(By Ray D.)
Although it appears that Germany will soon have a new government and a fresh start, there are two fundamental attitudes prevalent in German society that will continue to make it difficult for the country to escape its downward spiral into mediocrity. Both attitudes were clearly reflected in a recent June 24 poll done by the ZDF television program "Politbarometer."
Problem Number 1: Neidkultur: Punishing Success
Jealousy and a desire to punish the wealthy are hardly new phenomena in German culture. Edmund Stoiber of the CSU once pointed out that it would be difficult to imagine a German Bill Gates that people admired because he would be so envied. The CDU/CSU has openly discussed combating Germany's culture of jealousy in recent debate. Numerous German superstars and athletes like Boris Becker have fled their home country because of high taxes and the media's tendency to target anyone successful.
The "Neidkultur" mentality has always fed a strong desire in Germany to redistribute wealth in the context of large-scale bureaucratic government 'social' programs. Germans see such drastic re-distribution as 'socially-just', even if the end result is massive unemployment and economic stagnation. Attempts to reduce the burden on the wealthy and slash bureaucracy are almost always immediately shouted-down as 'Sozialabbau' or cuts to the social system. This holds true despite the fact that the rational observer might point out that 5 million unemployed Germans are unmistakable evidence that the current system has led to radical 'Sozialabbau'. Even 'conservative' parties like the CDU dread being accused of 'Sozialabbau' and are unwilling to seriously question the constant desire to redistribute wealth in the name of 'fairness'. And no party wants to face the inevitable protests by special interests whose benefits are on the chopping block. Nothing, not even George W. Bush or an act of terror, is guaranteed to get more angry, outraged Germans on the street than a proposal to cut their government handouts.
Stronger Taxation of Very High Income: 70% For / 27% Against / 3% Don't Know (Source)
So here's the bad news: If you believe that the wealthy are also those who invest the most and create large numbers of jobs both directly and indirectly, then taxing them into the Stone age, as most Germans wish to do, will hardly be conducive to an improving economy or jobs market. If the trend continues, it is unlikely that Germany will remain at the top economically in an ever-changing global world.
Problem Number 2: The Bloated Welfare State
Most of us already know about cradle-to-grave Socialism in Germany. For a short time during the Wirtschaftswunder when West Germany prospered under the protective wing of the United States, the 'social' system actually seemed supportable. Many Germans have erroneously come to believe that if they could only go back to those good old days, that everything would be wonderful again. What many willfully ignore is the onset of globalization and the fierce competition for jobs in areas with optimal business conditions. As a strong (but fading) economic power, Germany is not only expected to pull its own weight, it must also subsidize weaker EU economies. In the future, Germany (and in a larger sense Europe) will also need to spend far more on military capabilities in order to be taken seriously and treated as a true equal by the United States. But with most Germans totally unwilling to make further cuts to the bloated welfare state, there is little hope for smaller, leaner government and dynamic economic growth.
Further Cuts in the Welfare State: 26% Would Agree / 70% Would Disagree / 4% Don't Know (Source)
Why do we point this out? Well, we don't want people to come to the false conclusion that a new government will suddenly change everything in Germany. The fundamental attitudes that dominate in German society simply won't permit it. Unfortunately, if there is no drastic change in attitudes, it appears that Germany will soon begin to drop down the list of the world's top economies. And, for a nation that defines itself on its economic strength, that cannot bode well for the future...