Claims about Germany

When I say that growing up in Germany helps bestow independent thinking skills, I’m not saying that it’s because they’re all taught [the] Straussian art of close reading. Instead I’m arguing that society has suppressed the value of certain status indicators, and that encourages people to think for themselves. To put it another way, there are fewer tournaments for kids to go through, and the value of winning them is not so high. Germans I’ve met are incredibly humble. Nobody feels the need to perpetrate an international hoax about how desirable they are. In addition, people aren’t all drawn to the same fields like finance and consulting. They take up professions like baking or manufacturing, and work with the earnestness that comes from knowing that their work is dignified; it’s easier for them to do the equivalent of moving to Dayton to study widget machines.

That is from Dan Wang, who also offers remarks on the philosophy and writings of Peter Thiel.  My reservation about Dan’s argument is that Germans may use their independent thinking skills to question the entire value of traditional metrics of success, thereby making Germany less suited to produce certain kinds of innovations.

Here is an interesting Simon Kuper FT piece on Germans, mostly positive although “Germans are frequently wrong.”

Comments

They know how to make guns.

out of broomsticks:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/02/19/germanys-army-is-so-under-equipped-that-it-used-broomsticks-instead-of-machine-guns/

You need to catch up on the G36 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heckler_%26_Koch_G36#Overheating

Germans really just aren't that good at war anymore. Which, according to one of Prof. Cowen's NYT columns talking about war and innovation, means that Germany has two strikes against them - not only do Germans 'question the entire value of traditional metrics of success' they also question the value of war.

Unlike the U.S., which appears to worship both slavishly.

There's our boy. Willkommen zurück.

Sure - pointing out one of the largest headline dominating recent scandals in German arms procurement is exactly the sort of thing that this web site needs when someone talks about how good Germans are at making guns that actually function in battle.

Historically, and taken as an ethnic group, Germans have actually been pretty lousy at war compared to the French, English or Slavs. Only the Prussians were any good, for a short while, and dragged the rest of the Germans with them.

People aren't all drawn to consulting? Germany is very consulting intensive (last numbers I saw, McKinsey Germany had a (I believe substantially) higher number of consultants per capita than the US). Having said that, consulting in Germany is a bit different than in the Anglo Saxon world (a lot of it is more operative than strategic).

Disclaimer: Former McK consultant who has consulted in Germany.

McK alum from the Netherlands confirming this observation. I also wonder about the "think for themselves" theory from the author. My observation from consulting - in various different European countries - was the Germans were terrified of making an incorrect decision, and certainly of being held responsible for having made one. This was great for consulting, as they demanded analysis after analysis of problems that would have been acted on long before in other countries. But, it's certainly not indicative of a culture where individuals "think for themselves" better than others.

I do agree about the different attitude toward status and tournaments than in the Anglo-Saxon world, and it is a blessed thing. Part of that is simply that they still have industrial capitalism rather than financial capitalism, so society IS less of a tournament there - where life is not doable in some Anglo Saxon cities if you are not at the top of the heap, life as a manager of a mid-sized firm in Bavaria is quite nice, as I imagine was the case centuries past in Leeds, etc.

I don't know about the consultancy in the McKinsey sense of the word. But Germany has many, many, consultants in the sense of "contract worker". This allows an ecosystem where there are flexible workers around even though the rules and customs around employment are rather rigid.

Wang is right that Germany benefits from going easy on the status tournaments and from a having a broad view of desirable skills and education. I am not sure that the result is independent thinking.

Germans turned out to be pretty good people, and they sure are really good losers. For example, five years ago I had my living room set up to have half the room full of spaniards and the other half full of Germans. After Spain beat Germany in the World Cup they seemed to take it very well. Plus they make really good strudel.

Against all expectations, they made surprisingly good winners, too. Unlike my and most people's expectation, they didn't get in your face about winning world championship last year (I don't care much for football butfrom the looks of it, they did deservedly so) much at all...

