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Despite economic success, fear and angst prevail over Germany
June 25, 2011 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Germany’s season of angst: why a prosperous nation is turning on itself

Shops are busy. Home sales are rocking. Unemployment hasn't been so low since the eighties. In terms of growth, profits and productivity, the current German economic boom has surpassed even the “wonder years” of the 1950s. These are, by several measures, the most successful people in the world.

If previous German booms were marked with a national mood of confidence and optimism, this is a prosperity of angst and fear: According to one survey, 80 per cent of Germans now believe that the future will be worse than the present, that “everything is getting worse.” There is an entire consulting industry devoted to analyzing the “national angst.”
posted by KokuRyu (52 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
One commenter responds to Saunders' article:

As an expat German, I hardly ever recognize my country when viewed through Saunders' lens, but I always get a good chuckle out of his pieces.

Germany's current boom is not due primarily to the Euro but simply to the fact that German industry still exists. Examining the reasons for this - why Germany avoided the large-scale destruction of manufacturing that occurred in other western countries - would be an interesting contribution. Dishing up contrived and exaggerated cliches about Wagnerian, crypto-Nazi Angst- and Wutburgers, not so much.

posted by KokuRyu at 5:41 PM on June 25, 2011 [14 favorites]


But everything /is/ getting worse. The prosperity and ease we have today is almost guaranteed to disappear. Maybe Germans are just more realistic about this fact.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:53 PM on June 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


Related
posted by stbalbach at 5:55 PM on June 25, 2011


Uh oh. The last two times Germany felt collectively introspective, angsty (and anti-immigrant) things didn't go so well.

Is there a compound German word or common saying that roughly means "Fuck it all. I'm bored. Burn it all down to the ground. We're the world's best engineers. We'll just rebuild it better and more German next time around."?
posted by loquacious at 6:17 PM on June 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Uh oh. The last two times Germany felt collectively introspective, angsty (and anti-immigrant) things didn't go so well.

I just wonder if Saunders' reporting here is accurate.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:27 PM on June 25, 2011


The prosperity and ease we have today is almost guaranteed to disappear. Maybe Germans are just more realistic about this fact.

I think they are.
posted by fings at 6:44 PM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


And why does German industry still exist?

Effects in complex systems are the result of many factors, but there is usually one factor that dominates the others--it's the law.
posted by hexatron at 6:58 PM on June 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Die Japaner sind besser Ingenieure heute, oder?
posted by nathancaswell at 7:07 PM on June 25, 2011


Would this be associated with retaining a middle-class?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:23 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Uhm...the article tasted ..of spin!
What we're repeatedly finding is that, despite the very good economic data, there is a huge amount of unease and uncertainty,” says Stephan Grünewald, a Cologne-based psychologist who recently interviewed 7,000 citizens for his book Germany on the Couch.
Well obviously he didn't interview 7k people by himself, that would have required interviewing 19 people/day for one year with no interruption...so that "recently" may have been "misplaced", unless the interviews where not one to one interviews, but rather people answering to a questionnaries-based survey..as collecting 7k of them in a short time is quite difficult; the book Germany on the Couch was first published in 2006...a new edition? (I wasn't able to find any). More likely, the results may have been drafted from a more recent work ..as the author also works with/for a rather well know institute, the Rheingold Institute for Qualitative Market and Media Research, they may have pulled togheter a 7k survey.

The latest Eurobarometer about the Crisis appears to be the 74.1 one (data is from August 2010), in which the Germans were also asked about their outlook on the crisis..interestingly, 31% of them answered that they were already returning to growth (among the highest percentages, when compared with the answers provided by citizens of other intervierwed EU countries) , 25% said in coming years, 21% said the crisising is going to last for many years.
posted by elpapacito at 7:38 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there a compound German word or common saying that roughly means "Fuck it all. I'm bored. Burn it all down to the ground. We're the world's best engineers. We'll just rebuild it better and more German next time around."?

Punk.
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:41 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Die Japaner sind besser Ingenieure heute, oder?

