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Jealous of an unsatisfied Germany

The Local · 18 Nov 2010, 12:21

Published: 18 Nov 2010 12:21 GMT+01:00

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American track athletes dominate the 400 metre race. They've won Olympic gold in that discipline 19 times, and have stood atop the winner's podium since 1984. That sticks in the craw of the global competition, which is why a new proposal has been submitted to the International Olympic Committee. In the future, all US 400-metre runners must carry a five-kilo backpack. This would level the playing field for the competition.

As silly as that sounds, the US government is making a similar argument about the German economy these days. Well-crafted German products are in demand all over the world, and this is driving growth. At the same time, unemployment is sinking to ever-lower levels, the national debt is relatively low by OECD and EU standards, and the country’s DAX stock index is on the rise.

But rather than welcome the success of his European partner, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has suggested that Germany’s trade surplus be capped: in other words, that exports be banned if they go above a certain level. He is supported by voices from EU headquarters in Brussels and Germany’s socialist Left party. This is an odd coalition of free trade opponents, but they are united by one thing: envy.

US President Barack Obama adopted his finance minister's proposal ahead of the G20 in Seoul, South Korea last week, but fortunately Chancellor Angela Merkel resisted his pressuring. After all, she is in a strong position: the Americans are criticizing Germany for what it is apparently doing right.

While the economies of countries like the US, Britain, France, Spain or Greece are still struggling or facing drastic austerity measures and angry street protests, Germany has weathered the global financial and economic crises well. There is no sense of a divided society here.

It's all due to a convergence of contributing factors: the delayed effect of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's labour market and welfare reforms known as the Agenda 2010, wage restraint by trade unions, the 'cash-for-clunkers' car purchase scheme, a relatively moderate stimulus plan, and propping up the eurozone by involving the International Monetary Fund. More than once, Merkel was criticized for any and all of these measures. But at the end of the day, she was always proved right.

Success breeds resentment, and it's no surprise that German opposition parties and certain nations are grinding their teeth, because the German example puts pressure on their leaders to explain themselves. But why are Germans themselves not more proud of the achievements they have helped produce?

Even as their country has escaped the maelstrom of the crisis – and with an even healthier job market than before – Germans are lost in raging debates about disillusionment with politics and democracy, deep social insecurity and other supposed anxieties of the zeitgeist.

Story continues below…

The country's mood is fundamentally anti-cyclical. But we already know that from other concerns. While life expectancy rises every year, so does anxiety about chemicals in food, healthy diets and fitness. Will Germans ever be relaxed and satisfied? Apparently that's the last thing we’d want.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

14:01 November 18, 2010 by mrsams
Ja, it's very obvious.
16:56 November 18, 2010 by deutschamer
Its not so much as they are jealous of Germany as they are being dogmatic about implimenting Keynesian economic principles vs von Hayek economic principles.

When Germany's response to the financial crisis was austerity, they were chided by the US who believed the economies needed to be stimulated with cash.

It appears Germany's approach was more successful than the US. Now most of the world seems to get it, including the US's economic kid brother, the UK.

So its like they are in a state of denial against the facts. The US became drunk on free money, i.e. money the US gets because the US dollar is the global reserve currency. Now the US Fed (central bank) is creating more money to spew into the economy by buying US treasury bonds.

The US's attitude now is "OK, we spent money like drunken sailors for years buying Chinese and German products, now its your turn to spend like drunken sailors so that we can export more." To me that's morally reprehensible, especially when it comes to Germany, an already developed nation. To ask people to consume when they are already have all they want is just conspicuous consumption.

China will eventually consume much much more. They have a large population in poverty that will eventually be coming out of poverty and consuming more.

But if a developed nation wants to export more, they need to become more competitive. Thats it. Don't try to force well developed nations to consume more. If your products are competitive, they will consume your products.
18:09 November 18, 2010 by catjones
Sometimes (many times) the comparisons are between apples and beagles. Programs that work in one country are not an elixir for another country and to suggest 'envy' as the reaction is baseless and not useful. Critics always have the correct answers to complex problems....they never seem to be in a position to impose their solutions.....and we never seem to run out of omniscient critics.

My guess is that Germany did what it felt best for its country and cared little for the effect it's actions might have on other countries. I'd guess again that the U.S. did the same. Oh, and France too. And Ireland.
18:58 November 18, 2010 by michael4096

The article is not talking about "running into one angry american". It is saying that us principals are talking about trade sanctions. If Timothy Geithner cannot speak for the us, he should not be in the position he is. If he can speak for the us, he should be clear and say that the us doesn't believe in free trade - at least, not unless the us is the clear beneficiary.


The figures you point to show only that, apart from a in few distorted (oil, tax haven..) economies, you can buy more hamburgers on a 10k salary in the us that in europe and australia etc. - and more there than in the rest of the world. So what?
07:45 November 19, 2010 by ushany.jasmin.balder
I've been living in Berlin the past year, and this nation is nothing but being on time and getting done what they need to get done. Nothing here ever goes wrong, unless it an extreme case. So success is normal, but i believe at some point this country needs to kick back and enjoy what they have built. Seriously, sometimes i wonder when the Germans people will ever give themselves a break!!
09:34 November 19, 2010 by frankiep
The far left Democrats in the U.S., the Linke Partei, and leftists everywhere base their entire philosophy on one thing and one thing only: ENVY. If someone else is successful then 'it's not fair'. If someone else earns more through hard work, innovation, intelligence, etc., then 'it's not fair'. If what we are doing is counterproductive and harmful, and what you are doing is sound and sustainable, then 'it's not fair, and you need to be forced to stop doing so well'.

