The Euro zone crisis and what Germany is doing right

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by iBlue, May 15, 2012.

  1. iBlue macrumors Core


    Mar 17, 2005
    London, England
    Mostly I'm starting this just to get an idea of what people think and try to understand it a bit more myself.

    I was watching a news segment about this mess and they did a few street interviews with people in Germany and I found the things they had to say very sensible. One person said that no one likes "austerity" but it's not sustainable to keep increasing budget (debt). Similarly someone else said tightening the budget belt makes natural economic reality. One person talked about how Germany manufactures products that a lot of people buy, which of course means economic growth. One person expressed worry that Greece exiting the Euro may take the rest of the Euro down with it. Another person pointed out that it seems like Greece is lazy and they don't work as hard as they do. I think they're all correct. It's no surprise. Germany is the only country in the Euro that has actually shown growth rather than decline.

    My understanding about Greece is that they soaked up billions in bail-outs and did very little to change what caused the problem in the first place. Voters are of course all flipping out about austerity measures and most politicians care more about gaining power than what makes long-term sense for the country.
    I recall hearing a while back about some ridiculous Greek tax loopholes such as a business not having to pay tax while under construction. Because of that many mid-lower end hotels will operate with some building work going on indefinitely. I quickly looked to confirm that but couldn't find anything. If that is true that is completely absurd. Greece doesn't have much in the way of exports but they've got a beautiful country that people want to visit. The earnings from tourism need to be taxed. It's difficult to balance a budget if you're not collecting much in the way of taxes. Austerity cuts are necessary as well (I believe) but it's not the only useful thing a country can do to get their heads above water. There must be a do-able middle ground of austerity, collecting taxes and growth. Then I digress maybe poorer countries were never going to be viable in the Euro. Who really benefits from it and why?

    What is Germany doing right that so many are doing wrong?

    Well obviously manufacturing but there's more to it than that. For many years after the Berlin wall came down wages, pensions and benefits were kept low (perhaps by comparison to many places, still are) so they've kept competitive. Inflation is lower and thus their growth isn't artificial. West Germany was (and probably still is) propping up East Germany and it seems to have worked and they've still managed to grow and bail out failing economies. Many Germans are rightfully frustrated that other countries have not followed their lead on success.

    I get the impression that German economics are much more about avoiding extremes, artificial bubbles and living within your means. I don't know the reality of living in Germany but it doesn't come across like a cold-hearted capitalist approach but it's not a free-for-all, either. Most interestingly is that CEOs don't make thousands of times more than the lowest earner in the company. (wow, what a concept!) Extremes are never sustainable. Why can't anyone grasp that?

    My knowledge of how things work in Germany is limited so I would love to hear more from people in Germany.

    In many ways I am relieved Britain has a conservative government right now. Increasing debt doesn't seem like a very logical way to get out of a recession. I'm also glad Britain is not a part of the Euro, although of course we still feel the effect of our nearest neighbours.

    I'm curious what your thoughts are on this. It's such a complicated mess and I'm trying to wrap my head around a lot of it.
  2. Mord macrumors G4


    Aug 24, 2003
    It's not an area I have any claim to expertise in, but I remain dubious of hailing germany as a brilliant example, mostly because they have a ton of debt, about 1.4x per person than we do here in the UK.

    I'm also pretty wary of this whole conserve your way out of a fiscal crisis through tax cuts and austerity, companies do not need to be motivated to bother to make money, the wealthy do not need tax cuts.

    If one takes a good look at what happens when economies go to **** is the rich get much much richer and the divide between them and the poor becomes massive, austerity and tax cuts for the rich to my admittedly economically naive mind do not seem like the greatest solution to that problem.

    I think you really have to consider what money really is, what a good economy actually means and what our actual goal is in something more meaningful than the stock markets. After all money is merely a token to facilitate work and progress.

    I do not claim to have any answers here, it just concerns me deeply that debt is the closest thing we have to modern slavery and letting those in a position to benefit from that system fear monger us into enabling them worries me most of all.
  3. iBlue thread starter macrumors Core


    Mar 17, 2005
    London, England
    ^ I can't say I disagree, Mord. And although I'm not keen on borrowing out of a recession I find the Tory tax cuts for the wealthy COMPLETELY disgusting. Taking from the most vulnerable while the people with the most pay less than ever doesn't sit well with me. I wish there were a middle ground between our two biggest political parties. It's a complicated issue that makes my head spin.

