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Common Cents


Ralph Murphy

(11/2014) The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th - an event which anticipated the reunification of the nation with its communist neighbor, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1990. The post World War II separation was the result of socio-economic and political factors that could plausibly resurface. Varied attempts to change the defining mindset of the German peoples do not appear to have been altered by seventy years of near captivity by the West.

Relevant to this study is a mentality that is historically pernicious and aggressive. It is also racially exclusive, while warring against neighbors and selves over the centuries. Germany historically has been enormously productive in economic terms generating over $3.6 trillion in 2013. Those earnings allowed for a world rank of number 4 and a population rank of 16 with about 80 million people.

The First World War of 1914-1918 was followed by economic hardship that ushered in radical leadership and eventually the Second World War starting in the late 1930's. A rapid weapons buildup preceded it from about 1933 with the rise of Hitler's socialist nationalism. The war, of course, ended in 1945 with Allied victory. That defined much of the Cold War's communist versus market economy based belligerence. The Russians didn't leave the East German region following the war and established the GDR. There were over 37 million casualties in World War One, and over 60 million reportedly killed in World War Two - the bloodiest conflict in recorded history.

Religion appears to have impacted the culture with Catholics more common to the southern regions, and indigenous Lutherans to the North. The leadership mentality has proven historically hostile and existential; much of that direction and social acquiescence appears to reflect the revered writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1852) and his numerous admirers and followers.

Goethe's poems were set to music by Mozart and Beethoven. He was sourced by German novelists and philosophers G.W. Hagal, Nietzsche, Hesse, and Freud. He is credited with introducing German Romanticism in the "first best seller" entitled "The Sorrows of Young Werther." The protagonist, an "unhappy romantic infatuated with suicide. That theme permeates other German literature to include Hermann Hesse's 20th century Steppenwolf, a man obsessed with his own human spiritual nature, but also a savage element equating himself to "a wolf of the Steppes." This is a dichotomy leading to Goethe like suicide fascination as unable to reconcile the mixed emotions.

The social and religious philosophy presumes that one controls fate without divine control. There may be punishment or reward, but destiny is by choice. Goethe refers to "an unbridled longing for a joy beyond possibility, sense of defiant rebellion against authority and (bodes) total subjectivity." That explains the mentality of many of the war ventures at once impossible to implement given the weapons systems, but still implausibly pursued. He allows one to "sell one's soul to the devil for power over the physical world."

Goethe allowed that technology and industrialism were important, an antecedent cultural base for the enormous economic engine. On a direct leadership note in epigrams, he wrote "Divide and rule, a sound motto, unite and lead, a better one." There he presents theological philosophy and social direction of self guidance, and a leadership orientation of total domination and exclusion. That appears to have stayed with Germany to this day, and is in contrast with the more tolerant American Puritan base of fatalistic destiny or British political lead of division and rule with liaison.

Rational Law espoused by Joseph II of Vienna's Holy Roman Empire may have influenced Goethe claiming (one is) "existing for its own sake, by its own means. Every creature has its own reason to be." Coupled with the suicide understanding of Goethe and Hesse as well as a leadership permission for unrestricted adventurism, it's pretty clear Germany's guiding philosophy will be confrontational without widely accepted alternatives. Those proffered haven't been accepted as the French or British culture appears tolerated for trade, but rejected beyond the superficial.

That mentality has also been a real problem in their domestic economy and foreign dealings especially as a leader of the European Union. The country accepts and promotes social discipline leading to it's emergence as far and away the strongest economy in Europe, but the drive to conquer and attain the impossible has lead Berlin to largely formulate an unlikely European political/economic grouping. As of 2013 it was in a debt of up to 85.9% of GDP or annual earnings for the 27 members (now 28 with Croatia) and a full 92.7% that year for the 17 nations (now 18) which shared the Euro or common currency. It gets worse.

With political union, there became a financial obligation to "bail out" foreign nations which are EU members. Greece's socialist economy tanked and required two initial bailouts and hundreds of billions of dollars. Germany abided with some help from international lenders to include the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The EU dimension managed through the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Italy fell into hardship as did Portugal, Greece, Spain, and Ireland. All were tied to the ECB and only Germany really had the bailout cash. France helped under President Sarkozy, but under the current Socialist government there little extra cash can be lent.

Somehow a 500 billion Euro rescue fund was approved for ECB bailouts by the German Parliament or Bundestag and is now available (on a case by case basis) for the external debtors! Germany receives virtually no profit from the venture beyond the few companies lucky enough to have entered previously markets to pre EU integration. These are relatively income poor countries, and FRG is paying domestically as well. German debt to annual earnings (debt to GDP ratio) was 79.9% in 2013. France was in debt to 89.9% and the United Kingdom at just over 90%. The system will surely collapse of its own inertia, but meanwhile the hard working German gets the debt bill surely handed to his progeny for the nebulous gain of political oversight and marginal market access.

At its proffering FRG and GDR, union was bit of a hard sell as well. When broached with the idea of a united Germany in 1990, there were few regional powers that were receptive. Italy's Prime Minister, Guilo Andreotti, quipped "I love Germany so much I would prefer to see two of them." French President, Francois Mitterrand worried that "a unified Germany could make more ground than even Hitler had," and predicted a "bad" mentality would surface. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warned the reunited nation would be a "destabilizing rather than a stabilizing force in Europe." She further attested, "We defeated the Germans twice! And now they're back!" There was broad European consensus that the unification should be phased in over 5 years, but Germany was right to want to repatriate. Surely within what the international law dictates.

The infrastructure costs of unification as well as housing for East Germans, social programs, and transport links have been up to 100 billion euros since 1990. Euro fluctuates in value, but is trading for about $ .8 euros in 2014. The easterners were largely impoverished with an income level about $5000 per person towards the end, with West Germans making over $20,000. The atheist standard and lack of moral fiber introduced by the Soviets added to a permanent distaste for the "Ossi," former citzens of East Germany, as opposed to the Western "Wessi," the informal name known to former citizens of West Germany. About 870,000 Ossi moved to work in West Germany between 1989 and 1992 alone, flooding the labor market and creating lower standards of job safety and productivity.

As long as the Germans cling to a mentality of aggressive dominance and conquest preordained in Goethe and Joseph II in any sphere - political, economic, and religious or other social sphere, they are going to be confrontational and costly both to themselves and their targeting. Internal elements exist for the fundamental qualities associated with tolerance and spiritual acceptance. The Germans have the discipline, now just a lead orientation to sustainable productivity within measurable and realistic limits would benefit themselves and perceived competitors. That surely beats the inevitable confinement and exclusion if they don't finally conquer everything!

Ralph Murphy is a former member of the CIA Headquarters Staff in Langley, VA.

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