They have had practice at losing.

Certain kinds of innovations? What would those be. Innovations to sell stuff? I admire Thiel but is he aware that his "innovations" offer a better way to sell stuff made the the old fashioned way, in the world of atoms. Today's Mad Men don't know they are. Germans? They develop ways to make stuff better, not better ways to sell stuff.

Tyler is thinking about the innovation of selling stuff to create wealth to people with no income or assets using the savings of workers who believe the hooey about Social Security is bankrupt.

Americans are wealthier today earning $30,000 than they were earning $60,000 in 1980 because no one needs to save to go on a cruise or buy a luxury car nor even have middle class income to eat out with friends for $1000, or have them over to your 3000 square foot house to eat $500 worth of bbq on your $2000 stainless grill.

Germans just aren't innovative enough to know how to get rich convincing millions of people to live way beyond their means buying imports while moving their jobs overseas to boost profits.

Not to mention increasing government debt will actively pursuing policies to depreciate the value of public assets to increase private profits by not paying enough to use public assets.

Just imagine if Germany were more innovative like the US? They would be like Greece without the help of US financial innovators who promised Greece increased debt would pay for itself because the Euro will not devalue like the drachma when you stop making stuff and import cheaper and better goods without working for them.

The Germans I knew were incredibly humble about their place in history. And for good reason. On the other hand they were pretty arrogant about being German. They believed, to borrow a trope, in "German Exceptionlism".

Doesn't this piece lend credence to the existence of German Exceptionalism?

From this Swiss perspective, yes the Germans do have independent thinking skills (or perhaps a tendency to question things looking for improvement, which I guess it what makes em the ingenious engineers they are known to be) but only up to a point.

Past that point there are a few strange things occur. Corporate hierarchies are surprisingly strong, a Dr. title is actually honored (unlike in Switzerland) and therefore counts for something, and they are bound to stick to the "Sie" to almost ridiculous levels (this one is somewhat hard to explain if you don't have at least passing familiarity with the German language, as I believe our host has), even the younger ones.

I have a passing familiarity with German—I can watch the TV news and understand >95%.

"Sie" is the second person plural pronoun, "You". According to https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Sie#German, "The German Sie expresses distance in the relation between two persons. It is not perfectly correct to say that it expresses respect, because gods and saints have always been addressed as du, as have been parents (except formerly among the upper class). Even royal highnesses used to be addressed as du, albeit not personally, but in songs and poems."

This matches my experience. I'm no master at american culture, but I suspect it would be similar to using "Sir" all the time. Not quite, of course, such things are never quite the same, but I think that would be the closest parallel.

Two second person pronouns (formal and informal) are present in many (I would think most) languages. English, with just one ("you") happens to be an exception; if I am not mistaken, "you" used to be the formal pronoun and "thou" the informal one, but the latter seems to have fallen out use since Shakespearean times.

Another example in the case for Southron exceptionalism. "You" is the formal and "y'all" is the informal.

The Bolsheviks tried to stamp out one of the two forms of you. I think it was "vui" (formal) that was deprecated in favor of "tui" (informal). Didn't catch on. I suppose people were uncomfortable calling everybody "tui".

Russians have never been eager to eschew the extraneous elements of their language. Makes it a bitch to learn to speak it with a high degree of technical accuracy.

East Asian languages also have formal and informal forms for second person.

In Mandarin, the formal version is nin (您), while the informal (and more generic) form is ni (你).

The du for royalty and saints is probably related to the fact that both are usually known by their firstnames (same as in English) and the du goes with first names...

I don't think Sir is too good a comparison because that often implies a rank difference which the Sie does not necessarily, if there is one, the Sie is usually used on both sides of the conversation, not just the higher ranked one.

My wife's from Germany, and we've had lots of discussions on the differences between America and Germany. A big one, I boiled down to this:

In America, the customer is always right. In Germany, the expert is always right.

