Friday, December 31, 2010

The Germans as an economic model

Anti-German propaganda has been a constant in USA since at least 1914.  The intensity of anti-German feeling rises and falls of course, but there is always a background simmer.

At the peak of anti-German persecution in Minnesota during World War I, German-language schools were closed, the teaching of German in public schools was discontinued, German-American organizations were driven underground, etc.  People changed their names--Richter became Richards, etc.  People went to jail because they were accused of being "pro-German."  This was a VERY big deal because as much as 40% of the population of the state was of German extraction.

I grew up in a Mennonite town.  The Mennonites have been officially Pacifist since 1534 so have a well-argued body of positions on the subject of war and peace.  In a nutshell, they believe that not only must they personally stay out of warfare, they are not supposed to assist the combatants in any way.  What they ARE supposed to do is organize help for the victims of war once hostilities cease.

In practical terms, this meant that I had childhood classmates who had been born in European refugee camps.  The local Mennonites sponsored these victims of war and because the "official" language of the Mennonites is German, most of the newcomers came from native German-speaking areas like East Prussia.  So I have been around German-American culture my whole life.

World War II threw a giant monkey wrench into the Mennonite worldview--mostly because their core belief that only God could judge who was at fault in a war took a major hit.  Hitler's Germany most certainly had victimized Poland, etc.  And then some of the young men who had defied their upbringing and gone to war anyway came home with pictures of the death camps they had liberated.  The debate over the new reality was still raging when my dad took on a new church and we left town.

The main advantage of seeing this Pacifist German-American culture up close is that it demonstrated for me just why that culture tends to prosper.  You take a group of people with virtually no vices, a love of learning, a skill for social organization, and a crazy work ethic, plop them down in the middle of some of the most fertile soil on earth, and not surprisingly, they are quite well off.  When this Producer Class side of German culture was placed in power by the occupation powers after World War II, the country exploded out of the devastation with the economic miracle they called Wirtschaftwunder.  

When I first read about Wirtschaftwunder, I knew immediately what had happened in big cultural terms.  Now I only wanted the details.  Been collecting them ever since.  And I am enjoying the fact that others are noticing that Germany has figured out how to make industrial, Producer Class Capitalism work for a far wider percentage of its population than our bankster version here in USA.  (Notice, there seems to be a theme here.)

America in Decline: Why Germans Think We're Insane
A look at our empire in decline through the eyes of the European media.
December 26, 2010 AlterNet / By Democrats Ramshield

As an American expat living in the European Union, I’ve started to see America from a different perspective.
The European Union has a larger economy and more people than America does. Though it spends less -- right around 9 percent of GNP on medical, whereas we in the U.S. spend close to between 15 to 16 percent of GNP on medical -- the EU pretty much insures 100 percent of its population.
The U.S. has 59 million people medically uninsured;132 million without dental insurance; 60 million without paid sick leave; 40 millionon food stamps. Everybody in the European Union has cradle-to-grave access to universal medical and a dental plan by law. The law also requires paid sick leave; paid annual leave; paid maternity leave. When you realize all of that, it becomes easy to understand why many Europeans think America has gone insane.
Der Spiegel has run an interesting feature called "A Superpower in Decline," which attempts to explain to a German audience such odd phenomena as the rise of the Tea Party, without the hedging or attempts at "balance" found in mainstream U.S. media. On the Tea Parties:
Full of Hatred: "The Tea Party, that group of white, older voters who claim that they want their country back, is angry. Fox News host Glenn Beck, a recovering alcoholic who likens Obama to Adolf Hitler, is angry. Beck doesn't quite know what he wants to be -- maybe a politician, maybe president, maybe a preacher -- and he doesn't know what he wants to do, either, or least he hasn't come up with any specific ideas or plans. But he is full of hatred." more
Born on the Wrong Continent: Why Germans Think We're Insane 
by greywolfe359
Thu Dec 30, 2010 at 12:13:19 PM CST
I decided to tell him about my thesis: that even people who are at the top or are in the top 20 percent by income are better off in a European social democracy than in a country like the U.S. I started listing all the material reasons why they might be better off--free college, vacations.
It seemed to me I forgot one. "I can't think of it," I said.
C.O. leaned over to me. "They would get to live in a just society."
Yes, that's what I had in mind.
Were you born on the wrong continent? Thomas Geoghegan asks this question in a new book that compares unfettered American capitalism with its social democratic European counterpart. Where would you be better off? In Chicago or in Berlin? Geoghegan says it's pretty much a no-brainer if you're poor or lower middle class. You'd be way better off in Germany than you are here. Even many right-wing capitalists might agree as much. So Geoghegan spends much of his book arguing that it's the middle class and even the lower reaches of the upper class that benefit the MOST from a European style social democracy. He makes a very convincing argument. 
The first half of the book revolves around a hypothetical comparison between Barbara and Isabel. The former is an educated American professional and the latter is her counterpart in a nation like Germany. As educated professionals, they are both in the top 20 percent of income earners in their respective nations. Who is more likely to be better off?
Many conservative economists will point to statistics like per-capita GDP and claim right away that Barbara will be doing better. The United States, after all, has the highest per-capita GDP of any of the major industrialized countries in the world. Geoghegan doesn't ignore this. It's all in a chart on page 13. Sure, he says, the upper income professional in the U.S. has more "purchase-power" income than her counterpart in Germany. But there's a lot that the per-capita GDP number just doesn't take into account. more

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