Germany is a country with great potential. Learning is its inexhaustible resource, and great technical advances its trademark. Freedom, the constitutional state, stable institutions and the social market economy are the foundations of its stability. Cooperation and integration are its calling card around the world.
But none of this is handed to us on a silver platter, which is why everything has to be reexamined regularly. The only way to achieve this is to create fair rules for competition, promote innovation and strengthen workers’ personal responsibility and confidence.
Unfortunately, this isn’t our strong suit. In fact, our awareness of the conditions of Germany's success is dwindling.
The German social welfare state is hedonistic, concerned only with the present.
The major parties, Chancellor Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, the center-left Social Democratic Party, the Green Party and the Left Party have all shifted their platforms to engage in an exaggerated competition with each other over who offers voters more moral support and emotional care. For some time now, the CDU and the CSU in particular have been experiencing what observers rightfully characterize as Social Democratization.
The SPD is fighting for pole position in this regard, gradually backing away from the Agenda 2010 reforms to the social welfare system that it began implementing while governing with the Greens in 2003. After all, the party always believed that the world's evils are best fought by expanding government.
Meanwhile, the Greens are gorging themselves on the social welfare state in a fashion that makes a mockery of all economic reason, as former Green Party lawmaker Oswald Metzger recently wrote. And then there's the Left Party, which is convinced that it has the exclusive rights to the troubles of humanity.
Together, they represent a sort of peaceful siege on citizens, many of whom are willing to accept this as customers of the state. This is no emancipatory project, but rather more like writing bad checks for the future of those who aren't even eligible to vote yet.
The German social welfare state is hedonistic, concerned only with the present. This is no social justice policy, nor does it consider future generations. It is merely "rhetorical voter cultivation" in a society that is losing its vitality.
To change this, the current policies of distributing growth for the present must be replaced by the aim of overcoming future challenges. Sadly, both society and politicians lack the courage and patience to achieve this. In Germany, competition is practically seen as a dirty word. But the most important condition of an open society is a value system that views political and economic competition as a positive thing, writes Nobel laureate and economic historian Douglass North.
No one knows what the future holds. But we do know that failing to prepare for the future can have dire consequences. Globalization and the digitization that comes with it are not just expanding global trade and creating breathtaking technological possibilities. They are consolidating and accelerating virtually all aspects of our current social life.
Still, this doesn't have to be apocalyptic. The question is, which strengths do we need to turn risks into opportunities? Climate change doesn't have to rob us of habitat. Demographic change doesn't have to make us apathetic. And we shouldn't lose our standards when commodities become scarce.
In our social and political navel-gazing, we have lost our view of the European neighborhood and the consequences of violent conflicts along Europe's borders. The migration that is spilling out across Europe can only come as a surprise to those who suppress reality.
But a lack of foresight should not compromise the foundations of our economic and social reality in other areas. It's high time that the political world and society leave behind their mental exercises in consensus and compensation.
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