Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Can college education be free for everyone?

March 25, 2016

I think it is feasible to provide college education with free or affordable tuition, as Bernie Sanders advocates.  Foreign countries do so, and the United States once did, too.

I have long been in favor of free or affordable college education for everybody who has the desire and ability to do college work, but this is different from providing free tuition for everybody.

collegekids97944673-copyRon Unz, the maverick political editor and writer, has proposed that Harvard University offer free tuition.  As he says, it can easily afford it because of the tax-free revenues of its huge endowment fund.  He also advocates for a fairer admissions process, especially for Asian-American students.

Those are excellent proposals.  But they wouldn’t get everybody who wishes into Harvard.

Sanders’ plan is for the federal government to pay for two-thirds of the cost of college education at state universities that offer free tuition and meet other conditions.  I expect that many state governors would turn down this generous offer.  Most states are cutting the budgets of their state university systems.  And after all, many states refused to expand Medicaid even though the Affordable Care Act offered to cover nine-tenths of the cost.

Germany is frequently cited as an example of a country that provides free college tuition for everyone, including foreigners, who can pass an entrance examination.

But only about 28 percent of young German adults are college graduates, compared to 43 percent of Americans.

During the golden age of American public higher education, college education was much less common.  As recently as 1990, only 23 percent of young American adults were college graduates.

Higher education in Germany also is much more bare bones than it is in the USA.  German colleged generally offer a rigorous academic program without the extra-curricular amenities that Americans typically regard as a part of the college experience.

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The American failure at nation-building.

November 19, 2015

If you attempt the impossible, you will fail.
        ==One of the Ten Truths of Management

If a problem cannot be solved, it may not be a problem, but a fact.
        ==One of Rumsfeld’s Rules

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269Why was the United States so successful in building up Germany, Japan and South Korea as independent nations after World War Two, and such a failure in building up South Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan?

Chris Mason, in his book Strategic Lessons, wrote that the reason is that while it is possible to help an existing nation build up a stable government, it is not possible for outsiders to create a national consciousness among a people who lack it.

That is the reason for the failures in South Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan—not any lack of valor or professionalism among American troops, but the fact that they were given a mission equivalent to trying to make water flow uphill.

He said the U.S. military is well-suited for carrying out two kinds of missions:

  1. Defending allies from invasion by use of “intense lethality” against the aggressor.
  2. Intervening in a foreign country to protect American lives or interests by striking hard at a military target, and then leaving—preferably within 90 days.

If the American government is considering intervening in a country for an extended length of time, it should summon the best academic experts to assess whether the people of that country have a sense of nationhood.  If not, the only unity those people will have is in resisting the invader.

Actually there were people inside the government who understood what would happen in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and said so, but they were ignored, Mason said.   Instead decisions were made by people who knew nothing about those countries, but knew what to do and say in order to advance their careers.

Those are harsh words.  The fact that the Army War College has published his book shows that there are some people in the military who value intelligent dissent.

∞∞∞

Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will Not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

Click on America’s Future in Afghanistan for interviews by ARRA News Service giving the opposing viewpoints of Chris Mason and General John R. Allen, USMC-Ret.  [added 11/20/2015]

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The passing scene – August 22, 2015

August 22, 2015

So Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Is Actually Getting Kinda Serious by Alex Davies for Wired.

Hyperloop, which is being developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Tesla Motors, would be a series of above-ground pneumatic tubes filled with people that would zip them along at near-supersonic speeds.

It’s being developed by men and women with day jobs at places such as NASA, Boeing and SpaceX who are paid in stock options rather than cash.  Two established companies, Aercom, an engineering design firm, and Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum, are helping with the project in return for stock options.

A prototype demonstration of the system is scheduled for 2016.

Germany fact of the day, will support for immigration collapse? by Tyler Cowen for Marginal Revolution.

A big backlash is developing across Europe against refugees and unauthorized immigrants.  Cowen favors open borders in principle, but doesn’t think it is politically feasible.

Dejá Vu: Germany Tightens Its Economic Power Over Europe by Richard D. Wolff for Truthout.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The European Union was supposed to be an association that benefited all its members.  Now it has devolved into a mechanism by which Germany, Europe’s richest nation, inflicts economic punishment on Greece, one of its poorest.

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Why did Germany abandon the good path?

July 29, 2015

A decade ago, looking at the state of the union the Bush administration, it seems to me that it was the European Union, and Germany in particular, had replaced the USA as the last, best hope of earth.  As recently as five years ago, I posted an article on Germany as an Economic Role Model.

Germany had seemingly created an economy based not on cutting costs, but on creating value, investing in people and worker participation in decision-making.  The Germans had learned how how to hold their own in international trade and still enjoy high wages, generous social benefits and excellent public services, without sacrificing civil liberties.

