Kanzlermehrheit!

The German parliament just passed the European bailout fund expansion bill by a large majority. Even more important politically was that Chancellor Angela Merkel was able to muster a “chancellor’s majority” — that is, her own coalition was able to provide a majority of the yes votes, without having to rely on support from the opposition (which was nonetheless forthcoming). Check out the LA Times report, to which I contributed the breaking news and quotes and such.

When is a billion not a billion?

When it’s a trillion.

Last year in Berlin, I got into an argument with an Irishman about whether a pint was bigger or smaller than a half liter. I, with much conviction (and a couple of pints in me), argued that it was smaller. He, with equal conviction (and consumption), countered that it was larger. And we got nowhere. Until I discovered that there are in fact two pints: the British pint (20 oz) and the American pint (16 oz).

OK, rookie mistake, temporarily confusing, no big deal. But now I’ve come upon something far more confounding. (And apologies in advance to anyone for whom this is already obvious.)

European leaders are looking to expand their bailout fund to 2 trillion euros. Anticipating future conversations in German in which I’ll be discussing this stuff, I wanted to make sure I had my terminology right, and so I looked up the German translation for “trillion.” There were two entries:

1. Billion

2. Trillion

This was puzzling. Read more of this post

Everyone’s playing psychologist, so I will too.

It’s kind of amusing to watch all these journalists and economists put on their psychologist hats and try to explain why hard-working, austerity-loving Germans are willing to put their taxpayer euros toward bailing out those lazy, irresponsible Greeks and Italians. I’ve seen all sorts of explanations. The most common one is economic, and it’s got a few different formulations: German businesses rely on Greek and Italian and Irish customers to buy their products; or Germany benefits most from the euro (because it essentially cheapens their exports for foreign purchasers) and won’t allow it to collapse; or the run on banks resulting from an out-of-control Greek default would cripple the entire European (and world) economy.

Another explanation, put forward by NPR’s Planet Money a few days ago, is historic. Germans, the theory goes, are so freaked out by the memory of World War II that they’ll do anything to be good European neighbors, even if it means giving hundreds of billions of hard-earned euros to those no-good southerners.

And in yesterday’s New York Times, we have a third type of explanation, which is purely cultural:

Germans struggle with a national envy. For over 200 years, they have been searching for a missing part of their soul: passion. They find it in the south and covet the loosey-goosey, sun-filled days of their free-wheeling Mediterranean neighbors. […]

Read more of this post

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