Why Germany Is Rich But Germans Are Poor And Angry
For much of its postwar history, Germany was a beacon of prosperity and political stability. Now its economy is stagnating, and social harmony has given way to acrimony and division.
The median household has just €107,000 of net assets, while the wealthiest 10% have at least €725,000
Together with a pervasive sense that Germany is coming unstuck — think creaking infrastructure, inflation and the loss of cheap Russian gas — economic precarity makes Germans susceptible to fringe arguments that their living standards are threatened and the government is out of touch. In the longeconomy must reform its labor-penalizing tax system and promote a broader
Irate farmers have blocked roads nationwide in recent days, agricultural subsidy cuts. They have been joined by supporters of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) who blame the country’s of migrants for its fiscal and economic woes. Almost one-quarter of the population say they would vote AfD if an election were held today – and depressingly, I don’t rule out that figure increasing before next year’s national vote.
The federal government is in disarray, having been forced last month to find €17 billion of savings in this year’sfollowing a constitutional court ruling that its attempt to repurpose unused pandemic funds for climate investments was illegal.
Reconciling the Free Democrats’ anti-borrowing philosophy with the Social Democrats’ commitment to welfare spending and the Greens’ determination to promote decarbonization has led to bickering and compromises that satisfy almost nobody.
Gallows bearing the traffic-light symbol of the three-party coalition have appearedroadsides, and Germany’s economy minister, Robert Habeck, was blocked from leaving a ferry by an angry crowd.
Echoing the vituperation of Trump supporters and France’s yellow vests, and fanned by similar social media echo chambersof mainstream media, this polarization is nevertheless shocking for a country that prides itself on cohesion and shared prosperity.
But the shared prosperity bit is partly a myth: Inequality is high by European standards around €150,000.net wealth of around €106,000 is well below the euro-area median of
European Wealth Rankings
The median German household has only amore net wealth than the median Greek household
Source: ECB Distributional Wealth Accounts
Of course,need a lot of money to live comfortably due to high-quality public services: Child daycare is free in some federal states, as is public university tuition. Lately, labor unions have won pay hikes, while savers have earned higher interest on bank deposits; farmers too have earned higher profits.
However, fewer than half of households own a home andbenefited from soaring property median wealth of German tenant households is just €16,000, according to the Bundesbank.
Meanwhile, only around one in six Germans invest in the stock market. In 2019, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was then finance minister, revealed he kept all his money in a low-yielding bank account. Although his admission may have won it spoke volumes about the country’s self-defeating attitude toward investing.
For a long time Germany’s booming exports and budget surpluses deflected from these shortcomings, but the weaknesses of its economic model have now become apparent. Output contracted by 0.3% in 2023, according to an official estimate published on Monday, and the economy might expand by just 0.3% this year, say economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
Economists expect the German economy to expand by only 0.3% in 2024, following a 0.3% contraction last year
Finance Minister Christian Lindner’s plan to augment the pay-as-you-go pension system with a debt-funded German sovereign wealth fund invested in global equities isn’t sufficient to close the financing gap.
Germany’s increasingly fractious politics make me unoptimistic about the chances of furtherto reduce inequality and broaden asset there’s no shortage of ideas.
Some GermansVery Wealthy
More than 9,000 Germans have a net worth of at least $50third highest concentration of super-wealthy people
Source: UBS Global Wealth Report
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and leading German economists have long criticized the country’s tax because the burden is skewed too much toward wages, while property and inheritance taxes are low.
Broadening wealth need not mean taking it from the rich. Germans lack tax-efficient ways to invest in the stock market — there 3equivalent the UK’s individual savings accounts (ISAs) or US 401ks and Roth IRAs, for example.
I’m also in favor of a citizen’s inheritance — a cash distribution of, say, €20,000 to every young adult that could be reserved for specific expenses like acquiring property or paying for education. Not surprisingly, AfD politicians oppose the idea, because it might mean giving even more money to migrant children.
An irony of the AfD’s increasing support is that many of its low-income supporters would benefit little from its program, which includes opposing property, wealth and inheritance taxes. Helping more people share in economic prosperity would a long way toward neutering support for radical political the anger now boiling over in Germany.
Chris Bryant is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies in Europe. Previously, he was a reporter for the Financial Times.