Or so I thought at the time.  But the Greek debt crisis shows Germany as much in the grip of a financial oligarchy as the USA was.

Germany.austerity16678The German leaders have embraced the idea, very familiar to us Americans, that the purpose of an economic system is not cooperation for mutual benefit, but to reward winners and punish losers.

The best way to help Greece’s creditors is to promote Greece’s economic recovery, so at least a portion of the debt can be repaid.  The austerity measures being imposed by the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund are driving Greece deeper into economic depression.  They are being imposed as a punishment and a deterrent.

The German leaders also have made the mistake of allowing central banks, rather than the public, to determine economic policy.   The problem with this is that bankers have different priorities than the public.

Broadly speaking, bankers want zero inflation and debts to be repaid in full.  All other things being equal, these are desirable goals, but not at the cost of rising unemployment, falling wages and non-functioning government services.

Unfortunately the European Central Bank is in charge of European monetary policy, and the public has nothing to say about its policies.   It is governed by a committee consisting of 19 national central banks and a six-member executive board appointed by the European Council.   I looked up “accountability” on the bank’s web site, and found that this consists of regularly issuing reports.

The best way to enforce accountability for the Greek debt crisis would be to investigate the Greek public officials and their banker advisers who created it, and determined whether they should be charged with malfeasance.  Instead the banks have been bailed out, and the public officials escape blame—much the same as in the 2008 financial crisis in the United States.

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Greece’s debt and the Wiemar Republic analogy

July 14, 2015

Historical analogies don’t necessarily hold, but Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, like Greece today, had a dysfunctional democratic government and was saddled with war debts beyond the nation’s ability to pay.

All well-informed people understood the situation, but the demands of the creditor nations on the Wiemar Republic were uncompromising.  Then Hitler came to power, and the debt was forgiven.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the fascist Golden Dawn party came to power in Greece, and I wouldn’t be completely surprised if the creditor nations relaxed their demands for debt repayment.

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Germany got a debt writedown: Why not Greece?

July 9, 2015

After World War One, the Allies were saddled with war debts to the United States that were beyond their ability to pay.

Herman Josef Abs, center, representing Federal Republic of Germany, signs a 1953 agreement cutting Germany's debts to foreign creditors in half.

Herman Josef Abs, center, representing Federal Republic of Germany, signs a 1953 agreement cutting Germany’s debts to foreign creditors in half.

They hoped to get the money out of Germany, which was obligated to make reparations payments beyond that nation’s ability to pay.

Eventually Germany defaulted on its obligations to the Allies, and the Allies defaulted on their obligations to the USA and its bankers—but not in time to prevent the onset of the Great Depression and the rise of Adolf Hitler.

After World War Two, the Allies learned their lesson.  They allowed the German government [1] to write off half its debts.

If this hadn’t been done, the postwar German economic miracle might not have taken place, and the recovery of Europe as a whole would have been delayed.

Today Greece has more debt than it can repay.  Eventually there is going to have to be a write-down of this debt.

The question is whether the Greek population will have to be reduced to poverty and Greek national assets sold off at bargain prices before this happens.

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Germany as a good example for the USA

April 8, 2015

I grew up with a stereotype of the Germans as prisoners of hierarchy, bureaucracy and rules, who would never be a match for us democratic, freedom-loving practical Americans.

But if that ever was true, our two countries have since traded places.

Were-You-Born-on-the-Wrong-Continent1Thomas Geoghegan, a Chicago labor lawyer whose writings I admire, wrote a book in 2010 entitled WERE YOU BORN ON THE WRONG CONTINENT? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life about how Germany is an economic role model for the United States.

He still says so in his newest book, ONLY ONE THING CAN SAVE US: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement.

In Germany, Geoghegan wrote, the laws, strong labor unions, worker representatives in management make it difficult to fire anybody.  So layoffs are a last resort, not a first resort.

German management is forced to concentrate on figuring out how to get the most out of the work force, not on making workers powerless and replaceable.   The result is that German corporations invest in lifelong learning for their workers, on the justified assumption that they’re going to remain with the same employer and become permanent assets to the firm.

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Mark Blyth on ending the creditor’s paradise

March 5, 2015

An American economist, Mark Blyth, author of Austerity: the History of a Dangerous Idea, gave a talk to members of the German Social Democratic Party on why so-called austerity is a bad idea.

I write “so-called” because the dictionary meaning of austerity is doing without things you don’t really need.  Food rationing in the UK and USA during World War Two is an example of austerity.  It doesn’t mean prioritizing the requirements of holders of financial assets over the needs of everybody else.

Here’s why Blyth had to say.

