Interesting: A subjective comparison of Germany and the United States

yllus

Elite Member & Lifer
Aug 20, 2000
20,577
432
126
I saw this pop up on Hacker News yesterday and decided to click through and read it this morning. It's a very long and fairly detailed comparison between all facets of Germany and the United States by a person who's lived in both countries for 20+ years.

The writer himself states immediately that this is a subjective comparison, so you may want to overlook some of the value judgments and instead compare the facts he mentions and think about how things would be different in your country if your elected leader had the powers of the German chancellor or American president. I think it's pretty interesting. As with most of the posts I make in P & N, this is a very long read which is even longer if you click through and read the original source.

A subjective comparison of Germany and the United States

Democracy

There are many differences between the two countries in their approach to democracy. Most importantly, the US uses the majority system throughout, meaning that voters get to decide between several candidates, and a candidate needs more than 50% of the votes in order to win. Germany uses a mixture of proportional and majority systems in order to ensure that the proportion of parliamentary seats a party receives is exactly the same as the proportion of voters favoring that party (if that proportion is bigger than 5%) while also allowing for local representation.
The German system gives more power to the parties, since they decide which candidates to place on the list from which the parliamentarians will later be drawn. Parties finance the election campaigns; the candidates themselves do not need to raise substantial amounts of money. In return, there is a very high party loyalty in the German parliament. Parliamentarians vote their conscience only on rare, very important questions; most of the time, they vote the party line. Parties are financed by the taxpayers according to the proportion of votes they received, by donations from big business, and by membership dues.

By contrast, Congress persons in the US are much more independent: they raise campaign money on their own (or use their own money) and the party cannot even decide who will be their candidate in a particular race: this is decided in so-called primaries, races between the various candidates in which every voter who declares themselves a supporter of the party gets to vote. Once in Congress, the legislators can vote their conscience on virtually every question.

American politicians are almost constantly raising money for their next campaign. Since they are free to change their voting pattern on almost any topic, moneyed interests have much more political influence than in Germany.

The majority system in the U.S. basically ensures a two-party system; it is exceedingly rare that a third-party candidate manages to win a seat, and it never takes long before the seat goes back to the two parties. By contrast, in Germany there are usually about five viable parties that send delegates to the parliaments (and many more smaller ones that can't beat the 5-percent hurdle and are therefore not represented in parliament).

A little-known and blatantly unjust feature of the US system is "redistricting", also called "gerrymandering". The country is divided into congressional districts, one for each member of the House of Representatives. The person who wins the most votes in a district gets the corresponding seat in the House. Every 10 years a census is carried out, and then the state governments go to work and redraw the congressional districts, purportedly to make them all the same size. The real reason is of course to keep the other party out of Congress: the census provides enough information to know where supporters of the other party live, and the new district boundaries are drawn so as to segregate all of them in as few districts as possible. This same game takes place every ten years, and it seems to outrage no one but me.

It is often believed that the position of President in the US is an veryy powerful one; this is wrong. Essentially all he can do is govern by changing administrative rules and veto or sign laws written by Congress, where the majority is often hostile to the president. Presidential vetoes can even be overridden by a 2/3-supermajority in both houses. By contrast, the Chancellor in Germany is elected by the parliament, the Bundestag, which means that a majority is behind him and most every law he wants to enact will pass, because of the above mentioned party discipline. Most laws, the ones not affecting the German states, do not have to be approved by the second chamber, the Bundesrat. (The precise rules about which laws have to be approved by the Bundesrat are quite obscure, and nobody seems to know them.)

The American parties are located to the right of their German counterparts. Former President Clinton for instance, a Democrat, would have to be placed at the right wing of the German conservative party CDU. Some people at the right end of the American Republican party are so extreme that they would probably be under surveillance in Germany. There is no social democratic party to speak of in the US; it is the biggest and oldest party in Germany, and indeed all parties in Germany are social democratic to some extent.