Well, not in building nuclear power plants...
posted by yoyo_nyc at 7:57 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, the couple of Germans I've talked to about this are uneasy about the future because they haven't even finished paying for the re-building of East Germany (I think this is the last year?), and now they're bailing out all sorts of EU countries too, which is going to cost German tax-payers for a while even if they don't bail anyone else out starting tomorrow. But since the world economy isn't getting a whole lot better, there's not guarantee that there won't be another country asking them for help next week. And to make it worse, the Germans can't solve the problems of those other potentially-sinking-countries with the tools they've got in order to save themselves some money. If it were just Germany's economy that was the problem, they could raise taxes and cut services until the budget was balanced like they've done before. But instead they just have to wait and worry and watch their taxes increase and hope no other countries fail. That would make me anxious too.

Also, the German folks I know who are against nuclear power are against it because they think the potential risks are too high if something goes wrong with a nuclear reactor. Relatively speaking, Germany's not that far away from the Ukraine; when I was in Berlin for the anniversary of Chernobyl, there were memorial concerts and things, which I've never seen in the U.S. It seems like a fairly logical position to me, not some hysterical anti-technology screed, especially in light of the recent mess in Japan.
posted by colfax at 7:58 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


and now they're bailing out all sorts of EU countries too

No, they're bailing out the German banks who made foolish loans to peripheral EU economies.

The last two years in Europe have blown my mind - I didn't expect to see the transfer of wealth to the rich accelerate to the pace we have in the US. But it has.
posted by MillMan at 8:12 PM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


The German angst industry is protected by law against foreign competition. This has resulted in an angst surplus. There you go.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:24 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Germany is part of something larger than itself, so it feels what Greece, Spain and Ireland feels. It has outgrown its insular nationalism, and truly sees itself as part of a larger whole - Europe. All of western Europe is clamoring for change, and Germany, being a post-nationalist nation, clamors along with it, even if it does not make sense in the immediate.

France and Britain are too competitive, Scandanavia too isolated - yet you hear similar refrains there, too.

Germany makes angry noises about bailing out the PIGS economies, but they will cinch up the suspenders and do it anyway - and they will be right. Remember "Asian Contagion" in the '90s? With Korea and Taiwan going bust? Yeah, well, the post-nationalist countries in Europe - the PIGS - are going through a similar bust cycle now. They will emerge stronger and more prosperous with a little bit of help, and sticking with them now will mean major benefits tomorrow - those on the brink of ruin will not forget who helped them bridge the chasm.

So, yeah - Germany squares its shoulders, does the right thing - it's never easy to be The Man. Germany's always relied on the US to be The Man - now it finds itself the leader - not through martial prowess, but through good sense, hard work and self-sacrifice. It pays off now, and will pay off for decades to come. Germany is Europe.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:48 PM on June 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Four comments in and we get a Godwin combined with a slur on the German people as destructive nihilists.

One of those comments that says more about the commenter than the matter being discussed.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 10:13 PM on June 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Germany's Mid-sized Industrial Miracle

(though not just Germany - Scandinavia, especially Sweden, has these traits too
posted by Bwithh at 10:59 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mittelstand is one thing, having a national industrial policy and government bureaucracy that supports them is also a factor. Socialist Sweden where I own and run my company is also actually rather very much pro-business. Wheras individual and employment taxes approach 66%, corporate taxes and dividends are 28%, tax authorities are helpful and even sympathetic to things like cash-flow, and the social safety net lowers the amount of individual risk taking entrepreneurs face in, for example, America.
posted by three blind mice at 11:23 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Four comments in and we get a Godwin combined with a slur on the German people as destructive nihilists. One of those comments that says more about the commenter than the matter being discussed.

Sorry. I actually regret posting the comment as-is because it's simplistic, juvenile and offensively stereotypical.

But I tend to worry whenever any nation/state starts to get xenophobic and frustrated, not just Germany. Historically speaking "financially frustrated" and "anti-foreigner fervor" or whatever haven't gone well for Germany in the past, but thankfully it doesn't seem like that's actually the case this time - more a case of dramatic spin and framing in this article - and it seems more like it's just valid frustrations with the way things are going post EU and a vanishing middle class. Same all over the 1st world, it seems.