Back in the 1970s, a period that now seems quite benign, corporate profits were very low, labor’s share of income was very high, and inflation was rising.  We were told that this was unsustainable, and new institutions and policies were constructed to make sure that this particular mix of outcomes would never happen again.

austerity-depressionIn this regard we were singularly successful.  Today, corporate profits have never been higher, labor’s share of national income has almost never been lower, and inflation has given way to deflation.  So are we happier for this change?

What we have done over the past thirty years is to build a creditor’s paradise of positive real interest rates, low inflation, open markets, beaten-down unions, and a retreating state — all policed by unelected economic officials in central banks and other unelected institutions that have only one target: to keep such a creditor’s paradise going.

In such a world, why would you, the average worker, ever get a pay rise?

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What if Vladimir Putin was a nice guy?

February 26, 2015

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”
        ==Bertrand Russell

Keith Gessen, an analyst of Russian politics, says Vladimir Putin is definitely not a nice guy.  He also says that, even if he were, his goals and policies wouldn’t be that much different from what they are.

Russia will, one hopes, eventually change its leadership, but it is not going to be able to change its geographic location, or its historic associations, or its longstanding wish to keep the West—which hasn’t always crossed the border bearing flowers—at bay.  And that holds many lessons for the future.

Let me be clear: The actual Putin is not at all nice.  To take just a few examples:

140801173429-exp-gps-0803-take-00030629-horizontal-gallery1) between 1999 and 2002 he prosecuted a vicious war in Chechnya, complete with rape, torture, filtration camps and mass graves;

2) in 2003, he jailed his leading rival, the oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and, when the initial sentence was almost up, extended it;

3) in 2000-01, shortly after assuming the presidency, he oversaw a government takeover of the country’s main independent television channels, chasing their owners into exile;

4) over time he has enriched his friends to an astonishing degree, such that many of the leading billionaires in Russia owe their riches directly to their proximity to Putin;

5) it is becoming increasingly the consensus view that the September 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk [attributed to Chechen terrorists] were the work of the secret services, and it is hard to imagine that Putin, as the prime minister of Russia and, until just a month before, the head of the FSB, would not have known about them;

6) in his third term he has unleashed the worst aspects of Russian street politics, mobilizing anti-Western, anti-gay and anti-liberal resentment to shore up his domestic popularity; and

7) in 2004, supposedly as an anti-terror measure after the terrible seizure of a school in Beslan by Chechen fighters, he canceled elections for regional governors, replacing them with appointees.

via Keith Gessen – POLITICO magazine.

His indictment could also have included the murder of journalists, such as Anna Politkovskaya.

But, as Gessen pointed out, any Russian leader—and certainly any of Putin’s rivals—would have been a Russian nationalist who would have tried to restore Russia to the status of a superpower, who would have cracked down on internal opposition and who, given the experience of Russia and the USSR in the 20th century, would have resisted the expansion of Western military power to Russia’s borders.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 2/21/2015

February 21, 2015

China pivots everywhere by Pepe Escobar for RT News.

EU Reeling Between US and Russia by Pepe Escobar for Sputnik News.

A couple of years ago, President Putin proposed an economic partnership between Russia and the European Union, which would have been to Europe’s benefit.

Now, with Germany caught up in the U.S.-lead conflict with Russia over Ukraine, this has been wiped off the blackboard.  Now Russia looks to China as its economic partner.  If there is any winner in the Ukraine conflict, it is China.

I have misgivings about linking to RT News and Sputnik News.  They are as much organs of the Russian government as the Voice of America is an organ of the U.S. government.

But I’ll make an exception in Pepe Escobar’s case, just as I did some years back with Julian Assange’s short-lived interview show. I think Escobar is both intellectually acute and independent.

Ukraine Denouement: the Russian Loan and the IMF’s One-Two Punch by Michael Hudson for Counterpunch.

A New Policy to Rescue Ukraine by George Soros for the New York Review of Books.

One of the sidelights of the Ukraine situation is the pivotal role of the wealthy speculator George Soros.  A major contributor to the Democratic Party, he has urged a $50 billion loan to Ukraine in order to fight Russia.

Michael Hudson reported that Soros’s funds are drawing up lists of assets they’d like to buy from Ukrainian oligarchs and the Kiev government when the International Monetary Fund demands they be sold by pay down Ukaine’s debts..

A Whistleblower’s Horror Story by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

It’s not just the federal government that shields wrongdoers while doing after employees that expose them.  Wall Street buys its way out of prosecution while blacklisting employees who reveal its misdeeds.  A case in point: Countrywide / Voice of America whistleblower Michael Winston.

The plight of the bitter nerd: Why so many awkward shy guys wind up hating feminism by Arthur Chu for Salon.

