Welcome lawyer / author,  Thomas Geoghegan, and Host Masaccio.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread.  - bev]

Were You Born On the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get A Life

Thomas Geoghegan has written a book that captures the focus of the progressive movement: how does the Middle Class survive the predatory capitalism practiced in the United States and the United Kingdom? His answer is the German version of capitalism, where the interests of the workers are just as important as the voice of the capitalists.

He begins by pointing out all the ways people live better in the European Union. They don’t have to worry about the Big Five: retirement, health care, education, transportation and childcare. The government sees to all of these. Since it buys in bulk, it gets great prices, and people don’t have to spend their time worrying about any of those things. Just think how great your life would be if you didn’t have to think about where you send your kids to school, or health insurance, or how long your commute is. And think how much better off you would be in this miserable economy if you didn’t have to worry about the losses in your 401(k) plan (if you had one), and how you would pay for health care if you have to pay COBRA on the paltry unemployment benefits you get if you got fired.

But there is more. In Europe, cities are livable. There are parks, beautiful buildings, wonderful museums, ancient churches, free or cheap concerts, festivals, open-air markets, functional subways, buses and trains, and street-cleaners. Geoghegan references the lovely public spaces with his comment on the banks of violets he saw in Zurich. There is café life, which is a gracious way to live, indeed. In Paris, the cafés are filled with people of all ages, sitting out at all times of the year drinking coffee and talking to each other, not immersed in private thoughts in front of a laptop or staring blankly at the third football game of a Sunday.

They can live this way because they aren’t working themselves to death. They get real vacations, tons of days off which create lots of three and four day weekends, and their daily work hours typically aren’t as long as ours. Geoghegan casts himself as the archetypical US lawyer, working up to the moment he leaves on one of his trips to Berlin, and complaining because no one is around when he gets in; it’s Friday afternoon, and they are gone for the day.

How do they live so well, and we don’t? We are the ones with the great average Gross National Product per capita. It’s simple. They pay taxes, so they don’t have to pay for health insurance or retirement. They live in cities, so they don’t have to drive. They get great public education, so they don’t dump tens of thousands of dollars into private grade schools, high schools and colleges to give their kids a head start. The government provides childcare, so both parents can work or not as they see fit. With all that off their backs, they have time to live.

How can they afford this? Geoghegan explains that it is because they understand something we have lost, if we ever knew it: when people understand and participate in government, they can vote themselves a better deal:

It’s especially important in a social democracy that high school grads, as opposed to college grads, keep reading. For in this new global economy, high school grads, in Germany and elsewhere, still have one big competitive advantage over college grads: there are more of them.

If they can just read the papers and go out and vote, they can vote themselves a better deal—even if their skills are worth less.

P. 203. Geoghegan is most impressed by the German model because it teaches high school grads to participate in workers councils and unions, not just as recipients of top down instructions, but as active participants. In larger companies, the workers have a say in the day-to-day operation of the business through works councils with real power:

“Can a works council set the time when people go to work?” Yes. “What about when people leave?” Yes. (I remember a reporter who was on a works council: “We try to make sure they get home early enough to get to the theater.”) “What else can it do?” If there have to be pink slips, it can say who does or does not get one. It can set vacations. It can even set wages, but only if the wages are higher than the union sets.

P. 114. Workers are also members of unions that bargain for wages at the regional level. In companies with more than 2.000 employees, the board of directors has an equal number of outside directors and workers, a system called co-determination. With all this participation, workers have a direct stake in the business, and a real reason to pay attention to government and business. That means that everyone has a reason to continue their educations into their adult lives. It explains European TV: there are many talking head shows, and the discussions are rational. Newspapers are doing fine, at least compared to ours, and books sales are holding up. Geoghegan notices that you see people reading everywhere, books and thick newspapers, and in the homes of the people he visits he sees lots of books.

Geoghegan is worried about the future of the German model. For some time, the number of people covered by the system of unions, works councils and board participation has been falling. Like any system favorable to workers, if people don’t work to enforce it, the capitalists will destroy it. He sees hope in the younger generation who are joining unions in larger numbers.

And he believes that the German government is trying to push this model into other countries in the European Union. It should be an easy push, since Germany is a powerhouse exporter. It is tied with China with about $1.2 trillion in exports. Add France and the EU is far ahead of China. Furthermore, the EU exports home-grown high-end machines, not fake derivatives or consumer goods designed elsewhere. And German and French workers live the good life, unlike the sweatshop lives of the workers of China and the ever-harsher work lives of Americans.

The German model is a vision of a capitalism that works for everyone.

129 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Thomas Geoghegan, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?”

egregious August 14th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Welcome to Firedoglake – so glad you could join us today!

BevW August 14th, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Tom, Welcome to the Lake.

Masaccio, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:05 pm
In response to egregious @ 1

Hi everyone,

Thanks for inviting me – I hope you are on European type vacations right now.