I have a lot of respect for what Germany is and has become over the last 50 years, especially post-unification. Collectively they've literally risen from ashes and not only rebuilt their own nation, but others and become from what I can see fairly good world citizens. How they treat their workers, how they've embraced a lot of humanist equality stances and protections, their fantastic rail and transport network... the list of admirable things about modern (and historical) Germany is long.

If anything my off-hand, ill formed comment is from a place of care and worry, not derision or dismissal.
posted by loquacious at 11:27 PM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wutburger. Wutburger needs to be an internet meme. Like You see something weird you say you just had a Wutburger with extra cheese. A quarter pound wutburger, or in France, you say a Wutburger Royal because of the Metric System.
posted by delmoi at 11:43 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


The problem the EU is having is due to the fact that people in rich countries don't like the idea of paying for stuff in poor countries. In the U.S there's an enormous amount of economic transfers from one state to others -- particularly things like medicare and social security. Europe either needs programs like that, or they need to get rid of the Euro
posted by delmoi at 11:51 PM on June 25, 2011


Clearly, the unitary German people need unitary leadership for a unitary nation.
posted by orthogonality at 11:55 PM on June 25, 2011


That reply does you credit loquacious. Sorry for, and I retract, the second sentence in my first comment.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 11:59 PM on June 25, 2011


And the problem is that Germany has it's favorable balance of payments because of other EU countries running trade deficits. It would be as if California experienced ran a federal trade surplus but there was no federal spending to redistribute the money to the other states like Alaska that ran federal trade deficits.
posted by wuwei at 12:18 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The public mood in Germany is pretty toxic. Much of it is due to media as yellow as this article. First of all, German taxpayers are not paying and will not pay to save Greece. The Greek bailout is a loan, and the austerity measures aim to ensure that Greece pays it back, with (high) interest. After all the venom that was spouted about TARP, it's easy to forget that it is running a profit for the US Government.
What also happens in Germany is that the current growth comes after a period in which a large part of Germany's once-generous welfare state has been dismantled. While Germany may be richer now, most Germans aren't, and they feel understandably disgruntled.
Finally, there's also the issue of Germany's aging population. There's a distinct "GEROFF MY LAWN!" feeling in the current mood, especially towards the (generally younger) immigrant population.
posted by Skeptic at 2:35 AM on June 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Germans have, due to their history, no deeply rooted national identity; they are always in a state of restless longing.

This really made me roll my eyes. I'm sure some editor thought that no article about malaise in Germany is complete without such a chestnut.

How about: The major powers in Germany's orbit have spent a good decade telling Germany that unfettered neo-liberalism, "financial creativity," and a little war is a great idea and ridiculing Germany for its retrograde ways. Now those powers are choking on their own hubris and Germans are being encouraged from all corners to "take a leadership role".

Can you blame them when what they hear from the external world is
"Hey we really shit the bed about, well, everything. How about you krauts use your famous savings, ingenuity, and sobriety to save all our asses, feed the hungry, keep Europe whole, keep China and Russia in line, and fix the environment? And when we're done licking our wounds we'll go back to telling you how to do things. What's that? You have your own problems? Aging population sapping your welfare system? Stagnating east? You're Germans, you'll be fine, man up!"

I'd be turning inward too.
posted by tempythethird at 3:03 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


What also happens in Germany is that the current growth comes after a period in which a large part of Germany's once-generous welfare state has been dismantled. While Germany may be richer now, most Germans aren't, and they feel understandably disgruntled.
Finally, there's also the issue of Germany's aging population. There's a distinct "GEROFF MY LAWN!" feeling in the current mood, especially towards the (generally younger) immigrant population.
posted by Skeptic at 12:35


Exactly this!
I often read swooning articles about the economical miracle tend to leave out the fact that the average citizen is poorer off for it. Not only did they dismantle the welfare state and force unemployed to work 1€ jobs, the average wage development in europe from 2000-2008 shows that germany was the only country in europe where the average wages are consistently shrinking.
posted by ts;dr at 3:52 AM on June 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Things are surprisingly similar here in Australia, where despite being in the midst of an economic boom and a skills shortage, there is a theme of racism and protectionism that seems to define our politics.

