Kevin Drum doesn’t think much of Michael Lewis’s latest European dispatch for Vanity Fair — and neither do I. There’s precisely one thought-provoking paragraph in the entire 9,600-word article:

One view of the European debt crisis—the Greek street view—is that it is an elaborate attempt by the German government on behalf of its banks to get their money back without calling attention to what they are up to. The German government gives money to the European Union rescue fund so that it can give money to the Irish government so that the Irish government can give money to Irish banks so the Irish banks can repay their loans to the German banks. “They are playing billiards,” says Enderlein. “The easier way to do it would be to give German money to the German banks and let the Irish banks fail.” Why they don’t simply do this is a question worth trying to answer.

Sadly, Lewis doesn’t bother trying to answer that question. Instead, he returns to the running theme of the article, which might be evident if I excerpt a few words from here and there:

excrement - anality - Scheisse (shit), Dreck (dirt), Mist (manure), Arsch (ass) - The Money Shitter - crapping - rear end - toilets - “shit” - “my little shit bag” - laxative - “Purgation-Calendar” - anal - “As the fish lives in water, so does the shit stick to the asshole!” - scatological - “I am like ripe shit, and the world is a gigantic asshole” - sitting on the john - indulgence in fecal imagery - Scheisskerl (“shithead”) - feces - one of his favorite things to do with women was to have them poop on him - filth - coprophilia - The Call of Human Nature: The Role of Scatology in Modern German Literature - bowel movements - ring of filth - shit - Scheisse - splattered by their mud - a men’s bathroom - urinate - sat in the stall - “shit” - crap - crap - “Lick my ass” - “Lick my ass” - anally obsessed - stewing in their own filth - energetic anality - a blowout with prostitutes - anality - “Kackwurst is the term for feces” - ‘shit sausage’ - Bescheissen: “Someone shit on you.” Klugscheisser: “an intelligence shitter” - “you are said to shit money: Geldscheisser” - Die Kacke ist am Dampfen: the shit is steaming - a secret fascination with filth - “Scheisse glänzt nicht, wenn man sie poliert—Shit won’t shine, even if you polish it” - “Scheissegal: it just means I don’t give a shit.” - stick figures engaged in anal sex - simulating anal sex onstage

Which is not to say that there isn’t a sub-theme here. There is:

Nazi - Hitler’s favorite words - Hitler’s doctors - Hitler - the Nazis’ ambition - provincial Nazis - Hitler - Göring’s Air Ministry - Hermann Göring - the only advantage to the German financial system of having no Jews - the new Holocaust Memorial - Jewish Museum - spending decades denying they had ever mistreated Jews - Nazi-era expropriation of shares in the zoo owned by Jews - Hitler’s bunker - German guilt - “the Jews” - there are no Jews in Germany, or not many - “They never see Jews” -When they think of Jews - their victims - terrible crimes - a Jew whose family was driven out of Germany in the 1930s - Aryan - A Jew’s Life in Modern Germany - HOLOCAUST - Nazis - Hitler - A landscape once scarred by trenches and barbed wire and minefields - another Holocaust Memorial

Yes, the article’s about Germany. And, like Lewis’s previous articles on European countries, it’s an attempt to shine a light on the European financial crisis through the lens of national stereotypes. This is a dangerous exercise at the best of times, but in this case Lewis has gone way over the line. His article fails to say anything new or interesting about what happened in Germany during the crisis. And that’s fine, it has a lot of company in that respect. Everybody has an off day. But this essay is worse than that: it forces us to re-examine all of Lewis’s previous articles in the series as well.

Lewis’s articles on previous countries have all been criticized within those countries for precisely the kind of stereotyping which is so pointlessly offensive in this one. Not only has Lewis descended to an extended scatological riff which demonstrates absolutely nothing about the Germans’ propensity to buy subprime-backed bonds; he’s done so while violating Godwin’s Law. (Full disclosure: I’m half-German, so not entirely impartial in this case.)

Felix Salmon is an Audit contributor. He's also the finance blogger for Reuters; this post can also be found at