The German election problem

What’s worse than flat soda? Germany would do well to ponder this question for a spell, given the comatose state of its economic and political affairs. Indeed, it is convenient to chastise the German populace for negligence in having allowed Gerhard Schroder to see the light of a second term, but the alternative was hardly more appealing.

Granted, Edmund Stoiber is a shade less of a socialist than Schroder, and would perhaps have the foresight to choose a justice minister not prone to draw comparisons between Hitler and the leader of the free world. However, the fact of the matter remains: the ideological differences between Stoiber’s Christian Democrats and Schroder’s Social Democrats are as substantial as Milli Vanilli lyrics. This condition has, of late, stifled the German economy as well as the German spirit: over the last eight years, the German economy has grown at a slower rate than that of any other wealthy nation in the world, with the exception of Japan. Moreover, the German bureaucracy has ballooned to an insupportable size – employing one out of every fourteen adults – and the social security structure is nothing short of economically untenable, making the problems of our own system pale in comparison.

Now, history has forcibly and repeatedly made it plain that an armed and fully autonomous Germany, fueled by excessive levels of the aforementioned German spirit, is a dangerous thing, and will, left to its own devices, upset the European equilibrium. No argument. It is however, irrational to believe that a languishing, semi-socialized Germany, in which incentives are minimized and apathy reigns supreme, is the necessary alternative. After all, the entirety of continental Europe, not to mention the European Union, hinges on the performance of the German economy, as symbolized by the Hamburg headquarters of the European Central Bank. An injection of “reformist” libertarianism is mandatory if Europe’s largest economy is to regain its predominance, but – and this is the central question – is there an established leader willing to advance such an agenda, with the inherent risks of doing so? What’s more, are German citizens able and willing to commit themselves to policies calculated to reduce the existing welfare state, and to an ideology that deviates from the extreme brand of leftism that currently prevails?

 In the second year of his first term, Schroder largely abandoned his political opportunism (the opposition suffering from a financial scandal) and made several commendable, if slight, gestures in the direction of liberalization. Measures were taken to reduce taxes, and the populace was actually persuaded to invest in private pension funds in place of the obsolete social security behemoth (Washington, take note). In 2000, however, with the election at hand and the economy doing marginally better, Schroder returned to the “corporatism and consensus that, though they served Germany well after the war, now seem unable to provide it with pep” (Economist, Sept. 21). Ironically, this staid and politically calculated approach disillusioned the German citizenry and nearly cost him the election. A flash of genuine leadership in the wake of the summer floods, coupled with an all out assault on US intentions to wage war with Iraq, sufficiently exploited the idealistic predilection of German voters, especially the Greens, to secure Schroder a second term.

 At what cost? In yet another exhibition of immoderation, Schröder went so far as to refuse to support even a UN sponsored war with Iraq. If such foolishness is indicative of the new “German way” in which Schroder intends to direct foreign policy, Germany has a bumpy road ahead. At a NATO meeting held in Warsaw, Secretary Rumsfeld refused to meet with his German equivalent, no doubt as a sign that the president is very much displeased with Schroder’s indiscriminant US-policy-bashing rhetoric. Perhaps Mr. Schroder and his countrymen should consider pointing their formidable critical capabilities inwards. Rather than beat the drum of pacificism unconditionally, rather than worry endlessly and extraneously about US environmental policy, rather than gripe about Bush’s skeptical view of the International Criminal Court, perhaps Germany should, dare I suggest, focus its energies upon more pressing domestic problems. It needn’t compromise its most valuable foreign policy ties simply for the sake of, well. . .acting unilaterally. Unilateralism is the prerogative of a hegemonic power, and is justified (even preemptively) when the security of said power and its allies is in question. But Germany has only one power dynamic to worry about: regaining its logical place as the undisputed economic center of the European Union. Such a task is formidable enough in light of the reality of German efficiency (or lack thereof).