The Economist article mentions that in a situation where Australia should be taking pride in its strength and building on that to take on a leadership role, we are instead focussed on fear and anxiety.

I think this stems from a nation-wide middle-child syndrome, where Australia still can't shake the idea that it exists as the younger sibling of the UK and the US and can't therefore be taken seriously when those two are in the room. Despite the lack of relationship of this cultural history to the present day, no-one seems to be able to get over pandering and get some self-respect.

In a way Germany, having spent sixty years being horrified by themselves and not wanting to look like they could ever get angry again in case people think they've gone loopy, gives a similar impression of being conflicted at a national level between wanting to be seen as solid, dependable, calm and unthreatening, yet also wanting to say no to being parasitised by their relatives. I wonder if they will find ways to feel comfortable letting out their dissatisfaction in an assertive but non-loopy way, or if they will try to maintain the facade and finally flip out.
posted by pulposus at 4:03 AM on June 26, 2011


The first step is to get U.S troops out of Germany then send them a bill for 300 billion$

wait...
posted by clavdivs at 6:42 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pranksome Quaine: "Four comments in and we get a Godwin combined with a slur on the German people as destructive nihilists."

"We believe in nothing, Lebowski. Nothing. And tomorrow we come back and we cut off your Johnson."
posted by bwg at 6:49 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I often read swooning articles about the economical miracle tend to leave out the fact that the average citizen is poorer off for it. Not only did they dismantle the welfare state and force unemployed to work 1€ jobs, the average wage development in europe from 2000-2008 shows that germany was the only country in europe where the average wages are consistently shrinking.

yep - any discussion of a german "economic miracle" has to be tempered by looking back at the countries relative economic performance from the late 90s to 06 or so.

No to mention that a lot of the current economic growth is purely export driven, and most of those exports are related to materials extraction and processing - so are potentially massively overheated at the moment.

Part of why the Germans benefit more from this than anyone else has little to do with engineering, but that rather they kept making lots of things like machine tools that are terrible businesses from a economic returns perspective, its just that occasionally even mediocre businesses have great economic times. I mean I don't think Germans are intrinsically better engineers than the French for example.

I'm also always quite amused that the Germans are so stunningly anti-Keynesian, given their recovery from the Great Depression was, well you know, the Nazis building a war machine as well as all sorts of grand projet, the end of WWII was marked by large transfers and the us funding negative real rates, and even the early 90's recession that was so brutal for similar economies like Sweden and Finland never got as bad in Germany because of massive fiscal spending on reunification.

On the flip side I can understand why the man in the street is pissed off about bailing out Spain. From '95 -'06 the euro periphery was growing much faster partially as a result of fiscal transfers from the Germans, while at the same time the German newspapers were filled with editorials calling Germany "The sick man of Europe" and these pieces of the labor compact that were built up during the post-war boom were being rolled back.

Its easy to see why they see it as the parable of the ant and the grasshopper. The only problem is that the ant is probably relying on the grasshopper a lot more than it realizes.
posted by JPD at 8:24 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]



Germany's Mid-sized Industrial Miracle

(though not just Germany - Scandinavia, especially Sweden, has these traits too


there is no magic behind the Mittelstand one look at their financial results (when you get the rare chance to see them) will tell you that. Its just behavioral finance played out in real life. Because the companies have remained private they can survive earning very low returns through an economic cycle. Their cost of capital is essentially free as long as the controlling family doesn't get eyes bigger than its stomach to take on a bunch of debt.
posted by JPD at 8:35 AM on June 26, 2011


btw that's not a criticism of the Mittelstand, but a criticism of the "Mittelstand Miracle" meme.
posted by JPD at 8:49 AM on June 26, 2011


Part of why the Germans benefit more from this than anyone else has little to do with engineering, but that rather they kept making lots of things like machine tools that are terrible businesses from a economic returns perspective, its just that occasionally even mediocre businesses have great economic times.