Even though US politics are located to the right of German politics, there is a very real sense in which Germany is more conservative. New technologies and new ways of doing things are embraced much more enthusiastically in the US. Even conservatives will often propose quite radical policy changes, such as throwing out the whole income tax system and replacing it with a national sales tax. On a whim, some states will introduce gay marriage and others will put a prohibition against it into the state constitution. Things appear to move much slower in Germany.

It is not very well known in Germany that most US states have systems of direct democracy, where citizens can bring up ballot measures if they raise enough signatures. There are no restrictions on the contents of these measures: tax reductions, criminal laws, recalls of unpopular politicians and changes of (state) constitutions are all fair game. Local prosecutors, sheriffs, and judges are also often directly elected by the citizenry. In Germany, these are all appointed, not elected.

Despite all of this, large segments of American society ignore the political process altogether. Even the big presidential elections see only about 55% of the eligible voters participating; other elections have much smaller participation. In Germany, the numbers for federal elections are around 80%.

I can see three possible reasons for the low voter participation in the US: votes always take place on regular working days making it difficult to participate (many businesses grant time off for voting, but they are not required to), the majority system locks out supporters of smaller parties, and the system of voter registration (which requires every voter who moved since the last election to fill out a form several weeks before the vote) makes it unnecessarily difficult to vote.

Freedom vs. Security

The term "freedom" is ubiquitous in the political and public debate of the US; it is indeed a very important, if ill-defined, concept for ordinary Americans. The quotation "Whoever is willing to give up essential freedoms in order to gain some temporary security deserves neither" is repeated over and over again; I'm sure that there is at least one Usenet article circulating at any given time which contains this sentence.

By contrast, Germans like their security quite a bit and are uncomfortable with the dichotomy Freedom vs. Security. They want both. They like to be able to plan ahead for long periods of time. In fact, when told that in the US one can be fired when getting severely ill (or for no reason at all -- so-called "at will" employees), at which point the health insurance coverage is also lost, puzzled Germans ask "But how can people live like that?" The exasperation only increases when they learn that in the U.S. you get unemployment benefits typically only for 26 weeks, after which you get nothing. (In Germany you get generous benefits for one year, then basic support forever.)

It is even more astounding to Germans, including me, that given this dire situation, US citizens are notorious for not saving any money, even living on credit instead. (Almost all Americans carry several credit cards; I never understood why anyone would bother to carry more than one until a fellow graduate student told me that she treats credit cards as a kind of unemployment insurance.) Even in the presence of the huge German welfare system which tries to make everyone feel as secure as possible, people routinely save money, just to be on the safe side. Personally, I found it very strange to learn that many Americans, even those with a good income, live on a "month-to-month" basis, always waiting for the next paycheck to arrive in order to be able to pay the bills.

If they do save, then they usually use the money to speculate (they call it "invest") in the stock market, which is again much too insecure for the average German. On a similar note, Germans don't understand why people keep living in areas which regularly see earthquakes or hurricanes; natural disasters that kill people are very rare in Germany. Many of this may be explained by a generally much higher level of optimism and risk tolerance in America.

The following interchange took place on Usenet between a Dutch person and an American; it beautifully sums up the differing approaches towards the concept of freedom:

- "A welfare system increases individual freedom, because it lets people experiment without the threat of catastrophic failure."

- "You are not really free if you are not free to fail."

It is rather surprising however, that given this German emphasis on security, I cannot find a clear overall plus in freedom in the US. Sure enough, political freedoms and freedom of speech are stronger; racist Nazi propaganda for example is illegal in Germany while it is legal in the US. These prohibitions enjoy wide support in Germany, while the public in the US normally takes the view "I disagree with what you say, but I would fight for your right to say it." Most Germans are not able to take this noble position, probably because they fear the power of effective propaganda given the historical experiences.

