Greece vs. History

o-GREECE-FLAGMy affection for Greeks and Greece knows no bounds, but even setting that aside, via Digby, here is Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, bringing some historical perspective in an interview with DIE ZEIT on the subject of Greek debt:

ZEIT: But shouldn’t they repay their debts?

Piketty: My book recounts the history of income and wealth, including that of nations. What struck me while I was writing is that Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them. The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.

ZEIT: But surely we can’t draw the conclusion that we can do no better today?

Piketty: When I hear the Germans say that they maintain a very moral stance about debt and strongly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: what a huge joke! Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations.

The internets are continuously aflutter with ‘who has the facts,’ and ‘who has them right.’ But the easy moral indignation available about the Greek debt crisis for any and all is actually… too easy. One needs to look deeper and as usual, history is instructive. Not saying the Germans or any nation is wrong, but as Krugman points out, the ‘No’ vote was actually a victory for democracy in the face of demands from the banksters. It’s more complicated than just ‘the Greeks need to pay up.’ It takes a bit to suss all this out and gain anything like an informed opinion. But we owe (get it?) it to ourselves to do so.