Many of those Mittelstand companies have survived two world wars, one megainflation, one great depression, one (or two) foreign occupations, and one (or two) totalitarian dictatorships, all the while providing pretty comfortable nesting eggs for several generations of the founding family, and reliable employment for generations of workers. That they have come to be regarded as "terrible investments" rather shines a light on the role that excessive expectations on the ROI have played in the current crisis. When 10-15% ROI is seen as the norm, rather than as an impressive (and somewhat worrying) exception, you set all sorts of nasty perverse incentives in motion.

For instance, the main reason why productivity stagnated in the peripheral economies during the boom years was that, even though credit was cheap and liquidity abundant, it was all sucked off by the financial and real estate sectors. When real estate speculation delivers 15-25% ROI, why is anybody going to invest a cent into training or machinery for a boring 5% ROI industrial corporation?

One aspect of the present crisis that, in my opinion, has been insufficiently researched so far, is the role that the pension funds of the baby boomers, largely privatized throughout the developed world since the 80s, have played in demanding unsustainable ROI rates. I'm not sure I want to know the answer, because it may show that this crisis is not conjunctural, but demographic, in a weird reverse Malthusian manner (an excessively small active population trying to generate large enough ROIs to maintain an excessively large population of retired rent-seekers). And that would be very scary.
posted by Skeptic at 10:06 AM on June 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


One nice thing about having posters like Skeptic in these threads, is that I don't feel compelled to post in order to correct misperceptions and propaganda. He says it all here much more eloquently than I would have. Keeps metafilter a high signal to noise ratio place (and saves me time to boot!). Seriously though, Skeptic nails it - people are not paying attention to the whole picture, and are simply picking a few econ stats and spinning ridiculous myths out of it.
posted by VikingSword at 10:45 AM on June 26, 2011


The prosperity and ease we have today is almost guaranteed to disappear. Maybe Germans are just more realistic about this fact.
Some Germans are.
posted by doctornemo at 10:58 AM on June 26, 2011


One nice thing about having posters like Skeptic in these threads, is that I don't feel compelled to post in order to correct misperceptions and propaganda.

Thank God for Skeptic, then - anything we can do to help you out.
posted by RajahKing at 11:03 AM on June 26, 2011


Thank God for Skeptic, then - anything we can do to help you out.

Skeptic, not you. I was paying Skeptic a compliment, with a tongue-in-cheek bit about "saving me time", and I signaled the tongue in cheek with "Seriously, though", indicating that the previous was not entirely serious - clear to all but the unusually thick. This is why we can't have nice things... a compliment paid to a poster on Mefi, and a small joke, met with boneheaded assholism. Congrats.
posted by VikingSword at 11:39 AM on June 26, 2011



Uh oh. The last two times Germany felt collectively introspective, angsty (and anti-immigrant) things didn't go so well.


Your stand down on this comment is noted and genuinely appreciated, but just to nitpick a little – it was one time, surely? They were pretty upbeat before the first war. It took military defeat, punitive peace terms, a devastated economy and a passel of political opportunists to warp them into the bad collective.

The problem the EU is having is due to the fact that people in rich countries don't like the idea of paying for stuff in poor countries.

Not without cause. I meant, there’s poor and then there’s poor, do admit. Hard to argue that the Greeks, for example, are somehow not responsible for their own crap situation, or that from the beginning they did their level best to abide by their fiscal responsibilities in joining the EU. They did not, as all but the corrupt, ambitious, or willfully stupid predicted well before the EU got off the ground. So it’s not like we’re talking a temporarily down on his luck schmo - more like the too clever by half brother-in-law from in a bad marriage. You may pay up, but you’re narked at being asked to. (And it was a Greek writer who gave us the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.)

Germany is part of something larger than itself, so it feels what Greece, Spain and Ireland feels. It has outgrown its insular nationalism, and truly sees itself as part of a larger whole – Europe.