‘I’m Brianna Wu And I’m Risking My Life Standing Up to Gamergate’ by Brianna Wu for Bustle.

Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire by Michelle Goldberg for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Mike the Man Biologist)

Harassment of women on the Internet is no joke, as is shown by this woman’s story of doxing (tracking down and publishing home addresses and other personal information), swatting (sending false emergency calls in her name) and death threats.

The Ukraine’s familiar scenario

February 16, 2015

image-811111-panoV9free-stvuSource: Der Spiegel

Ukraine’s problems can be summed up thusly:

  • A national army that’s unwilling to fight.
  • Out-of-control fanatic militias unwilling to make peace.
  • An economy in a state of collapse.

Every country is unique, and so is every situation, but this sounds an awful lot like the situations in Iraq and other countries in which the United States has intervened.

In these countries, all factions are willing and able to fight except the faction aligned with the United States.

Also similar is the position of the U.S. government.  The President doesn’t want to accept defeat, but neither does he want to send more young Americans to another foreign land to die in a war that probably isn’t winnable.

So he ponders are compromise measures, such as sending defensive weapons that supposedly won’t be used for offense, and technical advisers that supposedly are not actually going to fight themselves.

The best thing that could happen from the standpoint of the United States would be for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to negotiated a compromise peace.  This would involve home rule for eastern Ukraine, and a federal system in which the Russian speakers could veto Ukraine joining NATO.

That would leave Ukraine proper in hock to the International Monetary Fund.  Paying off the IMF would mean higher prices, higher taxes and sale of Ukrainian national assets at bargain prices.  If Washington was truly interested in helping the Ukrainian people, it would try to help free them from IMF debt bondage.

It’s interesting, by the way, that one party in what supposedly is a civil war is absent from the peace negotiations.  The negotiating parties are representatives of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia, but not of the separatists in east Ukraine.  Presumably they will have no choice but to accept whatever Russia agrees to.

LINKS

Can Merkel’s diplomacy save Europe? by the Spiegel staff.

Ukraine Denouement: the Russian Loan and the IMF’s One-Two Punch by Michael Hudson for Counterpunch.

Squeezing Greece won’t help German people

February 14, 2015

The Greek debt crisis is not a conflict between Germany and Greece.   It is the European Union acting as a debt collection agency for central bankers.

German working people get no benefit from the demand that the government of Greece impoverish the people of Greece so as to pay interest to the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Cartoon by David Simonds. Angela Merkel's hard line on debt threatens the euro project.They in fact will suffer in the long run, because the more wages and living conditions are driven down in other countries, the harder it will be to maintain them in Germany.

Some five years ago, I wrote a post about how Germany was a good role model for the USA, because its leaders were committed to industrial productivity and a high-wage economy.   Unfortunately, the German leaders instead have taken the USA as a role model, and followed our downward path of financialization.

I believe that people who borrow money have a moral obligation to pay it back—if they can.  I believe that there are other moral obligations that take precedence, such as the welfare of those who depend on you.  That’s why the United States and other nations substituted bankruptcy laws for debtors’ prisons.

The Greek debt problem would have solved itself if Greece had its own currency instead of the Euro.  As Greece’s balance of trade worsened, its currency would be devalued and its products and services (including the tourist industry) would become cheaper in terms of dollars and euros.

The great fear of the “troika”–the ECB, IMP and the leaders of the European Union–is that Greece will stop using the euro, and that some of the other 17 countries that use the euro will follow suit.  That might be a problem for bond-holders.  I don’t see it as a problem for ordinary people in Germany, the USA or any other country.

LINKS 

It’s the class conflict, stupid! by David Ruccio on occasional links and commentary.

Europe: Shaking the Temple by Conn Hallinan for Dispatches from the Edge.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

From Minsk to Brussels, it’s all about Germany by Pepe Escobar for RT Op-Edge.

 

How America shaped the early 20th century

January 12, 2015

Adam Tooze in THE DELUGE: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931, which I just got finished reading, traced the impact of the emergence of the United States as the world’s dominant superpower and arbiter of world affairs.

He described in great detail the struggles in Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Japan for security and economic stability, and how they all hinged on the action and inaction of the USA.

Leaders of the USA today call our country the “indispensable nation”, and assert the right and the power to be the arbiter of the world.  Tooze’s book shows how this self-appointed role began.

24926_large_The_DelugeThe early 20th century USA was a new kind of world power, Tooze wrote.  It had a greater area and greater population than any European country except Russia.  It was uniquely invulnerable to invasion.  It was the world’s leading manufacturing nation, agricultural producer and oil exporter and, as a result of the war, the world’s leading creditor nation.  No other country could even come close to matching American power.

