Topic: World View
Germany: The Weekend's Election
Tuesday, September 13, this, along with a flood of articles in German, arrived in Hollywood from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis:
From here in Hollywood, back to Paris -
Well, I didn't work through the German articles as I said I would. I was able to read German for about a week, long enough to pass a reading comprehension test in graduate school after a six-week intensive summer class, but that was decades ago. I've lost that all.
But there has been a flurry of comment stateside, like this in SLATE.COM
Das Flat Tax
The conservative economic proposal flopped with American voters. Now Germans are learning to hate it, too.
Daniel Gross - Posted Friday, Sept. 16, 2005, at 12:12 PM PT
His question? Will the flat tax do for Angela Merkel's campaign for German chancellor what it did for Steve Forbes' ill-fated presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000?
Yes, that's the reason there are any articles at all on this side of the pond. American conservatives need a Teutonic Margaret Thatcher person to prove what the claim about how the world should be run is right - a sort of anti-Chirac, someone who will get Germany revving up economically to prove their point about cutting taxes for the rich and services to the poor and going to war without any direct threat for abstract reasons. A hero would be nice - or a heroine in this case. They miss Reagan's ballsy British sister in unfettered low-tax screw-the-needy capitalism and elective war (remember Grenada and the Falkland Islands wars?) - so this Merkel dame is the darling of the guys who run the United States now. What with the hurricane embarrassment and the nearly three hundred dead in the streets of Baghdad this week, her winning this thing would raise their spirits.
But at the last moment her lead has just about disappeared and Schröder was good in the televised debates. And the flat tax idea bombed. Gross says it has become a millstone around Merkel's neck.
Ah, there, like here, turning to the theorists is always a bad idea. Remember the Laffer Curve - USC economist Arthur Laffer's idea that the more you cut taxes the more money pours into the government because the economy grows fast due to those lower taxes. Neat idea. Wonderful concept. Since the Reagan administration this has been the core economic theory of the Republican Party. Of course it's never worked, and there is good evidence it never will. But it's a great theory. It sounds like it could be so. See Samuel Johnson on the triumph of hope over experience. Substitute evidence for experience in the phrase. Of course note that the Republican Party is not big on the idea empirical evidence matters - consider global warming (the evidence is mixed, folks), evolution (the jury is still out on that, as Bush has said), democracy in Iraq (it could happen in a sort of way, maybe, if we stay the course), Terri Schiavo was not brain dead at all (Doctor/Senator Frist said so on the senate floor). So with tax cuts. They could fix everything. You never know. And there is talk in the right-wing think tanks that maybe we shouldn't tax income at all, only consumption, with a national sales tax, or a value-added tax (VAT) like some countries have. That way, the richer you are, the smaller the portion of what you pay in taxes! No one pays any income tax and Joe, the struggling Wal-Mart clerk, pays twenty-eight percent extra for a quart of milk, and so do you! Cool.
Is seems the Germans are a tad more skeptical than we are. They, and their leader at the time, thought our Iraq war was a monumentally bad idea. It made no sense to them. Where was the evidence that it would do any good?
But we've moved beyond the Enlightenment - a European thing that actually stared in France, of all places - with its reliance on experiment and evidence. We've moved on to the world of faith-based government, while those Europeans are still stuck thinking real events and facts matter. It's the old-fashioned fuddy-duddy realists versus the bold dreamers and idealists. Merkel is one of the new reality-doesn't-matter types. The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld folks love her.
But the problem is she's stuck in a culture that doesn't get it - they don't see things her way:
What's more, they don't like pie-in-the-sky experts:
So what does Merkel do? Wednesday she comes out and says, "Our program says nothing about a flat tax."
Ah, just as George Bush (or his advisors) finally realized, sometimes you do what you must. Bush grudgingly ended his vacation early and five days after the event went to New Orleans and did the hug-the-black-folks say-the-right-thing photo op, then three more, then a speech. Sometimes you just have to account for the public's ability to detect bullshit. It's often a dormant ability, but it's there, and it's real.
As of Friday night you can find about 4,300 news articles on the Merkel campaign in the English-language press using Google. It's hot. One of the best is the cover story in The New Statesman - far more detailed that any of this above. The war of the realists (the reality-based community) against the idealists (the neoconservatives who run the United States at the moment) has gone worldwide.
Sidebar: In the early eighties I found myself at USC in the same elevator with Arthur Laffer. He's a short guy. We didn't speak. No one speaks on elevators.