August 14th, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Thanks for this salon today – I have the book on order since I saw this salon roll into the rotation last week!

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Thanks – I hope it turns out to be fun to read – it is August after all.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Hi, all, and welcome Tom. You claim that the array of services provided by European governments benefit the people in the 90th percentile of earners perhaps more than those at the bottom. Can you explain this for our readers?

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 2:12 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 4

I can assure you this book is fun to read.

August 14th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Tom – (and chime in massacio) one of the things I tweak my friends and neighbors about as regards Europe is that part of it’s charm is that people have figured out how to live in the more dense city situation, versus our American craze for suburbs.

Shows up in language and custom, and accommodation for others. Would you say that is a driver (aside from government participation) for the particulars addressed in your book?

August 14th, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Not, hardly. So, let’s say I haven’t read your book, but I agree with Massicio says in the intro, what can I do? If I can’t afford to live here without 6 week vacations, how can I more to Europe which is so much better? Lots of people here at Firedoglake would love to move some place else. How can we do that is the question I am putting forth.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Sure: the point is that without free public goods, people who are upper-upper middle class have to spend more on the private goods to replace them. Think of what it costs to send a kid to NYU – 50,000 a year – compared to a very cool school like Humboldt Universitat in Berlin which is more or less free.

I could multiply examples – even in health care – but the point is social democracy has more cash value for what one might call the bourgeois

But remember I’m a union side labor lawyer, and working people would be better off there as well – by far

nahant August 14th, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Lets face it the German Engineering has it right whether products or societal needs so that all citizens have a decent life. I have seen how they really don’t face the stresses we Americans do about the big 5… They are in my estimation much Happier over all than us… sigh..

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:16 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 8


Yes, our GDP is driven up by waste and inefficiency – people moving farther and farther out because thanks to relatively lower taxes our infrastructure and we have to keep moving.

That means we’re more mobile in a sense, but we’re trapped in our cars and when we make it home at night we have no place to go.

Cujo359 August 14th, 2010 at 2:17 pm

How do they live so well, and we don’t? We are the ones with the great average Gross National Product per capita. It’s simple. They pay taxes, so they don’t have to pay for health insurance or retirement.

Here, the market is supposed to keep these services from deteriorating. Sometimes that even works. What keeps them from deteriorating in Germany, where one would assume the dreaded bureaucrats are in charge?

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 2:17 pm
In response to demi @ 9

I’d have to say they aren’t that anxious to have us as permanent residents. People with special skills are welcome, and those who can afford to live there on their own can stay if they can navigate the rules for long-term stay permits.

It looks like we will have to figure out how to bring some of their system over here.

dakine01 August 14th, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Good afternoon Tom and welcome to FDL this afternoon

Good afternoon masaccio

Tom, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but do have a question and forgive me if you address it in the book:
How do yo think the US got so off track on things? Is it the so-called “puritan work ethic” or is it all the crying about “ZOMG!1! SOCIALISM”?

I think for some folks, it must be just a flat knee jerk response that anything from Europe = bad.

August 14th, 2010 at 2:19 pm
In response to masaccio @ 14

Ah, ha! That’s a mouthful. For sure, that’s what we are aiming for. Some of us. PS (you told them about the reply button, right?)

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:19 pm
In response to demi @ 9

Well, I think we have to change the U.S. – I don’t really want to move. The big problem is that we don’t have European-type constitutions and real, true majority rule. I stayed away from this in the book, but absent decades of Senate filibusters, we would probably be like a European type democracy today or at least more like Canada.

Having said all that, I think Berlin is pretty nice.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 2:21 pm

You talk about the three-track German education system. The first track is the college track, which is reserved for a relatively small group, compared to the US. Could you describe the other two tracks?

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:21 pm
In response to nahant @ 11

Yes, while some people say it is the German character, I disagree – in fact, the Germans had a kind of New Deal imposed on them by the U.S. New Dealers occupying the country.

If the Germans got it right, it’s partly – partly, I must stress – that we helped them get it right, at least by encouraging works councils and worker type control over corporate life.

August 14th, 2010 at 2:22 pm

First, we take Manhattan. Then, we take Berlin.
Thanks, Massicio and Thomas.

wmd1961 August 14th, 2010 at 2:22 pm
In response to masaccio @ 14

It’s possible to get EU citizenship depending on your ancestry. I suspect I’ll get Italian citizenship at some point since my father was born in Italy.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:25 pm
In response to Cujo359 @ 13

Actually, compared to France, the German state is not that big – and it is much more about transferring income – paying pensions, etc. It’s a kind of “enabling welfare state.”

But in part because of agricultural policy and an instinct for being Green, and the refusal to fund sprawl that makes public services impossible, the Germans are more efficient and the services are better.

It’s not that Germany is so wondeful or brilliant at planning – it’s not – it’s that the U.S. is so preposterously chaotic.

