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The Therapy Sessions
Thursday, February 10, 2005

The sinking German ship

From an article in the WSJ (subscribers only) via a friend:
Willkommen to Hobbitland

February 10, 2005

In a recent television survey, Germans chose the epic "Lord of the Rings" as their favorite book. In so doing, they were paying homage not only to J.R.R. Tolkien's literary abilities but apparently also to their own emotional state. A large portion of German society would prefer to live in the hobbits' pastoral idyll, surrounded by windmills and small-scale rural technology -- far from Mordor, the mirror of western industrial society, where evil wizards challenge nature.

Unfortunately, Middle Earth has a few problems. Windmills don't create enough prosperity. It's getting uncomfortable in Hobbitland. For some ten years, wise economists have been pointing out that the foundations of the German welfare state must be modernized. Committees and advisory boards have debated for thousands of hours and produced tons of papers; talk shows on the issue resemble a babbling, infinite loop.

Agreement exists that things can't continue as before. But there's no sign of an awakening; more like submission to fate. The country is about as excited as a sick person giving his permission for an operation. Usually, the word "reform" conjures images of progress, stepping forward into a brighter future. But to German ears, the word "reform" sounds as threatening as the theme music of "Jaws." No other nation is as pessimistic as the Germans. In an international Gallup poll, only 13% believed the future would be better than the present.

A fog of negativity obstructs the view of the possibilities. Only few citizens really want more responsibility and less state. Most would like the government to take care of its little hobbits. The future should preserve as much as possible of the present. The taste of freedom and adventure scares Germans; the future should have the cozy smell of Grandma's recipes. This is what happens in a society where "progress" has become a dirty word. Technology is perceived only as a sinister threat.

The German motto is "don't take any risks" (except for 250 kph on the autobahn). The land of the economic miracle, the land of inventors and entrepreneurs, has turned into Hobbitland. The most daring vision of the future is to optimize the system of deposits on bottles. Germany is being left behind at the station, waving good-bye to progress as it chugs away....

Messrs. Maxeiner and Miersch, freelance authors, regularly address the German state of mind on their website, www.maxeiner-miersch.de. Belinda Cooper translated this article from the German....

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