Publishing on the Internet is also less restricted in the US; in Germany, every commercial site needs to state the responsible person's true name, and pornographic materials have to be protected from access by children. [Exception: people in the U.S. have been sent to prison for possessing "obscene" drawings or writings about minors having sex; in Germany this is not illegal.] Google search results are government-censored in three countries: China, France, and Germany.

Everyday freedom of speech may very well be lower in the US however: it is severely restricted by the fact that one can be privately sued by anyone at any time for virtually anything, and being sued as a private individual is almost equivalent to bankruptcy, no matter whether the case is won or lost. (Unlike in Germany, the loser of a lawsuit in the US does not normally have to pay the winner's legal costs.) People who have spoken up against projects of certain corporations during town meetings have been sued by those same corporations, for the very act of speaking up (known as "SLAPP" lawsuits).

Expressing a negative opinion about an American company's products on a website often results in a threatening letter from a lawyer. People have been fired for political bumper stickers on their private cars. The right to freedom of speech also does not apply to the homeless: the US Supreme Court has ruled that local laws that prohibit asking people for money are constitutional. Ironically, the same Supreme Court ruled that corporations that give money to politicians are covered by the freedom-of-speech clause and cannot be prevented from doing so.

In addition, the fact that one can legally be fired without any reason severely limits freedom of speech at the workplace. Typically, people are fired at a moment's notice and have to go home immediately. (Sure enough, given Germans' love for security, Germans can be fired only given a valid reason and normally only with several months notice; there is a whole branch of the juridical system, the Arbeitsgerichte, that deals with deciding which reasons are to be considered "valid".) If a member of one's family is chronically ill, the freedom to switch employment is severely limited in the US, because the new employer's health policy is legally allowed to reject the applicant. (Nevertheless, Americans switch jobs much more often than Germans.)

I said above that Germans value security more than Americans do. There's one big caveat: the paranoid extent of US military spending. The US spends more on its military than all other countries combined. What are they afraid of? By now I believe that the rich have engineered an ingenious way to channel taxpayers' money into the pockets of stock holders of the military-industrial complex (which was famously decried by President and ex-General Eisenhower).

According to the Patriot Act, the FBI could get access to people's library borrowing, bookstore purchasing and internet activity records, without first having acquired a court order. Librarians and employees who received such an order for information had to comply and were not allowed to talk about it to anyone. They were not allowed to openly protest, to write a letter to the editor, or to talk to their spouse about it. The practice, after having been used hundreds of thousands of times, was finally ruled unconstitutional in 2008.

It is an almost bizarre contradiction that US citizens are not granted the right to freely travel wherever they want. Cuba, a popular vacation spot for Europeans and Canadians, is off-limits to Americans. (Technically, they are allowed to travel to Cuba, but as a result of the economic sanctions they may not spend any money there.) This is especially ironic since one major complaint against communist countries has traditionally been their refusal to allow their citizenry to travel freely. I would expect that, were the German government to restrict the right to travel, major protests would ensue.

The fact that local communities, states and the federal government can enact concurrent criminal laws in the US together with often extremely draconian punishments (combined with sporadic enforcement) also tend to limit personal freedoms. (In Germany, only the federal government enacts criminal laws.)

Sports betting, prostitution, anal sex, and bestiality are not illegal in Germany but are illegal in many US states (prohibitions against anal sex were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003 however).

In Germany, all murderers can be and often are paroled after 15 years in prison (except for terrorists and the psychologically abnormal), while in the US murderers are lucky if they can get away with a life sentence without the possibility of parole (a sentence considered to be violating human dignity and therefore unconstitutional by the German high court, the Verfassungsgericht). In the US, children as young as 13 are often tried as adults for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in adult facilities, and 16 year old murderers were sentenced to death (this latter practice was finally stopped by the Supreme Court in 2005). In Germany, children under 14 cannot be punished at all, and juveniles under 18 cannot be sentenced as adults. People under 21 can be treated as juveniles if the court finds them to be immature.

