Thursday, January 28, 2016

The small town German mayor on the economy and society

At the end of the post A small town German mayor chats about the refugee crisis, we promised a second installment on developments in Germany in a wider sense over the past two decades.

Our fifty-ish Christian Democrat mayor had some interesting things to say about his country then and now.

He is a small businessman and a landlord with a grand total of three employees, and his overall impression of what it is like to be a small businessman in Germany is summarized below.

Small businesses in most traditional sectors are under increasing pressure, he said. Despite what politicians tell us, they really don't care about mom and pop businesses. In general, it doesn't have to do with big issues like globalization. You can't globalize tiling a bathroom or baking bread very well, but we are getting ever more regulated or controlled, and bigger companies reap the benefits. In a couple of weeks, for example, I'll have an audit by the pensions agency, no large company gets audited by them. Politicians at all levels are finding large companies very attractive. They sponsor local events, they provide jobs for those retired politicians who don't have a civil service job to go back to, or they pick up the kids of politicians. Germany has very much become a society of networks, it's who you know, not what you can do.

Aren't personal connections always important?

I'm not saying the phenomenon is new, but it has become more pronounced, more widespread. Life is more regimented, and even if one administrative process becomes slightly simpler because one form goes away, you get more constraints that more than make up for that.

The blogster told the story, elaborated in the 2013 post The building code mafia, about relentless paperwork demands by the building and construction association which culminated in an unannounced visit by a customs officer on foot to investigate whether we had employed paid undeclared workers during the remodeling of the old house.* The mayor only nodded.

Jobs are still being created, mostly by bigger companies, and right now in the construction sector, but most don't pay that well, he explained. Many of our small business owners do not pass on their business to their children, they simply close down when they reach retirement age.

Then he made a surprise statement.

I think, you did it right.

What do you mean?

You didn't get stuck in a place or a career, you took chances, lived and worked in different countries without getting bogged down like most people.

At a loss for words, the blogster came up with an admittedly lame: That has not always been easy, there were hard times, too.

He obviously understood, and by unspoken agreement the conversation shifted to traveling in general and to vacationing in the U.S. Soon after, with firmer ground regained, we said our good byes.

* Spoiler alert: we had not.

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