"Better - "Better conditions are the enemy of current conditions," a leading West German economic spokesman mused the other day.
What he meant, he continued, is that businessmen who are led to believe that more favorable conditions lie ahead will hold back on making new investments that are badly needed now to pump up the economy and provide more jobs.
"German businessmen in particular have a desire to feel secure" he added. "They are not accustomed to changing conditions."
Thus the Bonn government continues to stress that it cannot and will not do more to stimulate its own economy in the coming year until it sees how the plans already set in motion work out six or eight months from now.
This policy continues despite angry complaints from Washington that the powerful West German economic locomotive is not doing its share of pulling the rest of the less prosperous world out of a lingering recession.
The logic is very German and it illustrates a fundamental reason why there is private bitterness between Bonn and Washington these days on economic matters and why it may not get better.
Not only do Germans and American differ on some points of official economic strategy, but they differ on some vital national characteristics that influence these things.
In many ways, both are materialistic, consumer-oriented societies with average family incomes about the same. But saving is still a virtue here and Germans put about 15 percent of their take-home pay in the bank, almost three times the U.S. rate.
Many here also still tend to look at personal debt as living over one's head and so, while they are catching on to credit, they are laggards compared with the massive use of credit one finds in America.
These are important factors when it comes to the question of how much more the Bonn government could stimulate is own economy if it wanted to.
On the other hand, there is also a trait much harder to define. It is one that many westerners, not just Americans, frequently have sensed in the German character. That is a certain lack of flexibility in some matters when compared with American expansiveness and willingness to experiment with unorthodox remedies.
Thus, when one listens to government economists here these days, one is struck by the notion that Bonn is defending itself with many traditional statistics that show, quite correctly, that the Germans indeed probably have the most efficient major economy in the world.
But they seem incapable of seeing that something out of the ordinary is needed.
The question, however, is what can be done that is likely to work. Thus far, no specfic answers have been forthcoming from either side of the Altantic.
The general idea is that Bonn should pump up its domestic economy so that Germans would import more goods from their neighbors and thus help spread the wealth and full more countries out of the stagnation.
But Bonn argues that its rate of imports has been going up faster than its exports for the past three years, that its total public deficit is "fully mobilized" and runs to 4 percent of gross national product. The government has approved tax cuts in recent years that go beyond those that are still only planned in the U.S. and has pumped some $8 billion extra this year into the economy through various tax and credit packages.
Why not a much greater public-works-style project to pump still more money into people's hands and help cut unemployment? an economist is asked.
"We've done all that for years, there are no projects left that are reasonable," comes the throughly German answer."We have too many autobabas and hospitals and school houses already. We could put 100,000 more people in public service but that would be consumption of gross national product financed by taxes rather than growth of GNP."
Savings bank interest rates here are dropping toward 2 1/2 percent to induce more money into the marketplace, but still people save mightily.
But cautious German businessmen and consumers are holding back.
Growth that was once predicted to be 5 percent in gross national product for 1977 turned out to be 2.4 percent. More cautious official estimates of 3.5 per cent for this year are viewed as optimistic.
The Germans claim they are caught in a vicious cycle that is misunderstood by Americans.
Unlike tha American economy, which generates perhaps 90 percent of its market at home, the Germans are dependent on export industries for some 27 percent of their GNP and their jobs. It is those industries which are being hurt by the global economic slump and most specifically by the dramatic fall in value of the dollar against the German currency, which makes German goods much higher priced in the U.S.
The Germans argue that there is no way that they can pump up the domestic economy quickly to a point where it not only will compensate for reduced export sales but will add on real growth as well.
The Germans also feel it is not well understood in the West than Bonn no longer is running up massive foreign trade surpluses. While the efficient export industries, despite the higher-priced deutschemark, continue to pile up surpluses, sales are declining. When the amount of money flowing out of the country with tourists and foreign workers is considered, Bonn counts its basic international payments situation as roughly balanced rather than deep in black ink.
The Germans, however, remain in an eviable position in many ways.
Their inflation rate of less than 4 percent, the lowest in seven years, is also the lowest of any major industrialized nation. The 4.8 percent unemployment rate, though it does contain a high percentage of moody young people, is also low by most standards. Though Bonn imports virtually all its oil, it has paid for it without the massive debts the U.S. has rung up.
Still, claims an economist here. 'The U.S. argument assigns us a role that we cannot fill." The Germans seem convinced of that, and there is no sign that anybody is thinking very hard about whether the Americans might be right and something out of the ordinary might work.