Several large US cities have enacted curfew rules, which prohibit teenagers from being on the streets at night if not accompanied by an adult. This is another example of an infringement on freedoms which I think would not be tolerated in Germany. In general, teenagers seem to live much freer lives in Germany than in the US. For example, it is common for 15 or 16 year old Germans to travel on vacation to foreign countries with a couple of friends; in the US, it is rare to see anybody traveling under the age of 18 -- even though 16 year olds are already allowed to drive there, while in Germany the driving age is 18. It is much easier for German teenagers to drink and smoke, but other drugs are more readily available in the states.

Many US high schools subject students who participate in extracurricular activities to random drug test, which also involve tests for alcohol and tobacco. Their freedom of expression is also limited: often they cannot criticize school officials or wear offensive or suggestive clothing. Some high schools forbid their students to hug or even touch other students. More than twenty states still allow the spanking of students in school if the parents don't object. Young German teenagers often spend their weekend nights dancing in discos, while virtually all comparable clubs in the states are off limits most of the time to people under the age of 21, because they serve alcohol. German adolescents over the age of 14 in Hamburg and Berlin may freely choose where to live (even on the streets if they want); in the US you are subject to your parents' will up to age 18.

Many government agencies and private employers in the US require their employees to submit to periodic drug tests, something that does not exist in Germany. (Some jobs in Germany require a one-time drug test as a condition of employment though.)

The degree of economic freedom is higher in the US, mainly because of the lower level of regulation. In the US, if you have an idea for a new business, you have to convince a specialized high-risk investment fund ("venture capitalists") to invest in your enterprise in return for a share of the business and the profits; in Germany, you have to convince a bank to provide an unsecured loan, which is much harder.

In the US, you cannot leave your children at home alone if they are under 12 (varies by state). No such rules exist in Germany.

On the other hand, several regulations in Germany limit personal everyday freedoms:

  • you cannot shop or open your shop at night or on weekends; (the Sunday prohibition is justified with vague Christian rules and with the supposed need to keep a day for the family -- brothels are of course open for business on Sundays and holidays)
  • freight trucks cannot be driven on Sundays or on holidays, not even on Saturdays in the summer
  • men have to do at least one year of mandatory military or social service (this was ended in 2011)
  • your current address has to be registered with the authorities at all times, even if you are a German living outside of Germany (while Americans are often outraged by this requirement, every American with a driver's license, and that means everyone, has to register a current address with authorities; furthermore, personal driver's license information is sold to private businesses, something out of the question in Germany)
  • police can and often do ask for your name and address, especially if you look foreign; if you don't carry ID, they are allowed to take you to the station
  • everybody must separate their garbage into five piles: glas, paper, packaging, compostable, remaining. Sometimes the garbage police checks that you do it properly!
  • you must take a large number of classes and obtain a license in order to be allowed to fish or hunt
  • minors are not allowed in tanning studios
  • you may not create noise by cutting grass on Sundays
  • you cannot wear a mask when participating in a demonstration (the Vermummungsverbot; police want to be able to identify you on their video tapes; the prohibition is however widely ignored)
  • if you die, half of your money goes to your nearest relatives whether you like it or not; you cannot write a will to override it.

All these must sound pretty incredible to the average American I'm sure.

I see one amusing parallel though: both countries hold dear one "freedom" which virtually no one else in the world recognizes as one: the right to drive as fast as possible on the Autobahn in Germany and the right to keep and bear firearms in the US. Both these "freedoms" survive because there are very effective and vocal lobby groups behind them, even though a slight majority of the general population in both countries probably oppose them.

Television and the Media

It's a common stereotype that American TV is unbelievably bad. And for the most part, it is. You don't get any international news, instead you see hyped up national and local news, invariably stressing violent or freak or feel-good incidents; politics is always presented in a black and white, emotional, and incredibly simplifying manner. Then you have UFOs and "Unsolved Mysteries", and of course a fair amount of daytime talk shows with transgender prostitutes who are recovering from plastic surgery and are now sleeping with their sons, or whatever. This whole disaster is thankfully interrupted by screaming commercials every couple of minutes. I can't stomach it for longer than half an hour.