    I didn't realize Germany had that much debt, either. I've heard a slightly more sinister outlook on Germany's economic power. Where basket-case economies in the Euro lower the price of the euro enough to make German exports even more cheap and appealing. This meaning they stand to gain the most from the Euro while the rest of Europe pays for it. I'm not sure what to make of that idea.
  4. Happybunny macrumors 68000

    Sep 9, 2010
    The Euro was formed by politicians, and not bankers. With no way of making member countries balance their books, it was always going to be a very difficult job.
    Time and again central bankers and minsters of finance warned that without centralizing taxes, and bank rates, the Euro was going to be a problem. Politicians of the day just pushed the arguments aside.

    Greece should never have been allowed to join, and if strict controls had been in place they wouldn't have. The Greeks systematically cooked the books, corruption was a way of life. There was an idea that northern european countries would do anything to keep the euro alive.

    Whether you are a single person, a family or business or even a country sooner or later you have to balance the books.
    When the euro crisis first started the politicians did not react well, they should have then an there, got rid of Greece.

    It has now got to the point that the European governments no longer believe or trust the Greeks. Unlike Spain and Ireland the Greeks have made this problem for themselves.

    The only way that this mess can be cleaned up is by balancing the books. The German method might be harsh, but it is the only viable choice.

    The Euro will survive and for a short time be quite weak against other currencies, but in my opinion this is a very good thing. It will lead to more exports for us and in the long run far more real political union. A true united states of Europe.


    I would love to see some quotes about German debt. I have never heard anything similar.
  5. decafjava macrumors 68030


    Feb 7, 2011
    You still need some thinking to do...let me state from the beginning I am Canadian but of Greek origin and the sort of stereotypical bigoted crap I read makes my blood boil. The bolded parts I think you need to rethink.

    How the hell do you "know" Greeks (and by extension all Southern Europeans) are lazy? How do you define lazy?

    Yes there has been tax evasion and corrupt governments but then geography and history have not been kind to Greece. Should things change of course? But is it all the fault of one side-NO! First of all German taxpayers are not giving money to Greek citizens. German taxpayers are giving money to German banks that loaned money to the Greek government fully aware they had lied to get into the Euro (as did the EC).

    Read the following articles and then maybe we can talk a bit.
  6. iBlue thread starter macrumors Core


    Mar 17, 2005
    London, England
    You need to calm down before putting words in my mouth and implying I'm a bigot simply because I repeated what I heard a random German person say on the news. This is a discussion and I'm eager to learn more. People are more receptive to doing so without hostility. Maybe you should come back to the thread when you're able to have a discussion instead of cherry-picking my post for the points you want to shout about.
  7. Mord macrumors G4


    Aug 24, 2003

    Germany's population is ~80 million, ours is ~62 million. Their GDP is a bunch higher so it's not as simple as that.
  8. Happybunny macrumors 68000

    Sep 9, 2010
    OK we are on the same page, you where talking about Government debt. Government debt is not a problem as such so long as you can keep up the payments. It's like having a big mortgage, if you earn more you can borrow more.
    Germany can afford to run such a debt because it's economy is growing. The reason for all this debt was the reintegration of East Germany.

    The main problem for countries like the UK and the Netherlands is the amount of personal debt.
  9. Queso macrumors G4

    Mar 4, 2006
    Only looking at government debt doesn't look at the causes for the crisis. Germans do not like personal debt. Therefore they didn't partake in the cheap credit nonsense that overtook the entire Western world over the past decade. As individual Germans are now not overburdened by personal debt they are still spending, which means the service sector of their economy is still moving and the German economy is healthy.

    Contrast that with those Eurozone countries that are deeply in crisis. Spain has very low government debt as a percentage of GDP, far lower than Germany, but personal debt levels increased massively in the decade up until 2008. Property prices also shot up to unsustainable levels, resulting in mortgage debt levels spiralling out of control. Therefore the general public with jobs are not spending the money they earn, they're giving it to the banks who are using it to cover the cost of foreclosing on bad debts from those out of work. The entire service sector of the economy is freefalling as a result, tax receipts are down, and government austerity measures will only increase the rate of contraction and add to the already enormous unemployment problem, causing more bad debts for the banks to cover and increasing the amount of time before the economy begins to move again.