The big answer on the ground is – they don’t allow suburbia on our wasteful and inefficient scale.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 2:27 pm
In response to wmd1961 @ 21

That’s great. If you are a citizen of Italy, you can live anywhere in the EU. I was once eating dinner at a restaurant in Paris, and my neighbor was Finnish, spoke four languages fluently, she said, and had moved to Paris to take a job with a French company. Her male friend was neither Finnish nor French, but I can’t remember his country of origin.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:27 pm
In response to masaccio @ 14

Yes, I agree – besides, most of would make dreadful expatriates because we refuse to learn the local language. No, we should stay here – besides, I do like the freedom to re fashion ourselves here, and that’s what I’m proposing in this book

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:29 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 15

But I think the same people would vote it in here if we had a constitution which permitted genuine majority rule.

After all European social democracy is just the New Deal, advanced half a century forward.

August 14th, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Agree. But the social gulfs are vastly different.

For instance, take the weinstuben in Germany. Little wine joints for a quicky break, where the stools/tables are standing height, and no single person occupies one.

They’re all very public, and one just sits/stands with the folks who were already there at that table.

Any Starbucks here stateside shows the opposite. Someone will sit with their with a laptop/netbook at a table for 2 or 4, and no one would ever DREAM of “crashing” that table.

I call it “social space” and Americans consume much more of it than a typical European would.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:32 pm
In response to masaccio @ 18

Yes, the first track is the royal road, the second is vocational education, which is sometimes more desirable than the royal road. The third is essentially high school, without the skilling up that goes on in the so called second track. It’s from the third track that most of the people who feel excluded from the broad middle class in Germany come. The Germans worry about it.

nahant August 14th, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I would concur with that. I was there for two years in the later sixties and found them to be very open and happy. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with one family at holiday times. Walter who was a WWII vet of the Balkans & captured by the Russians was an amazingly happy man & his family were just great. They even visited me on the east coast when they were visiting her brother…

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 2:35 pm

There does seem to be less emphasis on the right of individuals to do whatever they want with their property. There is a sense that the public has an interest in the use of property. I have noted before that in Europe, especially in France, there is a clear dividing line between the city and the countryside.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:37 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 26

Yes, I agree – I love a place called the Dom Cafe in Frankfurt – it’s full of bankers and hipsters both, and you walk in and sit at a big table with a well to do mom nursing her kid or someone with a nose ring or reading the German Financial Times.

It’s fantastic.

HelenaHandbasket August 14th, 2010 at 2:37 pm

So, not only do we need to get public financing of elections, but we also need proportional representation before we can move beyond the ‘social Darwinism’ of crony capitalism?

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:39 pm
In response to nahant @ 28

Well, Europeans in the EU are now much more used to going from country to country, civilization to civilization, than we are – and when they take six weeks off they are relatively more likely to go to Sri Lanka or Lagos than we are.

And that makes them vastly more relaxed with out of towners like us when we go there.

But that’s the hip middle class – there’s still xenophobia elsewhere

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 2:40 pm

What kinds of jobs do people from each track get?

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:41 pm
In response to masaccio @ 29

Yes, as I say in the book – Germany is no bigger than Montana, but in parts it seems more pristine. Take a train: it’s so green, and a lot of it seems like a scene in the Sound of Music, but there’s no Trapp family or Julie Andrews even in sight.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I think the forces of democracy in this country have to say: The filibuster rule has to go. That is the single biggest thing we can do practically to become more like Europe. Otherwise, nothing will ever happen.

nahant August 14th, 2010 at 2:44 pm

there’s still xenophobia elsewhere

You can make bet on that.. Sure wish it wasn’t that way but… Damn human aggression…

August 14th, 2010 at 2:46 pm
In response to nahant @ 36

People are strange, when you’re a stranger.
There’s also a lot of contentmentphobia going around. Damn those other happy people. *g*

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:47 pm
In response to masaccio @ 33

Well, I write a lot about this – on the royal road, they have more of what I call Bloomsbury type jobs, I mean jobs that give real meaning to life. By contrast, in the U.S., about a fifth of our college grads are in non college jobs

Being a public employee is a better deal.

The second track, part two of the dual track, are the people with skills: agate cutter, architect, some of them careers we connect with college – artisanship things, like designing jewelry, or even welding.

The third track – well, there are people who have low skill, relatively low wage jobs just like here. But they aren’t as deep in debt, even the poor aren’t as poor, and there are more safety nets.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:49 pm
In response to nahant @ 36

In Germany and much of Europe, Europeans tell me it’s more xenophobia than racism.

But the flip side is: would the U.S. even consider anything like the EU with workers moving freely back and forth as they do in xenophobic Europe?

Remember the joke when Benedict succeeded John Paul II as Pope: “At last a German has taken a job from a Pole.”

Teddy Partridge August 14th, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Welcome, Tom, and thanks Masaccio, for the great introduction.

