TCS Daily

In Germany, a Plague of 'Locusts'

By Scott Norvell - May 6, 2005 12:00 AM

Now that the specter of American military hegemony has apparently worn thin, Germany's Socialists have rummaged around deep in their collective closet and dug out a bogeyman straight out of their dog-eared copies of Das Kapital to blame for the economic anemia of their welfare state: global capitalism.

Or, more precisely, capitalist "locusts."

In a recent speech to party conference in Berlin, the chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, Franz Müntefering, wailed about the growing power of private equity and hedge funds and their "unbridled greed for profit." He berated the likes of Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs because they "descend on companies like a plague of locusts, chew them up and move on."

Faced with the possibility of an electoral bruising later this month, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder hopped aboard the same rhetorical bus and lamented the growing supremacy of what he called an "unrestrained neo-liberal system."

Clearly, Germany's politicians need someone or something besides themselves to blame for the country's current state. Business confidence in Europe's former powerhouse is now testing new lows, and unemployment, at 12 percent, is the worst it's been since World War II. Economists keep revising the growth outlook downward, most recently to 0.7 percent next year -- the lowest in Europe.

The sorry outlook does not bode well for the SDP in a regional election considered key for the party's prospects in next year's national vote. The SDP has kept a tight grip on North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, for 39 years now, but polls there now put it behind the opposition Christian Democrats.

Curiously for a country long considered a cog in the wheel of global capitalism, Schröder's tact might just work. A majority of Mercedes-driving, Krupps-supping Germans profess to believe that capitalism is inherently evil and a threat to their Democracy. This, from a population that stared directly down the throat of the Soviet dragon for five decades and lived to tell the tale only because of capitalist cowboys.

Even though Schröder swears he's not about to back away from plans to lower corporate tax rates and push through other much-needed reforms (the current discussion is said to be about "long-term debate" within the party), his fellow SDP lawmakers are clamoring for rules to rein in financial "speculation" and cap executive salaries.

Unions, as David Kaspar at the estimable Medienkritik notes this week, have picked up on Müntefering's meme and added the inevitable dollop of anti-Americanism for good measure. The magazine of Germany's largest union, Metal, this month features a cover piece on "U.S. companies in Germany: The Blood-suckers" complete with illustrations of red, white, and blue-clad mosquitoes hoovering the lifeblood out of innocent German smokestacks.

If all this is any indication, the sands of German antipathy toward America -- and now its most famous export -- seem to be shifting.

The Bonn-based media analysis firm Media Tenor says that the anti-Americanism pervasive on German television has spread beyond politics and into the world of business. Corporate success stories are largely shunned, the firm says, in favor of scandals, slumping markets and slippery executives. Programmers must have bored of the saga of the Cowboy Chimp and his Iraqi adventure, and politicians are only too happy to join in the thrashing.

The Germans are hardly alone. French President Jacques Chirac, faced with the possibility that his serfs may reject his precious European Constitution in a referendum later this month, is running around warning that "ultraliberals" with an "Anglo-Saxon" economic agenda are targeting the European welfare state.

But it is this welfare state to which Germans, and the rest of Europe, should be directing their ire. If unemployment is the evil for which the devil of capitalism is to blame, then a system which pays workers almost as much to stay home and watch football as it does to go out and earn a living is largely to blame.

Even Marx would be able to figure that out.

The author is London Bureau Chief of Fox News.


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