September 28, 2004

Amerikanische Verhaltnisse

Travelling. Sorry I've been AWOL (and no, I didn't take the physical). In lieu of writing, let me share (steal) a WSJ Editorial:Das Cowboy Kapital

Why has America's economy grown 55% faster than Germany's over the past 25 years? The Germans think they know. Americans suffer cruel inequality. They work three "McJobs" just to survive. They take on more and more debt to maintain their standard of living. Washington hides the true state of unemployment by locking up millions in jail. And forget about getting decent health care.

Right-thinking Germans even have a derogatory term, Amerikanische Verhaltnisse -- literally, American conditions -- as a shorthand for the social catastrophe they believe would result if they were ever to tackle the real cause of their slow growth: a notoriously rigid labor market. This view is so monolithic that the conservative leader Edmund Stoiber is on record saying, "We do not want Amerikanische Verhaltnisse in Germany."

So imagine the Sturm und Drang when a German author, Olaf Gersemann, came along earlier this year and exploded all these myths. The title of his book hardly needs translation: "Amerikanische Verhaltnisse: Die falsche Angst der Deutschen vor dem Cowboy-Kapitalismus." On each score where Europeans think their system is superior, the Washington correspondent for Germany's largest business weekly shows that the Americans have actually pulled ahead.

The book is coming out in English, thanks to the folks at the Cato Institute. And just in time, too. It strikes us that many of the German complaints about America's free-market capitalism have found their way into the press releases coming out of the Kerry campaign. Democrats might ponder the German lesson that the costs of the welfare state lead to the very poverty and inequality it is supposed to cure. But as Mr. Gersemann's battle to convince his countrymen shows, self-delusion is not easily overcome.

Posted by jk at September 28, 2004 07:41 AM
Comments

Ahhh, Germany - the land of philosphers and poets.

Philosophers like, Kant, Marx, Hegel...

Consider this excerpt from chapter 14-America Reverses Direction, from 'The Ominous Parallels' by Leonard Peikoff:

"America, as conceived by the Founding Fathers, lasted about a century.

There were contradictions—government controls of various kinds—from the beginning; but for a century the controls were a marginal element. The dominant policy, endorsed by most of the country's thinkers, was individualism and economic laissez-faire.

The turning point was the massive importation of German philosophy in the period after the Civil War. The first consequence, increasingly manifest in the postwar decades, was the proliferation of statist movements in this country. The new statists included economists who adopted the "organic" collectivism of the German historical school, sociologists and historians who interpreted Darwin according to the social ideas of Hegel (the "reform" Darwinists), clergymen who interpreted Jesus according to the moral ideas of Kant (the Social Gospelers), single-taxers who followed Henry George, Utopians who followed Edward Bellamy, revolutionaries who followed Marx and Engels, "humanitarians" who followed Comte and the later John Stuart Mill, pragmatists who followed William James and the early John Dewey.

In essence, it was a single, growing trend, which by the turn of the century had mushroomed into a national crusade of the avant-garde intellectuals. The American system, the crusaders said, is morally wrong; it must be "reformed" in accordance with a nobler vision of life. Novelist William Dean Howells offered a name for the new vision. "Altruria," he called the ideal society in his Utopian novel of 1894—the land of altruism.

The first target of the reformists' campaign was business, which, it was claimed, had too much power. The authors of this claim made no attempt to discover what part of such power derived from the operation of free-market factors, and what part from the growing policy of special government favors to certain business interests (favors such as subsidies, protective tariffs, and monopolistic franchises). The reformists did not believe that any such analysis was necessary. They knew what was right and wrong, and that business by its nature was wrong; they knew it from God or from feeling. "Christianity means cooperation and the uplifting of the lowliest,'' stated one Social Gospeler; "business means competition and the survival of the strongest." The reformists also knew that there was only one sure method by which to implement their code of right and wrong. "Private self-interest," explained the new economists, "is too powerful, or too ignorant, or too immoral to promote the common good without compulsion.""

Don't get me wrong - I love Germany. I just don't like their ethics of self-sacrifice.

Thanks for the excerpt JK. I'm looking forward to the book so I can see what the author says about "Cowboy-Kapitalismus," two of my favorite ideals rolled up into one!

Posted by: johngalt at September 28, 2004 08:41 AM

People seem to want to import this system of government. Just keep on pointing out that it doesn't work! Percent of change of GDP is such an arcane yawn inducer to most people but it defines happiness.

Posted by: jk at September 28, 2004 09:09 AM
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