Tom, what do you make of the argument that as long as we have a White party (the GOP) that appeals to people who want to ensure their tax money doesn’t go to Those People, America can never have a European Social Democracy with free public goods? It seems like Europe conquered their fears of helping the lesser-than, but that our Great Original Sin (slavery) cannot let us get over the inability of some Americans to see that access to the commonweal is not a zero-sum game.

Thanks for this book, sir, you always make me think. High praise indeed in this day and age, eh?

August 14th, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Heh – the Von Trapps moved to Vermont actually, and opened a lodge.

Back on subject though, Southern Germany, specifically the Schwarzwald and connecting to Switzerland is every bit as beautiful and quite more pristine than Summit County in Colorado (where the ski areas that aren’t Aspen are.)

I live in Denver and go up frequently and always wish we had done a better job with the development up there. We have worked on getting lite-rail service up there from Denver to get the cars off the highway, but it’s been a huge job trying to get that accomplished the last 15 years. It’s still 10 years away.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Do people resent helping out teh less skilled? Or their immigrants, Turks and others?

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:52 pm

That’s a difficult question – I think the institutionalized racism here is a major difference. And the fact we think there is so much racism in Europe says more about us than it does about Europe.

The rate of imprisonment here is incredible – Europeans don’t throw minorities in prison at the rate we do.

August 14th, 2010 at 2:54 pm
In response to masaccio @ 42

People resent everything of the other. Don’t you read the posts here are the Lake? (I know you do.)
Okay, I’m impressed with Europe’s better ‘tudes. They’ve been around longer than the US. We’re babies. 3rd grade, at best. Last ones to have gays marry and in the military and more racism. Isn’t this partially a function of how young our nation is? Notice I said Partially.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 41

It’s simply amazing that the Midwest has no high speed rail – though I think Germans are working on it. But I don’t see it happening because the sprawl makes it so problematic. It works better where there is sensible land use planning. There’s been too much environmental malpractice in this country, yet somehow we have to create a new kind of map here…

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 2:58 pm
In response to masaccio @ 42

No, the problem is that in – say, Germany – the less skilled are often the Germans, especially in the East. As I point out in the book, I marched on May Day with the elite union, IG Metall, and just from an eyeball of the marchers, there seemed to be as many people of Turkish descent as there were “white” European – in fact it seemed like the old Steelworkers back in Chicago when I was a young lawyer.

I asked one economist why not send back Turks (who often don’t want to be citizens) when unemployment is so high, i.e., in 1997? “Then there would be no small businesses,” she said.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Those high-speed trains are just something else. I took the Thalys from Paris to Amsterdam, and we were just flying, and I was fooling around on the high-speed internet the whole way.

August 14th, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Even more amazing that high speed railways are not in California where many people commute one and a half hours to work. But, I hear we’re working on it.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:01 pm
In response to demi @ 48

Yes, did you see the story where China wants to put up the money for California rail? Of course the workers would not be Chinese but low wage American citizens.

Teddy Partridge August 14th, 2010 at 3:02 pm

What is this I hear nowadays about the ‘stateless’ children of Turks in Germany? It’s only just come to my attention during the ‘anchor baby’ debate in the United States, and I never knew there were ‘stateless’ children anywhere in the world. Sounds like a bad thing, can you tell us something about it?

Teddy Partridge August 14th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Would the low-wage American workers be granted Chinese citizenship for working for the Chinese company to build California’s high-speed rail, I wonder? Would their kids?

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:03 pm
In response to demi @ 44

I tend to agree with Teddy that the problem is our original sins: slavery and wiping out the Native Americans. From the beginning, the people who were already here despised the newcomers. Just ask the Irish, like our guest, or the Italians, or the Chinese.

August 14th, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I have not. Will look it up. (scenese from Kung Fu in my head, but you said no Chinese workers. Let me guess what color they’ll be.) Hell, maybe I can get a job.

August 14th, 2010 at 3:05 pm
In response to masaccio @ 52

And, look how well it worked for the Israelites moving into someone else’s land.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:07 pm
In response to demi @ 53

I’m going with the Irish.

The majority of the Union Pacific track was built by Irish laborers, veterans of both the Union and Confederate armies, and Mormons who wished to see the railroad pass through Ogden, Utah. Mostly Chinese workers built the Central Pacific track. Most of the White men received between one and three dollars per day, but the workers from China received much less. Eventually, they went on strike and gained a small increase in salary.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Tom: German food has a bad reputation. What is your experience?

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Teddy, I don’t know much about it – and I feel bad confessing ignorance.

I have to tell you that I made a point of not writing much about non-EU immigration in Europe – it’s a small percent of the total population – in part because that seems to be the only thing Americans are interested in. The point of the book is to explain social democracy, and how it works for everyone – including Turks, etc.

And remember, European borders are on the whole much, much more open to people from other EU countries than we could imagine here.