    There comes a point when however hard you squeeze a sponge you aren't going to get any more water out of it. Greece has already passed that point, so more austerity is only going to hurt matters further rather than help. What the Greeks need now is an austerity respite in order for their economy to stabilise. It's no point punishing them eternally for past mistakes if doing so hurts all of Europe, and leads to Greece's economy continuing its 5% p.a rate of contraction. What happens if their economy completely implodes, as WILL happen if this continues?

    IMO, those governments whose economies are in slow growth should continue with austerity measures, whilst those that are in freefall should not be forced into implementing measures that only increase the problems. Let them get to the same level stage that others have already reached, and then implement austerity.
  10. jeremy h macrumors 6502

    Jul 9, 2008
    I've been following this - like a lot of people with a sense of disbelief about the amount of can kicking that's been going on...

    I'd just make a few points, well questions to throw into this - I'd be interested what others think.

    It's looking like the only long term solution for the Euro is complete integration?

    France and Germany also broke the rules...

    It suits Germany to be wedded to weak members/'currencies' - I've heard that it's effectively a 20% gain for their industrial output?

    It's not bailing out the Greek people - the repayments are bailing out the banks (which happen to be German, French, Spanish and British etc). Why should the Greeks care? After all if I make a big loan to someone without checking they can repay it who's at fault?

    To 'balance the books' the Greeks are going to have to suffer a further 40% fall in income. Can that actually happen? (It looks like most of the people are already on the breadline.)

    If Greece survives in the Euro then the next in line is Spain - How can Spain take more pain (their banks are currently going down the tubes) - I think unemployment is around 20% already? Even Germany can't bail out Spain?
  11. Happybunny macrumors 68000

    Sep 9, 2010
    Complete European integration is the only way forward.
    Since the introduction of the Euro, this has always been the unspoken elephant in the room. This current crisis is most likely to be the first steps to regulating tax and banking across Europe as a whole.

    France and Germany did break the rules thats true. But the Greeks did on such a scale with no thought about how to pay any of it back.
    It has now got to the point that nobody in Europe believes any thing that the Greeks say.
  12. VulchR, May 15, 2012
    Last edited: May 15, 2012

    VulchR macrumors 68020


    Jun 8, 2009
    There's a hilarious paper about the Greek statistical returns to the EU (Rauch et al. 2011. Fact and Fiction in EU-Governmental Economic Data. Ger. Econ. Rev. 243-255). It uses Benford's law, which is a pattern in data that spans several magnitudes: typically the first digit is most likely to be 1, followed by 2 etc. in a very predictable series of proportions down to the number 9. The data submitted to European System of Accounts from most countries obey Benford's law, but some don't. The country that most deviates from this law is - you guessed it - Greece. None of the 140 pieces of economic data submitted to the EU from Greece in 2009 began with the number 9 and only three begin the number 5. While this isn't concrete evidence of cooking the books, if one does the statistics it does demonstrate that there is less than a 1 in 50 chance that Greece used the same process to collect and report its economic data as the rest of the EU *cough cough*.

    In any case, I have sympathy for the Greeks. They suffered greatly under Axis occupation in WWII and their post-WWII history was much more turbulent that much of Europe, and they received far less help in reconstructing the country. Less face it, the bail-out of Greece is not about saving the Greeks, it is about saving the banking class in Germany and the rest of Europe. Until Germany deals with its own hypocrisy and self-interest with respect to Greece, the Euro will remain in peril.
  13. Rodimus Prime macrumors G4

    Rodimus Prime

    Oct 9, 2006
    Very true. The euro needs a single centralized bank and they need a tax system that is closer to the US. That is in the fact you have federal level tax (euro zone) and state level (counrties).
    And then have different services provided by each level.
  14. Happybunny macrumors 68000

    Sep 9, 2010
    It was no walk in the park for any of the countries of Europe after WWII. But most got back on their feet by working, and playing more or less by the rules.
    Poland suffered far more than Greece ever did, and so did most of Eastern Europe, what are you going to do give them all a pass?

    To keep harking back to events over 75 years ago, is ducking the fact that this country systematically lied last 10 years.

