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Germany

Angela Merkel's definition of the good life

The German government has now published its own prosperity index. But what does it show and how can the 46 indicators be applied?

What defines "the good life" in Germany? After several years of civil dialogue and scientific analysis, the German government has come up with 46 indicators that it has allocated to twelve dimensions. Many of these findings resemble existing policy areas, or reflect things that are already being "measured" – as, for example, the dimension "Working well and getting a fair share," together with its indicators "unemployment quota" and "actual take-home pay."

However, it also offers fresh perspectives, such as the dimension "Having time for family and career," where the length of the commute between home and the workplace is one of the indicators taken into account. There are also other dimensions that are genuinely new, such as "Being at home in town and countryside," "Living freely, enjoying equal rights," or "Acting out of a sense of global responsibility and securing peace. "Politics should be interactive dialogues with citizens. They discovered that "peace" was the most important topic, followed by "amount of remuneration," "sense of security" and "personal freedom and freedom to develop."

The stated aim of the report is to provide an initial review of quality of life in Germany. The idea is for it to be used as a basis for identifying areas where action needs to be taken and measures put in place. The plan is to draw up one of these reports in each legislative period, i.e. every four years.

Deutschland Nürnberg Bürgerdialog Angela Merkel (Reuters/G. Bergmann/Bundesregierung)

Merkel at a citizens' dialogue meeting in Nuremberg in 2015

How it all began

All around the world, people have been experimenting for years with ways of measuring prosperity that assess more than just the rate of economic growth, along the lines of: Not just "more," but "better."

Following the financial crisis in 2008, an international commission led by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz developed a new reporting and indicator system. The OECD used this to develop its Better Life Index. Britain initiated a UK Prosperity Index. In Germany, the government set up a commission of enquiry into the subject, and in 2011 the chancellor launched a scientifically monitored dialogue with German citizens about the country's future.

Giving the project the green light in April 2015, Merkel stressed that she did not get to hear often enough what were really people's most pressing concerns. She acknowledged that some things are seen very differently beyond the government district in Berlin. At that point, the first Pegida demonstrations by concerned citizens who felt sidelined by the political mainstream were already starting to make headlines.

Considerable effort – to what end?

203 "civil dialogues" took place in 2015. Members of the government were also present at 50 of these. The discussions could be subsequently continued either online or by postcard. Overall, 15,750 citizens took part. The data was then scientifically evaluated.

The report itself states that the result cannot be considered representative. Government spokesman Stefan Seibert said it should be seen as a beginning, and as a compass, but added that each department should now look at what falls within its area of responsibility.

Ammunition for the national election campaign?

Initial reactions indicate that the report could also be instrumentalized for key political discussions.

The German minister for economic affairs, SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel, said that prosperity for all could not be allowed to remain an empty promise. People wanted a fair country, with equality of opportunity, cohesion, equal status for women, and a closing of the gap between rich and poor.

In her weekly video podcast, Angela Merkel emphasized that the government had broken "new ground." She said that her experiences with this format had been very good ones, and she was very pleased to have met politically engaged people all around the country.

The Left Party politician Dietmar Bartsch commented that the people's strong desire for peace, as expressed in the report, was counteracted by Germany's exorbitant arms exports.

The FDP's general secretary, Nicola Beer, criticized the government report as "banal." She said it served the interests of the grand coalition government of CDU/CSU and SPD, which could argue that it provided "the ultimate legitimization for the socialist distribution marathon."

 

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