The Washington Post

Germany’s Great Depression

Harold Meyerson and I have had some fun quarreling about various subjects, most recently Harold’s belief, disputed by me, that Germany’s “economic miracle” (Harold’s phrase) offers actionable lessons for the U.S.

Reasonable people can disagree about this – or so I thought until today, when I discovered the closest thing to scientific proof that I am right and Harold is wrong. Specifically, the Gallup Poll has conducted a survey comparing individual well-being in the U.S. and Germany, concluding that Americans feel better, even though our unemployment and recession are worse.

According to Gallup, 58.9 percent of Germans questioned between March and July of this year describe themselves as either “struggling” or “suffering,” compared to 47.1 percent of Americans who see themselves that way. Nearly 53 percent of Americans say they are “thriving,” in contrast to only 41.1 percent of Germans. How can this be? I note that the survey’s questions were designed to elicit answers about physical and mental health as well as economic security. Shouldn’t Germany’s guaranteed health insurance alone be enough to give it the advantage? But I digress.

Here’s the real point: we journalists speak in broad generalities about economic and social systems, even though statistics and policy blather often obscure the more subtle realities of life as it is really lived. Comparing economic policies across cultures can also overlook more important differences of, say, national character. Surely I’m not the first observer to have noticed that our Teutonic friends have a tendency to see even a full glass as half-empty. Maybe it’s those long, grey winters.

So go ahead, Harold, bring state-managed, export-led economic growth to this side of the Atlantic. Whatever else happens, it probably won’t ruin our mood. It doesn’t seem to have improved Germany’s.

Charles Lane is a Post editorial writer, specializing in economic policy, federal fiscal issues and business, and a contributor to the PostPartisan blog.


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