Posts Tagged ‘Germany’


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Bob Trotman, “Business as Usual” (2009)

Is anyone else struck by the contradiction between what is actually going on in the world and the fact that, for those in charge, it’s just business as usual?

Consider, for example, the decision to drop the charges against the three remaining officers facing trial in connection with the April 2015 death in policy custody of Freddie Gray. In fact, according to Mapping Police Violence, “only 10 of the 102 cases in 2015 where an unarmed black person was killed by police resulted in officer(s) being charged with a crime, and only 2 of these deaths (Matthew Ajibade and Eric Harris) resulted in convictions of officers involved.” Charles Blow, for one, is appropriately “incandescent with rage”:

Bill Clinton, who I found more beguiling than many, apparently, took the stage and shifted the burden of dismantling oppression from the shoulders of the oppressors to the shoulders of the oppressed, saying: “If you’re a young African-American disillusioned and afraid, we saw in Dallas how great our police officers can be. Help us build a future where nobody is afraid to walk outside, including the people that wear blue to protect our future.”

How are the people without the power, the people against whom the power is being exercised, supposed to alter the perversion of that power if the abusers are not held accountable?

I am exhausted. I am repulsed. I am over all the circular dialogue. But I don’t know precisely where that leaves me other than in a hurt and festering place. America is edging ever closer to telling people like me that the eye of justice isn’t blind but jaundiced, and I say back to America, that is incredibly dangerous.

And during that same convention, as broad swathes of Americans continue to suffer from the Wall Street-engineered crash of 2007-08 (not just, as Barack Obama put it, “pockets of America that never recovered from factory closures”), hordes of financial industry executives (as well as drug companies, health insurers, and others) descended on Philadelphia.

While protesters marched in the streets and blocked traffic, Democratic donors congregated in a few reserved hotels and shuttled between private receptions with A-list elected officials. If the talk onstage at the Wells Fargo Center was about reducing inequality and breaking down barriers, downtown Philadelphia evoked the world as it still often is: a stratified society with privilege and access determined by wealth.

In fact, as Thomas Frank warns, Donald Trump might end up stealing the voters Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party are taking for granted.

Let’s see: trade agreements, outreach to hawks, “bipartisanship”, Wall Street. All that’s missing is a “Grand Bargain” otherwise it’s the exact same game plan as last time, and the time before that, and the time before that. Democrats seem to be endlessly beguiled by the prospect of campaign of national unity, a coming-together of all the quality people and all the affluent people and all the right-thinking, credentialed, high-achieving people. The middle class is crumbling, the country is seething with anger, and Hillary Clinton wants to chair a meeting of the executive committee of the righteous.

When Democrats sold out their own rank and file in the past it constituted betrayal, but at least it sometimes got them elected. Specifically, the strategy succeeded back in the 1990s when Republicans were market purists and working people truly had “nowhere else to go”. As our modern Clintonists of 2016 move instinctively to dismiss the concerns of working people, however, they should keep this in mind: those people may have finally found somewhere else to go.

Meanwhile, the European Union is disintegrating and the euro zone continues to impose Draconian austerity measures. As Joseph Stiglitz explains in a recent interview, banks and corporate interests generally have been the only beneficiaries.

Q. In your telling, Germany has imposed austerity across Europe out of faith in a discredited economic idea, the notion that if policy makers concentrate solely on preventing budget deficits and inflation, the markets can be counted on to deliver prosperity. A lot of your book is devoted to demolishing this idea. Does the German elite still really believe in this philosophy, or is something else at play?

A. I’ve visited Germany often, and I’m shocked about how strong the belief is in this view that has been totally discredited elsewhere.

But the policies are mixed together with interests. When the Greek crisis broke out in 2010, what was really at risk were German and to some extent French banks. And there was an enormous bailout that was called a bailout of Greece but was really a bailout of German and French banks. Most of the money went to Greece and then right away went back to Germany and France. . .

Q. You argue that some European leaders secretly welcomed mass unemployment as a means of adjusting to the crisis because this was the only way they could see to spur investment — lowering wages. The strictures of the euro took other options off the table: Crisis countries could not let their currency fall or lower interest rates or expand government spending. Was unemployment really embraced as a fix?

A. They wanted to break the back of workers. Their view was that workers needed to accept a wage cut and we are going to change the bargaining rules to make it more difficult for them to resist. And if we need to add on a little dose of unemployment, well, that’s unfortunate.