    This idea that Greece some how needs special rules is quite honestly BS.
  15. Scepticalscribe, May 15, 2012
    Last edited: May 15, 2012

    Scepticalscribe Contributor


    Jul 29, 2008
    The Far Horizon
    I had hoped someone would start a thread on this and related topics, so thank you, iBlue, and indeed, I had also wondered whether much of what is happening outside the US ever even registered there.

    In a previous incarnation, I used to teach history and politics, and one of the main political courses I taught was EU studies. More recently, in a seconded capacity, I have worked for the EU, when I spent a few years in the Caucasus. None of this means that I am an expert - especially in economic matters, but I do have a limited knowledge of some of the issues at stake.

    I think there are a number of distinct and separate issues here, and much of the public debate tends to conflate (and confuse) them.

    Firstly, there is the core contradiction at the heart of the EU (or, the many core contradictions at the heart of the EU).

    In essence - and this is where the current problems come home to roost - the EU (and its immediate precursors, the EEC, EC) is an economic solution to a political problem, and was constructed as such.

    The original political problem was the very existence of Germany, which, newly united, displaced Austria in the middle of the 19th century as the ranking "Great Power' in central Europe, and fought three wars with France over the next 80 years.

    So, in essence, the problem was the question of how to reconcile a strong Germany - even the existence of Germany - with the security, stability and peace of mind of the rest of Europe, above all, France? How to allow a version of Germany to exist which was not a threat to everyone else?

    By 1945-55, the solutions that presented themselves were outright dismemberment, (and permanent poverty or weakness or oversight) for Germany, or, ensuring some sort of structure which would integrate a peaceful democratic Germany into the very heart of Europe by making it a foundation stone of whatever institutional structures were to be created, such as the EEC as it initially was.

    This means that from the start you had a system where political problems and conundrums were addressed - in the main - by economic means and economic solutions. It meant that political issues were seen in mainly economic terms, and economic debates were limited by a refusal to accept that a political dimension exists to all of this.

    It has also meant that there is a 'democratic deficit' at the heart of the European experiment; by and large, the institutions of the EU are not elected (apart from the Parliament), they are appointed; this means that they lack a mandate for their policies. Most power still rests with the national governments of the member states, which do have mandates, although increasingly, in the current crises, such mandates are being side-stepped.

    As the discussions & debate on Greece amply demonstrate, this is still happening.

    So, secondly, there is the issue of the construction of the EU. It is a bizarre hybrid (a supranational structure) which has its roots in French and German history and bureaucratic practice and carefully crafted compromises.

    French bureaucratic civil service structures provide the rough model for the structure of the Commission - the EU's civil service, while the manner of the earlier German unification in the 1850s and 1860s - where a customs union and currency union preceded political union, provide a proven model for eventual (economic and political) integration.

    There are more compromises. German industry & export needed free trade, (the Single Market) while French agriculture needed protection (CAP, the Common Agricultural Policy). Remember that the original term to describe the EU/EC/EEC in common parlance was 'The Common Market'. There was the constant attempt to balance national sovereignty with whatever powers were to be ceded to the supranational authority in Brussels, the civil service of the EU, the Commission, although that too, was constantly changing.

    So, this structure was devised to address the problems of France and Germany, and to allow them to grow together without threatening or being threatened and allow that section of the continent to flourish under these conditions. Politically, it sort of worked too, on the basis of relationships forged between the respective leaders of France and Germany (watch that happening again this week, when M. Hollande meets Dr Merkel) as a weakening France used masked German power to steer policies both had previously agreed to. The EU civil service, the Commission, was and is, a lot weaker, less powerful and smaller than Eurosceptics would have us believe.

    Attempts to create some sort of common currency had been in motion since the 1970s, when the then EEC numbered nine countries, rather than the current 27.

    And, remember, the EU has ensured a sort of umbrella structure which has given Europe more peace and political progress (through transposing much of what was progressive in European law to national law) than at any other time in its history. Moreover, it has proven to be so popular that it has grown from the original six of 1957, to 27 today (counting most of the former Warsaw Pact countries) with a queue of waiting applicants in the Balkans still seeking and desiring membership of the union.

