A well-done description of the current – September 2021 – situation in Germany. By the economist. Using the German automobile industry as a window into the wider challenges to the German economy and to German society.
It’s bottom-line question is whether the German people are capable of responding to the challenges of today and the near future.
Oliver Nachtwey – Professor of Sociology at the University of Basel in Switzerland – and a sharp-eyed observer of German politics wrote this guest essay in the New York Times the day after the September 26, 2021 federal elections in Germany:
“It could have been a fresh start. In the face of a number of pressing challenges, rising inequality, run-down infrastructure and spiraling climate change among them, the election was a chance for the country to chart a better, more equal course for the 21st century. Instead, Germany is stuck. Ms. Merkel may be leaving. Yet the Germany she cultivated — careful, cautious, averse to major change — will carry on as before.
The campaign gave us early clues. Typically, candidates for the highest political office seek to distance themselves as much as possible from incumbents, to demonstrate the superiority of their vision for the country. But in Germany, the main candidates vied to imitate Ms. Merkel’s centrist political style. It delivered four successive electoral victories, after all.”
An American woman. Married to a German man. About how her husband, and his friends, are enthusiastic about insurance. And about how shocked they were to hear that she, and her American friends, never even heard of such kinds of insurance.
Warning ! This woman is a youtuber. And an American on top. So, she is more than a bit animated. And frankly, she could have made her points in about two minutes instead of seven and a half.
The Handelsblatt Global Edition from April 23, 2015 reported: Philipp Gloeckler’s business idea was a failure, and he doesn’t mind admitting it. He had what he thought was the perfect concept, an impeccable business plan and great press coverage. Yet, his app, Whyownit, was a disaster.
This is how he found himself at the F***UpNight event in Berlin, a get-together where failed start-up entrepreneurs pick through the bones of their mistakes in the hope that they can do better next time.
“Business failure is often equated to personal failure in this country,” said Rolf Sternberg, a researcher at Leibniz University in Hanover, who recently co-authored a study on young entrepreneurs. “We would win a lot if we would accept failure as a new chance,” he added.
Other than SAP, the software giant founded in 1972, no German tech company has made it onto the global stage. Instead German entrepreneurs are better known for their pursuit of perfection, and finding success within established structures, such as the car industry.
“I am convinced we need to talk about mistakes,” said Béa Beste, whose toy app, which allowed users to subscribe to a toy delivery service for kids, collapsed with the loss of all her investor’s capital as well as her own €300,000 ($322,000). “The worst mistake is being afraid of mistakes,” Ms. Beste said.
Venture capital is scarce in Germany’s risk-averse, conservative economy, so entrepreneurs usually turn to bank loans for funding. But if their business fails and debts are called in, they must go through a lengthy insolvency process which can demand up to six years of “good conduct” before the slate is wiped clean.
The appreciation that Germans have for individual competence and their aversion towards incalculable risks sometimes set the condition of a certain degree of caution used when working with innovations.
Therefore, it fits the bill that German companies always approach the execution of updates and improvements in a cautious and well thought-out manner. All of the pros and cons must be carefully weighed, and all influential factors taken into consideration before a critical decision is made.
In this case, a qualified expert will often be called in to assist. “Professional quality management is often the condition for the commissioning of tasks. This is often bound together with unnecessary effort, especially in the case of small businesses; often the incorporation of external consultants is better”, explained an expert from the Chamber of Crafts in an article.
And so there exist a plethora of external experts, consultants, institutions, and established norms for German business owners to turn to in case they should lose perspective in the tangle of modern innovation.
These exist to help to make well-founded and analytically grounded decisions. It has even developed into its own field of study at many technical and business colleges: studies to the systematic approach of solving problems and to the development of complete solutions have begun to fill textbooks and lesson plans.
These approaches help to calculate multiple types of risk in advance, thereby countering the deeply rooted nervousness that comes together with risks and unforeseen situations.
German investors have a safety first mentality when it comes to money. Their aversion to risk is often attributed to the economic turmoil of the 20th century. The hyperinflation of the 1920s and the devastation of two world wars have burned themselves into the nation’s psyche.