German ambition is geographically decentralized while French and British ambition is super-centralized. America in the 1970s was more like Germany, but the Wall Street Boom that began in 1982 is pushing American in the Brit/French direction with New York, Washington, and San Francisco as the big winners and places like Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago falling into also-ran status.

Germany would be more centralized too if it hadn't been chopped in half with its largest city seperated from the more prosperous West Germany. Moreover, can a nation with three major centers really be described as as centralized. I mean I agree the U.S. is centralized, but Germany is dominated by three cities too. Germany's decentralization is driven not be the strength its regions but by the weakeness or Berlin. This is far different from American regionalism.

The Census Bureau has for decades compiled population figures for Metropolitan Statistical Areas (essentially, the commuter zone). One can compute a ratio of each area's population to that of New York, Washington, or San Francisco in a given enumeration year. If you take a look at the 17 most populous zones other than New York, Washington, and San Francisco, you notice the following lost relative ground vis a vis Washington over that 30 year period:

Baltimore
Boston
Chicago
Cleveland
Detroit
Los Angeles
Minneapolis
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
San Diego
St. Louis

--

The following lost ground vis a vis New York: Detroit

--

The following lost ground vis a vis San Francisco: Detroit.

Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Phoenix, and Seattle gained ground on all three of your reference points. I think your thesis may need some work.

I think Steve isn't talking about populations or even productivity he's talking about basically two factors percentage of media coverage dedicated to city X and percentage of elite MBA's grads that take jobs in city X. I don't know the stats nor whether San Fran, New York and D.C. grew by those metrics but those are definitely the two metrics that seem to intrest Steve the most. A city like Houston basically doesn't rate because very few elite MBA grads are hired by the oil industry.

He can speak for himself, and tell us why his metric is at all valid.

Fully 20% of the British population lives in the dense settlement in London and the Home Counties, and more than 25% of the personal income in Britain adheres to that population. In France and Spain, the phenomenon is not quite so intense, with perhaps 15% of the population and 20% of the personal income in the capital. There is nothing comparable in the United States (or Italy or Germany).

Sam has expressed my vague notions with admirable precision.

Who has measured 'the percentage of media coverage devoted to city X' or 'the percentage of elite MBA grads' who take jobs in city X (who apparently cannot be bothered to work in the oil industry)? Population and income figures are available. The address of the headquarters of companies with large market capitalizations would be available. (About half of the top 50 are headquartered around the bay or around New York, not a one in Washington. The rest are all over the place).

The US is much bigger than any Western European country. It is obviously less centralized in a single city due to that factor. However, if you divide the US into 4-5 regions each of 80-60 million people, some regions will have a big metro area with a large fraction of the population and personal income, just like in Spain, France and UK: LA in the west coast, Chicago in the midwest, New York in the east coast, all concentrate a very high proportion of the population and income of the region.

If you regard the EU as a single country it is less geographically centralized than the US. Same applies to China, a country more similar to the US in geographical and economic size than any European country.

The US is much bigger than any Western European country. It is obviously less centralized in a single city due to that factor. However, if you divide the US into 4-5 regions each of 80-60 million people, some regions will have a big metro area with a large fraction of the population and personal income, just like in Spain, France and UK: LA in the west coast, Chicago in the midwest, New York in the east coast, all concentrate a very high proportion of the population and income of the region.

Cutting the U.S. up into settlement regions by applying a distance-decay formula to delineate the boundaries between them can yield a regional map wherein the core city is commonly as encompassing as Madrid or Paris. You'd have to cut the country up into three parts to achieve Spanish levels of concentration, 4 parts to achieve French levels, 6 parts to achieve British levels, north of 10 parts to achieve the levels which prevail in Korea and north of 15 to achieve the levels of the South American Southern Cone. Only the Bay Area, Washington, Boston, and New York have a per capita personal income which exceeds by 20% or more the general metropolitan mean.