In Germany, the biggest TV stations are non-profit "Anstalten öffentlichen Rechts" which are independent in the sense that politicians cannot directly influence their decisions, and the top managers are appointed by councils that represent the major groups in society: political parties, unions, churches, business etc. Laws prescribe their internal organization and their purpose. They are financed from a monthly fee that every owner of a radio, TV set or computer has to pay and from advertising money. Advertising on these channels is restricted to certain times of the day and never interrupts movies or news shows. News coverage is usually very broad, internationally oriented and well-balanced with few freak coverage (then again, I believe that many more freak incidents happen in the US than in Germany, for some reason. Have you ever seen a living room being washed away by the rain or 50 houses burning down in Germany? Happens all the time here.)

Then there are also private TV stations in Germany, mostly on cable. They definitely move in the direction of US TV, not quite reaching it yet though. Much of their programming consists of dubbed US shows. (Almost all foreign shows and films are dubbed in Germany, while in the US dubbing of foreign films is very rare.)

Again, there's another side to the story, which is not well-known outside of the US, maybe not even inside. It is American public TV and radio. Financed mostly by donations and partly by the government (few ads), it provides exceptionally high quality programming, much better than anything I've seen on German public TV. For example, I watched an 8 hour documentary about the war against the native Americans, stretching out over four days, and a similar one about the civil rights movement. (Documentaries in German TV are usually 60, at most 90 minutes long.) The news coverage on US public TV and national public radio approaches the quality of German news, except for international coverage. Science coverage is clearly superior in US public media. I personally enjoy the public media in the US more than the ones in Germany, mostly because of the in-depth coverage of a vast variety of topics.

The World of Work

The common stereotype of the diligent hard working German and the laid back TV watching American is rather wrong. It is my experience that Americans are generally much more hard working than Germans. For example, it is not uncommon to meet people who work two 40-hours-a-week jobs, or who work full time while also taking a full time course load at a college. Both are completely non-existent in Germany (there are rules against working too much, intended to protect workers; two full-time jobs are not allowed). Many Germans work only 35 hours a week, others 37.5, all take long vacations, and I estimate that over the whole year, the average German with a job works about two thirds the hours of the average working American.

In the US, it is quite common that people who are not paid by the hour work much longer than the 40 hours per week that they are obliged to. Despite the fact that many large and successful employers liberally lay off workers to increase profits and appease Wall Street, employees in the US exhibit a rather strange loyalty to their employers. They often own stock of the very company they work for and really want "their" company to succeed, almost like a team sport. In Germany, where it is taboo for a successful company to lay off workers, many workers are still not very loyal to their employer: basically, the boss is the enemy who forces you to come to work every day.

Even in their time off, Americans often volunteer for charities or at schools, join their children at sports games, or work out at a gym. In Germany, it seems to be much more common to relax by spending time in a pub or going for a walk. Americans watch a lot more TV though while Germans like to join various sports and hobby clubs, so maybe the time off is a tie.

While Americans definitely work more, they are very much focused on making money. By contrast, in Germany there is a work ethic where many people take pride in producing quality, which I think is sometimes absent in the US. However, I received a message from an American project manager who has lived in Germany for 9 years and claims that the German pride in workmanship and the quality of work is decreasing rapidly.

