Everybody's Got Problems, But.. (February 20, 2006)
As even occasional visitors here know, the economic headwinds building against the U.S. are formidable. Throw in a struggling education system, geopolitical and environmental woes and it's easy to be pessimistic about the U.S.'s future.
But after considering Germany's problems--this, the strongest economy in the E.U.--I'll take America's problems any day. The structural plights of Germany were recently explored in a multi-story feature in The Economist. At the risk of boring you with long excerpts, here is a precis of Germany's formidable structural challenges in education, immigration and integration.
First up is their education system, which funnels kids into either the working class or university track at an absurdly young age:
Like other European countries, Germany from the Middle Ages developed a school system based on class. But whereas most other European countries have since moved on to more inclusive systems, Germany has essentially stuck to a three-tier structure: the Hauptschule (for students who hope to go on to an apprenticeship), the Realschule (whose graduates typically take middling white-collar jobs) and the Gymnasium (awarding the Abitur that admits the holder to university). Only at the Grundschule (elementary school) are pupils from all ability groups taught together.Then there's the German healthcare system, which is hardly a model of efficiency:
Mr Lauterbach's academic speciality is Germany's health-care system, and to him the health-care industry is proof that German-style corporatism can be at least as costly as backroom deals. Just like education, he says, it is a system that protects privileges without adding any value: “It is not only inefficient, but also creates injustice.”Lastly, there's the structural discrimination against immigrants and appallingly low social mobility of the second and third generations:
The third generation of Turkish immigrants, in particular, is increasingly marginalised— and not just because of the school system and the labour market. The exclusion starts when they become teenagers, explains Mr Ersan: they often switch to a Turkish football club at that point because their old German club makes it clear to them that they do not really belong there. When they have finished school, they are rarely offered even an unpaid internship, let alone an apprenticeship.On top of these problems, Germany is faced with a very low birthrate (1.3 vs. 2.1 for the U.S.), which guarantees a shrinking population, an ever-increasing need for more foreign workers to keep the social security system afloat, and thus ever-larger challenges in education, social mobility and discrimination. The "haves" in every society hold all the levers of power, but few other nations seem to cut their immigrants so thoroughly out of the economic and power pie as does Germany. The U.S. has all the same issues, plus an economy tottering on the edge of fiscal ruin, but the bottom line is: in which country would you rather be an immigrant? I think the choice is obvious.
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