Some might still be in shock about Donald Trump’s inaugural address. Anyone who hoped he would talk sensibly rather than continuing his campaign rhetoric was in for a surprise.
It was only a matter of time before he would verbally attack German businesses and their export surpluses.
For the president, “America First” isn't about a return to the world before globalization but a new style of politics that isn't bogged down by boring rules, but thrives on bold gestures and making things happen.
His discomfort with process orientation, division of labor and internationalization is a metaphor for the global economy. Anyone who sees the pictures of the president's talks with U.S. company CEOs quickly see that the next few months could be all about announcements rather than dialog.
I was born in the United States and am deeply connected to America. Peace, prosperity and cool American products aren't abstract but real parts of my personal history and my idea of a free world.
For our company, the United States is the second most important market after Germany. Trumpf is just one of Germany’s many mid-sized companies. We export three-quarters of the machines and equipment we make in Germany. We do 55 percent of our business in Europe, making it our most important market – followed not by China, but by the U.S.
For that reason alone, we care deeply that the U.S. remains committed to free trade - and it's just as important that Europe realizes it needs the free movement of goods like it needs air to breath.
You have to ask yourself what's going on when hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets to protest against a free trade agreement with the U.S. while nobody turns out to protest the bombing of Aleppo.
But instead we're seeing how people's views are shaped by worries about globalization. You have to ask yourself what's going on when hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets to protest against a free trade agreement with the U.S. while nobody turns out to protest the bombing of Aleppo. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made this harsh but apt comparison in her keynote address at her party congress.
At the same time, it isn’t only big companies that benefit from free trade, but also family-owned businesses that are loyal to the place they're based in and pay millions every year to the U.S. financial authorities. For Trumpf, that means paying for deliveries to their subsidiaries there that were mostly established by their own corporate group.
I'm not only worried about markets and sales but also about the inflammatory and vulgar language I'm hearing when peopel talk about trade and economic interests. As U.S. citizen Hannah Arendt said, the only reason we humans have a gift for politics is because we are beings gifted with speech. That's something people in the U.S. would do well to remember.
There are great differences between the U.S. and Germany, for sure. But if part of the economy's reputation is about respectful language, we have to do better. Here in Germany, everybody talks about how low youth unemployment is compared to the rest of European and so on. But in truth, small companies are feeling pretty alienated given how some laws are being implemented.
Concretely, that means all the bureaucracy that creates all the time. Many people feel as though the logic of politics is moving further away from how businesses work. It's not only the labor market and social policies, but also about the undertone in the way people talk about "the economy” and “the people.” It sounds like “them” and “us” as if they don't belong together, inseparably.
Anything worth working on should be addressed wholeheartedly. But whether it's Dieselgate or behavior in the financial sector, these topics rage on for months and it's understandable people's trust in the economy takes a knock.
This year more than ever as we head toward an election, we must renew our passionate commitment to the social market economy and this country's many businesses. Germany needs this faith not only to maintain its prosperity, but, as we see in the United States, for its social cohesion.
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