It’s expensive to take in people into a really high benefit society like Denmark where you have a situation that in some cases, the unemployed are given money to go to law school. If you’re that generous, then it’s true, you’re careful about who you let in.

But we’re just as careful and not as generous.

August 14th, 2010 at 3:11 pm
In response to masaccio @ 55

Oh, finally, I get a break. My last name’s Moore, but that’s my husband’s name. But also, me granpa was Hugh, and my kids are Katie, Jack and James. Do you think that will qualify as a resume?

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:12 pm
In response to demi @ 58

Are you willing to work for $1-3 dollars per day?

August 14th, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I’m pretty deep into the Russian community here, by happy accident.

Anyways, talk at dinners and gatherings always turns to their extended families’ economic and political fortunes, the upshot being relatives in the former East Germany, moving about and doing better than many of their neighbors.

My Russians (Jewish) tell me that it is because they’ve assimilated better than the ethnic Germans; i.e. they kept very strong on language customs, using the polite forms, adopting new and evolving frameworks, insisting the kids do well in school.

Isn’t that/doens’t that explain where the xenophobic rubber hits the road? In other words, adaptability to the specific Euro-culture in which one resides, rather than ethno-origin?

August 14th, 2010 at 3:13 pm
In response to masaccio @ 59

Oh, shit. Oh got me there.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:13 pm
In response to masaccio @ 56

How can I say it – I don’t like German food and yet I LOVE FOOD IN GERMANY

Or let me put it this way: I’m no vegetarian, but the old German cuisine is too heavy for me. But the shock to me was that Berlin, the big cities, have the same variety of restaurants as in Chicago, San Francisco, DC – and it seems to me, there are more vegetables, not just compared with the U.S., but France, the Netherlands.

And the bread is fantastic – but I’m addicted to gluten.

It’s a puzzle to me why there is no analogue to German bread – the variety, the quality – either here or elsewhere in Europe.

August 14th, 2010 at 3:15 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 60

And, only marry the right type of person. I’m not sure what you’re saying. Good or bad. They’re stubborn and judgemental, that’s for sure. In my experience.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

It looks to an outsider like there is support for the German social security system across political parties. Do you think so, and why?

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:16 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 60

There are certainly a lot of Russians in Berlin – and there is even a kind of subculture of Russians writing in German, like Vladimir Kaminer. In his books, it seems like he and other Russians fit in

Of course it’s Berlin, and they ran the place for decades.

nahant August 14th, 2010 at 3:17 pm
In response to masaccio @ 56

You Are kidding!!! Most of their food is much much better than the fare you would get in England … I loved the food when I was there… Oh did I mention the Beir?? Heaven still my choice…

August 14th, 2010 at 3:19 pm
In response to nahant @ 66

I hear that dog food is better than the fare in England. Maybe that’s why they lost their empire.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:19 pm
In response to masaccio @ 64

Sure – as I explain in the book, they’ve cut back, for demographic problems, but both parties are committed to it.


They have a strong labor movement – and the party of the right, the Christian Democrats, present themselves as pro union, and some important part of it is.

By our standards, the right is a lot like the left, and I first became interested in Europe when I began to realize Helmut Kohl was to the left of Bill Clinton

August 14th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

There is a stronger and longer tradition of the baking guilds in Germany than the rest of Europe – that explains the bread.

Same with beer.

August 14th, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Time for the old joke:

Dinner in Heaven:

-Organized by the Germans
-Cooked by the French
-Served by the British

Dinner in Hell:

-Organized by the French
-Cooked by the British
-Served by the Germans


masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Is there anyone who thinks the system should be cut way back? As you point out above, one of the good things is that a whole lot of people benefit from the system.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:25 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 69

But the quality control continues – only instead of guilds there is vocational education and labor unions to ensure that the good practices get passed down. That’s how to stay competitive, but that requires putting in place a certain amount of worker control and putting worker checks on freebooting capitalism.

I tried to explain that thanks to this certain degree of worker control, it really is a rival form of capitalism.

In some ways, it is as much as or more so than China.

August 14th, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I guess my point is more that the more German you act, the more German you are. Much like France.

The more French-like that one can behave, the more French one is.

And that those are the goal-posts for xenophobia.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:28 pm
In response to masaccio @ 71

Sure, there are plenty of people who would like to cut it way, way back. Mostly they are in the Free Democrats, i.e., the neo liberal party. But even the FDP which is currently quite unpopular doesn’t have the clout to do much -

And it’s not clear to me how far to the right the FDP as a whole really is.

Also, the recent Wall St meltdown did not do a whole lot for the Ayn Rand cause in Europe.

August 14th, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Concur – that is EXACTLY what happens with music training; I know from experience studying piano there.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I have pointed out a couple of times that Angela Merkel is leading the charge on issues like short-selling and other financial market abuses. Even relatively conservative politicians seem more willing to deal with the financial crooks.