Boston has actually gained ground significantly. It was a very provincial place in the 1970s. Now it is the center of the world biotech industry and is home to a number of the world's premiere private equity firms, and a number of high status consulting firms like BCG. People in Washington DC like to think the city is gaining status, but as far as I can tell it still carries the stigma among Americans and abroad of being mostly a city of lobbyists and government contractors, i.e. "people who couldn't succeed in the real world".

+1000 for STRAUSSIAN!!

The taxes, man. They're HUMONGOUS in Germany especially for childless people earning >50k Euros in wages, with 75% marginal tax in that bracket (yes, social security, VAT, and electricity bills do count - that they're now taxing even middle incomes so much is a consequence of literally decades of cold progression). Taxes are especially ridiculous compared to close by countries, like Luxembourg or Switzerland. There's no way to get rich in Germany by being a wage earner. Thus people aren't even trying any more to earn more cash - they develop alternative status hierarchies.

I don’t understand the math. How do you add VAT and electricity bills to a top income tax rate of 45% to get a 75% “marginal” rate?

http://www.brutto-netto-rechner.info/
50k nets you 29.0k
60k nets you 33.8k
This does not even include VAT (19% on all purchases except food 7%) and electricity bills, which include 50-100 Euros a month per household in green energy taxes.

Oh sorry, I forgot about the part paid by the employer of course ("Arbeitgeberanteil") which is 20.175%. With that you reach 75% MTR, I think some guy computed an even higher average MTR a while back but can't find the link.

How do you get "rich" in the US being a wage earner?

Are you saying that a German can't get the security of a "rich" US worker with $500K net worth? Given typical workers have well less than $50K in the US and half would be wiped out if a disability prevented them from working for 90 days, and many looking toward old age see no way to not work AND rely on Social Security and Medicare to survive.

Granted, the German policies that doubled health care costs there have been implemented in part here to increased health care costs by five times, so its the German socialism that makes health care cost too much in the US and that creates so much poverty in Germany, not to mention the rationing of death beds forcing Germans to wait longer to die by a year or two than we do in the US.

Easy. Be a state worker in California or firefighter or prison guard. Move up a few tiers. Make $105,000 a year. Put your money into all the retirement accounts you can. I see phone calls to a radio finance show where school district admin and other state workers have over a million plus in the bank, own their own home, etc. and retire at age 57.

They are millionaires especially if you count their pensions, which would cost multi- million to buy on the market.

The advanced course for California public sector retirees includes a healthy dose of pension spiking during the last three or so years of employment. That means gaming the system to max out overtime and anything else to pump up your W-2, so that you achieve the highest possible base for the retirement annuity.
There are numerous retirees that had wages in the high 5 figures, or more, and managed to boost those to 150-200K or more during the end game when it counted. Now they have fat pensions courtesy of the various levels of taxpayer. The average Joe doesn't get access to that.

The other consequence of choices possibly including taxes is a staggeringly low birth rate, the lowest in Europe.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/21/germany-birthrate-low-falling

Which makes me think maybe German society with or without independent thinking doesn't work very well. No matter how good someone is at engineering, its moot if you society doesn't procreate, you cease to exist.

I don't understand the math. How do you add VAT and electricity bills to a top income tax rate of 45% to get a 75% "marginal" rate?

This description of German culture reminds me of the places in the American Midwest with large a German diaspora: quietly competent but not particularly innovative or outstanding, high quality local government, low income inequality, and a spirit of egalitarianism. Above average IQ people actually choose low status professions, and one can be more certain that interactions with the car mechanic or locally-based customer service rep will proceed smoothly. These cultural factors make it a nice place to live for the average person, but since IQ is more evenly spread out across professions, it is not really, really good at anything in particular (besides growing corn).

Where might these places be in the midwest?

Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas...I am from one of these states but have lived in places across the country. I can only speak from personal experience, but this has been my observation.

Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas, and Nebraska?

