John Lett (Readings) Germany’s Pre-Eminence
After the dotcom crash 9/11, there were scores of doubts as to the future of the vitality of the US both as an exporter of culture and financially. Ten years later, this has remained the case.
In the immediate aftermath of this event and the culture of fear that followed this, I was just as swept up in the propaganda and series of doubts that hung over American culture. One night in late 2002 or very early 2003, I remember talking to my dad about all this and sharing a vision I had been having repeatedly.
“Germany is going to be the world’s number one economy now for a while.”
My dad said this was bogus, impossible. In terms of GDP, he was right. However, what I must have been speaking of was exports, though I did not have the sophistication in my education at that time to really elaborate on any visions or thoughts I had. Much to the surprise of most people, Germany’s output is far greater than people estimate. It was commonly told to us in school in the US for many years that Germany was the third largest economy in the world, even when it was just West Germany (though this pre-dates my education a bit).
As you can find cited in dozens of places now, in fact, Germany did go on to become the world’s top exporter in 2003, and it remained so until 2008, being displaced by China in 2009. Even so, out of around $1trn USD in exports, only $50bn separated the two countries. In 2010, Germany’s exports were about 2% higher in value than the United States, in spite of a population of 82m as compared to a US population of around 310m.
Even so, we get very confused by economic data and it is used for political purposes. Furthermore, it does not reflect the well-being of the people.
Two years later, I had my first visit to Germany while on tour of Europe. I have had had past life recollections of Germany for some time, and as soon as I crossed the border from Luxembourg into Germany, a rainbow appeared above the train, in spite of the fact that it was a cloudless day. The year was 2005, at the peak of exporting for Germany. I had been living in Denmark, which was fairly unscathed by worldwide economic doldrums at the time. I met Claudia, who worked for a major financial institution in Frankfurt. We were visiting and I had no interest in finance at the time, so I did not ask her questions that I would ask her now, nor did I know the real state of affairs in Germany at the time. I told her I had left a retail assistant manager position in the US to study abroad where I was making $8 an hour.
“WOW! You left? If you were a young person in Germany, you would definitely not leave that job.”
I couldn’t believe what she was saying, as that would have been about €5.50 per hour. However, in the following weeks, I encountered labor strikes around the issue of the Hartz IV unemployment cutbacks (I could make inferences about this but did not know the backstory), and discovered that Germany had no minimum wage. A candy striper on the train chanting “Zigarreten” told me in a whisper that he was making €2.50 per hour.
The following September when I was back in the US, what was splashed all over the news was that Germany now had the worst unemployment levels since 1932 and Angela Merkel was a rising star. Over the following years, and especially after 2008, kurzarbeit was how stimulus was distributed – basically amounting to job sharing and federal subsidies to hold onto the jobs. This was largely successful and kept workers in the loop instead of losing skills in redundancy, but Germany’s competitiveness from 1998 onward was largely based on freezing or reducing wages. Many argue this is what has suspended France from advancing, as the workers have retained their benefits, wages, and earlier retirement there, though at the cost of making it possible for young workers to find employment.
In the most recent of times, namely April 2010 onward, when the focus has shifted to Greece and its supposed errant ways, the most disturbing thing to me has been how it has turned into an opportunity to be racist. While German cultural tendencies to save are famous (as well as a preference for paying in cash which led to the country’s insistence on producing €500 banknotes), there have been exaggerations and misrepresentations about other countries in Europe’s spending and saving patterns. Greeks have among the highest rates of home ownership in Europe. Italians have more than twice the net wealth of Germans, according to The Globe and Mail. If you adjust the arrows on this wikipedia page, you can see the external debt list. In percentage of GDP, the UK owes 400% of its GDP in external debts, for instance. The UK, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, and Switzerland all have higher external debts than Spain, and most of them higher than Greece (before they were forced to take bailouts), and Italy’s debts are far lower than Germany’s at 108% versus 142%. The United States is lower than all of them, I might add, at 99%, and Canada at 64% (although Canada’s personal debt is at 149% of income, the US 114%).
However, most northern European and American newspapers report “those silly Mediterraneans are tax cheats and don’t save any money.” I think you can make numbers say whatever you want, but you have to ask around and look around you.