It's a sickening mentality which has the tendency to spread like a virus. However, never in a million years would I have thought that the U.S. would succumb to this left wing virus in such a way, and that Germans would be the ones who are standing firm against it.
11:52 November 19, 2010 by mixxim
Of course we in Britain are jealous - no Dirndls and no Bratwurst stalls - we don't even have a motor industry....
15:04 November 19, 2010 by VMan
First, nobody is jealous of Germany. I work with loads of Germans and they all complain. Maybe on the top for companies Germany is moving good with profits but for the average german worker it is still hard with the salary versus paying for rent, food, clothing, entertainment, etc...After taxes, Germans just don't have the buying power on goods. They are engulfed in Tax after Tax. Get real...The economy may be good but the average here is taking a beatdown. I can easily go back to Texas and live on my Military retiree pension and disability without working. With that I would live very good. But here I have to work so I decided to work as a civilian for the Army.
15:39 November 19, 2010 by derExDeutsche
Just because Germany looks good RIGHT NOW, does not mean that it always has and always will. And, just because Germany is at the Top of the food chain, does not mean the Recession is over. The Euro is not out of the woods quite yet. And Taxes are sure to become the Big earners undoing. Taking 2nd Place in an Ugly Contest does not make you Beautiful, Germany.

In fact, this article feels a little like watching an Oma on the train with her Grandchild. While she is telling him how handsome he is, you're kinda ready to vomit because he's got a green boogie hangin' out of his nose.
16:53 November 19, 2010 by sebastian2010
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has suggested that Germany¦#39;s trade surplus be capped???????? What ever happend to capitalism USA???? Tim would never say this about the USA
20:31 November 19, 2010 by DinhoPilot
Hehehehe.... Americans don't like to loose.. get over it people and get back to work.


I do agree that although germany economy is good the workers don't have the opportunity to feel the effects contrary to what happens in USA (if ever the US economy was good..)
23:52 November 19, 2010 by cheerios
I'm not German but I'm proud of this country. I'm proud of the government taking the right steps that have proven to aid in the country's recovery faster than other countries' measures.

Its true that things are more expensive here, but I work in a school where the Arbeitsamt (unemployment agency) sends unemployed people to our school for training courses. And the number of people sent to our school has gone down significantly with a higher proportion of my students getting jobs in the time that they were undergoing their course.

So its true that employment situation is improving a lot. YAY to the German government for being wise and doing what needs to be done...

And I do agree that this is something other countries can be jealous about!
03:13 November 21, 2010 by DOZ
Same in Canada. Calls to stop Imports of Quality products, especially from the Auto Unions. Canada and the USA have spent the last 50 years letting their Intelligence Level drop to nothing, and have to import Superior Technology from Germany and Japan. Canada would be in the Toilet if it wasn't for it's massive Raw Material Wealth. I see Canada signed a Free-Trade Agreement with Germany. Send Canadian dirt to Germany, and Germany sends well engineered products to Canada, and Canadians complain that their Manufacturing Base is shrinking. Way to go Germany, glad to see you didn't adopt everything from the West.
16:28 November 21, 2010 by katatinka
Congratulations, Germany. And please don't put all Americans under the Obama umbrella. Can't believe he goes abroad and WHINES. But that is all Loony Lefties know how to do.
21:17 November 24, 2010 by tianju
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
09:36 November 26, 2010 by freechoice
what is there to be jealous about?

countries like Ireland and Portugal are humbling EU down and keeping them with reality check.

US and EU are broke. That's a bright future for both bickering continents..
09:57 November 28, 2010 by MonkeyMania
Germany is doing well because it is benefiting at the weakening Euro whilst other EU countries are struggling because of Germany's tactics to weaken the Euro. Being an export based economy in contrast to the rest of the Eurozone, Germany is at odds with what is good for Germany and what is good for the rest of the Eurozone. And to top it off, Germany will make a profit out of Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal's misery. Charging Ireland 6.7% interest repayments when they didn't want the bailout in the first place? All so as to protect the nice weakening Euro which is helping Germany's exports. Who is really bailing who out. The rest of the Eurozone has been bailing Germany out and paying for it.
19:34 November 29, 2010 by catjones
'Excuse me, Greece and Ireland, I believe Spain is at the door'. If this keeps up 'jealous' is not the word we'll have for DL.
08:05 December 3, 2010 by Nobby_T.
US will never ever ever go bankrupt. Just the dollar will become worth less around the world, and then worth less to the population at home. So they might get poorer, but will never go bust.

But the ?uro could go up in smoke :-)

Umm and yes the US will go bankrupt, they are already, many many times over, you can't fix something with throwing money at it ... but the Americans will never ever learn ...

America, you are the weakest link, Goodbye!
20:43 December 4, 2010 by wxman
Normally the US would not be jealous of any other nation, but with Zero a prez, we're jealous of almost everybody.
12:28 December 8, 2010 by Legal E
It is because the US can not bully Germany, they try but fail. Germans never satisfied? Well that is common business sense. As soon as you get complacent you loose the edge and start to loose.

But as a speaker at INSEAD said, do not write off the UK as well. "We will consolidate, consolidate and consolidate then bounce back. " But I will stay in Germany for the time being thank-you. UK expat.
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