Thomas Piketty is calling out Germany. The French economist who rose to prominence with the publication of his 2013 treatise on income inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, gave a candid interview to German newspaper Die Zeit, in which he described Germany’s hard line on Greece’s debt as hypocritical and a “huge joke.”
In a 61-to-39 public vote Sunday, Greeks rejected a bailout proposal from European Union leaders that would have kept the country afloat but increased austerity measures, which have already taken a severe toll on the economy since they were imposed in 2010.
The critically indebted country is currently in a standoff with the other 18 eurozone nations, among which Germany is the most prosperous and populous, and has been in a position of de facto leadership in Brussels’ debt negotiations with Athens. At stake is Greece’s continued membership in the European Union, which German chancellor Angela Merkel has said she wants to preserve, but “not at any price.”
That Germany is in a position to dictate terms at all, Piketty claims, is owed largely to the rest of Europe forgiving that country’s own debts after World War II.
“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!” Piketty said in the interview, first published in German and translated into English by Medium’s Gavin Schalliol (who took down the post due to copyright concerns). “Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations.”
Piketty further accused Germany of “profiting from Greece as it extends loans at comparatively high interest rates.” Among eurozone nations, Germany is Greece’s largest creditor. According to the AP and Open Europe, the eurozone holds 60 percent of Greece’s total debt, the International Monetary Fund holds 10 percent, and the European Central Bank 6 percent
[A]fter the war ended in 1945, Germany’s debt amounted to over 200 percent of its GDP. Ten years later, little of that remained: Public debt was less than 20 percent of GDP. Around the same time, France managed a similarly artful turnaround. We never would have managed this unbelievably fast reduction in debt through the fiscal discipline that we today recommend to Greece.
“Those who want to chase Greece out of the eurozone today,” he warned, “will end up on the trash heap of history.”
File photo: Thomas Piketty in October 2014 (blu-news.org via Flickr)