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Lewis on Germany

Why is Europe such a basket-case? A nettlesome, complicated and important question, that. Part of the answer lies in that which the EU was designed to transcend: the national character of the individual European states. Greek profligacy, Irish impulsiveness, Spanish intemperance, Italian corruption — the old clichés return.

In this fascinating essay (warning: some rough language), Michael Lewis examines the peculiar character of Germany in light of the slow-motion dissolution of the European project purposed toward the integration of Germany’s mercantile economy with the consumptive European periphery. Ironies and telling anecdotes abound in the article. Well worth a read.

Comments (14)

Actually the biggest problem with Europe is that it isn't possible to separate a nation's trade and monetary policy from its budget. Greece using the drachma could devalue its currency and allow more inflation; Greece using the Euro has to endure Germany's terror of inflation. This would be true regardless of any woo-woo, supporting-evidence-free* "national character" arguments.

*A few years ago Ireland was "the Celtic Tiger" and darling of right-wing pundits for its low taxes and lack of corporate regulation. Was Ireland less impulsive before 2008? Governed by dour Swedes?

hmmm...I found this piece more frustrating than fascinating. I just don't get how the Germans' alleged obsession with feces is supposed to help explain the ease with which their bankers were taken in by clever Wall Street...ummm...usurers?

could you spell out a couple of the ironies & anecdotes you found telling?

Okay, that settles it. I'm not reading the Lewis article. :-) Thanks for the warnings, guys.

I found this article tedious; a lot of highly impressionistic cultural analysis, and not a serious argument in sight. Basically, what Steve Burton said.

I normally like to read Lewis, but this was bizarrely incoherent. His essay richly deserves the following quote:

A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are--oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.
Counting these out, what is left is Art. I think we must all admit that. - Mark Twain

Wow. Consensus among Steve Burton, Untenured, and Step2 (whose ideas in general, I happen to know, do not usually agree), with a quotation from Twain (nobody could insult quite like Twain) to boot. This is a red-letter day.

I had no interest in reading this in the first place, but now all the negative attention has piqued my wreck-on-the-highway interest. :)

It was interesting, though all the scatological stuff comes across as more of an entertaining set of anecdotes than anything crucial to the piece. What I came away with was:

The Eurozone is probably doomed
Germany makes America look laughably corrupt
The myth of the hypercompetent Jewbankers is apparently still in full force

Step2 - I've never understood the vehement nastiness of Twain's review of *The Deerslayer* I guess he was just in a really bad mood that day.

Matt - I find this line of yours rather arresting:

"The myth of the hypercompetent Jewbankers is apparently still in full force..."

Would you mind explaining what is "the myth of the hypercompetent Jewbankers?" And would you mind explaining how Lewis' piece demonstrates that that myth is "still in full force?"

This has been an underwhelming response from commenters, Paul, so I'm going to run right over to Vanity Fair and see if I can't find something good to say about this article.

Okay, I'm back. Well, one good thing I can say is that it's a good thing Lydia didn't read it. Page 2 is a treatise on the German obsession with excrement, which, except for the farm field honeywagons, was an obsession I never noticed even after living there twice. (Although scheisskopf was one of my favorite swearwords when I was 13.) Even the sweet-souled Mozart gets fouled by the accusations without benefit of evidence, although if there is such evidence I don't want to read it. And besides, he was Austrian.

Some of the commenters do back you up, though:

1.I agree with nearly everything this article claims

2.Michael Lewis is the goods. What a terrific read.

3.You're a genius! Great article

4.Two words: Spot on!

However, these were badly outnumbered by the naysayers:

1.I have not read so many stereotypes in an article in a serious magazine in a long time.

2.This article would have been quite entertaining. If I wasn't German

3.Not great article - could have done without the references to sh*t

4.Very poor and disjointed article. The author displays an astonishing ignorance about Germany,

5.I grew up in Germany and never heard anyone talking about "bowel moments".

6.This is clearly one of the stupidest, most stereotypical and badly researched articles I have read in a very long time.

7.I'm afraid Michael Lewis sacrificed truthful writing for a good laugh or two.

8.Oh my - after the rather funny pieces on Iceland, Greece and Ireland, I was expecting a similarly well researched story with some inspiring conclusions. It was not to be. Stereotypes and contradictions galore instead of analysis.

9."The country's nazi past." How about an article about the treatment of the Native American people? Under the auspices of the US government as promulgated by the Monroe Doctrine, 10 million Native American's were exterminated...

10.This article is borderline racist and full of stereotypes and generalizations.

11.subprime article

12.Ho hum. A veritable feast of ridiculous - and hackneyed - cliché, with a soupçon of overly embellished and wrongheaded mischaracterisation.

Well, at least I think the bad outnumber the good. The comments went on for 4 pages and I have some German beer to drink.

As for the substance of the article as a whole, that is, on balance, after flushing from my mind the scatalogical irrelevancies, that is, after filtering out the ugly American's ethnic and national slurs, that is, after ignoring the writer's narcissistic, self-indulgent style...I don't know. After getting to page 4 I noticed the damn thing was 17 PAGES LONG and I have German beer to drink.

Step2 - I've never understood...

Steve, anything by James Fenimore Cooper will bring out the Twain in me.

"Would you mind explaining what is "the myth of the hypercompetent Jewbankers?""

Uh...that Jewish bankers are hypercompetent...far better than Gentiles. Was it that opaque?

It was a throwaway reference on page 6:

The only financial disaster in the last decade German bankers appear to have missed was investing with Bernie Madoff. (Perhaps the only advantage to the German financial system of having no Jews.)

My immediate thought was that if our financial system has benefited greatly from having teh Joos, I must have missed it. I mean, really, if a worldwide economic crisis is not enough to cause people to question the financial virtuosity of the chosen people, then I guess nothing is.

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