Will Germany Fail?
Farewell to our Ideal Worlds
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Here in Germany there is still no awareness of the challenges we are facing. People do not recognize the gravity of the situation. Thus, there is no real openness to structural change, and all appeals to finally start thinking in new ways and to prepare ourselves for new times remain more or less abstract and therefore nonbinding. They have the character of Sunday sermons that are barely listened to and quickly forgotten. The federal president can say a thing or two about that; his words often meet with considerable public approval, as with his great [Berlin] speech of April 1997, but the widespread acclaim remains without consequences. Basically, our plight is still accepted with a composure – or a fatigue – that is puzzling. Germans weren’t always like that.
The Shrinking Middle Class
The structural crisis in industry not only relates to insufficient initiative and innovation and a dearth of new companies. Equally important is the drop in small and medium-sized businesses and the shrinking number of self-employed people. Their share of the total German workforce has shrunk in recent years from fourteen to nine percent. Each year about nine percent of small and medium-sized firms are liquidated. Even when newly founded companies are factored into the equation, we are still left with a loss of no fewer than 120,000 businesses per year. At the same time, the number of public servants increased by 120 percent between 1950 and 1987. The number of federal employees even quadrupled. One in five employees in Germany is in public service. [ . . . ]
But German society is made up of rather risk-averse types who would rather work for others. Self-employment attracts very few in this country, since it means having to continually acquire new work without the security of an employer.
And yet all the promises to preserve the world we created for ourselves are illusionary. Germany – like other countries – will have to bid farewell to the dream of guaranteed material security and lasting prosperity, farewell to the ideal of a job that is guaranteed for a lifetime.
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It is amazing that we continue to direct such large subsidies to branches of industry that have long since become obsolete, or are at least being phased out (whether coal or shipbuilding, steel, agriculture, or industrial remnants in the new federal states), despite the fact that everyone knows that they will never become new, viable industries. We need to focus on innovation and stop keeping old, outdated industries on life support for sentimental reasons.
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