[VIEWPOINT]German ‘sensation’ is a model for usOur exports passed the $300 billion mark yesterday. Not long ago, it seems, we were crying out, “Let’s reach the $10 billion level in exports!” I applaud the businessmen who made this new level possible, quietly working hard while our politicians lost their way, driving the country into chaos. Thanks to these businessmen, the Republic of Korea is moving forward.
In any case, Korea as a whole has to depend on exports to earn enough money to make a living. That is why we need to borrow experience and wisdom from other countries that have already done so.
Here’s a pop quiz: Which country exports the most in the world? 1. The United States, 2. Japan, 3. China, 4. Germany. The answer is 4.
Germany passed the $1 trillion mark in exports last year. It exported a total of 786 billion euros worth of goods, which would be around $1.04 trillion if converted at today’s exchange rate.
Germany’s population is 82 million, a little less than double the size of our population, but their exports are more than 3 times as big.
Things are looking good for this year’s exports, too. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, Germany recorded $863 billion in exports by the end of September, a 12-percent increase over the amount achieved during the same period last year. If that trend continues through the end of the year, Germany’s exports will be close to $1.2 trillion for the year.
Exports are not the only things looking good for Germany. The German economy, which was in a pit of depression, is reviving.
The number of unemployed people, which reached its highest point when it exceeded 5 million in February, had dropped to less than 4 million in November. That’s a decrease of no less than 1 million unemployed people. In other words, 1 million jobs were created in a nine-month period.
It is no wonder that German economists call it a “sensation.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel could not hide her joy, saying, “Today is a very happy day. Let’s all work hard together to further lower the unemployment rate.”
Domestic consumption is reviving, too. Consumers are opening their wallets as unemployment decreases. According to wire reports, Germans are now enjoying the year-end shopping season for the first time in a long while, especially Christmas shopping and year-end bargain sales before a plan to increase the rate of a new income tax takes effect next year.
The country’s economic growth rate is also higher than expected. The growth rate for the third quarter of this year was 3.4 percent, the highest among G7 countries. Considering the fact that a negative growth rate was common just a few years back, this is an amazing figure. During the same period, the United States recorded 2.9-percent growth and Japan recorded 2.0 percent. Experts with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predict that Germany’s growth trends will continue at such high rates until 2008.
What’s the secret behind this revival of the German economy, which was once so weak that the term “the German disease” was popular?
Experts say the biggest reason is the change of administration last year ― the government converted its policies from a left-wing style based on income distribution to a right-wing approach based on growth.
The surprising thing is that it was former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a left-wing leader, who pursued the change. He restructured the labor unions and welfare system to break the iron grip of the labor unions, the basis of his political support. It was called “Agenda 2010.” He was branded as a traitor by the left wing and stepped down from his post as chancellor in the end.
Nevertheless, the German economy is reviving, as we can now see. Mr. Schroeder sacrificed himself for the good of the nation. It may seem ironic, but a proper country should be like this. When it comes to saving the economy and developing the country, is it necessary to discern the left and the right, or the ruling party and the opposition?
Among the many reforms that Germany has accomplished, we should pay attention to one thing related to the problem of temporary workers.
In Germany, as in Korea, if a temporary worker is employed for two years, that person has to be employed as a permanent employee or be fired. However, reflecting the demands of the business community, Germany revised the law to allow an unlimited extension of the period for temporary positions.
Thanks to this revision, the employment of temporary workers has greatly increased and the unemployment rate has fallen. This shows us the way through which we can protect temporary workers and help develop the economy.
Germany provides us a model of the direction we should pursue, not only in unification but in many other areas such as politics, the economy and welfare.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yoo Jae-sik