Weekly Review

Let's not infantilize Germany's trade surplus


Germany’s trade surplus is huge, the largest in the world. That much is well known. But who should do what, if anything, about it? And is anybody “to blame”? At this point the debate invariably breaks down, with Germans and others, especially “Anglo-Saxons,” talking past each other. These encounters remind me of Longfellow’s metaphor: ships passing in the night, “only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness, […] then darkness again and a silence.”

I speak from experience: As a German-American, I am often caught trying to explain Germany to Americans, and America to Germans. As a journalist for 20 years at The Economist, I wrote in that most Anglo-Saxon of media voices. Now I am editor-in-chief of Handelsblatt Global, where our mission is, as I promised you in March, to bring you news analysis that “does not infantilize or caricature the German voice but reflects it in its full and unadulterated breadth and depth.”

Imagine my discomfort, then, when my former journalistic home, The Economist, infantilized and caricatured the German point of view on the cover page of last week’s issue, titled “The German problem.” In a nutshell: the world’s trade deficit with Germany is entirely Germany’s fault, and could the Germans please, and pronto, take care of it for the sake of the world economy? I am familiar with the narrative, for I myself wrote according to its grammar for many years. Many of the individual points are reasonable, and not at all contested by German economists — take a look at the answers by two of the leading ones, in our video below, for instance. It’s the overall twist that is jarring to Germans, for it willfully omits their perspective.

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