October 12, 2005


Many Germans see a lost opportunity *Richard Bernstein and Mark Landler, 10/12/05, The New York Times)

For many German businessmen, and for many others in this country, Merkel's failure to win her own majority and to govern on her own is seen as a missed opportunity of historic dimensions.

The hope of these people was that Merkel would make changes in at least one or two of several areas - reducing the power of the unions, loosening job-protection laws and lowering Germany's nonwage labor costs, which are among the world's highest - any one of which would, they believe, go a long way toward restoring Germany's competitive position in the global economy.

"Merkel needs to speak honestly to the German people," Pfeiffer said. "She needs to tell them, 'Either we have to work longer hours for the same pay, or, if we stick to a 35-hour week, we have to lower wages.'"

But now, many people here, including what seem to be a majority of commentators and political analysts, believe that small reforms rather than big ones are probably the most that can be expected of the coalition government that, presumably, will be officially formed in the next several weeks.

And the reasons for that go well beyond the constricting factor of operating within a coalition of political rivals with competing policies. They have to do as well with the very nature of Germany's traditions and the powerful public attachment to the notion of big government as the guarantor of personal security, an attachment that goes well beyond Germany to numerous other countries in Europe, from France to Scandinavia to Austria.

"In my opinion, this is the main cleavage in the West," Claus Leggewie, a professor of political science at Giessen University, said in an interview, referring to the difference between the American and British belief in the beneficial operation of a relatively unrestricted market and the Continental European reliance on the state.

"There is always this ongoing yearning for security and the belief that security cannot be given by the market economy," Leggewie continued. "It can only be given by the state." In this sense, in declining to give a majority to Merkel, and in a sense forcing her into a coalition with the Social Democrats, Germany's voters acted pretty much in accordance with tradition.

Whereas the Anglosphere, with the exception of Canada, tilts in favor of greater freedom instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 12, 2005 8:25 AM

Western Canada excepted of course.

Posted by: Flip at October 12, 2005 12:16 PM