    However, given the strength of national governments (viz. a viz. the EU itself), and the depth of national feelings & traditions, the burdens of history and limitations of geography, the elephant in the room - or unbelled cat - has always been the unspoken idea that sometime, in the future, the EU would be a sort of united states of Europe. However, national electorates will hardly likely wear such an ideal, so hardly anyone floats it.

    The problem with the common currency is that its own financial overseers are not powerful enough to compel compliance, and cannot gainsay the domestic powers of the respective national governments.

    For Germany, joining the Euro in 2002, indeed, becoming the financial linchpin of the Euro, in the absence of adequate financial and political oversight, was a huge leap of faith. Historically, the country has a horror of inflation, and we would do well remember that it suffered three complete currency collapses in the 20th century (1923, 1929-32, and of course, 1945).

    Because almost all of the other symbols of national identity were tainted by the experience of the Nazi experiment, when postwar Germany forged an identity as a peaceful democracy, it seemed to invest its sense of self (most other symbols of a historically healthy Germany having been compromised by the Nazis) in its currency, the Deutschmark. So, when asked to abandon the very visible symbol of responsible statehood, and financial success and rehabilitation, for the unknown European currency, Germany experienced something akin to an emotional wrench, but came onboard.

    Re Greece, of course the Greeks faked the books in order to join the Euro. Greece, although Orthodox by tradition, has much in common with some of the Catholic countries of Europe (countries which are culturally Catholic), historically, has had a rather ambivalent attitude to the truth. Lying can be seen as a flexible tool of public policy, not a breach of trust. Mendacity can be a test of mental dexterity, not a denial of facts or failure to address problems.

    However, re Greece, I would argue that as with much else in Europe, there are political problems lurking in the undergrowth which are being disguised by the major economic problems which are attracting most attention.

    Of course, Greece is in a far far worse position economically than the other 'Catholic' economies, namely Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland.

    And granted, yes, Greece has had a grim history in the last century, with a vicious civil war in the late 40s, followed by the nasty Govt of 'the colonels' from 1967 to 74, but no grimmer than Spain, which also had a vicious civil war and also had fascists in Government for far longer.

    Here, I would argue that the vehemence of the northern European reaction to the current problems of Greece owe much to nearly 30 years of experience of Greece as a colleague in the EU. For, unfortunate as it may seem, while romantics in Europe had welcomed Greek membership in 1981 (seeing it as the home of democracy, gave us the vocabulary of Govt, as well as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Pericles....and so on) that soon soured. Greece played a spoiler role in the EU, blocking progress on Cyprus, on possible membership negotiations Turkey and on its irresponsible responses to the problems of Macedonia, one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia.

    However, I think this is a pity. If Greece stumbles out of the Euro, I am not sure that Greek society and its political system (so much for being the cradle of democracy) will keep from fracturing into ever more extreme fissures. The recent elections benefitted the parties of the extremes, both right and left, not the centre.

    If Greece collapses economically, and fractures politically, it will benefit nobody. Economically, Europe might be able to build a firewall; politically, and in terms of its credibility as an actor on the world, or continental stage, the EU would have been dealt a serious blow.

    My personal preference would be to see a renegotiation of the conditions of the bailout, so that Greece (and the other countries) would be able to repay what is owed without destroying themselves. Countries where over half of those under 25 are unemployed, and growth is stagnant, cannot hope to recover enough to pay what is owed, let alone be a positive contributor to a better Europe.
  16. Happybunny macrumors 68000

    Sep 9, 2010
    First off Netherlands News is saying that there will new elections in Greece.

    That really didn't help.

    I really think this is going to end very badly for Greece
  17. VulchR macrumors 68020


    Jun 8, 2009
    Sympathy for Greek people does not equate with sympathy for laziness and corruption. But let's remember that Greece is not the only EU member to be breaking the rules about deficits, for in 2010 the following countries were all over the 3% of GDP rule set out in the Maastricht Treaty (Source: BBC/Eurostat):

    United Kingdom
  18. hafr macrumors 68030

    Sep 21, 2011
    It is actually very, very simple, and I'm going to keep it extremely simple so that no one gets lost.

    The euro is a currency that spans over many countries with very different economic situations, and ECB is trying to satisfy all of the different needs at once which means that they have to choose a middle line. The top countries, such a Germany, therefore have an undervalued currency whilst the bottom countries, such as Greece, has an overvalued currency. This means that the worse it gets for the bottom countries, the easier it is for Germany to "do right" and the harder it is for Greece to get out of the mess that they're in.

