Why Germany Has It So Good -- and Why America Is Going Down the Drain
By Terrence McNally
In his new book, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?, Thomas Geoghegan makes a strong case that European social democracies -- particularly Germany -- have some lessons and models that might make life a lot more livable. Germans have six weeks of federally mandated vacation, free university tuition, and nursing care. But you've heard the arguments for years about how those wussy Europeans can't compete in a global economy. You've heard that so many times, you might believe it. But like so many things, the media repeats endlessly, it's just not true.
Thomas Geoghegan, a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School, is a labor lawyer with Despres, Schwartz and Geoghegan in Chicago. He has been a staff writer and contributing writer to The New Republic, and his work has appeared in many other journals. Geoghagen ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic Congressional primary to succeed Rahm Emanuel, and is the author of six books including Whose Side Are You on, The Secret Lives of Citizens, and, most recently, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?
Thomas Geoghegan: In 1993 I got it in my head, for reasons too long to tell, to go see a woman I'd met who happened to be in Moscow. Because of the coup in October 1993, all the flights to Moscow were canceled, and I ended up in Zurich. I had not been in Western Europe for years, and, while I was waiting for clearance, I happened to walk around the streets and I was just thunderstruck by how nice it was. Every bookstore seemed like a boutique and even the train station was like a perfumery. And I thought, how did this part of the world get so wealthy without my knowing it? That was the epiphany that led me to take a bigger and bigger interest in how Europeans live, and to ask ultimately, were you born in the wrong continent?
Geoghegan: It's working out pretty well. The Germans are doing even better because the Euro fell -- it was overvalued to begin with -- and that made German goods more competitive. After the great debt crisis, the Euro became relatively cheaper, and that made Germany more profitable as an export country. Greece didn't collapse, partly because the Germans bailed it out and partly because there was belt tightening in Greece and plenty of tourists still coming in.
Geoghegan: Absolutely. And they're clueless. They are mortgaging this country's future and they're too stupid to realize it.
McNally: You're saying that Obama and the Democratic party could transform the issue of debts and deficits by offering solutions that are not just about paying today's bill, but about restructuring our ability to pay the bill in the future.
Geoghegan: We will never get out of debt until we confront our inability to pay our way in the world. Somebody is going to be in debt, whether it's me the taxpayer paying off the federal deficit or me the consumer paying off my Visa card. It doesn't make a whole lot of difference at the end of the day. The Democrats ought to present themselves as the party that has a plan to get the country out of debt.
Interviewer Terrence McNally hosts Free Forum on KPFK 90.7FM, Los Angeles and WBA I99.5FM, New York (streaming at kpfk.org and wbai.org). He also advises non-profits and foundations on communications. Visit terrencemcnally.net for podcasts of all interviews and more.