As a symptom of the larger problems in American society, the recent shutdown of the federal government is yet another sign of America's declining global position in terms of order, prosperity and quality of life. Another world leader, Germany, seems to be consistently scoring higher than the U.S. on many important measures of societal success.
Germany recently held national elections. Main topics of the campaigns included discussion on the introduction of a minimum wage and whether or not there should be an official day of the week designated vegetarian, as well as debate over how mothers choose between keeping kids at home and using subsidized childcare.
Now German political parties are having some difficulties with negotiating a political coalition, which is still needed to form a government. Despite the ongoing coalition talks, it’s clear that, in general, Germany is more or less prosperous and comfortable. This is demonstrated by the focus on relatively minor, specific issues and the popular desire for little change.
Multiple global rankings further highlight the contrasting successes of Germany and the U.S. These include statistics on economic vigor and personal financial satisfaction, respect around the world, and so on.
Economically, Germany is one of the few countries in Europe to actually grow during the global recession and has been holding much of the EU together with its financing. Unemployment is low, exports have remained strong, wages are slightly increasing, and Germans have a high degree of satisfaction with their personal economic situations.
In terms of perception around the world, Germany is the most popular country according to a recent BBC poll. Perception of a country has important political implications for diplomacy, financing and other aspects of global interaction. In the same poll, the U.S. ranked much lower, between Brazil and China.
Comparing Germany and the U.S. on these measures is useful in understanding our own society’s health and direction. The two countries differ on one very important and basic level. The U.S. is experiencing, and consciously encouraging, large scale population growth, while Germany has largely allowed its population to shrink. This fundamental difference has influence over various aspects of success.
Aging baby boomers are a common problem for the two countries, but in terms of population size, the countries have been heading in opposite directions. While Germany’s population has shrunk for the last decade, the country has become more environmentally sustainable, continued its positive economic growth, and has achieved a globally positive reputation. This goes to show that population decline is not inevitably tied to a declining society, and in fact a lower population can mean the opposite – as Germany exemplifies.
The commitment to the idea of population growth and the fear sometimes associated with population decline are both harmful and misguided. If the U.S. is to have higher aspirations for future national success, it would be wise of American politicians to learn lessons from Germany and stop pursuing policies of large-scale population growth.