August 14th, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Okay, then. Taking off. Thank you, Thomas, for being here. And, hugs to Massicio for hosting. With the mosting.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I was talking to a friend about the ideas in your book, and he immediately told me that the German system is collapsing. What should I have said to him?

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:36 pm
In response to masaccio @ 76

Yes, but that’s after the collapse – even when the U.S. was riding high, the Social Democrats like Muntefurhring were notorious denouncing capitalists as “locusts.” I mean that was a mainstream, not a fringe comment.

Teddy Partridge August 14th, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Do you think our vulture capitalists and privateers will ever give up the kind of workplace control that’s required for that level of quality and worker participation, though? Seems to me they’d rather take the jobs elsewhere, and we’re growing a whole new generation of orders-followers who’ve been trained not to think at their workplace, or express themselves if they do.

Teddy Partridge August 14th, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Would that the meltdown would have that effect here on the Russian woman’s popularity as well!

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:40 pm
In response to masaccio @ 78

Read the paper today, and yesterday

Germany has a 2.2 percent GDP growth while the population is shrinking. It’s been the world’s biggest exporter or tied with China for the last ten years. It’s one of the world’s biggest creditor countries while we’re one of the world’s biggest debtors.

And our unemployment rate is higher.

And the Germans do all this, while in China and America we have to work till we drop.

Germans work about 300 hours less a year – I would say 400 hours actually – than we do. So they are arguably the world’s most competitive while they have one hand tied behind their backs.

August 14th, 2010 at 3:41 pm
In response to masaccio @ 76

Aside from the Greeks, it appears that “austerity” is embraced more by the English speakers on/near the Continent; Ireland for the most part, and recently the British.

I’m interested in both you and Tom’s opinion about how language might play a part of the role.

Example; on the continent, all the languages have a form of the tutoiement, the polite form of “you” and they also all share another facet. That is, an opportunity to disagree is always offered as a ritual. In French “n’est-ce pas?” or German’s “nicht wahr?” meaning essentially “isn’t that so?

English does not maintain that as a ritual matter of course.
So English language assertions are possible, where a matter of disagreement is routine in Continental discourse.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Well, they have taken the capital elsewhere – to Wall Street, where they gamble and speculate.

I think labor costs matter more than worker control. If we could have the government take over health care costs, it would revive industry.

To some extent, that’s what Obama did for GM and Chrysler, at least partially. They took away some of the burden of retiree health care.

In other words – single payer and cost control are the crucial things here.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:44 pm

I wish I had had that front pager in the New York Times at hand.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:48 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 83

I think in terms of formality there is a bigger gap between “our” English and “British” English than between the latter and French or German.

But it’s also true that English owns the vocabulary for Wall Street type capitalism.

There was a very macho, tough-guy ad I used to see in Berlin for an English language course:

“I speak English – Wall Street English!”

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:48 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 83

Interesting question. There may be something to the idea that everyone lives in pretty tight quarters all over the continent. A certain amount of politeness and deference to others may help ease the pressure of living so close together.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:49 pm

You talk a lot about how “free” we are in the US. Can you give us an idea of what you mean by “free” here and in Europe?

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:51 pm
In response to masaccio @ 87

I believe that it’s also why Europeans read newspapers – not living shut up in home entertainment centers in outer suburbia, they take an interest in what other people are doing.

Teddy Partridge August 14th, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I have never understood Big Business’s objections to government-funded health care. Why wouldn’t they want the burden lifted from their shoulders? It’s never made sense to me, but so little else the Chamber and its denizens do makes sense.

How do we get here from there, Tom?

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Also it gives them stuff to talk about in the café.

BevW August 14th, 2010 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

Tom, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and Europe.

Masaccio, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information, here is Tom’s website.

Thanks all,
Have a great weekend.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:53 pm
In response to masaccio @ 88

Well, we are descended from people who ran away from home – I think Americans still are more horizontally mobile – they move – but at the same time Europeans have become much more at home throughout Europe generally. The Irish have weddings in Madrid,etc.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Well, having something like FDL is a start for getting from here to there. What I am trying to do in this book is to make a tiny bit of change in the way we talk about politics. Let’s try to think of public policy in terms of happiness.

August 14th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Well, we are descended from people who ran away from home…

That pretty much says it – and dang it if I wouldn’t rather be at home!

Evidently I WAS born on the wrong Continent. Thanks for the chat today. Was great, and the book should be here Tuesday – can’t wait to read it!


Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:57 pm
In response to BevW @ 92


You’re the perfect host – I’d trade an afternoon on Lake Michigan for one with FDL any day of the year!

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 3:58 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 95

I hope you get to read it in a Paris cafe.

Teddy Partridge August 14th, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Well, sure, we can talk about public policy in terms of happiness — my happiness.

Not sure I’m willing to concede public policy based on other people’s happiness, though…. *g*

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

You make this point really well in the book. We measure our economy in terms of gross national product, but it doesn’t capture whether the society is benefiting from the GNP. Money spent on gasoline while tied up in traffic is counted, but that isn’t adding a thing to people’s happiness.