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/German1346.gif

South St. Louis; eg Bevo Mill district [more recently a centre for Bosnian immigrants]

We also polka at our weddings. Don't forget that part.

This is partly due to the lasting influence of Lutheran thought on Germany - recall that Luther asserted that God feeds us not through the intervention of unnecessary miracles but by the work of farmers, millers, bakers, and deliverymen. Thus all these "mundane" professions were seen instead by Lutherans as a sacred calling, allowing them to be the hands and feet of God. Of course, most Germans have shed explicit manifestations of that faith, but the cultural ramifications remain centuries later.

The Puritans though the same thing and the early Zionist espoused a back to the earth ethos as well. In neither place did the sentiment last long even when the commitment to that ideology held. I have a hard time believing that in this case that characteristic out lived Lutheranism when similar teachings among the Puritans and Zionist barely lasted a generation.

Might want to read up on how to get your child into a "Gymnasium" in Germany before claiming there are no hoops to jump through. I suppose the difference with the U.S. is that the hoop is much higher and much earlier in life, and is much more subject to the opinion of a teacher and a slew of I.Q. tests.

This is glorifying a very rigid, hierarchical system that from an early age is totally fine with forcing people through certain paths in life. The outcome might be more efficient, but I doubt it leads to a more "egalitarian" society. The value of gaining admission to and completing a Gymnasium is incredibly high. Maybe it's just that most of those who weren't accepted at a young age meekly accept their lot in life.

+1. That's something that proponents of the Northern European educational model often ignore.

I got the feeling the writer was comparing all of Germany to Harvard and Yale.

At UCSD, not a shabby school, no one is entering tournaments of showing of status.

But the point is that kids who don't go to a Gymnasium end up in a more respectable position than they would in an English speaking country where everyone acts like the one great thing is to go to university.

Inevitably some people either fail to get there or else end up doing some pointless mickey-mouse course invented to make up the numbers. All the while they are missing a chance to learn skills that would have been more valuable.

That's quite my point, thanks Adrian.

'Might want to read up on how to get your child into a “Gymnasium” in Germany before claiming there are no hoops to jump through.'

You need to check out a couple of things -

First, the term 'Gesamtschule' - a German only link - https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gesamtschule#Gegenw.C3.A4rtige_Gesamtschulkonzepte

Second, how in Baden-Württemberg (one of the more conservative states), since 2012, the Gymnasiumempfehlung/Leherempfehlung is no longer required for a student to attend Gymnasium - again, German only link - https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lehrerempfehlung#Baden-W.C3.BCrttemberg The only hoop to jump through here over the last 3 years is having your parents say that is the school form you should attend.

Since 2012, in one state. Glad to see Germany is making progress, and becoming less like Dan Wang would like. Also, the Gesamtschule does not negate the advantage offered to kids that get into Gymnasiums.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Gerhartsreiter

That reminds me of German-born https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viola_Herms_Drath and her German-born imposter-murderer husband Albrecht Muth.

"Germans I’ve met are incredibly humble": my experience of German academics is that they have ranged from thoroughly likeable chaps to odious, arrogant twerps. Just like people, really.

Travelers often see countries through rose-tinted glasses. Probably has something to do with the fact that the traveler is an interesting outsider, and high-status to hang out with. Would be interesting to hear the opinion of an adult German immigrant to the U.S.

As someone who worked alongside Germans at CERN for a few years, I agree. Germans could be quietly self-deprecating, but an unexpected annoyance brought out something a little scarey.

Don't know how "humble and less ambitious" leads to "independent thinking". Did the author come up with some new causal chain here...or just "I don't like Americans and my Chinese parents, so I'll have to invent something nice to say about the Germans".

I suspect, it's got more to do with the author being Asian, and hence resenting the pressures to perform, so when he sees a society with (supposedly) lower standards, he feels the need to construct some link between that and (supposedly) better performance.

