Doctors and patients
I am not a great believer in conspiracy theories. They are fun, of course, and conspiracies do indeed occur. But I believe that cock-up and coincidence explain a far greater proportion of world events.
That is why, tempting though it might be, I don't believe that it was a conspiracy that caused both my mobile phones to go crazy last week, just a few days after I made fun of Deutsche Telekom. Maybe I am just naive.
But let's get on to more interesting things. My doctor in Munich, for example. Last week, I went to him for a precautionary blood test for a food intolerance that could affect members of my family.
I explained to him that my brother, also a doctor, had recommended that I do the test but, as far as I knew, hadn't done it himself yet.
My doctor smiled and looked at me as if I was not just naive, but also totally mad. "No, you see, these tests are for patients, not for doctors," he laughed.
I was reminded of this encounter while reading Martin Wolf's recent Financial Times column, "What the IMF should tell Europe". The column came before the coordinated action by the major central banks to increase liquidity and the push by Angela Merkel for a fiscal union with strict control of the budgets of eurozone members.
Wolf wrote: "Unwilling to focus on the critically ill patient in front of [them], eurozone leaders spend their time on designing an exercise regime to ensure he never has another heart attack."
It's a lovely comparison and image. Frau Merkel is the head physician and the "Club Med" countries (Greece, Italy, Spain) are her patients.
Like many commentators, I have been critical of the idea that the eurozone's short-term problems can be solved by everyone behaving like Germany. But I am shocked by the number of people who seem to think that Germany wants to take over Europe, a thought which Angela Merkel rightly described on Friday as "bizarre".
The planned German takeover was discussed recently in an article in the New Statesman magazine, called "The myth of the Fourth Reich". It was also the subject of a dreadful article in The Guardian, with this shocking introduction: "Instead of Soviet-style German euro-nationalism, let us create a Europe of the citizens, a community of democracies."
"Soviet-style German euro-nationalism"? I mean, seriously, what world do these people live in?
Much more sense came from Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski in a remarkable speech in Berlin: "I demand of Germany that, for your sake and for ours, you help [the euro zone] survive and prosper. You know full well that nobody else can do it. I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity."
As a major beneficiary of the euro, Germany needs to take some medicine itself — including a more expansionary fiscal policy in the short term — not just dispense it to others. After all, sometimes even doctors are patients.