Teddy Partridge August 14th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Thanks for a wonderful chat today, host and guest perfectly matched yet again by the brilliant Bev; thank you, gentlemen.

Cujo359 August 14th, 2010 at 4:01 pm

This is what I find amazing about their economy. Even their car buyback program appears to have been more effective than ours.

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 4:01 pm

It turns out that personal happiness requires a pact with other people. Aristotle in The Ethics says this is regrettable but true – and that’s why I’m a fan of European social democracy.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I’ve enjoyed this too, and I hope people will read the book. It is really a pleasure stylistically, and I couldn’t agree more with the substance. As I said in the post, the big problem we have is protecting the Middle Class from predatory capitalism. This book shows how another society managed that difficult task.

Cujo359 August 14th, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Especially in winter..

Thank you, Thomas, for chatting, and Bev and massacio for hosting/facilitating.

August 14th, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Damn! It’s my airport/flying book this week, and I AIN’T getting anywhere near Paris!

Thomas Geoghegan August 14th, 2010 at 4:03 pm
In response to masaccio @ 99

It is raising the temperature of the planet – and the great thing is that European social democracy is trying to raise the living standard – more than the GDP per capita as such – which we still don’t have the right tools to measure.

Cujo359 August 14th, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Hey, I worked really hard for my happiness, and you want me to share it with someone who didn’t?

sadlyyes August 14th, 2010 at 4:09 pm

i can not believe i missed this,cause,im reading up on moving to France

Ann in AZ August 14th, 2010 at 4:19 pm
In response to masaccio @ 23

So does that mean they now operate more like we do in that their sovereign countries are now (or maybe always have been)treated more like states? You can move around from state to state without having to worry about crossing the borders. I’ve been wondering how they handle border controls there. How do they control the borders between European Union member states and states that are not part of the EU, like Norway or Belarus or Russia? Do they have the same problems with border controls that we have, particularly with our southern border?

August 14th, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I’m sorry I went ot. I still don’t know what I said that was disrepectful. It was the end of the discussion, and well, we were all sort of going ot. Still, I apologize.

wmd1961 August 14th, 2010 at 4:24 pm
In response to Ann in AZ @ 110

Schengen countries have no border control between them.

Teddy Partridge August 14th, 2010 at 4:28 pm

I think the whole ‘pact with other people’ goes against the grain of mythological American individualism and exceptionalism, even though our real cultural heritage is based on community relationships and support. The Marlboro Man is always alone on the range, even if his health care was paid for by his employer and the hospital he suffered in was built by his community.

papau August 14th, 2010 at 5:02 pm

The German model was the model we taught our new hires in the 60′s – that there were 3 bosses – the interests of the employees, the interests of the shareholders and bond holders, and the interests of society. They were taught (and I taught a few of these courses) that management was just a group of hired employees who made more because of past accomplishments or developed skills to lead the company. Then we sold the idea of the employee learning more to get ahead, and taking on challenging jobs to develop those “skills” that one needs in management, or at least needed for the next rung up the pay scale.

The Reagan years changed all that – the discussion in the management eating area was about salary compression (management pay was too close to worker pay and managers needed to make more – with CEO’s in special need of more money) and how unions were dead so why worry about competitive pay or even fair pay – just demand free overtime so your unit was “more productive”. The 70′s brought managers “demanding/being offered” sex – something more hidden before then – but the 80′s are when the system was destroyed.

masaccio August 14th, 2010 at 5:05 pm
In response to papau @ 114

Did you see the article in the NYT I linked at 86? It just amazes me that people can’t figure this one out. We’ll see if the WSJ prints something like this. More likely, they’ll figure out why it means Germany and France are collapsing.

papau August 14th, 2010 at 5:13 pm

American individualism and exceptionalism was not part of the discussion (albeit we did love our cowboys) until John Wayne and Ron Reagan were chosen by the rich and corporate to sell it to us in the 80′s . The fact Obama continues to sell it is just one more proof that he is to the right of Reagan.

FDR sold “yes we can” not that we could because we were Americans but because we were people.

Reagan should get a special place in Hell.

newtonusr August 14th, 2010 at 5:16 pm
In response to papau @ 117

Reagan should get a special place in Hell.

He did, while he was still alive.
It’s his Amen-chorus who should feel the burn.

papau August 14th, 2010 at 5:27 pm
In response to masaccio @ 116

Thanks for the heads up.

It is amazing what people can do as workers if they feel respected and valued. Most of the tech by which German labor can have a good life while outselling everyone else is the result of union members getting ideas on the line, and then via their participation in Board meetings via their Union seat, getting those ideas implemented.

Our model sucks – we are indeed on the wrong side of the pond (my dad wanted me to move the family to Bavaria (he loved the Black Forest despite being from southern Europe). It is one of the many times I erred by not listening to my parents.

