Charlie Leonard: Show Germany the way, Obama
May 30, 2012
On Tuesday, it was reported that the Obama administration sent one of its top Treasury officials to Europe to tell government officials there that they need to take decisive actions now to solve their fiscal problems or risk causing another global economic crisis.
In a statement announcing the trip, the Treasury Department said the U.S. official “will meet with senior government officials in each country to discuss their plans for achieving economic stability and growth in Europe.” No additional details were provided.
Can you imagine how those talks are going?
“President Obama asked me to tell you that he really thinks the time has come for several of your countries to get control of your fiscal situation and to adopt policies that can help get your economies growing again.”
After seeing the constant threat of government defaults in Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy, one can only imagine what a welcome relief Obama’s advice to European officials must be this week.
Can’t you just picture a profoundly grateful Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, saying to herself: “Fiscal stability and pro-growth policies – now why couldn’t I have thought of that?”
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Imagine, also, how profoundly embarrassed Germany must now be at having gone through a decade of painful reforms, including raising its retirement age, reducing unemployment benefits, lowering its deficits and easing hiring and wage restrictions in order to achieve its current prosperity. It seems all of that could have been avoided if Germany had just followed Obama’s advice to pursue “growth and economic stability.”
This kind of extraordinary insight – from such a unique individual as Barack Obama – seems like the kind of advice from which others could benefit as well.
For instance, the president might consider sending one of his emissaries to the New York Yankees to advise the bullpen to improve their pitching if they want to have a chance at the playoffs. Or he could counsel the management of Kodak to adapt its products and services better to the digital age in order to escape bankruptcy. He could even urge contestants on “Survivor” and “Dancing With the Stars” to avoid being voted off their shows if they want to win their respective competitions.
Freed from the conventional expectation that people who offer themselves as problem-solvers should know something about the subjects on which they opine – or at least have some prior experience at actually solving problems – this president of ours truly is without equal.
But enough about Obama – let’s get back to Europe.
The fact is there is a very scary game of chicken unfolding across the Atlantic, and no one knows how it will end. Having already defaulted on its debt (despite reports that the country’s bond-holders “negotiated a 50 percent reduction in what they were owed” – it was a default plain and simple) Greece now is threatening to ignore the bailout terms it agreed to less than a year ago or go its own way and print its own money. It’s sort of the equivalent of the scene in the movie “Blazing Saddles” where the Cleavon Little character holds a gun to his own head and says, “Give me what I want, or I will shoot myself” – only this time it’s not so funny.
The only thing standing in the way of letting the Greeks continue to spend money they don’t have – and signaling to every other troubled European country that it’s OK to continue business as usual until the sky truly falls in – is Germany. And yes, that is the same German government that resisted Obama’s advice in 2008 and 2009 to adopt a government stimulus program like the one he created in the United States.
Yet somehow Germany’s resistance to economic advice from Obama doesn’t seem to deter our president from giving it.
Still, in fairness to the president, it’s important to point out that the Germans haven’t rebuffed all his advice.
Back in 2008, in fact, Obama (then a candidate) received roaring applause from a crowd of 1 million Berliners when he said, “True progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice.”
Yes, given the “constant work and sustained sacrifice” we’ve made in our country under President Obama, I’m absolutely certain that Germany, with its trade surplus, expanding economy and low unemployment, must be waiting with baited breath to hear our president’s advice on how Europe can achieve “economic growth and stability.”