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.
Germans and Americans make decisions in totally different ways, which often leads to clashes. In his second piece in a series, John Otto Magee, an American living in Germany who advises companies in cross-cultural management, explains the dilemma.
Germans think systematically. They formulate their understanding of a decision to be made in a very broad and interconnected context. Therefore Germans do not always consider it helpful to take complexity and, as Americans say, “break it down” into its component parts. They aim to do the opposite, to see particulars in their interrelationships. They look for patterns, strive to understand complexity as a whole, as a system.
Mark Shields is a long-time political journalist. He has had a nationally-sydicated column for decades, and is well known from his weekly analysis with David Brooks – a New York Times columnist – on the PBS NewsHour. Listen to minutes 7:28 to 9:25.
Tiled Stoves: in apartments and homes, to burn coal, in order to produce heat.
Use resources respectfully, protect the environment. I recall the debates in Germany years ago about recycling. At that time the Social Democrats and the Greens were in power. Jürgen Trittin was Umweltminister, literally Secretary of the Environment.
German business was against any recycling laws. It’s been reality for years now, though. How could there have been a debate at all? Quite the contrary. Protecting the environment should be foundational to the politics of the Christian Democratic Party in Germany (CDU). They and their sister party in Bavaria (CSU – Christian Social Union) were clearly on the wrong side of that debate.
I’ll never forget the smell of coal back then in West Berlin. Late Fall of 1988. I live in a boathouse in Konradshöhe, on the Havel River, on the other side the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, German Democratic Republic). No wall between, just the river. On the other side a strange stillness. Just a road along the bank and streetlights giving off a weak, halfhearted yellow-orange glow. Evenings and mornings the smell was strong. A weird feel to it, somehow historical.
My girlfriend then lived in the Schöneberg section of West Berlin. On the fifth or sixth floor of an apartment house built in the early 1900s. Back then I was reading Sebastian Haffner’s Deutsche Revolution 1918. Dry cold days in Berlin, the smell of coal smoke from the houses ever-present, Rosa Luxemburg murdered and thrown into the Spree River, Stahlhelm, Rätherrepublik in Munich. I think of my grandmother who back then was eighteen years old and living in Cincinnati.
I imagine what Berlin was like in 1918 and 1919. I, the grandson and great-grandson of coal merchants in Philadelphia. Our great-grandfather, Alexander Magee, started out with a horse-pulled wagon, going from house to house. Years later his sons, Frank and Alex, would join the business. I see the images in my mind’s eye. The coalyard in the Kensington section of Philadelphia located right next to the train line.
The coal was delivered from Northeast Pennsylvania. The Allegheny Mountains cut through the state from the northeast to the southwest, continuing into West Virginia. The business grows a bit, two trucks, a handful of employees. They’re not wealthy, will never become so. They pay the bills and have more than enough left over.
After the Second World War they convert to oil. Magee Coal & Oil. During my father’s freshman year at Amherst College in Massachusetts his father dies of a heart attack. His younger brother, Ken, uncle to my father, takes over the business. My father does not go into the heating fuel business, instead becoming a business consultant.
We six children of Frank and Laura Magee growing up in suburban Philadelphia have no connection to Magee Coal & Oil. But the constant coal odor in Berlin during those winter months of 1988-89, the dirt in my nose, cleaning it out a few times a day, brought me back into contact with the days when my recent ancestors lived from coal. And today? I, management consultant, put food on the table by supporting those who build coal-fired power plants.
Use resources respectfully, protect the environment, yes, the Germans do that better than the Americans. The war ended more than seventy years ago, but those experiences continue to inform and form us. During a long walk through Bonn with my son I try to describe to him what the town looked like in 1945. I repeat the stories of his German great-grandmother – my ex-wife’s grandmother. And why we are taking a walking and not driving tour by car or bus. Besides, walking is healthy.
Systematic thinking is the foundation of all research. Germany has produced many great thinkers in the natural and social sciences. They are best known for their systematic approach.
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was the daughter of German nobility, but decided at an early age to join the Benedictine nuns. She went on to become one of the best educated and wisest of her era, advising secular and religious leaders throughout Europe. Hildegard’s fields of expertise ranged from theology to medicine, music, ethics and cosmology. Her discoveries and insights in the area of plant-based medicines are referred to today.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of the leading philosophers of the Enlightenment Age. His Kritik der reinen Vernunft is considered to be the starting point of modern philosophy, creating a new, systematic approach to inquiry. Kant addressed not only the theory of knowledge, but also ethics and aesthetics, the philosophy of religion, law and history, as well as astronomy and the geosciences.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe(1749-1832) is considered to this day to be the greatest of all German writers. His work encompassed, however, also the natural sciences including botany, optics and the philosophy of color – Farbenlehre.
Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was a Prussian General and military theorist. His VomKriege (On War) a systematic approach to strategy, tactics and the philosophy of war, became the foundation of military thinking in all Western nations. Clausewitz’ writings went beyond how wars are won to address the overall nature and meaning of war in the modern world.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) is renowned as a philosopher, political economist and social critic. Together with Friedrich Engels, Marx analyzed during the height of the industrial revolution the mutual influences and interactions between a society‘s consciousness and its economic system. Although Marxism has proven to fail in practice, it led to what many would consider significant social progress in public education, health care, social legislation. Marx’ writings contributed to the creation of labor unions.
Max Weber (1864-1920) was a German sociologist, legal scholar, and political economist. He is considered a founding father of modern sociology. Weber’s theories influenced greatly the so-called specialty areas of sociology: economics, religion, political power structures.
Karl Rahner (1904-1984) is considered to be the most influential Catholic theologian since Thomas Aquinas. His work opened up Catholic theology to a new and deeper understanding of faith. Rahner’s thinking influenced greatly the Second Vatical Council. Inspired by his studies under Martin Heidegger, Rahner synthesized Catholic theology with the philosophies of the modern era.
Engineering in Germany is prestigious. As a field of study it ranks among the most respected. Germany‘s economy, its sophisticated technical products, rely on an abundance of first-class engineers. More than 20% of all first-year university students major in a technical field.
No other European country has a higher percentage of engineers among the workforce than Germany. Nonetheless, industry and the media constantly warn of decreasing numbers of Germans willing to enter the engineering profession.
In order to attract more women to the engineering sciences, German schools and universities organize so-called Girls Day, hoping to fascinate young women with the prospects of a technical career. Engineers begin their careers with a yearly salary of roughly 45,000 Euros. Graduates in the humanities, in contrast, earn about 31,000 Euros per year.
Revisiting: A term used by Americans to describe the act of questioning a decision made by senior-level management after much time and effort had been invested. Such decisions are typically of strategic nature.
Americans consider „revisiting as decision“ as hindering, slowing down or blocking their implementation, and thus a threat to overall success. There is low tolerance in the American business for the tactical level revisiting decisions made at the strategic level.
Empowerment: To give official authority or legal power to; to enable; to promote the self-actualization or influence. First known use 1648.
The term empowerment has become popular in the American business context, signaling a desire, perhaps also need, for management to be less involved in the tactical execution of their decisions.
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