A somewhat informative article in the Guardian tells of the trend of elderly Germans moving away from their homeland to avoid rising costs of living for pensioners. The phenomenon of “oma export” has resulted in many moving to places like Hungary to avoid going broke on room and board and medical care. This is perhaps marginally better than the situation in New York, my home state, where politicians are busy wrecking every one’s chances at affordable living. But that’s for another blog post.
I say the article is only somewhat informative because it’s not long before two things occur; these two things, it seems, must occur in every article about European social problems, especially German ones. The first is the ham-handed but nevertheless de rigueur reference to Nazism and/or the Second World War in general. Here it is:
Such stories have flooded the German media in recent months following the revelations that thousands of Germans are being sent to live in overseas nursing homes. News of the practice has stoked much anger to the extent that comparisons have been drawn with the often brutal expulsion of ethnic Germans from parts of what is now Poland and the Czech Republic after the second world war.
Surely this is among the more illiterate comparisons I’ve ever heard. (You can write the historian R.M. Douglas for a more authoritative opinion on whether it’s true.) Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can get to the second necessity: the quote from the local prestige-press editorialist/labor-party representative peddling one of the West’s favorite cultural tropes: collective guilt. In this case, it comes from Heribert Prantl of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, who writes that “a country that is capable of building the best machines in the world has not yet been able to develop a proper and intelligent care concept when in a generation from now every 15th German will be in need of care.” This quasi-Malthusian horror will continue: “Will we also start exporting our children when the kindergartens become too expensive?”
Both of these necessary tropes, the hyperbole and the moralistic hand-wringing, make sound analysis of European welfare collapse almost impossible. (The same applies a fortiori to the United States, where the only acceptable responses to any political issue are outrage and character assassination.) No attempts are ever made to ask why such tendencies have come about. No solutions beyond the political leitmotif of “more money” are ever offered. No structural analyses of particular welfare programs are discussed. No relatively sane or non-partisan economist or policy expert is ever quoted. No ideas are ever within earshot of the discussion. This might be because politics is the art of preserving the status quo while maintaining the appearance of progress. In politics, therefore, real ideas are dangerous.