The newest book by Olaf Gersemann, Business editor of Die Welt and Welt am Sonntag, is bound to both offend and encourage. In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Germany’s economy, he challenges the political and corporate leadership to come to grips with major threats ahead for Germany at a time when most Germans believe they are riding high in the aftermath of the last few years of a global recession. He specifically aims his criticism at Germany as the “Oskar Matzerath” nation—the famous character in the novel The Tin Drum who decided to stop growing after his third birthday. For Gersemann, Oskar represents the Germans who don’t see the need to grow any more—evidenced by an average growth rate of only 1.3 percent over the last two decades. The fact that he sees the specter of Japan’s decades-long economic dilemma looming over Germany is enough of a scary prospect.
He also sees a demographic time bomb looming in Germany’s future. The country must come to terms with the wave of baby-boomers about to retire and the need for younger workers—workers who might only come through more immigration portals.
Gersemann worries that Germany’s economy is too dependent on too few industries—particularly in the automotive branch—which are increasingly dependent on China. He then points at German corporations that are seeking to secure their futures outside of Germany with the result that inadequate investments in infrastructure are not keeping pace with the competition elsewhere.
The author recognizes that some critics might call him a single-focused complainer but he does note opportunities for what he wants to encourage: change and growth. He suggests a number of well-known targets, such as loosening up the service sector as well as the job market, including enhancements for lifelong learning.
One unique suggestion is to introduce the ability of children to be represented in elections with an additional vote by their parents. Gersemann argues that this would balance out the increasing influence of the larger older generations in shaping policy priorities.
Overall, the message echoes the familiar refrain from the Italian writer Lampedusa: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” Only Gersemann doesn’t want things to only stay as they are. He wants Germany to be what it has been in the past but is in danger of forgetting. Oskar has to start growing again.