Tag Archives: politics

Polemics in the German press

Although German newspapers entertain standards of objectivity quite different from their American counterparts – German articles often have an openly polemic bent, with positions advanced in a forthright manner that would surprise the uninitiated US reader – I was dumbstruck by a recent article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung discussing the Deutsche Telekom scandal.

The following sentence left me baffled: “Finanzminister Peer Steinbrück (SPD) hat die Private-Equity-Gesellschaft Blackstone (”Heuschrecke”) nicht zuletzt deswegen als Minderheitsaktionär an Bord geholt, um dem Telekom-Management Dampf zu machen.” (My translation: Finance Minister Peer Steinburck (SPD) brought the private-equity firm Blackstone (”locust”) on board as a minority shareholder in part to exert pressure on Deutsche Telekom’s management).

While many German politicians are fond of employing the term Heuschrecke (”locust”) to attack the ostensibly pernicious influence of hedge funds, the term is a highly politicized one, and the off-handed manner with which it is used here is totally inappropriate. There is also a glibness to the gloss that I find highly annoying (but which may in fact simply relate to the brevity that often characterizes German parenthetical insertions): no explanatory remarks are offered, the term is simply interjected as if there were a 1:1 equivalence between “Blackstone” and “locust.”

What should one make of this? Was the author of the article simply unaware of the loaded nature of the term, which the editors subsequently overlooked? Or has this description of hedge funds now achieved a level of mainstream acceptance that no qualificatory remarks are required? Both of these alternatives are cause for concern.

Krugman in Berlin

Paul Krugman, the celebrated New York Times columnist, is in Berlin this week, and will be speaking on the 22nd at the Freie Universität. In his latest blog entry, Krugman writes about the “jelly donut” myth, which still has traction in the US despite its blatant falsehood. JFK’s statement – “Ich bin ein Berliner” – was, of course, grammatically correct, but can be willfully misinterpreted as meaning “I am a jelly donut.” (A possible equivalent would be Pope Ratzinger saying “I am a New Yorker” and all of Germany thinking he meant the Reuben sandwich.)

Krugman is an extremely important voice in America at the moment. His latest book, “The Conscience of a Liberal,” explores the political underpinnings of widening inequality in the US. Krugman draws attention to the startling fact that the average US worker’s inflation-adjusted income has barely risen since the early 1980s – despite two decades of rising productivity. The earnings of those in upper-income brackets, however, have soared – particularly the earnings of the top 1 percent of the population – a fact Krugman attributes to the rise of movement conservatism and regressive tax and social policies.

As a NYT columnist, Krugman is an important whistle-blower and fierce opponent of the Bush administration’s policies. An economist by training, Krugman regularly provides valuable insights in his column and blog about the US economy and the current mortgage and credit crises. I’ll be extremely interested to see what Krugman has to say on Thursday.