    Other responses aren't completely out there, but they're making it way more complicated than it has to be and are talking about loads of irrelevant stuff.

    But for what it's worth, we've already had a European currency before (the LMU). It failed just before the second world war after about 60 years. Partly because of Greece having to carry the load of richer countries' more powerful economies. They were thrown out before WW1 because they were poor and to try to save the currency, then reinstated a few years later. Am I the only one seeing the history repeating itself? ;)
  19. Happybunny macrumors 68000

    Sep 9, 2010
    This is not just about breaking the rules about deficits, this is the systematic corruption in the heart of the Greek state.

    Well they will be going to the polls again in June, and I hope out of the Euro in July.
  20. iJohnHenry macrumors P6


    Mar 22, 2008
    On tenterhooks
    Sorry, what were you saying? I appear to be lost. :p

    And what has become of our Guiding Light in Germany? :rolleyes:
  21. hafr macrumors 68030

    Sep 21, 2011
    I'm confused, were you making a joke that I failed to understand or was there something I said that wasn't clear?
  22. rdowns macrumors Penryn


    Jul 11, 2003

    While I'll admit to having only a cursory knowledge of this situation, are you really putting the US tax system out there as a model on how to get your fiscal house in order. I laughed so hard I peed myself a bit.
  23. Scepticalscribe Contributor


    Jul 29, 2008
    The Far Horizon
    No, it is not that simple.

    What had started as an economic problem (which grew out of an incomplete economic solution to a political problem) is threatening to become a major political and social problem as well as an economic problem. Any possible solution is going to have to address each of these elements. Moreover, to pretend that this is merely a matter of wonky economic is folly and wilful blindness of the highest order.

    Driving Greece - corrupt, disliked, mendacious, self-serving and unreliable as it may be - on to the rocks of financial bankruptcy, followed by political fracture and social unrest will do nobody in Europe any favours.

    Even if a financial firewall is successfully built, politically, the repercussions will be disastrous for Europe.

    Moreover, given the history out of which the whole thing was built, a situation where Germany's trade surplus dictates European economic policy will not - in the long run - be acceptable. And nor, would it be clever economics or politically stable.

    Just as the EU was founded as a means of addressing political problems by economic means, we may now find that it sometimes pays, at the end of the day, to permit economic problems to have political solutions. And that means looking at long term consequences before taking irreversible steps such as ejecting Greece from the Euro.
  24. Happybunny macrumors 68000

    Sep 9, 2010
    Watching the news here in the Netherlands, I get the impression that Greece will be forced out of the Euro. This is two fold one is because everybody else is just fed up with the Greeks, and the second as warning to other less fiscal members of the EC.
  25. hafr macrumors 68030

    Sep 21, 2011
    The fact that the euro is, for a country in Germany's situation, an undervalued currency and has been so for quite some time, without knowing the otherwise expected effects due to the ECB's having to consider other countries' situations as well, extremely beneficial for Germany. As long as they don't screw up big time, pretty much anything they do will be "the right thing".

    This goes vice versa for Greece, they're unable to use those measures that they would have been able to use, had they had their own currency. Meaning that any and all problems that they endure are being worsened by the day more or less.

    There are huge underlying problems in Greece, but as long as the country is unable to get out of their financial problems, I just don't believe that they will be able to solve anything else. Financial instability of the magnitude that they have will be the prime cause of concern pretty much until war breaks out, so that will have to be addressed first.

    I agree, which is why they should have been excluded from the Euro a long time ago so that they could get their business in order. It would have been better for all parties involved in this mess.

    One could say they won WW2 ;)

    Ejecting Greece from the Euro would not have to be an irreversible step. Look at how they did it in 1908. Actually, look at LMU in general. What happened then is happening now. A monetary union with a central bank is just not a good idea for an area with such widespread economic situations in different regions.

    USA is an incredibly homogenous economic region, which is why the dollar works. The EU is not, so the Euro has problems.


    If they get forced out of the Euro, they will be able to take the necessary measures to get a stable economy without having to beg for money or consider Germany's economic situation. I believe that if this happen, they could re-enter the Euro with a healthy economy faster than it would take to fix it whilst still in the Euro.

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