Sorry, ain't buying it. There's no logical link between the two (or three).

PS: So Peter Thiel's great insight is that secret is to "uncover insight hidden from popular opinion"? Pretty sure that's the standard textbook economic explanation too...and the primary thing that is taught in every Business school in the US. Thank you Peter Thiel! :)

Now I know how to be a billionaire too. That, or maybe be a genius and attend Stanford University with other geniuses. Either one will work just as well I suppose.

You omitted the most important factor in Thiel's success: luck.

Oh I'm sure Thiel deserves all the credit for his success. I didn't mean to imply otherwise. Just these "nuggets" of "brilliant insight" for journalists are...amazing. First time I ever heard that figuring out something others don't know, is how you make money.

Luck tends to come your way when you're a genius and go to Stanford with lots of other geniuses. At which point, it ain't luck anymore.

But it isn't "independent thinking", "humbleness" and "low ambitions" either.

I didn't say that Germans have better performance, in fact at the end I point out that it seems quite the opposite. Rather I'm taking a claim of Peter Thiel's seriously and presenting a hypothesis.

That's not the experience of living in Germany. Most people you encounter are very conventional, salt of the earth types. Berlin is the exception, but those people tend to be the biggest hipsters on Earth, which breaks the rule from the other direction.

In many German institutions (such as universities) there's an assumption that you need to make it in the US in order to advance past a particular level.

Now, having said that, I think there's a lot to be said for salt of the earth types. If we're headed for an era of stagnation and consolidation, the people who show up to work on time, treat people nicely, and give a full day's work for a full day's pay are well positioned to take advantage. People with a hundred thousand dollars in debt and an extensive list of the ins and outs of microagressions, not so much.

My personal experience is that Germans love doing everything the same way they did it last time. That's fantastic for reliability and incremental improvements; less so for innovation.

Yep, that sure explains the Energiewende. Is there an internationally approved sarcasm tag to be used here?

PS: A society which invented the ultimate status symbols, the BMW, Mercedes Benz and Porsche...may or may not be interested in status symbols. But surely, it made money mainly through status symbols.

Didn't they get their status by just being kick ass cars, better than cars made elsewhere? The status symbolism followed from very real superiority.

The status symbolism followed from very real superiority.

Fr. Andrew Greeley (of all people) was on some sort of business for the Archdiocese of Chicago in Germany in 1965 and bought a little red Mercedes and took it home to Chicago. He said it cost him about $500 more than the ordinary American car he had been driving the previous four years or so, but faculty members at the University of Chicago (among many others, one assumes) thought it disgusting for a diocesan priest to be traveling around in a luxury car (Greeley had been released from parish duties at this point, so had no pastor supervising him to lower the boom). His verdict on the car: "incidentally, it turned out to be a lemon". I've talked to people who purchased imported Mercedes in that era (i.e. family members of men with a thing for luxury cars) and they say pretty much the same thing: they couldn't find anyone to fix it so it operated with any degree of reliability.

Unless, you're Denise McCluggage, you're never going to have much use for any signatures of Daimler-Benz. Used Toyotas and Subarus are the way to go.

I live in a neighborhood of $200-$250k houses and there are 5 Porsches on my block. That doesn't sound ultimate to me. Maybe a Lambo, Bentley, or a Rolls.

As for being better, I've heard all manner of horror stories about the true cost of ownership of these cars. Like what a PITA it is to check the PS fluid on a Boxter, or how fragile the TPMS sensors are, etc.

Well, status symbol for the middle class, I meant. The rich don't need status symbols as banal as a car.

I agree with Topper Harley, quality ain't what they got. They have "kick ass performance" (as far as middle class status symbols go), but that's the definition of a status symbol car.

I.e., these are companies which are targeting consumers who specifically seek status symbols, not "humble low ambition" "salt of the earth" types.