Tooze began his history in 1916 because that was when Britain, France and their allies came to realize how much they depended on the United States, not just for supplies, but even more for financing of the war.

Woodrow Wilson’s policy was to use this leverage to dictate a “peace without victory,” a compromise peace based on liberal democracy, international law and—most importantly—a worldwide open door for U.S. commerce.

The United States was not interested in new territorial acquisitions because it didn’t need them.  All it wanted was access to other nations’ territories by American business.

Wilson’s neutrality became politically unsustainable because of German attacks on U.S. shipping, and the Zimmerman telegram to Mexico urging reconquest of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, but he still tried to maintain U.S. position as an arbiter above the fray.

His Fourteen Points encouraged liberal democrats around the world.  According to Tooze, with better decisions and better luck, there might have been a compromise peace between the pro-democratic Provisional Government of Russia, which came to power in March 1917, and a German government forced to yield to pressure from liberals and socialists in the Reichstag.

But the USA and the other allies pressured Russia’s Provisional Government to go on fighting, and the German army successfully counterattacked.  The Russians ceased to hope for peace and the Germans ceased to see a need for peace.   Wilsonian liberal movements in China and Japan also received no support, partly because of Wilson’s racism.

Tooze pointed out that the Fourteen Points were all highly consistent with American national interests.   The first three points were (1) no secret treaties, (2) freedom of the seas and (3) removal of barriers to equality of trade, all policies that advanced U.S. economic interests.

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Germany on the same path as the USA

December 12, 2014
Wage and productivity growth in Germany

Wage and productivity growth in Germany

Via VoxEU

Some years back I wrote a post holding up Germany as a role model for the United States.  I said Germany’s policies showed that a nation can have a strong labor movement and a strong social safety net and yet have a growing economy and success in world markets.

I failed to recognize that Germany was and is following the same path as the United States—high profits, wage stagnation and financialization.  Germans are better off than Americans only because their starting point was higher when they started on the road to decline.

The chart shows that German productivity is increasing, just as in the United States, but German wage-earners aren’t getting the benefit of it.

Just like in the USA.

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The passing scene: November 13, 2014

November 13, 2014

Thank you for your service by Elizabeth Herrin for Medium.

All of My Friends Are Dying by Vince Emanuele for World News Daily.

John Fogarty defends ‘Fortunate Son’ song choice at Concert for Valor by Randy Lewis for the Los Angeles Times.  (via Bill Harvey)

Can you honor veterans for their service, while still thinking that the war they served in was wrong, or even that all wars are wrong?  My answer is: Yes.

College Athletes of the World, Unite by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for Jacobin magazine.  (via Bill Harvey)

I thought that star college athletes had it good, but evidently not.  This article was an eye-opener for me.

The Mystery of Ray McGovern’s Arrest by Ray McGovern for Consortium News.

CIA critic Ray McGovern was arrested for trying to attend a panel discussion in which CIA ex-chief David Patraeus participated.  His ticket was bought under somebody else’s name.  So how did the police at the door know to be on the lookout for him?

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Germany between the USA and Russia

July 16, 2014

germany.publicopinion. USA.Russia

Germans are so outraged by American spying that they distrust the United States about as much as they do Russia.

Some analysts think the U.S.-German alliance is in jeopardy.  I grew up with the stereotype of the United States as a freedom-loving country and Germany as an authoritarian country, and it is deeply ironic that Germany may break with the United States because of lack of U.S. respect for civil liberties.

The National Security Agency tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone.   More recently Germany has demanded the expulsion of the Central Intelligence Agency station chief after learning that the CIA had recruited a German intelligence officer to turn over, among other things, documents intended for a Bundestag committee investigating NSA activities in Germany.

Why would the NSA and CIA take such risks for trivial gains?  Was President Obama told?  If not, will there be any consequences to those who didn’t tell him?  Does he agree with what the NSA and CIA are doing?  Or is he afraid to rein them in and, if so, why?

U.S. intelligence agencies, like Wall Street, are part of a “deep state” beyond the reach of the normal democratic process.   But the “deep state” does not appear to have a policy, except to blindly extend the reach of its activities as far as it can.

I don’t claim any expert or inside knowledge of Germany or of U.S.-German relations, but here are my thoughts for whatever they’re worth.

  • Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, successive U.S. governments have acted as if they can do as they like, without having to take anybody else’s point of view into consideration.  This was bound to backfire, and now it has.
  • Germany is in many ways a more natural economic partner for Russia than for the USA.  Russia supplies Germany with oil and gas, imports German manufactured goods and welcomes German investment.
  • But Germans still distrust Russia, and are happy to have the United States pay for Germany’s defense.   The Germany army would not be a match for the Russian army.
  • It is in Germany’s interest to have good relations with both the United States and Russia.  It is not in the interest of the United States to force German leaders to choose between them.
  • If China is the main strategic rival of the USA, it is in the U.S. interest to see Russia develop closer ties with Europe rather than become an economic satellite of China.

