Proudly presenting the English version of the latest column of Jeffrey Gedmin in WELT:
The Tipping Point Die Welt, 4.10.2006
By Jeffrey Gedmin
There’s much to reflect upon this 16th anniversary of German unification. The two Germanies continue to grow together. A normal sense of patriotism is coming back. World Cup soccer was a pleasure. With Angela Merkel, the country is, by all accounts, once again well represented abroad. And then there is this: Angela Merkel will not reform the German economy.
We can theorize all day why. We can blame it on the Grand Coalition or decry the CSU and socialist wing of Merkel’s own party. Lament the unions and the media, if you will, or pin it on the Chancellor’s own lack of vision and courage. Of course, on her worst day Angie is still not nearly as dreadful as the “We’re-poor-but-sexy” rock star mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, who wants to sell failure as being cool. But by now anyone who knows anything knows that Chancellor Merkel will not be the one who puts the German economy back on top.
I’m in despair and not waiting for Guido Westerwelle. Desperate about the state of affairs? Read the Tipping Point by Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell. It gives us a hint about how to start a
little revolution. If a small group of sick people can start an epidemic of the flu Gladwell theorizes, then what about agents or other factors that can spread ideas, promote political trends and create social change?
Gladwell argues that word of mouth is a vastly under rated factor in creating any trend. To get word of mouth going, Gladwell says there are three types of people who have a critical role to play: the connector, the person who knows everybody and glues a vast number of people together; the maven, the collector of all relevant information; and the effective salesmen, who can persuade others of a course of action. I think we need a small army of Internet bloggers with the above mentioned profiles to get the ball rolling.
Then there is the “Law of the Few.” Gladwell says groups of 150 people or less seem to be capable of a roaring success when they have an idea they want to promote. I say our internet bloggers set up a network of subversive clubs. They can circulate samizdat literature and help build critical mass. Then there is the power of context. In the 1980s New York suffered terrible problems with crime. The trend was dramatically reversed. There may have been a number of factors that helped improve the situation. Most striking, though, was the city’s “broken window policy.” The theory was, fix broken windows in crime ridden neighbours. Fix them immediately, time and again, and be relentless in sending out the signal that lawlessness will not be tolerated. It was the same with New York subways and graffiti. New York’s 6,000 subway cars were absolutely covered in the stuff. The city hired a subway director, David Gunn, himself a disciple of Broken Windows, who made sure that each and every subway car defaced was cleaned up immediately and time and again if vandals insisted on striking again. It took Gunn’s campaign from 1984 to 1990 to fully succeed. Crummy conditions contribute to crummy social behaviour. The opposite is also true.
Let's use success stories "to clean up" the environment. Stories of perseverance and risk, of failure turned into triumph, of people who fight goofy regulations and deplore endless defeatism and pessimism. Okay, this may sound like a stretch. I fear if we wait for the Chancellor, though, we’ll keep having this same Kohl-Schroeder-Merkel reform conversation. The same conversation, with no tipping point insight.