In reality, the Treuhand became not just a tool for privatisation but a quasi-socialist holding company. It lost billions of marks because it went on paying the wages of many workers in the east and kept some unviable factories alive – a positive aspect usually drowned out in the vilifications of the agency. Because Kohl and, during the summer of 1990, Schäuble weren’t Chicago economists keen on radical experiments but politicians who wanted to be re-elected, they pumped millions into a failing economy. This is where parallels with Greece end: there were political limits to the austerity a government could impose on its own people.
The lesson Schäuble learned – and which is likely to influence his decision-making now – is that if you act the pure-hearted neoliberal you can still get away with decisions that don’t make perfect economic sense. If Schäuble is acting tough with Greece right now, it is because his electorate wants him to act that way; it’s not just that he doesn’t care about the Greek people, he wants people to believe he doesn’t care, because he sees the political advantage in it.
But Schäuble should have learned from history that the Treuhand gamble had catastrophic psychological consequences. Even though the agency was run by Germans, who spoke German, still it was seen by many in the east as an occupying force.
Schäuble’s idea of foreign countries controlling Greek assets and moving them abroad is an even more humiliating concept for any country. Schäuble comes across as a tough and sober accountant. In fact he is just an ordinary politician repeating old mistakes.
Interesting background. History always helps.