In this, it is worth repeating an observation from a former PR employee on a trip with an IHS member to Germany in the later 80s - what makes a Mercedes stand out is how it drives at 100mph. Very few American Mercedes (BMW, Porsche, etc.) owners are likely to ever have a chance to understand just how accurate that remark is.

And it remains my personal opinion that the A5 from Frankfurt Airport to the A8 to Stuttgart will contain the last stretches of unlimited speed Autobahn in Germany.

Doin 100 mph decently is not particularly impressive. But the point in general stands, it's just hell a lot more impressive once you get to 130mph and above (I'd still take a Lexus over the Mercedes but that might just be me).

Which doesn't address the point I made at all. These are firms geared specifically to the development of high-margin products, which most people buy because of their status symbol, not because they are interested in how they drive at 100mph or their acceleration from 0 to 60.

'it’s just hell a lot more impressive once you get to 130mph and above'

Well, that was the observation of a former GMU PR dept. employee talking about her own experience in Germany. But talking about the times I've driven a Mercedes at 150mph, or been a passenger in a number of different car models being driven that fast, wasn't the point.

To add to a personal observation - way back in 1992, when my wife to be was shopping for a new car, the difference between the Nissan Micra (a model not sold in America, I believe) and the VW Polo (another particular model - there have been several 'Polos' over the year - definitely not sold in America) on the Autobahn was the sort of thing that makes me think, decades later, that even though Toyota makes excellent cars (certainly better than Nissan on average), they don't really have the sort of long term experience that allows them to create machinery that performs particularly well on the Autobahn. I could be wrong, of course. Very few people around here buy Lexus cars (Audi tends to the less well off German's Mercedes in terms of price, not Lexus), and they tend to be quite rare on the Autobahn. Admittedly, I don't know the basis for such a decision - whether out of performance or cost or status or other reasons.

'Which doesn’t address the point I made at all.'

Well, any idea where the higher per capita ownership of Mercedes is to be found? And though there is no question that an expensive Mercedes (or BMW) tends to be a status symbol in any number of the ways that anything too expensive to be acquired by large numbers of people becomes, the fact that several Mercedes models built in this region have never been sold in the U.S., while several models apparently only built in the U.S. (M and R, for example) tend not to be the sort of car sold in large numbers here.

In Germany, Mercedes pretty much provides the sort of model line up that GM used to - including buses, large and small trucks, vans, and cars, ranging from the micro (Smart) to luxury. Lots of people buy a Mercedes A or B class because they believe it to be safer and more reliable - and the prices tend be competitive (depending on one's meaning of competitive, of course) with what VW or Opel offers in the same class.

Do not confuse what Mercedes, VW/Audi, BMW do in the U.S. with what they do in other markets - the Mercedes A or B class (both original and current versions) are not 'high-margin products, which most people buy because of their status symbol.'

I drive a Toyota and occasionally have taken it to the German Autobahn. 100mph is not a concern whatsoever, but once you get past 120 or so it becomes a little annoying.

Then again, that car most definitely was never intended to be driven on the Autobahn much at all. Even so, the Germans still do it, and sometimes at 150 mph+, but it's definitely a different thing from doing the same in an S Class that costs three times as much :)

In my corner of Europe, the Merc is a popular product among both elite and taxi drivers.

Germany probably can't be analysed totally separately from Europe and the world. As long as we all have an America willing to do all the innovation in technology, medicine, etc., it makes sense for us to maximise broad human welfare instead.

Wages in Germany are really quite low for these salt-of-the-earth Arbeiter workers that everyone here praises but no-one here wants to be, and that's if you get the hours that week rather than having them compressed into high-demand periods. Put another way, Germany may actually be very hierarchical and the top of the hierarchy is merely bigger and more comfortable in its station than that in the USA.

'Wages in Germany are really quite low for these salt-of-the-earth Arbeiter workers that everyone here praises but no-one here wants to be'

IG Metall completely agrees with you - wages are far, far too low.

