Juergen B. Donges, born in Sevilla in 1940, is one of the most recognized German economists. In Spain he is very well-liked, not only because he speaks perfect Spanish, but also because he is frank in his critiques of economical politics.
- Europe is currently in one of the most crucial moments of its history for various reasons: the debt crisis, the possible departure of Greece from the Euro and the UK from the UE, as well as millions of refugees within its borders. Do you think that today’s economists must also be people who propose solutions to these global problems? What value do economic theories have in a world with so many global and existential attacks?
Many economists have been analyzing these themes theoretically and empirically for some time now, and we have exposed ways (they can vary) to solve the problems that you mention. The main problem is that politicians don’t always heed our advice, especially if the measures to be applied are unpopular and incur a significant political cost in the form of a loss of votes. But with politics focused on patching and repair, like in the case of Greece or that of the refugees, we don’t fix things, we make them worse.
- You are an expert in Spanish economics. Parties like Podemos lament that Spaniards have to emigrate in order to find good-paying work and an interesting job-opening after their academic careers. Do you believe that leaving Spain is as condemnable as some Spanish politicians claim?
I don’t think that Podemos with its anti-system economic proposals constitutes a source of attractive, professional perspectives for young adults that graduate from university. But let’s get to the core of the question: Seeing as today business investment, production and services of added value in large part are globalized, it is good that people are internationally mobile.
Academically qualified Spaniards are not the only ones who emigrate. The Germans also do it, and they even come to work in Spain, like you. It is important from the point of view of the country as a whole that there is a certain equilibrium between exits and entrances. An excessive emigration would mean a loss of human capital (brain drain), which would reduce the potential for growth. For Spain, this is one more reason not to stop efforts to maintain a healthy economy so that there is no forced emigration.
- Germany has lost some support in southern Europe because of its austerity policy. But it is a fact that very few countries have been austere in past years. Is the criticism of Merkel’s austerity policy therefore justified?
La canciller ha servido de chivo expiratorio para todos aquellos que quieren desviar la atención pública en sus propios países de las causa de la crisis, que son casi todas de origen casero, también en España. Cuando una sociedad decide vivir por encima de sus posibilidades y cuando los Gobiernos abren sin más el grifo del gasto público, se endeudan desmesuradamente y toleran el anquilosamiento de las estructuras productivas y de las instituciones, el mercado pasa factura tarde o temprano.
The chancellor has served as a scapegoat for those who want to divert public attention in their own countries from the causes of the crisis, which are almost all domestic in origin, also in Spain. When a society decides to live beyond its means and when governments open the public spending tap, borrow excessively and tolerate ankyloses of productive structures and institutions, the market has to expect to foot the bill for these decisions sooner or later.
With or without Merkel, there was no escape from the crisis that didn’t go hand in hand with fiscal consolidation and major structural reforms. Whoever says the contrary is speaking irresponsibly.
- Merkel is one of the most respected women in the world—no one negates her leadership and problem solving and analytical capacity. She has inspired other women in politics, but not so much the world of economists. Why do you think in the world of economics there still aren’t many women, despite the fact that today many young women study economics?
Things are getting better. In Germany there are increasingly more women who hold high positions in companies and command university professorships. But an obstacle still exists: the insufficient compatability between professional requirements and familial responsibilities, especially if the children need to be cared for.
Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to improve the pertinent infrastructures in schools. What I am not a proponent of is establishing quotas of feminine participation by law, because this would create undesirable biases and would discriminate against women who have gained positions of merit.
- How important to you are intercultural competence and languages in the professional career of an economist?
Both aspects are important, language above all else. For economists the lingua franca is English. The only ones who resist this are the French…
- Considering the large amount of corruption in countries in southern Europe, ethics play an increasing larger role in the teaching of economics. Do you think that this is something that can be learned in this way?
No. Ethics must be learned starting in childhood through the education that one receives from their parents. Corruption and fraud are individual manifestations of criminal energy that must be combatted rigorously by criminal courts.
- With respect to the current economic crisis, many are discussing the introduction of more economics into the school curriculum. What do you think about teaching finance and economics to children in primary and secondary school?
I have been claiming this throughout my professional life. Everyone knows that economics affects us irremediably in some form or another—as a worker, consumer, saver, pensioner, etc. In schools there should be a class about economics with the goal of familiarizing people from their youth with the functioning of the economy. One would learn that in reality, there is no such thing as a free lunch, which would immunize them against the siren song of those who are always promising social benefits without explaining how they are financed and what collateral repercussions they could cause.
- Seeing how the economy touches so many parts of our lives, what importance do philosophy or intellectuality have in the teaching of economics?
The importance is obvious. Many philosophers and also intellectuals outside of the circle of economists study economic activity and value it from a methodological perspective. The so-called father of economic science, Adam Smith, was a philosopher.
This interview was conducted by Stefanie Claudia Müller and translated from Spanish by Hillmann Hollister