In everyday life in the US, you often encounter shocking incompetence. This is a consequence of the fact that most jobs require only minimal training:

  • A police officer in the US for instance gets about 6 months of training at a police academy, while the same job in Germany is preceded by a three year schooling and training period.
  • Bank employees in the US are often "trained on the job", while in Germany every bank teller goes through a three year apprenticeship.
  • Teachers in the US typically finish a four year college degree during which time they take some teaching classes; then they take a test and get their teaching license. Teachers at private schools don't have to be licensed in any way. In Germany, every prospective teacher must study two fields plus pedagogy for about 5 years at a university, followed by the first state's exam, after which he or she receives another two years of intensive theoretical and practical training at a school, writes a thesis and has to pass the second state's exam.
  • Anybody in the US can open a car repair shop without any qualifications whatsoever; in Germany, you first need a three year apprenticeship to become a car mechanic, then you need to be employed as car mechanic for three years, then study many months to pass an exam, the "Meisterprüfung", which is the prerequisite for being allowed to open your own shop and employ others. The same is true for many other trades, e.g. shoemaker or plumber.

Now, while many jobs require little specific training in the US, it is also true that many jobs have a prerequisite of a college education (4 year bachelor's degree). In Germany, these jobs just require a basic highschool education followed by a three-year apprenticeship. Examples are nurses, bank employees, foreign trade merchants etc.

Customer service is far better in the US in virtually every respect. Some examples:

  • Every major business in the U.S. has a toll-free telephone number. In Germany, if you call your cell phone company to complain about a charge, they charge you for the call.
  • Every product you buy can be returned even if opened, and you get your money back. In Germany, normally only defective products can be returned, and most of the time you can't get cash back. (Mail-order purchases may however be returned by law during the first two weeks.)
  • Store opening hours and telephone line hours are much more consumer friendly in the US. (Except for restaurants, which often close annoyingly early in the US.)

Germans acknowledge all these disadvantages, but often argue from the worker's standpoint and not from the consumer's perspective: "Who wants to answer phones at 1 a.m. anyway?" or "The salespeople shouldn't have to work on Sundays." The logic is that most people spend more time working than consuming, so it makes sense to skew the rules in favor of workers.

Educational System

The American system of high school education, where all students regardless of talent attend the same school for 12 years, has been tried in Germany as "Gesamtschulen". Conservatives are usually opposed to this model, calling it egalitarian and socialist. (It appears less socialist however if one takes into account that US schools are financed locally and hence poor communities generally have bad schools; the rich avoid the public school system altogether and send their kids to excellent private schools.) The traditional German public school system divides the students at age 10 into three groups. The pupils in the three groups go on to different schools, only one of which, the Gymnasium, leads to the Abitur, which is the sole entrance requirement for universities. It is possible to switch schools after age 10, but it is difficult and relatively rare. The division into three groups is supposed to be based on performance alone, but appallingly often the parents' social status plays a role. Private schools are almost irrelevant in Germany.
US pupils get a lot more vacation: 12 weeks during the summer, plus one week for Christmas and one week of Spring Break. German pupils get 6 weeks during the summer, 2 weeks in the fall, 2 weeks for Christmas, and 2 weeks Spring Break. On the other hand, German school is usually over at 1pm, while US school lasts till 3 or 4 pm.

While teaching in the US is often considered to be just another "job", teachers in Germany are highly regarded professionals and are much better paid. The training required to become a German teacher is quite a bit longer than that for US public schools.

In the U.S., parents may elect to school their children at home; this is sometimes done by religious conservatives who don't agree with evolution or sex education being taught to their kids. In Germany, home schooling is not allowed (though some US-inspired evangelicals have tried).

The system of early childhood education is much more comprehensive in the U.S. than in Germany. Kindergartens are not free in Germany, and there are not enough spots for all kids. By contrast, the U.S. has a universal and free "Head Start" program targeted at disadvantaged kids. On the other hand, American women often work until several days before giving birth, and start to work again a couple of days later; there is no financial support for parents, except for tax breaks. In Germany women are not allowed to work from 6 weeks before until 8 weeks after giving birth and receive their full salary during this time; after that the mother or father can take one year off, receiving 66% of their net pay and a job guarantee. Parents also receive $200 Kindergeld per child and month, until the child is 18 and often longer.

