Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Not all that illogical

It would seem that the people of Germany (or, at least, some of them) are more logical than the journalists of, among others, Der Spiegel. Nothing surprising in that – to be a journalist these days involves taking classes in complete unthinking.

A couple of days ago this article appeared, full of surprise at the apparent illogicality of the people. Here we are in the middle of a serious financial crisis (though not actually a melt-down unless governments collectively make it worse) and yet the free-market politicians are gaining popularity. How can that be?

This surprise is predicated on an extraordinary misreading of the situation. Extraordinary in the sense of being completely and utterly wrong but not in the sense of being surprising. The assumption on which what passes for thinking in the media is based is that somehow miraculously we live in unfettered capitalism, free markets and government so small as to be almost invisible.

I recall something along those lines being peddled during the foot-and-mouth catastrophe. Look, I was told, look what happens when markets take over food production. To which, I could only reply: "You what?"

Agriculture and food production, I tried to explain, were more controlled by government (mostly the Brussels one but that's all the same,) least market driven part of our economy. How is FMD the fault of the markets?

How is the fiscal crisis the fault of the markets given the astonishing amount of incoherent control and high taxation that has been the lot of the business community and, particularly, the more entrepreneurial part of it.

Even if the great brains of Der Spiegel do not understand this, the people of Germany seems to have got an inkling; only an inkling so far but who knows what that might lead to.

When it came to Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, the decisive moment actually came days before last Friday's vote. Normally seen as little more than a formality, the body's approval was far from assured until the middle of last week. And the reason for the nail-biter can be found in an unexpected place.

With the economy in a shambles, financial markets frozen and capitalists in disrepute, Germany's neo-liberal political party, the Free Democrats (FDP), are enjoying remarkable success in both the polls and the voting booth. Its newfound self-confidence combined with double-digit survey results could shake up Germany's political landscape ahead of national elections scheduled for the end of September.

The first indication that the business-friendly FDP was on the upswing came in the state of Hesse, home to Germany's financial center Frankfurt. In late January state elections, the FDP raked in 16.2 percent of the vote, much higher than what the party normally receives. The success landed the FDP in the state's governing coalition -- and handed it enough leverage to block legislation in the Bundesrat.
In the end the party went along with that "stimulus" package that will stimulate nothing but the precedent has been set. Maybe it will be Germany that will start seeing the benefits of a genuinely free economy.