The FT, Germany, and the Weimar Republic

This FT story seems like a reach to me.

It reports that Germany is abuzz that the financial crisis resembles the Weimar days. And you know what that implies.

The story opens cinematically, with a scene from a meeting of rabble-rousers on the wrong side of town:

In a meeting hall bedecked with revolutionary slogans underneath a grubby east-Berlin subway station, radicals, communists and anarchists are plotting the downfall of the Federal Republic.

“There will be social unrest - even in Germany - I’m sure about that,” says “Peter”, face partly concealed by a baseball cap and wrap-around sunglasses and sporting a Hugo Ch├ívez T-shirt.

“It’s important that the people organise themselves. We must take this fight to the streets.”

I’m sure most Germans aren’t too worried about some dude in a Huge Chavez shirt. Sure, it’s a nice vignette—a good bit of color. But let’s look at the FT’s goods—what it has to justify the headline

German woes spark talk of Weimar

Here’s one bit:

About 10,000 demonstrators are expected to march in the capital in May Day protests on Friday under the banner: “Capitalism means war and crisis - For the social revolution.”

Okay. How rare is that, really? And 10,000 “are expected to march” is the best the FT can do to bolster its thesis, which is that:

…the main topic of conversation in Berlin is not this slump, but that of 80 years ago, which brought the Nazis to power.

Does that sound right to you? I’ll grant some leeway to these reporters who are on the ground in Berlin, a place I’ve never been. But you still have to prove it to your readers, and this doesn’t smell right.

Indeed, next comes a classic sign of a false trend story, the rowback:

Few beyond the marchers seriously expect the crisis genuinely portends the end of bourgeois democracy but many German politicians worry that its reputation has taken a pounding…

Opinion polls show, in fact, that most Germans remain sanguine about the economy…

Boosted by hefty wage rises in the past year, consumption has held up reasonably well, and consumer confidence actually rose in the past two months. Some 18m pensioners, who have just been granted their highest pension increase in years, and 4.5m civil servants who are protected against dismissal, have little to fear from the bad economic news.

Think they’re done with the “to be sures”? Nope. One more, and it’s a doozy:

Nor has public outrage against irresponsible bankers yet pushed respectable burghers into the arms of extremist protest parties. The political grouping that has recorded the steepest rise in support since the Lehman Brothers collapse in September is the pro-business Free Democratic party.

So where’s the story?

It appears to be based off a comment by the challenger presidential candidate that he “could imagine people’s anger boiling over in two or three months.” President Merkel said that was irresponsible, and Spiegel ran a cover story asking “World crisis 1929/2009: Is history repeating itself after all?”

If Germany falls to revolutionary forces I’ll be the first to salute the FT for its prescience.

But until then, the paper looks bad hyping this non-story.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.