Greece, Germany and the Euro

Aug 5 2015

The New York Times

Re “Greece, the sacrificial lamb” (Opinion, July 27): Joseph E. Stiglitz is certainly right to argue that in the euro crisis there is plenty of blame to go around. But then he goes on to focus on one side of the issue, namely Greece as the victim of a misbegotten politics of austerity. This is not wrong, but one also has to recognize that European taxpayers, German taxpayers in particular, are very worried that Greece will not, or cannot, get its own house in order.

This is grounded in the fact that Greece did not do so after the second bailout and that there is no real assurance they will make the necessary reforms this time around. Given the staggering amounts of money Greece has gotten, coupled with the new money that it will most likely get, this is no small concern and needs to be underscored when it comes to assigning blame.

Frank Fischer Darmstadt, Germany
The writer is a visiting professor of politics at the Technical University of Darmstadt.

Why doesn’t someone simply tell the sad story of Greece like it is: Greedy lenders who were very smart and sophisticated nevertheless loaned money to entities they knew would not be able to repay the loans. Just like greedy subprime mortgage lenders in the United States. So why are the lenders to Greece surprised, and why are they trying to get blood from a stone? They should take their losses and not be so greedy the next time they lend money. Let’s not cry for Germany and others who should have known better.

Ralph D. Cohen, Rydal, Pa.

How much further will the Greeks decline and how prepared are they to lose the final vestige of their dignity? Formerly the avant-garde of man, responsible for many of our most astonishing advances, the reputation and the economic power of the Greeks have gone the way of the Titanic. Their province now is finger-pointing and denial. They’ve lived a life of ample leisure, counting on the multitude of foreign visitors gazing on the relics of their brilliant past — and borrowing the rest to satisfy their needs. While their debt was mounting higher than the Parthenon, they just ignored it until the land of Greece was threatened by collapse. And yet they blame it all on the very lifeline offered to them. One can only hope that over time the Greeks will recover some of that which they have lost and that this chapter of their history will mercifully fade in memory.

Michael E. White, Oxford, Mass.

How sad to see that the esteemed Joseph Stiglitz has bought into the “Greek victim” theatricals. Other countries managed to weather austerity measures and pull themselves out of a financial spiral without maligning their creditors, yet Greece continued down the path of ruin with brash determination. The Greeks obviously thought that they could tap bailout money forever and have only themselves to blame for the harsh conditions now being imposed upon them.

Perhaps if the Greek government had accepted the previous offer instead of calling a referendum the pill might be less bitter to swallow. But Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras seems to be a man who likes playing high-stakes poker and is a poor loser. My sympathy lies with the European Union countries that have shelled out billions of their taxpayers money in good faith and are now branded as persecutors and oppressors.

Belle von der Goltz Needham, Mass.

Re “The German Question redux” (July 14) by Roger Cohen: The Germany of today is not at all comparable to the Germany before or during each of the two world wars. Yes, it is in a powerful economic position, but it is still following rules that every member of the European Union agreed upon. It is not Germany that is oppressing Europe; it is the system that is showing its weaknesses. Having a currency union without political union is problematic. The world has known that for years; it just became real now. Blaming Germany for wanting its money back makes no sense. It only shifts the focus from the actual problem to a secondary theater that might be emotionally more appealing but that distracts from what is truly happening. The actual problem is how to deal with the consequences of the current European system, not how to deal with the Germans.

Nikolai Unmuth Stuttgart, Germany

Re “Overregulating life in Greece” (Opinion, July 16): Steven Rattner contends that Greece needs to reform its economy, citing that it unfairly restricts “a flotilla of fields including taxi and truck drivers, engineers, notaries, actuaries and bailiffs.” Europe and the United States also restrict these and many other fields by requiring training, security clearances, purchases of medallions and so forth. This is not particular to Greece. And when Mr. Rattner complains that in Greece “most shops are required to close on Sundays,” he ignores the fact that Germany operates much the same way; in many German states it is illegal to open on Sundays. As for the complaint that “other rules dictate where new pharmacies may open, as well as their operating hours,” what neighborhood commercial district in the United States doesn’t have such regulations?

Chris Gilbert, Berkeley, Calif.

Re “Europe’s impossible dream” (July 21): Paul Krugman is off the mark when judging the euro’s role and its long-term effects on the future of Europe’s economies. The euro isn’t the problem; it’s Europe’s huge debt levels, the overblown role of the state in the southern economies, inflexible labor markets, the vested interests of powerful bureaucracies and the lack of fiscal discipline. If the euro were based on “fantasy economics,” it could hardly have advanced to the position of the world’s second reserve currency. If all the eurozone nations still had national currencies, the European Union would have been incapable of mustering the economic weight required to negotiate an equitable Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the United States. Europe needs monetary union to be competitive in the world marketplace.

Charles Weston Überlingen, Germany

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