Merkel Shows Germany’s Woodsmen How to Chop

A gathering of Germany’s foresters may not seem like the most obvious venue for Chancellor Angela Merkel to defend her austerity agenda against the encroaching horde of Keynesians. Yet there she was, at first weighing in on the government’s arboricultural priorities.

The occasion was the 300th anniversary of the publication of Hans Carl von Carlowitz’s Sylvicultura oeconomica, considered to be the seminal work on sustainable forestry.

When it comes to environmental sustainability, Carlowitz “probably couldn’t have imagined that 300 years later we would be dealing with the same wisdom and truths,” Merkel told the band of woodsmen near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. The principle with which the 18th-century Saxon accountant dealt extends to the realm of the economy, the chancellor said, and must mean that Germany and Europe “can’t live on the cost of the future” the way it’s been doing “for decades.”

She then struck out at those who in her view take a more sanguine view of accumulating debt.

“I’m often surprised that as a matter of course it’s often said in many parts of the world — even after the financial crisis of 2008, 2009 — that the main thing is that we’re growing again, at whatever cost,” Merkel said. “The piling up of debt is often made into a type of obligation to serve the principle of growth.”

“All of that is false,” the chancellor inveighed. “It’s not sustainable in the long term.”

A week before, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew came to the German capital to urge his German counterpart to seek a “balance” between austerity and spurring economic growth. The Obama administration isn’t alone in laying the blame for the euro’s recession and record unemployment on the austerity measures meant to cure it.

The pain, Merkel told the foresters, is worth it.

“We know that there will have to be sacrifices in many countries, but I believe that in the long term we’ll have to have a growth strategy without always having to pile on debt,” she said.

The German woodsmen responded with a standing ovation.

(Corrects quote in ninth paragraph.)

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