Wall Street Journal on Germany’s Shift Leftward

Predictably, they’re Very Concerned.  The piece is a pretty good analysis of recent business scandals in Germany, and the accompanying wave of strikes:

For many years, Germany had far fewer strikes than most other developed economies. But the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, a business-funded think tank, estimates the country last year posted its highest number of strike days since 1993. The incidence of strikes was roughly five times higher than the annual average during the first half of this decade. When train drivers walked off the job several times last year to demand that their wages be boosted by nearly a third, opinion polls showed them enjoying public support, even as the transportation system descended into chaos.

Part of workers’ resentment reflects a growing spread between haves and have-nots. For the past couple of years, workers have seen a long-stalled economy accelerate — and corporate profits surge. But they continue to view their own prospects as dim, and that divergence is widening, says [TNS Emnid researcher Klaus-Peter] Schöppner, with polls indicating that fewer than 10% of people are optimistic about their personal situation.

[h/t Bro.]

5 thoughts on “Wall Street Journal on Germany’s Shift Leftward

  1. Sounds very similar to discontents in the US. At least the root causes are similar. The difference is that Germans are more likely to ascribe it to ‘the system’ and Americans to put it down to individuals.

    Even this isn’t as big a split on viewpoint as it may seem. Many Americans blame ‘the system’ and I’m certain many Germans blame the individuals.

    But there is an old American proverb: ‘You can’t beat City Hall’ which may well apply better to the German situation than the Amrerican one in this day in age. In the US you can change the system, if only by voting out the old set of bums and putting a new set of bums into their seats. Something very much like that occurred in the 2006 elections and the process is continuing in the current Presidential primaries, where the candidates most unlike the previous incumbents Bush and Clinton are leading their respective races.

    Germany actually has two or perhaps three ‘systems’ which it can’t beat. To an American the German political system seems fairly fixed; the people cannot choose their own candidate, the parties do it for them. Given German history this is perfectly understandable but it comes at a price, a kind of corruption or conspiracy where certain groups of politicians conspire to keep power between them.

    The second ‘system’ is of course the EU, which seems extremely impassive in the face of the public will in it’s various states.

    The third ‘system’ is the NATO alliance. I get the strongest impression that the German public is very much at odds with the actions which must be taken in order for Germany to fulfill it’s role as the second power in the alliance. I suspect that most Germans are ‘for’ NATO, but in the most abstract sense; they are opposed to Germany taking necessary actions in order to maintain the alliance.

    The people of the US are less constrained by the ‘system’; we can do something to overturn the current house of cards and not infrequently we do so. About every 16 – 30 years we elect an iconoclast to the Presidency. Carter, Reagan, and Clinton were iconoclasts in one way or another – or rather Carter presented himself as one but did not perform, Reagan was the real thing, and Clinton was mostly conventional but compensated by performing a couple major iconoclastic actions while in office.

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  2. My thoughts on why less than 10 % of Germans see their personal perspectives as positive is because Germans are (as other people have already noted) notoriously negative and also because there is a large income discrepancy between people working in companies with wage agreements and those who are not. Especially in the new bundeslands, there are only some “elitist” workers working for relatively large, mostly West-Germany based companies covered by wage agreements. Because smaller companies almost always work for bigger corporations (that still want to make profits despite paying their workers well), these aforementioned agreements have direct negative effects on those working for smaller companies.

    Don: In case you’re not speaking of Blumentopf (that song is really old, actually), I know only few Germans who blame “it” on the system, but rather on groups of the society (“politicians”, “managers” etc.), thus on “anonymous individuals”.

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  3. “Iknow only few Germans who blame “it” on the system, but rather on groups of the society (“politicians”, “managers” etc.), thus on “anonymous individuals”.”

    We do that in the US, also. But sooner or later we take it out on the pols in power by using the political system. It may seem perverse to outsiders, but holding politicians accountable even for things which politicians aren’t really to blame for actually works fairly well.

    One doesn’t need to overturn all of them, changing the balance of power between the political parties or sometimes the balance of power WITHIN the governing party can work, though not always immediately.

    Consider the last major economic crisis in the US, the stagflation/oil crisis of the 70’s. That followed a political corruption crisis. The first major election was in 1976, and the US elected a reforming Democrat, Jimmy Carter. Carter wasn’t a very effective reformer and things did not improve enough, so we dumped him and elected Reagan. Things then improved and we kept Reagan.

    Some of it may be put down to the business cycle but there actually were some reforms, both from Carter and Reagan.

    This time around we overturned the GOP Congress and will be changing the President rather radically no matter whom we elect this fall, both McCain, Obama, and even poor old Hillary would be a major change from Bush. Hillary won’t be enough of a change as it’s unclear where the balance of power is in that marriage – nor whether she possesses the skills necessary to run the country. What I don’t need to see is Bill Clinton doing it for her which may happen, because that might mean a return to Clintonism rather than a fresh approach – which is what i think we need.

    I don;t think it will work right away; like the 70’s we may go through two Presidential terms and two Presidents before they work all the problems through. In fact it may take two different people; one with skills to fix one set of problems and another with a different skillset to finish the job.

    But in this system it really does work, or has in the past. I think it works because unlike most of the European or Asian systems it really does bring fresh blood & fresh ideas to the top pretty quickly; the system is designed to change when that is the popular will, so the psopel don’t have to mount a revolution to overturn an entrenched system.

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  4. I get the strongest impression that the German public is very much at odds with the actions which must be taken in order for Germany to fulfill it’s role as the second power in the alliance. I suspect that most Germans are ‘for’ NATO, but in the most abstract sense; they are opposed to Germany taking necessary actions in order to maintain the alliance.

    I think you got that quite right, Don. But how is Germany the “second power in the alliance”? When it comes to NATO economic status by far isn’t everything, don’t you think?

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  5. “But how is Germany the “second power in the alliance”? When it comes to NATO economic status by far isn’t everything, don’t you think?”

    You are correct, Martin. Germany is not the second power in anything but size of the economy – and Germany is or has been probably the biggest net beneficiary of the alliance to boot. Nevertheless Germany frequently attampts to behave as if it’s influence and opinions should be determinative despite the fact that it’s contributions amount to less than at least 4 (and possibly 6) other members.

    Germany should be #2 – then the attitudes & policies shown by Schroeder/Fischer might actually have some connection with reality.

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