One measure of the seriousness of the crisis will be whether Germany offers political asylum to Edward Snowden.  If it does, the U.S.-German alliance is probably broken.

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Three questions about self-determination

March 9, 2014
A woman lights a candle in Kiev in memory of protesters who died

A woman lights a candle in Kiev in memory of protesters killed in February

I think it is good for us Americans to hear points of view we don’t hear from the so-called mainstream press and broadcasters.  Here is Yanis Varoufakis, a professor of economics at the University of Athens, on the right of self-determination, as applied to Ukraine.

Let us accept (as I do) the principle that national minorities have the right to self-determination within lopsided multi-ethnic states; e.g. Croats and Kosovars seceding from Yugoslavia, Scots from the UK, Georgians from the Soviet Union etc.

Awkward question no. 1: On what principle can we deny, once Croatia, Kosovo, Scotland and Georgia have come into being, the right of Krajina Serbs, of Mitrovica Serbs, of Shetland Islanders and of Abkhazians to carve out, if they so wish, their own nation-states within the newly independent nation-states in the areas where they constitute a clear majority?

Awkward question no. 2: On what principle does a western liberal deny the right of Chechens to independence from Russia, but is prepared to defend to the hilt the Georgians’ or the Ukrainians’ right to self-determination?

Awkward question no. 3: On what principle is it justifiable that the West acquiesced to the razing to the ground of Grozny (Chechnya’s capital), not to mention the tens of thousands of civilian deaths, but responded fiercely, threatened with global sanctions, and raised the specter of a major Cold War-like confrontation over the (so far) bloodless deployment of undercover Russian troops in Crimea?

Varoufakis stipulated that Vladimir Putin is a dangerous despot, and that the (relatively) democratic values embodied in the European Union are preferable to the authoritarian values of the Putin-sponsored economic bloc, the Eurasian Union (consisting so far of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan).

Unfortunately, he said, Western leaders don’t necessarily have Ukraine’s interests at heart.

The Ukraine is, and was always going to be, the battleground between Russia’s industrial neo-feudalism, the U.S. State Department’s ambitions, and Germany’s neo-Lebensraum policies.

Various [U.S.] ‘Eurasianists’ see the crisis in Kiev as a great opportunity to promote a program of full confrontation with Russia, one that is reminiscent of Z. Brzezinski’s 1970s anti-Soviet strategy.  Importantly, they also see the Ukraine as an excellent excuse to torpedo America’s role in normalizing relations with Iran and minimizing the human cost in Syria.

At the same time, the IMF cannot wait to enter Russia’s underbelly with a view to imposing another ‘stabilization-and-structural-adjustment program’ that will bring that whole part of the former Soviet Union under its purview.

As for Germany, it has its own agenda which pulls it in two different directions at once: securing as much of the former Soviet Union as part of its neo-Lebensraum strategy of expanding its market/industrial space eastwards; while, at the same time, preserving its privileged access to gas supplies from [Russia’s] Gazprom.

He believes that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry understand the limits of American power and the danger of an overly hawkish response to events in Ukraine.   I hope he’s right, but I’m not so sure.

Click on Yanis Varoufakis: Ukraine – Three Awkward Questions for Western Liberals and a Comment on the EU’s Role | naked capitalism to read his whole article.

[Update 3/10/14.  I edited this post lightly for clarity.]

Brazil, Germany should offer Snowden asylum

December 20, 2013

Earlier this week the United Nations General Assembly passed a strong general resolution, introduced by the governments of Brazil and Germany, affirming “the right to privacy in the digital age”.

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

It didn’t mention the U.S. National Security Agency, but it was obviously inspired by what Edward Snowden revealed about the extent of the NSA’s worldwide surveillance.   I think the governments of Brazil and Germany should show their appreciation by offering Snowden asylum.

Snowden is in a precarious position in Russia.  He was granted permission to stay in that country for a year, of which about nine months remain.  President Vladimir Putin said in an interview that he wouldn’t tolerate a Russian who revealed information about the secret Russian security agencies, and that the only reason he permits Snowden to remain in Russia is that there is no extradition treaty with the United States.   If the United States signed such a treaty, and handed over certain Russian fugitives that Putin wants, he would hand over Snowden without hesitation.

Why are Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Germany’s Angela Merkel and other national leaders unwilling to give Snowden refuge?  One obvious reason is that they fear to displease the U.S. government.   Another might be that they, too, don’t want to set a precedent that would encourage Snowdens in their own countries.