Since early 2009, the share prices of DAX-listed companies have tripled on average — an increase of €800 billion, or $860 billion. Germans park their money in safe investments like savings deposits or life insurance policies.
54.3 percent of shares in the DAX are held by foreign investors — more than ever before. U.S. investors are the biggest single group of foreign investors. Every fifth DAX share is owned by North American investors.
In February 2015 Christian Lindner, the head of the Free Democatic Party (FDP), gave a speech in Dusseldorf, the capital of the German state Northrhine Westphalia.
“Entrepreneurship is a signal of confidence in a culture’s future. When people start new companies, they are not only creating a better future for themselves, they’re creating jobs for others.”
Hardly into his speech a state representative from the ruling Social Democrats (SPD) called out smugly that Lindner, indeed, had had personal experience with startups.
Lindner pounced on the opportunity. “Aha, look here. You say that I have experience. It is true, dear colleague. During the highpoint of the new economy I founded a company. It was not successful. But the leader of your party, the premier of this great state, in her speech today stated clearly that Germans should not stigmatize those whose startups fail.”
Lindner continued: “There you have it, in your own caucaus, Madame Premier, a colleague who doesn’t listen to you. This is exactly one of the reasons why so many people prefer to work as civil servants, instead of starting a company. For if they are successful then you Social Democrats want to tax and reallocate their profits. And if they are not successful, then they are derided.”
Auf YouTube wurde die Rede bereits millionenfach angeklickt. In DIE ZEIT vom 19. Februar 2015 schreibt Feliks Eyser, ein Gründer, der im zweiten Anlauf erfolgreich war, in einem Artikel mit dem Titel „Wer wagt, verliert“:
Within hours the speech was uploaded to YouTube and clicked on over a million times. A week later DIE ZEIT, a respected political weekly, published an article by Feliks Eyser, whose first startup failed but whose second succeeded.
The article’s title was „Wer wagt, verliert“ – those who risk, fail. This is the opposite of the well-known German figure of speech “Wer wagt, gewinnt” – those who risk, win.
“Failure is a part of entrepreneurship just like sore muscles are a part of sports. Those who start a company run the risk of failure. Courage is essential. Perhaps more people in this country would have that courage if a busines failure were not seen as human failure.”
Interestingly, Eyser wrote scheitern not seen as versagen. Both terms translate into failure. Could this mean that Germans see in failure human or personal failure?
Germans love insurance policies. According to the magazine Stern, the average German household paid an average of 2,771 EUR annually for private insurances in 2002, 106 EUR more than in the previous year. They are clearly willing to spend on their security.
However, the avoidance of risks in this way is often not rational. According to Stern, every other German is insured for legal representation, yet only one in ten have disability insurance. Statistically, however, one out of four people will be unable to work for an extended period of time during their lifetime due to illness or an accident.
The investment counseling agency KSK-Südholstein makes a similar attest: “Germans love to be rooted and secure. That is why they are so keen on insurances. For this reason, there is an incredible variety of insurances available on the German insurance market.
Amongst these policies you will find some which are sensible, and others which really are not, because not every value must be insured. Much to the dismay of experts, there is a tendency in Germany to insure small amounts of damage with high initial ventures.”
A willingness to take risks and a desire to make decisions are the basic requirements for starting a business. Germany is not a land of entrepreneurs.
According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), an annual joint publication of the University of Hannover and the Institute for Jobmarket and Career Research of the German Federal Agency for Employment, only 2.5% of adults in Germany started a business which they could live from. This placed Germany in spot 10 of the 22 compared.
Rolf Sternberg, an economist, considers one reason for the weak culture of entrepreneurship to be the widespread desire toward security:
“The tendency to strive towards security is much more prevalent in Germany than in Anglo-American countries”. This is the flipside of having a well-developed social security system.
Yvonne Stolpmann of Chamber of Commerce in Nürnberg summarizes the situation as such: “Those who give up a permanent position here stand to lose a lot of security. It’s different in the USA”.
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