Q. Doesn’t that goal predate the crisis?

A. It’s very clear that the euro was a neo-liberal project in its construction. Employers like low wages. They have broken the back of the unions in many of the countries of Europe. They would view that as a great achievement.

However ironically, it has fallen to the Boston Consulting Group [ht: sm] to sound the alarm about attempting to conduct business as usual:

Societies in the United States and Europe are being fundamentally challenged in ways we have not seen for decades—with nationalistic rhetoric and agendas from the far right and a deep distrust of business, globalization, and technology from the far left. Many worry that such a polarization of public opinion and policy making could introduce new risks and uncertainties that would deter investment (which is already far too low, judging by current interest rates) and undermine the basis for future prosperity.

Why this polarization? While there are many causes, and they vary from country to country, it reflects in large part widespread and growing dissatisfaction with entrenched economic and social inequality and greater personal uncertainty in a fast-changing global economy. It also reflects people’s mistrust of political and corporate elites, who are seen as the architects of this state of affairs. Economic inequality within our societies is a byproduct of the way we have managed the past three and a half decades of global economic integration. At the same time, technology—in particular, recent advances in robotics, machine intelligence, and distributed ledgers (blockchain)—could replace human labor in many areas, further compounding dislocation, inequality, and discontent.

Brexit was a watershed. The British vote to leave the European Union was motivated in large part by frustration with economic stagnation and inequality, and it has created fertile ground for nationalistic, anti-immigrant sentiment. The English West Midlands, the region with highest “leave” vote, has experienced stagnating median household incomes for nearly two decades.

The division between those who have captured the vast majority of the benefits from global integration and technological progress and those who haven’t runs between major cities and smaller communities, between young and old, and between people with different levels of education. And it’s not just Great Britain—70% of the US workforce has experienced no real wage increase in the past four decades. Similar patterns can be observed in Canada, Germany, and other European countries. Wealth concentration has also increased globally, with around 1% of people controlling 50% of the world’s assets.


There seems to be a lot of pessimism going around these days. And I’m not referring either to Brexit or the candidates for the U.S. presidency.

The issue is slow economic growth. As I wrote back in February, while there’s a reasonable argument to be made that we would all be better off with less or no growth, capitalism

has a slow-growth problem. And that’s because growth is both a premise and promise of a particularly capitalist way of organizing our economic activities.

Well, that problem continues to be confirmed.

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First, the International Monetary Fund [ht: ja] just announced that, in Italy, current slow growth (of 0.8 percent in 2015 and only 0.3 percent during the first quarter of 2016), on top of the two severe post-2008 recessions (when output fell by almost 10 percent), means that “the economy is not expected to return to its pre-crisis (2007) output peak until the mid-2020s, implying nearly two lost decades.” And, best I can tell, the “two lost decades”—with the resulting unemployment, stagnant wages, high levels of poverty, and growing income inequality—actually represents an optimistic projection. I’m guessing it’s going to be later, perhaps much later.



Then, there’s the report last week that long-term interest rates hit record lows, which is to say the lowest in the 227-year history of the United States. And while there’s no consensus over the meaning of the record-low rates not just in the United States but in Germany (where rates are now negative) and elsewhere, the “flight to safety” certainly indicates a growing acceptance of a pervasive reality—call it secular stagnation, a Japan-like deflationary spiral, or the continuation of the Second Great Depression—of low (and even negative) price increases and very slow growth.


Finally, there’s Martin Wolf [ht: bn], in the Financial Times (unfortunately behind a paywall), confirming Robert Gordon’s analysis that we live in “an age of disappointing growth because the technological breakthroughs are relatively narrow.” Basically, their argument is, the U.S. economy has experienced two periods of fast innovation: in 1920-1970 and, at a far slower pace, in 1994-2004. But that growth, based on increases in productivity, may now be over. And, on top of that, what increases there were in overall income during those periods were not evenly shared, especially beginning in the 1970s. And that trend is likely to continue.

Therefore, Wolf concludes,

The view that steady and rapid rises in the standard of living must endure is a pious hope. The tendency to believe that some “structural reforms” will fix this is, similarly, an act of faith. It is essential for policy to promote invention and innovation, so far as it can. But we must not assume an easy return to the long-lost era of dynamism. Meanwhile, the maldistribution of the gains from what growth we have is a growing challenge. These are harsh times.