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A German view of the U.S. election

November 7, 2012

On Monday, a writer for Der Speigel, the German newsmagazine, offered this view of the U.S. election.

nullThe United States Army is developing a weapon that can reach — and destroy — any location on Earth within an hour.  At the same time, power lines held up by wooden poles dangle over the streets of Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey.  Hurricane Sandy ripped them apart there and in communities across the East Coast last week, and many places remain without electricity.  That’s America, where high-tech options are available only to the elite, and the rest live under conditions comparable to a those of a developing nation. No country has produced more Nobel Prize winners, yet in New York City hospitals had to be evacuated during the storm because their emergency generators didn’t work properly.  ****

Romney, the exceedingly wealthy business man, and Obama, the cultivated civil rights lawyer, are two faces of a political system that no longer has much to do with democracy as we understand it.  Democracy is about choice, but Americans don’t really have much of a choice.

Obama proved this.  Nearly four years ago, it seemed like a new beginning for America when he took office.  But this was a misunderstanding.  Obama didn’t close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, nor did he lift immunity for alleged war criminals from the Bush-era, or regulate the financial markets, and climate change was hardly discussed during the current election campaign.  The military, the banks, industry — the people are helpless in the face of their power, as is the president.

Not even credit default swaps, the kind of investment that brought down Lehman Brothers and took Western economies to the brink, has been banned or even better regulated.

via SPIEGEL ONLINE.

That’s all too true.  If you had asked me 50 years ago which 21st-century nation would have science-fictional technology for surveillance and waging war, while being unable to provide basic services for its people, I would have named the Soviet Union, not the United States.  That’s the kind of society you get when you are ruled by an elite group that is unaccountable to the general public.   I don’t think the United States ever will become like the Soviet Union under Stalin, but unless something changes, we could wind up very like Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

But the German writer seems a bit complacent about his own society, and especially about calling the United States an example of “total capitalism.”  Germany is being governed in the interest of its big banks just as the United States is.  The austerity measures that the German government is forcing on the European Union is moving Europe toward the same conditions that the writer doesn’t like in the United States.

Volkswagen’s transparent factory

March 19, 2011

Hat tip to Bill Elwell

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Thomas Geohegan’s Germany

September 1, 2010

I remember once years ago when my friend George was telling a bunch of us what a wonderful vacation he had in Paris.  It was a great place to be, he said, but there was one problem with the French and with Europeans generally.  “They have it too good.”

That’s the impression many Americans have of the European welfare states.  Yes, it’s nice to have long vacations, universal health care, beautiful parks, generous old age pensions and so on – but how then can the Europeans compete with the Chinese, the Koreans, the Indians or, for that matter, us lean and mean Americans.

Thomas Geoghegan, a Chicago labor lawyer, has written a new book Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life to argue that the reverse is true.  He wrote that what looks like socialism to us Americans is precisely what makes France, Germany and the other leading European countries competitive.

He concentrates on Germany, because it is Europe’s leading economic power and because he likes the German model better than that of France and some of the others.  Germany’s social democracy is based not so much on governmental power as on empowerment of workers, he writes.  They have strong unions, workplace councils, representation on boards of directors and regional collective bargaining (so that the German equivalents of Borders and Barnes & Noble have to pay the same wages.)

This works.  The European Union, unlike the United States, has a positive trade balance.  Germany has a positive trade balance with the world, and with China specifically.  In fact, Germany for years was the world’s leading exporting nation, and now is a close runner-up to China; the United States is a distant third – astonishing when you think Germany has a population of 83 million, the United States more than 300 million and China more than 1 billion. None of this would be true if the keys to success in the global economy were low wages, no benefits and union-busting.

Yes, Geoghegan admits, Germany isn’t perfect, Germany has problems, the German economic model is eroding a bit under global competition, but overall Germans are doing better under their system than we Americans are doing under ours.

In Germany, it is difficult (though not impossible) for corporations to shut down operations and shift production to poor countries, so they think about ways of making their domestic industry more efficient and productive.  And because workers have a voice in decisions, they accept what is decided.  In the United States, Geoghegan says, it is easy for corporate management to make a decision, but difficult to implement it; in Germany, it is difficult to come to a decision, but easier to carry it out once decided.

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German companies and labor representation

March 22, 2010

Germany, as I noted in an earlier post, shows that it is possible for a nation to maintain a high material standard of living while still competing successfully in the global arena.

Germany is the world’s second-largest exporting nation, behind China, and for many years was number one, and it has the world’s third-largest trade surplus, behind China and Japan. Be it noted that there are about 60 million Germans and more than 1 billion Chinese.  At the same time German workers get six-week vacations, generous old age pensions and guaranteed health insurance.