Heck – Germany even uses an insurance company system for national health – but with fierce regulation as to what is covered, what is charged as premium, and effectively, what is charge by the health service provider. They removed the “doctors must make big money to pay off student loans” by making the education free.

ichbineinberliner August 14th, 2010 at 5:40 pm

What is this I hear nowadays about the ’stateless’ children of Turks in Germany?

No, children of Turkish citizens are Turkish citizens, children of German citizens are German citizens. How would one get stateless?

Pretty much all Turks now living in Germany have a right to naturalization, if they give up their Turkish citizenship.
Many Turks still want to keep their Turkish citizenship, because citizenship, religion, and language are often considered the last bastions against assimilation.

Since 2000 Germany has a limited form of birthright citizenship: the condition is that one parent must legally live for at least eight years in Germany.

ichbineinberliner August 14th, 2010 at 5:43 pm

The FDP is “liberal” in the European sense of the word: economically “market radicals” and socially “liberal” in the American sense.

Somewhat like moderate libertarians.

Teddy Partridge August 14th, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Well, I don’t know how one would ‘get stateless,’ but it is talked about as a warning to our own anti-immigrant agitators — “how would we treat these children born here if they aren’t citizens upon their birth, like the Germans treat the children of Turks?” That’s why I asked, are children of Turkish workers in Germany not citizens of Germany?

ichbineinberliner August 14th, 2010 at 5:51 pm
In response to Ann in AZ @ 110

Do they have the same problems with border controls that we have, particularly with our southern border?

To some extent: Yes.

On the east the big land border with Eurasia. Here the problem is somewhat migrated by the fact that the differential in the standard or life is less abrupt.

In the south there is the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic. But that creates problems too: many Africans drown each year when they try to cross over. The stories of people crossing the African continent and a sea to find a better life are truly heartbreaking.

And the Spanish enclaves in North Africa are fortified like the Iron Curtain in the bad old days…

ichbineinberliner August 14th, 2010 at 5:57 pm

That’s why I asked, are children of Turkish workers in Germany not citizens of Germany?

Well, it depends: is one of these “Turkish workers” a German citizen (i.e. has already naturalized?), or if the child is born after 2000 a legal resident of 8 years?

If “no” then that child isn’t a German citizen. If s/he wants to become a German citizen s/he has to wait until age 18 and naturalize.

earlofhuntingdon August 14th, 2010 at 5:58 pm


earlofhuntingdon August 14th, 2010 at 6:11 pm
In response to masaccio @ 88

Yes, we’re free to starve, to be homeless and in the unemployment line, especially in right to be fired work states. We’re free to work until we drop, with pension benefits that have gone the way of the passenger pigeon. We’re free to pay the highest rates for health insurance and health care, but receive barely average quality. Our companies make record profits, yet share a smaller and smaller slice of the pie with labor.

Our biggest problem is a laboriously constructed lack of balance. Capital – corporate and its government patrons, government and its corporate patrons – has become a grossly overweight fly wheel. It spins everything connected to it at so high a rate (forcing many to work two jobs to make ends meet, while not having enough for a child’s college or to retire on), that it grinds metal against metal, burning it up. Clear-cut forest harvesting and mountain top mining techniques are being applied to the entire economy and civil society.

It got that way not by “natural selection”, or “free enterprise”, but by way of an explicit public-private partnership. As with illegal domestic surveillance by US telecoms, government enables and immunizes corporate excess at the expense of labor. When was the last time giant corporations took the SEC or IRS or EPA seriously enough to change executives and management practices for the better rather than for the profitable – measured by excluding from profit the burdens companies throw on their employees and onto communities and other players external to the enterprise?

Nowhere on earth has corporate life faired so well as in the United States, but employment, career paths, a living wage, income, retirement and health care benefits are available to a rapidly narrowing circle of people. Constructive government regulation, which built that vicious cycle, could reverse it. It will be a knock-down, drag-out, no holds barred fight. When you think about it, it already is.

Ann in AZ August 14th, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Our companies make record profits, yet share a smaller and smaller slice of the pie with labor.

It seems to me that companies share a smaller and smaller slice of the pie with stockholders, as well. Meanwhile, a disproportionate amount goes to the highest echelons of the corporate structure, the officers and directors. I don’t believe that’s what they taught in business school. Used to be the responsibility of the officers and directors to make as much money as possible for the stockholders; not so anymore. Now they take huge bonuses and negotiate for monstrous golden parachutes even as they crash the companies they were supposed to enrich.

These days, the officers and directors deal themselves a much better hands by stacking the decks, and they make sure there is enough available to bestow their largesse on elected officials in whatever form the officials will accept. Sad, sad state of affairs. Sooner or later it must be dealt with and the longer it takes to destroy this Frankenstein monster we have allowed to be given life and is now terrorizing us all, the more traumatic the solution will be.

egregious August 21st, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Thanks for a great Salon!

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