However good it sounds to big picture people and a certain kind of historian, I’m not sure the We Are All European thing really works on a gut level. I mean, do you know anyone who reflexively self identifies as a proud European (as opposed to a Frenchman, Swede, Spaniard, Maltese)? Brussels with small brain and no heart is, like Washington, not something that warms the heart. And let’s face it, this whole thing was in large part an attempt to speed up trade and make a bunch of multinationals richer and ambitious people more powerful – plenty of no votes out there every damn time the referenda were put to individual voters, and not just in Germany.

Moreover, there’s a place for love of country that need not be, indeed, must not be, smeared as evil nationalism, much though such smearing serves the interests of all sorts of businesses, bureaucrats, politicians, and other self-servers. As above, love of community comes from that community being identifiable and small enough for the spirit to encompass.

A state can pull it off, as can a small to midsized country; federal conglomerations and empires– not so much. Reason there was such split-uppery in recent decades in Europe (and elsewhere). Reason the various small state independence movements are gaining (small) steam in the US. It is relatively easy to identify with, to feel an emotional bond to a city or a state, less so with the Federal entity, and that in a federation where (theoretically) we all speak the same language. As to Europe - how's you Latin? Hell, how's your Europanto?
posted by IndigoJones at 11:42 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Greek bailout is a loan, and the austerity measures aim to ensure that Greece pays it back, with (high) interest.

I wouldn't back it with my money.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:58 AM on June 26, 2011


I wonder how the recent experiences of the EU impacted the question of granting Turkey membership. I'm not even talking about the Euro. My feeling is that the prospect is further than it's ever been - it's not even discussed that much. And Turkey is increasingly turning more Middle-East than Europe, politically and culturally, Islam as a political force is rising and so on. I'm judging it by reading the press online, so no access to what the thinking is in the inner circles of governments. It's funny to recall that not so long ago, there was a huge clamor to join, never mind history, geography or culture - does anyone remember that at a certain point Israel was making noises about joining? Just a moment ago, but so long ago. But maybe the optimists will say "this too shall pass". Of course, if Italy goes down, anything can happen.
posted by VikingSword at 12:38 PM on June 26, 2011


The Greek bailout is a loan, and the austerity measures aim to ensure that Greece pays it back, with (high) interest.

Cutting taxes fosters economic benefits. You could think of it as a loan. It will be payed back in spades with economic growth.

This kind of talk is silly. Greece is bankrupt. There isn't going to be any paying back of the "loan" and there will be more loans still.
posted by rr at 1:19 PM on June 26, 2011


I’m not sure the We Are All European thing really works on a gut level

There's some truth to what you say, but you're taking it too far. I've lived in Vienna for years and in Berlin for close to two now, and both cities, Berlin even more, have a very fluid interchange with other European nations. There's as much English in Berlin as there is Spanish in NYC. No one thinks of themselves as "European", but no one attaches more meaning to their origin than we Americans do to our state of origin, it means something - but not very much. The idea of an old-fashioned border between Germany or Austria or France or Italy, along with different currencies and the usual bureaucratic impediments to freedom of movement, labor, education, and etc. would be laughable to pretty much everyone I know. Granted, this is anecdata from my demographic - young, educated, leftish, and frequently broke. But the corporate elite we are not.
posted by tempythethird at 1:41 PM on June 26, 2011


- why Germany avoided the large-scale destruction of manufacturing that occurred in other western countries

I'll take a wild guess that it was because they didn't want to wind up like most other western countries have.

Also, long before most other western countries, they recognized the value of a good relationship with working people ... which began in the 1880s (e.g. first in the world with worker's compensation laws).
posted by Twang at 4:03 PM on June 26, 2011


No one thinks of themselves as "European", but no one attaches more meaning to their origin than we Americans do to our state of origin, it means something - but not very much.

Welllll- depends on what state you're from and how long your family has lived there. And for myself, I've found it more natural to identify with the state I was living in than with the Dark Mountain of DC.

I take your point, but I have to say, Vienna and Berlin, like New York City, are seriously vibrant urban areas, places where more cosmopolitan rules always apply, and perhaps not the best examples for this discussion. There's a lot of European fly over country, populated by a lot of less young, less schooled, less leftish, and also frequently broke folk.

