The father of the economic miracle is being treated badly these days. Ludwig Erhard’s idea of a social market economy, in which the goal is prosperity for all, has clearly lost its attractiveness in Germany. At least in the political class.
The modern citizen, according to the new consensus of the parties, must always be saved – from the pandemic, from inflation, from the consequences of war, from rising petrol prices, from climate change and from an autocratic system like China anyway. The market economy is shrinking, we are experiencing – almost without resistance – the expansion of a political economy. And the FDP plays dead man.
Now the enemies of Ukraine are easy to spot. You look like a Russian soldier. But the enemies of the market economy have disguised themselves, often even as its friends. They sneak up silently, since the openly proclaimed reduction in prosperity would not be a promising program.
These silent attackers, one has to admit, are successful precisely because of their silence. They can be roughly divided into five different types:
1. First and foremost, Robin Räuber should be mentioned here. This type of anti-market economist masquerades as Robin Hood by relieving citizens battered by high energy prices. At the same time, however, he is the robber who, as a beneficiary of the high energy prices (mineral oil tax, CO2 tax and the significantly increased VAT revenue due to the general devaluation of money), has previously stolen the money he is giving away from the citizen.
2. The modern social politician has a mutated and therefore pronounced protective instinct in XXL format. This type of social politician no longer waits like his predecessor for the market economy to go wrong. He acts prophylactically. He translates the term “preemptive strike” known from military technology, i.e. a retaliatory strike that precedes the attack, as precautionary care.
He keeps inventing new offers of help such as climate money, fuel vouchers, energy money or the subsidized 9-euro ticket in order to be able to combat an assumed emergency. He not only wants to protect his fellow citizens from misery and hardship, but also from those emotional and income fluctuations that are called life.
3. The conservator . He loves the status quo more than progress. He sees himself in the role of educating the citizens, but above all as their savior from technological or cultural change. He would like to suppress price signals and slow down the transfer of human labor to the machine.
The conservator does not feel enriched by the globally networked economy, but oppressed. He sees the worldwide exchange of goods and services as an attack on national sovereignty. He wants to limit the claim to power of international corporations. His favorite reading is Jürgen Habermas’ “Problems of Legitimation in Late Capitalism”. The conservator would rather lose wealth than national control.
4. The type of world savior (popular: do-gooder) says human rights, but above all means protectionism. He uses the catastrophic human rights situation of the Uyghurs in China, for example, to politicize trade relations. He is not particularly interested in the fact that Western pressure does not usually lead to an improvement in the human rights situation, but to the relocation of supply chains.
The world savior was suspicious from the start of the idea of factories migrating to countries with low taxes and lower wages. He wants to limit globalization, not promote it.
5. The Militarist is an anti-market economist in olive green. He justifies his anti-market reflexes with national security interests. He wants to defend geography, not gross national product. Decoupling between the West and China is his big idea – trading wealth for security.
Conclusion: All five types have arranged to go on a silent hunt for the market economy as we have known it so far. Increasingly, one has the feeling that they don’t just want a piece of the cake. They want the whole bakery.
Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.