Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Loss of the UK: The Germans

Germany has been France’s sidekick in converting the EU from a free trade area into a centralized nanny state. To many Americans, Germany is an ungrateful ally-turned-adversary that proliferates its core competencies (poison gas, rockets and submarines) to America’s enemies.

This post is one of a series explaining to Americans the planned EU absorption of the UK. Prior posts cover the impact of this on the US, and thumbnail sketches of the UK and France; this is the one on the Germans.

First the disclosures. Our best friends live in Germany and I’ve had good relationships with 4 German companies.

Next, the statistics. Germany scores OK on economic freedom, coming in 18th, not too far behind the US (13th), but well behind the UK (7th) – and way ahead of the French (44th). Their government is honest - Germany comes 15th in the global corruption table, ahead of the US (17th) & not much behind the UK (11th). That’s because they are a High Trust society. Which means they are federated, they have a good mix of big companies and smaller ones & and the state stays out of business.

The Rap Sheet

Here are Germany's troubling behaviors - they're systemic, having occurred under both left- and right-wing governments.

1. Subservience. Since 1970, they've followed the lead of France, their statist polar opposite, surrendering their democracy, their currency, and their sovereignty to a clique of corrupt Belgian-Portuguese-Greek-French-etc bureaucrats.

2. Poison Gas Supplier to Libya. Starting 1980, they set up Qaddafi with a complete poison gas plant, which could have been used to slaughter Israelis.

3. Rocket Vendor to Iraq. In the1980s, German companies enhanced the killing power of Saddam Hussein’s Scuds. During the Gulf War, shot-down warheads showered Tel Aviv with German-made components. Absent the Patriot defenses, there would have been a lot of dead Israelis.

4. Submarine Vendor to China. Recently, in breach of the arms embargo, Germany supplied China with very quiet diesel engines for their hunter-killer subs designed to sink US aircraft carriers. And are now politicking with the French to get EU endorsement to lift the arms embargo permanently.

5. Backstabbers. Tearing up their alliance with the US and the UK in support of the status quo, preferring "stability" to trying to spread "freedom."

Now the disclaimer: this is about German public policy - many Germans are intelligent and active supporters of the US.

Here are my three bullet points for Germany: Traumatized, Faltering, Romantics.

Traumatized

If France is a bullied teenager, Germany is a survivor of a really bad car accident. If you’ve had this misfortune, or know someone who has, you’ll know it makes you desperate to eliminate risk from your life, becoming:

1. Obsessively careful and precise.
2. Change-averse
3. Risk-averse
4. Violence-averse.
5. Self-absorbed.

The "road accident" happened because Germany is in a really rough neighborhood, and Germans have been being slaughtered for centuries – and escaping to America since 1670. In the US, German immigrants’ response to the horrors at home has been resolute pacifism – they refused to fight in either the Revolutionary or Civil Wars. So one way for an American to view Germans is to think Amish and Mennonite - not storm troopers.

Modern Germans live with the legacy of two disastrous 20th century wars. That Germany started them is irrelevant – the Germans who did that aren't around any more. But the cultural impact of defeat and occupation remains. The Brits starved them in WW1, and afterwords their society all but collapsed, with armed gangs roaming the countryside. In WW2, their cities were destroyed and millions of civilians were killed or displaced. Then they were occupied for years, which even under the Western powers meant daily indignities. And all through the Cold War they faced the likelihood of nuclear war being fought on their territory.

So now, all they want is normalcy and control. Nobody crosses the road against a red light, the streets are pristine, every meeting starts on time, every housing plot is neat and tidy, everything is just so and nothing is risked. And that carefulness enabled them to become a pre-eminent Industrial Economy with first class infrastructure – good roads, trains, trams, phone system.

The downside is that Germany is resolutely pacifist. During the Cold War the US just conscripted them as “Allies”, but underneath they stayed pacifist.

Faltering

Their coming back from disaster after WW2 counts as one of the major human achievements of the 20th century. The US (and Brits!) funded this via the Marshall Plan, but it was Germans that rebuilt their nation from the rubble. Then, with their successful Industrial Economy came rigidity and a high cost structure. The WSJ reports (subscription required):

February's jobless rate of 12.6% reflects a host of competitive ills that has left Germany unable to hold its own in a world being shaped by a newly reconfigured Europe, an ascendant China and a highly adaptive American economy.

Their economy sputters - GDP grew at 1.4% a year from 1992 to 2002 - and has since been flat.

Unless Germany quickly changes course, it faces inevitable decline in economic power and its role in the world.


Contrast the 1.4% GNP growth with the Brit average of about 3% and you can see why the Brits have overtaken them in GNP per capita.



GNP

To complete their woes, in common with many other EU countries, Germans have not been having enough children. And emigration has risen by 30% in the past few years, to 127,000 in 2003. In 2003. their population shrank for the first time since WW2.

The Bits had the same economic problems in the 70s, but re-invented themselves after having a good war to cheer themselves up. Up to now, the Germans have not approached consensus for the wrenching changes they need to reinvent themselves.

Romantics

Contrary to many stereotypes, Germans are artistic and romantic. Their cities are full of concert halls, theaters, and art galleries.

By romantic, I mean “imaginative but impractical”. You see it in their architecture, dress and above all politics. At the personal level, this adds a style to German life which is missing from Anglo societies. But politically it’s a liability, since it causes the Germans not to think through the consequences of their actions.

Conclusion

Here’s how I explain the Rap Sheet for these Traumatized, Faltering Romantics.

1. Subservience to France. Traumatized romanticism – think scared Barney the Dinosaur whimpering “I love you, you love me”.

2. Poison Gas Supplier to Libya. Trauma victim’s self-centered commercialism, combined with a romantic refusal to see that getting the Israelis pissed at you is not a great game plan.

3. Rocket Vendor to Iraq. Same as Poison Gas, but getting the US pissed as well.

4. Submarine Vendor to China. Romantic commercialism again - they see themselves helping China to grow into a peaceful world power. They have not thought through the American reaction to German complicity in the loss of 5,500 of its fighting men & women.

5. Backstabbers. Pure trauma victim – they don’t think American sufferings are in the same league as their own, and fear the risk of a Muslim backlash against America’s draining the terrorist swamp.

So, where does that leave us? I hope agreeing that Germans are not bad, but instead stick-in-the-mud pacifists like their Amish brothers. Instead of getting mad at them, Americans should write them out of the plot, since they will neither help nor threaten anyone.

That's assuming we cure them of that darned proliferation...