Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 16.03.2005
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Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

As Germany tries to find its way out of the stubborn quagmire of high unemployment, many of those affected are more concerned with slinging the mud of blame than they are with changing the course of their own fates.


Introducing an innovative approach to job seeking is a slow process

More than five million unemployed -- 5.22 million in February, to be exact -- is very bad news for Germany. It's impossible to deny the severity of the problem afflicting the nation's labor landscape. There is no quick fix and, many of those affected would say, little prospect for a solution in the medium term. In short, resignation has set in.

When it comes to Germans and employment, the national mindset allows them to feel justified in expecting the state to provide them the opportunity to make an honest living. When it then becomes difficult to access that perceived national right, they often feel insulted and lapse into a kind of sullen lethargy. Klaus Boehnke, a professor of social science methodology at the International University in Bremen, says Germans are intrinsically reluctant to take the bull by the horns.

Mauer zu versteigern

The Berlin Wall didn't divide everything

"In Germany we have two sources for the current inactivity. There's the example from the East where the state took care of everything, making it unnecessary for citizens to do anything for themselves," he said. "While in the West, the success of the social market economy led people to grow lethargic in the belief that the only way forward is up."

Living in a bureaucratic box

In essence, people have grown used to living and working inside boxes and unused to thinking too far outside of them, which, in the case of unemployment, presents a very real problem. The job search can take on many faces, but the German seeker often seems plagued by a lack of imagination and exhibits a tendency to look for work from within the bureaucratic outlook so prevalent in German society.

"This behavior dates back to the dominance of the Prussian authorities in which people were taught to think and behave according to rules and order," Professor Boehnke said. Indeed, instigating change will require a radically sweeping rethink, which will take at least a generation to trickle into effect.

Deutsch-amerikanische Beziehungen Flagge

A far cry of harmonized thinking

Economic theorist and author of the book " Was ist bloss mit den Deutschen?" (What's up with the Germans?) Spiridon Paraskewopoulos says the current attempt at a paradigm shift from a German to a US mentality is the wrong approach.

"Germans and Europeans generally have more faith in their governments than the Americans do, and the government should not be trying to change the Germans from that which they are," Paraskewopoulos said.

He apportions at least part of the blame to the press. "The media is constantly trumpeting the fact that Germany is in crisis and, just as telling a healthy man that he is sick will ultimately lead him to believe it, Germans have come to consider themselves down on their luck. The press should take a different approach to stimulate positive change in Germany," he added.

Where are the big spenders?

Paraskewopoulos argues that as much as being about a mindset, the current economic and employment situation in Germany is the result of a reluctance to spend. "People have been bullied into feeling insecure about their futures and have thus stopped consuming. They need to spend rather than sit on their savings and start encouraging domestic growth."

Kreis Demmin hat zweihöchste Arbeitslosigkeit in Deutschland

Hope for the next generation?

But even that would not solve the issue of how to encourage the workforce, present or future, to think with innovative flair. Thomas Bausch works on a project called "EXIST," promoting the notion of entrepreneurialism in universities across the country. He says that Germans have to loosen their grip on their employment ideal of a job for life at a big name business.

"People associate a career at places such as Siemens or Bosch or in the public service with social prestige and don't even consider the idea of working for themselves," Bausch said.

He maintains that the upcoming generation of workers is not only having to grapple with the continued prejudice dating from the 1960s that entrepreneurs are immoral, exploitative capitalists, but are also living with an inherited fear of trying something different.

"People are terrified of failing, not only because it is hard to get a second chance and a second business loan here in Germany," he said. "They also don't want to live with the social stigma of having tried and failed."

The adage "nothing ventured, nothing gained" might not have widespread acceptance in Germany, but with projects such as EXIST and government-funded self-starter programs, there are signs that a gentle breeze of change is beginning to blow.

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