These are, indeed, harsh times—as long as we stick with the existing way of organizing economic and social life. Its premise and promise are innovation, increases in productivity, and rapid economic growth. But, right now and for the foreseeable future, it simply won’t be able to deliver them.

One possibility, which the IMF recommends for Italy, is to raise the rate of economic growth by engaging in “structural reforms” and thus transferring the costs to those who can least afford to shoulder them. So, the premise of even harsher times—with the promise, however empty, that growth will someday resume.

The other possibility is to realize the existing institutions have run their course, and that alternative ways of organizing economic and social life need to be imagined and created.

That alternative economy—with a different set of presumptions and promises—is really the only way of overcoming harsh times, now and in the future.


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F.C. St. Pauli is “the world’s most left-wing football club.”

It’s also the club that seems most to be in the news these days. In addition to the piece on, there’s an article from this past weekend article on the Guardian web site.

And then there’s today’s report, in the New York Times:

Ibrahim Ismail had decided to make a placard for each of his five Syrian and Iraqi friends the moment he heard they would receive a free ticket for Tuesday’s soccer match.

“They say, ‘Thank You, Hamburg’, ‘Thank You, St. Pauli’ and “Many Thanks, Germany,’ ” Ismail said, showing off messages he had carefully printed, in German and Arabic, on scraps of cardboard with a black marker.

The six men proudly displayed their homemade signs to thousands of German supporters as they streamed into Hamburg’s Millerntor-Stadion. Almost all of the fans who passed them were wearing black T-shirts with the image of a skull and crossbones on the front, the emblem that is the calling card of F.C. St. Pauli.

A few days earlier, St. Pauli, a team in the second tier of German soccer that has become famous for its punk rock ethos and social conscience, offered 1,000 free tickets for this week’s exhibition against Borussia Dortmund to recently arrived refugees, including Ismail and his friends. The effort was a part of a larger response, sparked by organic gestures by fan groups, that has brought discussion of Europe’s migrant crisis into stadiums across Europe.


Football (or, if you prefer, soccer) fans and clubs across Europe, particularly in Germany and especially F.C. St. Pauli, are extending a warm welcome and a helping hand to the thousands of refugees currently streaming into Europe.

Many of the refugees invited to St. Pauli’s match with Borussia Dortmund live in camps around the port city, including one that is a few minutes’ walk from the district that gives F.C. St. Pauli its name.

“A chance to meet the neighbors!” joked Christian Prüss, who works for St. Pauli and has been in charge of the club’s response to the refugee crisis.

A few hours before kickoff Tuesday, Prüss was nervously smoking a cigarette inside St. Pauli’s empty stadium as his phone rang constantly. Like others and the club, he views the humanitarian effort as more of a responsibility than an act of charity.

Besides donating the 1,000 tickets, St. Pauli raised 45,000 euros, over $50,000, in 24 hours — enough to help finance a search-and-rescue boat stationed in the Mediterranean.

“Always the club is without money, we are famous for it,” Prüss said of St. Pauli. “But we have credibility.”

The club’s roots are in the working class St. Pauli neighborhood, famed for the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s red-light district. It was here that the Beatles honed their trade from 1960 and 1962, and where the neighborhood’s social activism and radical politics often bleed into the stands of the Millerntor.

“We think we can provide more than just football,” Prüss said. “Not just about 90 minutes. We have a responsibility for the people around the club.”

Few take that responsibility more seriously than the St. Pauli fans. Since 2004, the Ultras St. Pauli group has been visiting refugee camps around Hamburg, bringing clothes, food and lawyers to help the migrants navigate Germany’s complex asylum applications.

“It is a kind of radical way to support a football club; we are not just supporting a football club but politically, too,” said Lucas, one of the youngest members of the group, which unlike other right-leaning and sometimes violent ultra organizations, campaigns on everything from ending racism to supporting gay rights. As is common with hard-core European supporters groups, Lucas declined to give his full name.

“It’s why I love this club,” Lucas added. “But German society is divided into two parts. One part supports the refugee struggle and wants to help.” The other, he said, believes the opposite. “They think: ‘We don’t need them’, ‘It’s too much’, ‘Go back home,’ ’’ he said. “I can’t imagine how these people think.”

This is an example others—from last year’s St. Louis Cardinals fans to the current politicians in Europe—might want to emulate.