on the comparison made by Professor Hans-Werner Sinn between bank manager chastisement and criticism of the Jews in 1929 in an interview published by Tagesspiegel on October 27th, 2008
On October 27th, 2008 in an article for the German daily newspaper Tagesspiegel, Hans-Werner Sinn argued that managers in 2008 were being criticised in a similar way to the Jews in 1929. In the search for a scapegoat both were publically blamed for the economic crises at these respective points in time. The media distorted this remark by criticising Sinn for comparing the persecution of the Jews by the National Socialists to criticism of managers. Sinn, however, explicitly mentioned a year at which the National Socialists had not even taken power (they took power in 1933), and certainly did not refer to a period during which Jews were persecuted in Germany. Sinn nevertheless apologized to the Central Council of Jews on the day that the Tagesspiegel interview was published, after the Council’s General Secretary, Stephan J. Kramer, accused him of, “Choosing comparisons with the Jews in order to join the ranks of victims.” Many colleagues at home and abroad, some of them Jews, subsequently defended Sinn. This section covers the interview, the letter of apology and some of the reactions from Sinn’s colleagues and other public figures like, for example, Prof. Richard Schröder (member of Germany’s National Council of Ethics). The Tagesspiegel refused to print Schröder’s piece, which was sent to the newspaper directly after the article’s publication.
Excerpt of the interview with Hans-Werner Sinn (Tagesspiegel, October 27th, 2008)
Question: Are managers the victims?
Sinn: In every crisis, people look for someone to blame, for scapegoats. Also in the global economic crisis of 1929, no one wanted to believe in an anonymous system failure. Then the Jews in Germany were blamed, today it is managers. Look at the traffic in India. People drive on the left, on the right and on the sidewalks - it's very hazardous. For this reason traffic always blocks up. Are the "managers" behind the wheel to blame or the lack of traffic regulations?
Question: Was there really no alternative to the bank rescue package of the German government?
Sinn: If nothing had been done, as in 1929, the consequences would have been dramatic: a meltdown in the financial system, mass unemployment, the radicalisation of the Western world, and in the end a systemic crisis of the market economy. German history is quite clear in this point. The Nazis grew out of the crisis between 1929 and 1931. Today's Pied Pipers again stand in waiting.
Letter by Hans-Werner Sinn to Charlotte Knobloch, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, October 27th, 2008:
Ms. Charlotte Knobloch
Central Council of Jews in Germany
Dear President Knobloch,
I deeply regret that my remarks in the Tagesspiegel of 27 October 2008 have offended the Jewish community. It was not my intention to compare in any way the fate of the Jews after 1933 with the present situation of the managers. Such a comparison would be absurd. I only wanted to argue that the true causes of economic crises are errors in the system that must be identified and corrected. Looking for someone to blame is always the worst approach.
My deep personal friendships with many Jewish colleagues in the world and my shame and horror over what the Jews suffered in Germany have shaped who I am today. This is an unalterable fact. I ask the Jewish Community to forgive my remarks and I retract the comparison.
Letter from Nobel laureate Prof. Robert Solow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge:
31 December 2008
I knew nothing of the Tagesspiegel incident until I read the packet of information you sent to me. Apparently the American media did not pick up the story; at least Bobby and I did not see anything in the New York Times. I wish I had known about it earlier, because I would have welcomed an opportunity to defend you against this nonsensical criticism.
But maybe it is better this way, because I would also have wanted to attack the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland and apparently also the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris for what strikes me as disgraceful behavior. To take a simple, true, relevant and innocent statement and convert it into an “issue” is inexcusable. They owe you (and everyone) an apology, not vice-versa.
There is some truth to Peggy Musgrave's suspicions about popular opinion in the US (Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, etc). The Madoff scandal further blows on the spark, though in fact the Madoff affair is irrelevant. It had nothing to do with the larger financial crisis; Madoff is just a swindler who happens to be Jewish, and so are most of his victims!
I hope this foolishness blows over quickly. Meanwhile we wish a happy New Year to you and Gerlinde.
As ever yours,
Email from Prof. Assaf Razin, University Tel Aviv:
The comments Hans-Werner made to a newspaper on the current crisis have been sadly misconstrued. I have known Hans-Werner for about two decades as a person of great integrity. I was deeply touched when, during my 60th birthday at Tel Aviv, Hans-Werner spoke about the Nazi horrors to us Jews. As we say in Hebrew Hans-Werner is Chaver Shelanu Letamid (our friend forever).
Information of the Ifo Institute regarding the interview with Hans-Werner Sinn in Tagesspiegel and Reactions of the Scientific Community (Download PDF, 155 KB).
This documentation contains the complete interview, the letter of apology and the comments from scholars that were received by the Ifo Institute and declared free for publication by the authors.
Article in the Financial Times
"Economist's comments anger Jews", FT.com, October 28th, 2008 (PDF, 18 KB).