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Made in Germany

Michael Hüther

Pinstripes off, overalls on! Made in Germany is sending Germany's top economists out into the field to get their hands dirty.

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The experts are finally going to have to put their money where their mouth is. And you get to vote - Who is Germany`s "Economist of the Year"?

Episode 3: Michael Hüther In a home improvement store

Michael Hüther, director of the Institute of Economics in Cologne, does not believe in gradual reform. For years, he has been calling for a relaxation in employment protection laws. Up to now, it has only been possible to offer employees over 51 fixed short-term contracts. Hüther says employers should be able to offer these type of contracts to everyone without needing to justify their decision. In the medium term, the economist says employment protection legislation should be replaced by legislation on redundancy payments. He says the extension of the probationary period for new employees
is only a small step forward. In a home improvement store, Michael Hüther gets a chance to test his theories against
reality. Georg Matthes went to investigate.

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Michael Hüther, Director of Cologne's Institute of Economics, is currently preoccupied by one big issue: The country's inflexible employment market. He thinks that Germany urgently needs a low-wage sector and should repeal its employment protection laws: "The result would be to come into line with European law by completely liberalising employment protection", Hüther says.

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Hüther is about to leave the Institute for some work in the real world. Up to now, Hüther has only shopped at Cologne's Praktiker home improvement store. The 43 year-old enters Praktiker's staff changing room as director of the Institute of Economics and emerges as the lowliest member of staff. And he doesn't know anyone here at all.

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But he's really in his element with the circular saw. As an economist, he's all for incisive cuts. And a customer has already spotted him. Hüther has his own workshop at home, so his experience as a do-it-yourself enthusiast is paying dividends.

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Two hours later, Michael Hüther hadn't expected it to be such hard work ... and now he has to defend his theories about flexible working hours and dismissal protection: "Our experience is that we have to try to be more flexible over all, don't we? The world around us has become more flexible, and we can't remain rigid."

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In return for the advice, trainee Hüther is allowed to work unsupervised. A hundred and eighty square metres of laminated kitchen board still have to be shifted from the back yard. He has to move fast. There are kitchen tiles in the way, he gets a forklift. There's no time for long explanations. Now Hüther's leadership qualities are put to the test.

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Half the working day is over. Trainee Hüther is hungry and ready for a break. Time for an initial report, a cheese roll and some praise from his trainer. He's done well so far. Hüther says: "I think it's important for us to realise that real life is different in many respects than it is for us economists up there in our ivory towers."

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A sauna spoon to remind him of the sweat that he worked up in the store. His new colleagues didn't really understand him, but Hüther is pleased. And now he can go back to the office. At least theory and practice have come a little closer together.

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