The Germany-Bubble: A Last Hurrah for a Great Economy

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.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

Jackson Janes

President of AICGS

Jackson Janes is the President of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, where he has been affiliated since 1989.

Dr. Janes has been engaged in German-American affairs in numerous capacities over many years. He has studied and taught in German universities in Freiburg, Giessen and Tübingen. He was the Director of the German-American Institute in Tübingen (1977-1980) and then directed the European office of The German Marshall Fund of the United States in Bonn (1980-1985). Before joining AICGS, he served as Director of Program Development at the University Center for International Studies at the University of Pittsburgh (1986-1988). He was also Chair of the German Speaking Areas in Europe Program at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington, DC, from 1999-2000 and President of the International Association for the Study of German Politics from 2005-2010.

Dr. Janes is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Atlantic Council of the United States. He serves on the advisory boards of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee , Beirat der Zeitschrift für Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik (ZfAS), the Robert Bosch Foundation Alumni Association, and the American Bundestag Intern Network (ABIN) in Washington, DC. He is a member of the Board of the German American Fulbright Commission and serves on the Selection Committee for the Bundeskanzler Fellowships for the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He is a member of the Cosmos Club in Washington DC.

Dr. Janes has lectured throughout Europe and the United States and has published extensively on issues dealing with Germany, German-American relations, and transatlantic affairs. In addition to regular commentary given to European and American news radio, he has appeared on CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, PBS, CBC, and is a frequent commentator on German television. Dr. Janes is listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in Education.

In 2005, Dr. Janes was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Germany’s highest civilian award.

Ph.D., International Relations, Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, California
M.A., Divinity School, University of Chicago
B.A., Sociology, Colgate University

Transatlantic relations, German-American relations, domestic German politics, German-EU relations, transatlantic affairs.