I live near Karlsruhe, within easy driving distance of at least three major Mercedes facilities, including Wörth, Rastatt, and Gaggenau. I do not of a single person who does not consider working for Mercedes to be one of the most attractive jobs possible - and yes, that includes working in a factory.

Re: innovation and independence vs striving and the topics of this article, it's one of those things were you can sort of see a relationship either way.

Say you have a society where group membership is always up for grabs - your stereotypical individualistic Western society. People strive for group membership and status, and are free to enter and exit all groups and categories.

People are free to associate with who they want to.

But as people are free to associate with who they want and all group membership being up for grabs, that means you need to appeal to them to spend time with you, and let you in the group. And that generally means conforming, in the sense of echoing what they want hear, and doing what they want to see done.

It's no paradox why free choice and competition can lead to a restriction in consumption to a narrower range of varieties. Free association and open access groups by themselves don't lead to a society of fully realized individuals, rather than people who are not much more than a marketable image.

On the other hand, let's say you have a society which stresses that people remain within groups for a long time, and where group membership is *not* up for grabs, and people don't strive to change their social status.

Well, how do you make people buy into that? Uniforms, anthems, building a shared identity, overt material egalitarianism (even when, wealth is in reality highly concentrated), and other more low key attempts to reconcile people to the idea they're just like everyone else, and part of the group. And thus conformity through that more direct route as well.

Or go for the third option now, where people simply opt out of group membership, out of holding groups together, and striving for group membership.

What happens? Do people become free thinkers? Yes, of sorts. But what also happens is that unchallenged by others, and without subjecting their ideas to group assessment, difficult questions and reality checks, they just carry on with their own biases. And not much of that is actually what we would call constructive independent thought, and its often depressingly familiar. Its independent, but the wheel is reinvented over and over again, and reinvented in a narrow and self serving form.

The best you can do is probably pursue a mixed strategy, so at least when people are conformist or come up with very typical ideas, they are conformist and pedestrian in different ways.

A perfectly empty string of words, congratulations!

The described kind of humility is one of the good thinks about modern leftists.Of course they still feel qualified to spend 50% of GDP. Maybe it is because they still have an even humbler opinion of others that of themselves.Maybe they are a little to pushy about others being humble.

Shared appartment with a german, had germans as clients, worked for and with germans......they are just people. They may seem humble because they don't talk a lot. A San Franciscan can talk for hours about some IPA and say it's the best beer in the world because organic, craft and not much people know about it. A German will keep drinking weissbier and thinking is the best beer in the world. Just don't expect him to say it, "obvious facts" don't deserve discussion. I fail to see humbleness in that kind of silence.

The last point is the most salient:

After all, policies are easier to fix than the social environment, and original minds may grow up over there and start companies over here.

Many of the really innovative minds in the States didn't grow up there, they moved there (like Elon Musk or Sergei Brin). Which is perhaps a better test, if they felt inclined to chase wild ideas because of a freedom in childhood which they wouldn't have enjoyed in the US. The argument feels more convincingly US-negative than Germany-positive though. I'm Australian, and I can honestly say that lots of aspects of American culture appear very groupthinky indeed, and we don't call anyone 'Sir' either (or Doctor for that matter). I wouldn't even call the Prime Minister by his or her second name - that would just be weird.

All that said, the groupthink elements of a foreign culture are always going to be perceived through your own cultural lense. An American going to Germany might perceive fewer local cultural norms because they're forgiving of the norms they see, and perhaps unaware of those they cross. They might well have gone to Germany in the first place because they outright prefer those norms to those of their own culture - but they could still be very groupthink norms. A German going to the US might feel very emboldened by the lack of familiar norms.

I am German and I think Germans are very conformist and not free thinkers at all. Its not that Germans don`t want the status symbols, but it would mean to stand out from the crowd. Not good...

Germans are reluctant to take risks as well. Thats why there will never be something like a German Facebook or Google, but copycats who eventually fail.

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