Political Animal


May 14, 2012 9:15 AM A Blow to the Center of Austerirty

By Ed Kilgore

Even as attention was drawn to the struggle to put together a Greek government and the possibility of that country’s exit from the eurozone, the forces of the status quo took a more direct hit from the major losses suffered by Angela Merkel’s party in another German state election, this time in the country’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, per this report from Reuters’ Stephen Brown:

The election in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), a western German state with a bigger population than the Netherlands and an economy the size of Turkey, was held 18 months before a national election in which Merkel is expected to fight for a third term….
According to first projections, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) won 38.8 percent of the vote and will have enough to form a stable majority with the Greens, who scored 12.2 percent.
The two left-leaning parties had run a fragile minority government for the past two years under popular SPD leader Hannelore Kraft, whose decisive victory on Sunday could propel her to national prominence.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) saw their support plunge to just 25.8 percent, down from nearly 35 percent in 2010, and the worst result in the state since World War Two.

The CDU in this particular state was strongly identified with pro-austerity policies. Beyond that, the defeat couldn’t have come at a worse time for Merkel:

NRW, a diverse state with struggling cities in the rust-belt Ruhr region and home to one third of Germany’s blue-chip companies, has a history of influencing national politics.

Seven years ago, a humiliating loss for then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s SPD in the state prompted him to call early elections, which he subsequently lost to Merkel.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • SadOldVet on May 14, 2012 9:38 AM:

    Beyond that, the defeat couldn’t have come at a worse time for Merkel:

    Definitely a matter of perspective! My perspective is that it is absolutely the best time for a defeat of the Queen of Austerity.

  • Ron Byers on May 14, 2012 9:54 AM:

    I am reading Krugman's new book. He has a chapter on Europe. His explanation of why the EuroZone is hurting makes real sense. His explanation as to why the Europeans chose austerity is baffling.

    The one thing I have learned in the last few years is the split between the freshwater or saltwater economists is irrelevant. There is no real science of economics. Just a bunch of fuzzy headed academics and billionaire gamblers who claim to know more than they do. Krugman, a saltwater economist is the best of the current lot and his heart and head are in the right places, but he is just a Nobel prize winning political pundit. The freshwater clowns in charge are hopeless worshipers of numbers who have never thought through the fundamentals. Mostly they just try to read economic droppings and devine the future. The remind me of the old Chinese palace priests who would try to read the future from the emperor's morning stool. No science to be seen anywhere in the entire mess.

  • Josef K on May 14, 2012 10:05 AM:

    This is not necessarily good news. Is it even possible for Germany, France, and the rest to make an about-face like this and *not* have everything blow up?

  • Hedda Peraz on May 14, 2012 10:10 AM:

    Speaking Chinese stool reading, did you ever notice that politicians always take care of Number One, white treating Number Two (the Restofus) like you know what?

  • zandru on May 14, 2012 10:17 AM:

    Headline "Austerirty" ?

    You make it sound kinda dirty...

    As Captcha advises "eyedliy sometimes" - personally, I do it EVERY time.

  • boatboy_srq on May 14, 2012 10:18 AM:

    Seems the Germans are learning that austerity can hurt one of two ways: 1) it hinders domestic growth for the economy that employs it, and 2) it hurts the exports of any trading partner of an economy that applies austerity policies. North Rhine - Westphalia is manufacturing- and tech- heavy: as more Eurozone countries are required to apply austerity policies, their markets shrink and they themselves become victims just as the Irish/Greeks/whoever. Merkel keeps forgetting that the German economy depends on other countries and other countries' consumers buying German stuff, and "austerity" goes a long way to stunting that trade significantly.


    German austerity is understandable given two things. First, there's the strong Calvinist/Lutheran streak in the country, which supports an ethic of thrift; whether Calvinist or Lutheran religious doctrine remains popular, the ethics underlying that faction are still strong. Second, and perhaps somewhat more immediate, is the cultural memory of Weimar and the Ruhr occupation of 1923: the deutschmark went into freefall (think modern Zimbabwe) because the government supported a strike in the Ruhr following French siezure of the region as materiel in lieu of marks for the Reparation payment that the Germans couldn't meet. Between a cultural disinclination for consumption and a catastrophic hyperinflation event in recent memory, it's easier to understand German unwillingness to run budget deficits, or to tolerate individuals or nations who do - particularly when the more profligate countries are playing with the same currency the Germans use.

  • c u n d gulag on May 14, 2012 10:28 AM:

    When he touched Merkel to give her that little back-rub 5 or 6 years ago, he left the famous 'W-taint.'

    All it take was one touch by "The Man-child with the Golden Harm," and, POOF!, that leader's gone!!!

    See Blair, Tony; Sarkozy, Nicolas.

  • TCinLA on May 14, 2012 3:29 PM:

    Some of my wingnut opponents like to call me "Tommie the Commie," so here's a comment on this event from that guy (below is the modernized version of the traditional lyrics, by British musician Billy Bragg in cooperation with Pete Seeger):


    Stand up, all victims of oppression,
    For the tyrants fear your might!
    Don't cling so hard to your possessions,
    For you have nothing if you have no rights!
    Let racist ignorance be ended,
    For respect makes the empires fall!
    Freedom is merely privilege extended,
    Unless enjoyed by one and all.

    So come brothers and sisters,
    For the struggle carries on.
    The Internationale,
    Unites the world in song.
    So comrades, come rally,
    For this is the time and place!
    The international ideal,
    Unites the human race.

    Let no one build walls to divide us,
    Walls of hatred nor walls of stone.
    Come greet the dawn and stand beside us,
    We'll live together or we'll die alone.
    In our world poisoned by exploitation,
    Those who have taken, now they must give!
    And end the vanity of nations,
    We've but one Earth on which to live.

    So come brothers and sisters,
    For the struggle carries on.
    The Internationale,
    Unites the world in song.
    So comrades, come rally,
    For this is the time and place!
    The international ideal,
    Unites the human race.

    And so begins the final drama,
    In the streets and in the fields.
    We stand unbowed before their armour,
    We defy their guns and shields!
    When we fight, provoked by their aggression,
    Let us be inspired by life and love.
    For though they offer us concessions,
    Change will not come from above!

    So come brothers and sisters,
    For the struggle carries on.
    The Internationale,
    Unites the world in song.
    So comrades, come rally,
    For this is the time and place!
    The Internationale,
    Unites the human race.

  • Dredd on May 14, 2012 4:06 PM:

    Let's face it, "austerity" is a word applied to the activity of the precariat, not to the plutocracy.