Harold Wilson, in one of democracy’s anomalies, served as long as British prime minister as Winston Churchill and Viscount Palmerston — and longer than the elder Pitt, Sir Robert Peel, Lord John Russell, Benjamin Disraeli, and David Lloyd George, who all, like Churchill and Palmerston, were distinguished holders of that office when Britain was a very Great Power in the world — even though Wilson was, in Cromwellian terms, a “decayed servitor,” remembered now mainly for the truism that “in politics, a week is a long time.” In something short of irrational effusion in this space last week, I described the impending German power play of virtue and self-discipline, in uplifting contrast to previous German pan-European initiatives conceived in Bismarckian guile and force, never mind Nazi barbarism. Less than a week went by before Germany doubled its winning bet, and without loss of a jot of its benignity, presented Europe with a second route to the salvation of the more sober dreams and claims advanced with such confidence in the Europhoria of ten and twenty years ago.
Back then — after a century that included two world wars, several scores of millions of combat dead, two score millions of massacred innocents, vast tracts of the old continent smashed to rubble and ashes, and long nights of Nazi and Communist barbarism — a united Europe arose to the stirring resonance of Beethoven, and the heady fable that the Eurocrats, in Lego-built institutions and led by the greatest army of unelected social safety Santa Clauses in the history of man, would emerge from the mists of tragedy, nod appreciatively at their American liberators, protectors, and democratic preceptors, as if to the concierges of Europe’s timeless five-star hotels, and would resume the headship of the world. The “time of troubles,” to borrow a phrase from the Japanese (about World War II), would pass beneath the unrippled waves of convenient recollection.
It will never be known to what extent German chancellor Helmut Kohl deliberately overpaid his East German compatriots for their nearly worthless East Marks, and then overpaid the southern Europeans (little accustomed to hard currencies over many centuries) in the euros largely composed of German currency, which was built on the fiscal discipline of the German nation and the genius of that country for world-leading engineered products. To some extent, Germany’s guilt for its previous atrocities was monetized, partly by and for the benefit of formerly victim countries; and to some extent Germany bought the economic suzerainty of Europe, subtly, and on the installment plan, as those who would pick Germany’s pockets claimed to subscribe to the German ethos of work and high-quality industrial production, a culture and economic model for which the Greeks, southern Italians, and Iberians never had the slightest affinity. When the music stopped and the invoice was presented by the international financial markets, with Germany as a sad and sympathetic observer, the overstuffed celebrants in southern Europe divided between the penitent converts to austerity and the mock-righteous protesters against capitalist stinginess (still wearing, in many versions, crisp Wehrmacht uniforms).
The Europhorists had imagined that bonds denominated in euros could be issued with the same yield, whether from Germany or Greece, because they were both denominated in euros, and they imagined that the collapsed European birth rates could be made up with Islamic immigration, that 40 percent or fewer of their countrymen could work while the others took state benefit of some sort, and that Germany would continue expiating its past misconduct to their account sine die.
Germany’s genius was to be the benefactor, and not the bill-collector. First, Germany said it would approve the extension of the resources of the European Central Bank, and of Germany itself (they are not wholly distinguishable), to countries that took the German pledge and did the necessary to ensure that at least 50 percent of their populations normally were gainfully employed, which was not defined as pencil-pushing at the taxpayers’ expense.