Thomas Geoghegan, a Chicago labor lawyer, has an excellent article about this in the March 2010 issue of Harper’s magazine.  He attributes Germany’s superior economic performance to its system of worker participation in corporate governance which, ironically, was imposed on Germany by the victorious allies after World War Two.

Workers have equal representation on the boards of directors of large corporations with shareholders, although the shareholders have the deciding vote in case of a tie.  The important thing from the workers’ perspective is that they know what’s going on.  They know the financial situation of the corporation, and they know its plans.  If a company is considering moving a manufacturing operation to Asia or eastern Europe, the union can make a counter-proposal to make it economically feasible to stay in Germany.

I don’t think that is the whole story, but I do think it is a great advantage to Germany to avoid the kind of class warfare we have in the United States.  Workers can suggest improvements in efficiency without fearing they will jeopardize their own jobs.

In the 1950s, Walter Reuther, the head of the United Auto Workers, reportedly urged General Motors, Ford and Chrysler to make a line of fuel-efficient cars; the companies reportedly reacted with outrage at this infringement of management prerogatives, and told Reuther to restrict himself for bargaining for pay and benefits.  (I don’t have a historical reference for this, but I find it believable.)

Even if you don’t think worker participation is the cause of Germany’s economic success, the facts show that it hasn’t prevented that success.

You may say that this is all very well for Germany, but its institutions can’t possibly be transplanted to the United States.  But the United States has a long history of adopting good ideas from Germany.  The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. armed forces are modeled on the Prussian General Staff.  U.S. corporate research laboratories and research universities were inspired by Germany models.  The U.S. interstate highway system is modeled on the German autobahn.  The secret of success is to take other people’s good ideas and improve upon them.


Germany as an economic role model

February 20, 2010

The excuse we Americans give ourselves for the erosion of our manufacturing industries is that we can’t be expected to compete with the sweatshop industries of China and other low-wage countries.  But workers in Germany get higher wages than American workers, and yet Germany enjoys a trade surplus with the world and with China.  While the United States exports soybeans to China, Germany exports high-speed railroad technology.  Germany in fact was the world’s top exporting nation for years, until last year when it took second place to China. That’s amazing, when you consider that Germany has only 83 million people.

There is a good article about Germany’s achievements by a business writer named Eamonn Fingleton in the March issue of The American Prospect magazine. Click on this to read it.

The basic facts about Germany’s economic performance can be found here and here and here and here.  The counter-argument is that although Germany as a nation is more solvent and its workers better-off, the growth of its Gross Domestic Product has lagged behind the United States. But Gross Domestic Product is a poor indicator of national well-being, as has been known for some time.

The basic fact about Germany is that it is run for the benefit of producers rather than consumers.

Germany’s policy of fostering manufacturing industries goes back for more than a century. Unlike Americans and Britons, Germans historically have believed that the unit of economic competition is not the individual nor the firm, but the nation.

Germany never enacted anti-trust laws. When German companies have dominant positions in their industries, like Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp. and IBM Corp. in the 1970s, the German government encourages them, not tries to break them up.  The structure of German industry is like what U.S. industry would be if, a century ago, industrialists and financiers such as John D. Rockefeller Sr. and J.P. Morgan had been given free rein.

As a result, German banks are closely allied to industry in a way that wouldn’t be considered proper in the United States.  Fingleton notes that German manufacturers have hausbanks that keep them going through recessions, and enable them to come back stronger than ever. We have had nothing like that in the United States since the Morgan era.  Big American banks  devote themselves to “financial engineering”; the German banks invest in companies that do actual engineering.

The Germans have more effective means of promoting savings and investment than cutting the top tax rates for millionaires and billionaires.  Fingleton points out that German industrialists early on saw the relationship between scientific research and industrial growth.  When George Eastman decided to establish Kodak Research Laboratories here in Rochester, he traveled to Germany to see how it was done.

The other major force in the German economy is the power of the German labor movement.  German trade unions resist outsourcing, but work with their employers to make their companies more efficient and competitive.  Unions have representation on the boards of directors of large corporations – an innovation introduced in the late 1940s by the British occupation authorities under the then Labor government.

The power of labor unions means German workers have greater job security, which may be a handicap to individual employers but benefits the German economy as a whole, Fingleton claims.  In downturns, German firms tend to cut hours of work rather than employees.  German employers have a greater incentive to increase the productivity of their workers, through training and technology, and as a rule German workers stay with their employers instead of taking new skills elsewhere.

When you look at these achievements, you have to consider that German industry was devastated during the Second World War and Germany had to rebuild their economic structure literally from the ground up, and then that for the past 20 years Germany has been struggling to integrate the dysfunctional East German economy into the larger economic structure.  It’s quite a success story, and if not one to copy in all aspects, one to learn from.

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