Speed Reads

Attack of the economist

Thomas Piketty sucker-punched a German newspaper over Greece's debt crisis. Here are the 6 best lines.

Thomas Piketty evidently never heard the classic Fawlty Towers line, "Don't mention the war."

After Greek voters overwhelmingly rejected a bailout deal in a referendum on Sunday, a testy June interview between economist Thomas Piketty and German newspaper Die Zeit began making the rounds. Famous for his inequality treatise Capital in the 21st Century — an unexpected bestseller in 2014 — the Frenchman pulled no punches with Germany and its hardline position towards Greece's debt. And yes, he wasn't afraid to mention "the war."

Here are his six most brutal takedowns:

1. "I am much more afraid that the conservatives, especially in Germany, are about to destroy Europe and the European idea, all because of their shocking ignorance of history."

2. "What struck me while I was writing is that Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them."

3. "When I hear the Germans say that they maintain a very moral stance about debt and strongly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: What a huge joke! Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations."

4. "After the war ended in 1945, Germany’s debt amounted to over 200 percent of its GDP. Ten years later, little of that remained: public debt was less than 20 percent of GDP. Around the same time, France managed a similarly artful turnaround. We never would have managed this unbelievably fast reduction in debt through the fiscal discipline that we today recommend to Greece."

5. "If we had told you Germans in the 1950s that you have not properly recognized your failures, you would still be repaying your debts. Luckily, we were more intelligent than that."

6. "Those who want to chase Greece out of the eurozone today will end up on the trash heap of history."

You can read a full translation of Piketty's interview here.