Prudent Germany, the narrative goes, is loath to bail out freeloading Greece, which borrowed more than it could afford and now must suffer the consequences.
Would it surprise you to know that Europe’s taxpayers have provided as much financial support to Germany as they have to Greece? An examination of European money flows and central-bank balance sheets suggests this is so.
Let’s begin with the observation that irresponsible borrowers can’t exist without irresponsible lenders. Germany’s banks were Greece’s enablers. Thanks partly to lax regulation, German banks built up precarious exposures to Europe’s peripheral countries in the years before the crisis. By December 2009, according to the Bank for International Settlements, German banks had amassed claims of $704 billion on Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, much more than the German banks’ aggregate capital. In other words, they lent more than they could afford.