Friday, August 2, 2013

Remembering Berthold Beitz

German industrialist and philanthropist Berthold Beitz died on Tuesday at 99. For the New York Times story, see here. He is rightly most remembered for his heroic actions during World War II, when stationed as a Nazi supervisor overseeing oil fields in Poland, he was responsible for ensuring that hundreds of Jews and Poles were saved from deportation and death camps.

After the war, his unsullied past led to being asked to take over the German industrial conglomerate, Krupp. This allowed him to set up the Krupp Foundation with proceeds from the estate of Alfried Krupp, the steel magnate and industrial war criminal. The Foundation under Beitz overcame its history to become one of the most important philanthropic institutions in Germany and Europe.

While much of its focus is on the arts, it is worth remembering the importance the Foundation placed on transatlantic understanding. Under Beitz's leadership, it created, for example, the Krupp Foundation Fellowship, housed at Harvard's Center for European Studies (CES) that since 1975 has funded hundreds of graduate students and undergraduates to conduct research in Europe. Many of those fellows have gone on to become among the prominent academics and teachers of Europe across the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Krupp Fellowship has singularly advanced the cause of Europe for several generations of scholars.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Beitz five or six years ago when as CES's executive director, I visited him at the Foundation to thank him and update him on how the Center was preparing students with an interest in Europe.  Already in his mid-90s, he was still running the Foundation and was an incredibly elegant figure. He had a keen intellect, amazing stories and a profound desire to see Europe and the US remain strong allies.  In a splendid office filled with photos of him and virtually every important global leader of the 2nd part of the 20th Century, he brushed those aside to talk about the importance of giving young people opportunities to experience the world so that they would understand it and thereby lessen the misunderstandings and nationalism that give rise to conflict. An astounding life and an astounding man.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Diplomatic Fallout from Boston

Photo: flickr/hahatango
The Boston Marathon is a joyous local event, signaling to a winter weary city that Spring, if not actually here, is not far away.  It is held on the 3rd Monday of April on Patriots' Day, an equally local holiday that is only celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine (which was once part of Massachusetts). But the Marathon is also the most international of events.  As the most prestigious road race in the world and the hardest marathon to qualify for, it is the dream of runners all over the world to come to run Boston.

And they do.  This year, athletes from 96 countries participated. And that meant that when the tragic bombings took place, those visitors, many of whom were unfamiliar with the city or even the country needed somewhere to turn, to find their friends, compatriots, or family members in the chaos or to find a place to stay when their hotels were cordoned off as crime scenes.  

As it happens, Boston is home to many Consuls General so that the citizens of countries with diplomatic representation can turn to those offices and get assistance and information. Not apparently the 91 Spanish runners who had registered for the race or those traveling with them.  The Spanish Consulate in Boston closed two hours after the bombing because 'that's the closing time.' No information, no hotlines to call, nothing was on offer.

One would think of all countries, the Spanish would be particularly attuned to the needs of a stunned and disoriented population following a deadly terrorist attack in a crowded city.  The twittersphere reacted with outrage.  Not just the visitors from Spain but many of the nearly 4,000 Spaniards living in Boston erupted in anger. One tweet coined a new saying for sloth: 'you work less than a Consul in Boston.' The resentment rebounded back to Spain, where in a country with epic levels of unemployment, there is little sympathy for highly paid public functionaries who exert little effort.

In the end, it was too much and Spain's Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, made the decision to fire Boston's Consul General, Pablo Sanchez-Teran. Another victim, though hardly blameless, of the Boston bombings.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Exodus of Immigrants

Yesterday’s article in the FT on the departure of Chinese migrants from Italy as the Italian economy grinds to a halt is an important wake-up call about the limits to solutions to one of the most vexing demographic problems faced by the developed world. As countries get richer, they tend to have fewer children, which in the absence of mitigating forces, means that populations age. With fewer people in the labor force relative to the elderly, the dependency ratio grows and puts social welfare systems under enormous pressure. Southern Europe and East Asia are among the places with the lowest birth rates and most rapidly aging populations on the planet.

One of the typical policy prescriptions for such countries is that they need to embrace immigration to bolster their shrinking population numbers. Japan, Europe, just about everybody with their demographics falling off a cliff, are urged to get over their historical aversion to outsiders and advised that their last, best hope is a wave of newcomers.

In spite of the unease with foreigners that many attribute to the citizens of Southern Europe, countries like Spain, Italy and Greece have relatively high proportions of immigrants as part of their total populations. 12% of the Spanish population is comprised of immigrants, 8 % of Italy’s and while Greek data collection is flawed, reliable estimates put it at perhaps 10%, though it is likely that more immigrants to Greece are there in the hope of eventual transit to more prosperous economies farther north. Even assuming away a xenophobia that characterizes many of these countries, it turns out that they may not be able to continue to attract immigrants even if they wanted them.  With weak economies, immigrants are pulling up stakes and going home or moving on.

While an outflow of immigrants may in some very small measure ease the short term crush of unemployment, the situation highlights another of the ways in which the crisis has such long-term consequences. Southern Europe, without the resource of a dynamic economy of say, a Hong Kong or Singapore, to attract new workers, is likely to find that its economic problems exacerbated by its demographic ones.