that he did not even meant it as a joke: “He [Lew] thought it was a joke.”

Joke or no joke, Schäuble’s statement ought to be taken seriously: Schäuble’s arrogant racism made clear how essential it is for the further existence of the EU that German citizens starts to understand the place that Germany occupies within the global economy. To boot, whilst the joke created a mild international uproar, Schäuble’s popularity in Germany strongly increased. Clearly Schäuble’s statements are carefully calculated, but I suspect he was not fully aware of what he was saying: though the US dollar is in fact the official currency, Puerto Rico is neither a federate state of the US nor a part of one. Still, Puerto Ricans are obliged to essentially pay the same taxes as if they were a federal state. Puerto Ricans are also not allowed to vote and do not benefit from the citizenship rights guaranteed by the American constitution, only enjoying the most basic protections.

Whilst Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony annexed through military action, Greece freely joined the EU in 1981 and the euro in 2004. Yet not only are the political similarities striking, but the analogy the German finance minister used opens up a much bigger problem: What if his joke spells out the truth about Greece’s status as a de facto colony of Germany and the EU?

As usual, German chancellor Angela Merkel’s played “Good Cop,” publically distancing herself from her minister’s views—albeit only after the Greek capitulation to the Eurogroup’s demands. Schäuble, on the other hand, continues to play the “Bad Cop,” to not undermine the negotiations. Nevertheless, these days the face of the chancellor increasingly appears as a broken mask (is she aware of the damage she is responsible for?): since the dawn of the financial crisis, the German population has been led to believe that the German economy—primarily based on manufacturing—is somehow impervious to financial crisis because the German economy is a “real economy”—as opposed to the speculative nature of the financial economy. German industrial exceptionalism, however, can only be sustained (without reducing the overall population to sweat-shop conditions) in wealthy nations whose financial infrastructure bolsters their dominant position.

The production and distribution of goods based on “fair” competition stands not on the beginning but at the very end of a long chain of global power factors—a neocolonial Empire based on global finance and the military might to secure its profits. For the majority of the German population, however, the fiction of the “real economy” is an identity-generating narrative: for several decades, the myth that Germans, through their earnest industry- and export-based economy, earned a legitimate privilege over other countries and their populations has been carefully manufactured and sustained by German media. (Last week I did not see a single German newspaper not cheering the prospect that a Greek island will be now up for sale.) The fairytale of this alleged “real economy” promotes xenophobic prejudices whilst crucially omitting the idea that the privileged situation Germans enjoy is based on a exploitative system. The success of export economies like the German one is, like the financial sector itself, the result of an neocolonial world order. Schäuble’s bad joke indicates that it is overdue for Germans to start owning up to this state of affairs and act on it.

—Jan Peter Hammer

Image of Wolfgang Schäuble via International Business Times


#2

Great article! It seems to me that this European crisis exposed what was lying under the thin surface of years of economic stability: Europe still does not know what the word “union” really means. It is disheartening to notice that even after all the suffering this continent caused on the world, and also the suffering it itself endured, it still does not know how to go beyond the fictional boundaries of nationality and collaborate with each other in a proper union. An union that is not bound by a nice breeze when everyone has money, but one that actually cares about others well being. Also, German attitude of setting itself apart as the disciplinarian (the only one that can do things properly) makes it quite obvious that WWII’s tragedy hasn’t healed completely. I wonder what is still in store to happen to Europe for it to learn that it does not matter which side of the wall you are born: we are all human beings, stuck in the same planet. We have no choice but work hard, not to have money in the bank, but to get along.


#3

bernardo:

[…] I wonder what is still in store to happen to Europe for it to learn […]

JPH:

Schäuble’s bad joke indicates that it is overdue for Germans to start owning up to this state of affairs and act on it.

To me there’s a recurring question to all crises we are facing, which is how do we, “the people”, learn to act collectively in the first place. It’s not like there’s no discourse (though scattered) and it’s not like there aren’t a lot of likeminded people (vaguely speaking).

Part of the problem, I assume, is that facing the problems for most of us is facing them on a screen. Despite the urgency of the current crises, it’s gotta be figured out how to get everyone to a realization of what changes are in progress (generally speaking). Acting on it will require more than the creation of texts and images or signing petitions, but due to our digital lifestyles, there’s no serious political public sphere.

It’s a sinister thought, but without existential scarcity and lacking the ability to make sense of what’s reported (hypercomplexity) people won’t come out of their nests (if they ever have reached any kind of sensibility for other peoples’ problems at all). On the other hand, for those who are “concerned” with what’s going on, I feel it still has to be figured out how to focus action and gain real political momentum. I.e. in public and using the political infrastructure that exists.


#4

I have seen that some very inspiring new tools for the “concerned” are starting to rise. Here in South America, there’s a serious effort to legitimate the concept of network as a political party (http://redesustentabilidade.org.br/) in Brazil and a similar movement also happening in Argentina. I strongly believe in this as a next step: somewhere to start to get out of this mess we called “modern age”, but I certainly don’t see it as the final result. To the “nest dwellers” that you mentioned, I feel like only lots of prayers can help.


#5

Gregor Gysi addressing Wolfgang Schäuble in the German parliament:


#6

Article by an Irish correspondent of the Irish Times in “Die Zeit” who proposes to avoid simplifying the crisis and states that Germany is missing out to communicate with the english speaking world.


#7

Unfortunately I can’t read portugese, but though I think the internet probably is one tool to spread information and organize people, I assume that a lot of people think our problems can be solved on screens. So there’s gotta be a transition from that to the real world.


#8

Certainly, but that’s what this new party is actually starting to do. It’s still early days, but it’s happening.