I have said in recent years recessions are not real unless they are stemming from 1) a natural disaster, or 2) market saturation/critical mass. There is no logical reason for these crises to be happening now, and they are not cyclical.
So all of this leads to a question, but how to phrase it is difficult. We must not blame citizens of any country for what their government or media representations of them are doing.
Dear God, what is the motivation for the media casting the image that Germany is the only productive nation in Europe at the moment? What are the forces at work here, and what will happen in Europe generally in the next few years? We ask this so that people may be prepared and informed, so as to limit hard feelings between cultures and groups, and so that people around the world may prosper.
Past and Present: Queen of Pentacles, reversed; XIX The Sun
The first card means to be overwhelmed and exhausted, perhaps a zealous personality at hand. As Pentacles always represent money and professional aspects, this is saying that these issues weigh the heaviest on the querent or subject. With this in mind, I think this refers to the cultural connotations and expectations Germans feel. The media take on Germany supporting all of Europe combined with historical guilt have put a lot of pressure on individuals there to work harder, at the expense of humor and relief, at times. There is a sense of isolation and being separate from the family. This is not a pleasant situation to be in, whereas from an outside perspective, many people think that perhaps the country would get a sense of pride out of the situation. As this is also a maternal card reversed, it means that any patronizing or self-important language or sentiments should be avoided because it will further compound the problem – suggesting to not play into these current stereotypes.
The Sun has a relatively simple meaning. The crisis has brought on a lot of creative spirit in the nation and people are engaging in entrepreneurial and advancement opportunities. Anything that was considered institutionally important in the distant past remains important now and therefore the intellectual accomplishments of the country and people have not been tarnished or neglected. This also states that the media claims of prosperity and well-being are largely based in fact and there is general movement of capital here.
Combined, the cards imply that also the propaganda has been different in Germany because the country has used positive semantics in their reporting in some ways to lift the recession, whereas other countries likely have not.
The Future and the Answer: XXI The World; XX Judgement, reversed
To my surprise, benevolent forces are at work here (although not necessarily all the people involved are benevolent, obviously). The World card could have dozens of meanings here, but I wish to keep most of my bias out. More acclaim is to come in the next few years, and many economic and education models from Germany will be copied. At least through the end of 2012, Germany will be considered one of the strongholds of stable places. There will be presentations and other means of the leadership there documenting their past decisions and how this resulted in specific outcomes. The leadership there may introduce some kind of major plan for the whole of Europe. It is a card of vision, expansion, achievement, and so on, so all positive connotations.
Judgement in the reversed position however indicates something bittersweet with this, however, and a return to that feeling of isolation. This is again the ephemeral nature of what we are being told are the “natural cycles” of economics. So therefore what is built up, someone will cut down and then introduce statistics or reasons to negate the glory of the subject. This card immediately afterward says to people in Germany and those looking at Germany to not get caught up in the exuberance and crashes of perception.
The motivation is to play with emotions on one hand, but also because there are several figures that want the institutional backbones of Germany, education and stability, to be spread around the world.
Will Germany experience peace and economic prosperity over the next five years (2011-2015)?
Queen of Cups; Eight of Rods, reversed
Queen of Cups is a strong, authentic female. I have every reason to believe this would have to be Angela Merkel. While any politician has to compromise significantly and also be complicit with evil, I think this woman has a master plan and is the ultimate states(wo)man. Anything bogus, such as with Libya, is not likely to have much to do with her. She is practical and realizes that the banks, military, industrial giants, etc. are here to stay and so she is trying to satisfy their desires while making sure the people do not suffer unnecessarily. This is a card of caring and responsiveness while keeping a cool head.
Eight of Rods in reverse is a card of obstacles, stagnation, slowness, not being able to agree, suspending plans. This means that the glow will break somewhat and while performing better than the other industrial countries, global recession will limit growth. No more than 1% annual gains in the economy. No major breakthroughs that excite people. More divisions in opinion. So while there is not a catastrophe predicted here, a lack of excitement and no real growth seem to be indicated, though Merkel or perhaps another prominent female will keep the country’s status level and not tarnish the main pillars of the country.
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