Something for Italy to rub in Germany’s (proverbial) face

There ain’t much these days. Italy’s been sitting on the precipice of default while Germany’s been sitting pretty, and German austerity demands have literally reduced the Italian welfare minister to tears. But by one important measure — albeit not one people are talking about much these days — Italy has left Germany in the dust: Italy is now the world’s leader in solar photovoltaic installations. And Germany will have a tough time regaining its #1 spot, given that its solar subsidies are set to be halved.

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. […]

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