As they age, your own frequently broke demographic will, I expect, find frequent brokeness harder to shrug off. How that affects them, we shall see.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:14 PM on June 26, 2011


IndigoJones If you rely solely on the English-speaking media for your information on European perceptions of the EU, I'm afraid you are going to get a very slanted view, influenced by Britain's profound euroscepticism. While ranting about "Brussels" is a favourite pastime across the EU (not least because national politicians have always found it a very convenient scapegoat for unpopular yet necessary policies), most Europeans, in particular in the now-struggling peripheral countries, have a much more positive view of the EU. Countries like Greece, Portugal, Ireland or Spain have had to cope with decades, or even centuries, of isolation at the edges of the continent and the perception of the EU is that of an organisation having put us at the same level as the rest of the continent, having enabled to trade and move throughout Europe, and having provided a sound and stable currency. That generates a lot of goodwill, and is at the same time a matter of significant national pride.

It is important to note that Britain has opted out of some of the measures which most of the other Europeans most positively identify with the EU: the open borders of the Schengen treaty and the euro. Even the Erasmus exchange program, which millions of European students have used to study abroad and strongly contributes to the perception of the EU among the college-educated, is considerably less popular in Britain than elsewhere (mostly because of the lack of foreign language knowledge of British students).

This is why I am quite confident that Greece will not default, even less quit the euro, even if they have to put their economy on a war footing to make it. Apart from the material hardship that defaulting or quitting the euro would entail (for instance, unlike Argentina or Iceland, Greece is heavily dependent on energy imports, which in this case would become much more expensive, or altogether unavailable), it would be a terrible national humiliation.
posted by Skeptic at 2:21 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dark Mountain of DC

You repeatedly reveal your bias here. Not everyone sees DC as some depraved seat of shadowy machinations conspiring to subvert smaller identities. This antipathy of yours belongs to a loud and significant minority - one which is not doing anything to make DC function better. You probably think that people either love, or hate, DC and all that it represents, and think the same of Brussels on this side of the pond.

In reality, most people are not partisans of the hate-the-seat-of-federal-power or love-it variety. Most people see DC or Brussels as dreary bureaucracy-ridden headquarters, overrun by suits and media, and pointy heads. Nothing to love, and nothing to hate - they're merely what one would expect of the seat of a massive federal entity. No one is asking you to identify with them, and they do not need your identification - they are what they are.

This need to attach meaning and identity to the machinery of large states is retrograde. The business of running our states is largely dull and technocratic, even though our political theater likes to pretend otherwise. The Anglo world with all its pomp and circumstance is just a little slow to catch up to the reality of this.

There's a lot of European fly over country...
Europe is a lot more dense than the US, so there is much less flyover country to begin with. Most of the population is in clusters with cities at their center, and this state of affairs is only going to increase. As more and more people live in urban areas, it will be increasingly true that where goes the city, the state will follow.
posted by tempythethird at 3:40 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps there should be a drinking game in which you take a shot every time a commentator in a piece about Germany's current situation darkly alludes to the two World Wars/the rise of the Third Reich. ("The Germans are turning their backs on the rest of the world and becoming hostile to foreigners... you know what that could mean")
posted by acb at 7:41 AM on June 27, 2011


IndigoJones If you rely solely on the English-speaking media

Actually, I don't. One great benefit of the internet is easy access to foreign press. Plus European friends, with whom initial enthusiasm has waned. Anyway, sure, the Brits may be more vocal, but they are hardly alone in the eurosceptic camp. The doubters span continent as well as the political spectrum.

I'll admit to going slightly over the top here, but chiefly to grab attention. And I'll admit to anti-Federalist bias, which I agree is not universal, Lord knows not on the blue.

But to say that for most it's just a shrug-it sort of thing, I'm not sure I buy that. Just because most people are too busy making a living to be much interested in DC (or Brussels) doesn't mean they think it a benign thing. I mean, no one runs on a "Hurray for Good Old DC" platform, or a Vive Bruxelles. The more dictats that come down from there, the more impatient people become.

Just one European example- the bureaucrats of Brussels have on the advice of IFRA unilaterally banned the use of citrus oil and lavender (among other natural ingredients) in perfume. Because they may be allergens. (Coincidentally, the major perfume houses just happen to have a patented synthetics they can use.) Goodbye a centuries old industry. I expect more of this sort of thing in future. Idle hands and all that.

a matter of significant national pride


What I said, national pride trumps European pride.

One thing I find ironic is that at the same time that the Powers That Be of Western Europe were hell bent on the EU, eastern Europe was doing its best to dissolve the more unnatural ties that bound them, whether the USSR, the Balkans, Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia.

I tend to think long term. History doesn't have a good record with large artificial political unions. I see no reason to think that this time it will be different. We shall see. Or maybe not. This thing could take a while to play out.

This need to attach meaning and identity to the machinery of large states is retrograde.

You're missing my point. I'm suggesting the opposite, that the individual is hard pressed to attach meaning and identity to large states, but that people, as social animals, want identification with some kind of polis, and that only a relatively small polis can fulfill that role. Nor need it be based on blood. France, with some disgraceful exceptions, took pride in accepting anyone who embraced Franciness. Learn the language, respect the culture, and welcome aboard. (As I say, there have been exceptions.)

Oh, and the fly-over comment was meant to be slightly jokey.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:37 AM on June 27, 2011


I love this strategy - pick some esoteric sounding thing and bandy it about as an example of the supposed Kafkaesque absurdity created by our supposedly out-of-touch bureaucrats.

Well you know what, someone has to decide to pay for those studies of bear mating habits. Someone has to come up with a definition for a cucumber. Someone has to define just what the fabric manufacturers mean by "waterproof." And just because we used to do something with method X for 500 years doesn't mean that, when we come to recognize that method X is harming us, we shouldn't disallow it. This is the majority of governance. Boring and obscure. Do you only want you government engaged in things that are grand and poetic?

I tend to think long term. History doesn't have a good record with large artificial political unions.

You know, history doesn't have much to say about running an interconnected and mobile planet with 6, and soon to be 9 billion people on it, flagging food, energy, and water supplies, and a destabilizing climate. And yes, you heard me right, running a planet. With the resource load that we have now a state can barely sneeze without the effects spilling over to some other state. Now that there's this many of us, we're all sort of stuck with each other. This is why we need federalism - a few large institutions have a much greater chance of navigating us through this mess than hundreds of small squabbling states. This has nothing to do with your desire for meaning or identity, look to your friends and family and community for that, not your apparatus of state.
posted by tempythethird at 1:00 PM on June 27, 2011


Just one European example- the bureaucrats of Brussels have on the advice of IFRA unilaterally banned the use of citrus oil and lavender (among other natural ingredients) in perfume. Because they may be allergens. (Coincidentally, the major perfume houses just happen to have a patented synthetics they can use.) Goodbye a centuries old industry. I expect more of this sort of thing in future. Idle hands and all that.

Interesting claim. Let's research it. In 2001, the Scientific Committee that advises the Commission on the safety of cosmetics recommended, among other things, removing the exception that natural essences had enjoyed until then with respect to limits on furanocoumarins, a set of compounds found in a number of essential oils, and which have shown phototoxicity. This alarmed IFRA, which in 2007 presented the Commission with a Risk Assessment aiming at setting "pragmatic levels" of furanocoumarins with the explicit aim of allowing continuous use of natural citrus oils. The levels proposed by IFRA, however, were still much too low in the opinion of cropwatch.org, aka Tony Burfield, an activist for the herbal products industry, whose epic rants against consumer groups, Greenpeace, and anybody who dare suggest that "natural products" ought to be subject to the same health and safety regulations as anybody else are truly something to behold. In the meantime, the European Commission consolidated the much-amended Cosmetic Products Directive and the 27 diverging sets of national laws implementing it into a streamlined Cosmetic Products Regulation which was submitted to public consultation and passed after separate debates and votes at the European Parliament and European Council (so much for "Brussels bureaucrats unilaterally banning" anything). And the centuries old industry? Still there, apparently.

Reality is so much more complicated, and yet pedestrian, than propaganda...
posted by Skeptic at 3:28 PM on June 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


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