The German public (including me) generally assumed that the German school system is far superior to the US one -- until the devastating results of the PISA 2000 study came out. It showed that the knowledge and skills of German students were consistently below the performance of US students (which typically hovered around the international average). Since then, more German parents have begun to send their children to private schools, which had performed better than public schools in the study. (Some Germans have criticized the PISA study, claiming that students were told that the results didn't affect their grades and they were free to leave once finished with the test.)

When I arrived in the United States, I believed that all universities there were private, that professors could be fired if they didn't work hard enough, and that in any case only the rich or the exceptionally smart could go to college due to the high tuitions. Wrong on all counts.

Many states maintain public universities supported by taxpayer's money, and these have very low tuition for residents of the state. In addition, virtually all universities, public and private, are heavily subsidized by grants from the federal government. All relevant private universities are non-profit institutions and scholarships are given freely. Professors earn tenure after having been employed and shown a good record for about five years. Their jobs are then virtually guaranteed just as in the German system. The tenure system exists at public and at private universities alike. (In Germany, all but one university are public; professors have tenure from day one.) Surprisingly, public universities and schools pay significantly higher salaries than private ones.

In general, the German system places much more emphasis on big examinations while degrees in the US are automatically granted if the student has passed a sufficient number of classes. This is true both for the high school diploma, which doesn't involve any exam in the US and consists of several big written and oral exams in Germany, as well as for college degrees, which in Germany require passing several oral exams and producing a thesis.

It turns out that professors in the US are a lot freer than their German colleagues: for about four months of the year, they can do what they want, without any obligations of presence whatsoever. While Germany also has long semester vacations, professors still have to report to work every day (except for their regular vacation time). On the other hand, German professors usually have personal secretaries and post doctorial academic assistants, which most US professors lack. Professors in Germany are very highly regarded in the public opinion and accordingly full of themselves.

If you go to a college town in the US, you will see students studying in libraries, coffee shops, book stores etc. In Germany, it's rare to find students studying in public.

It is very interesting to compare the accessibility of academia in the two countries. On the face of it, Germany wins hands down. Attending a university is cheap (they introduced tuition in 2007; typical tuition is about 5% of a typical tuition in the US) and (except for overrun fields such as medicine or psychology) prospective students don't have to apply anywhere: they simply sign up at their school of choice and start studying, provided they have the Abitur. On top of that, the German government pays a fellowship to every student without affluent parents. Only one half of this grant is paid out as a loan and has to be paid back later.

It is not very well known that a much larger proportion of the population attends college in the US than in Germany. Almost one half of all Americans acquire a college degree during their lifetime, compared to only one third of Germans. (University degrees in Germany used to be worth more than US college degrees however; an American four-year Bachelor of Science degree is roughly equivalent in knowledge to a German Vordiplom while a German Diplom, which took 5-7 years to acquire, roughly corresponded to a Master's degree. In the last couple of years, Germany and most other European countries have switched to the Bachelor/Master system. Much of the material of German Gymnasiums is taught in the "general education" part of the first two years of American colleges.) Many more jobs require a college education in the US than in Germany. Families in the US start saving money early on in order to be able to afford the college education of their kids later; many students work during their college years and most take out substantial educational loans. In American colleges, you constantly meet people between the ages of thirty and forty who have decided to go back to college in order to get a better education and have a chance at a better career; this is exceedingly rare in Germany. Germans can in principle earn the Abitur later in night school, but few do. Once you've got your job, you've got your job, and that's that.

There can be no doubt that the American system is much more friendly, open and accessible to immigrants with insufficient preparation.

While the elite universities in the US do give out scholarships to very talented students from all over the world, there is still an extremely disproportionate number of rich people's kids at these schools. It is clear that students of medium talent have no chance to enter these schools unless their parents are extremely well off.

When looking at higher education in the US (graduate school and research universities), one notices a very high proportion of foreigners, to an extent where the system would almost stop to function if the foreigners were to leave. In Germany, foreign professors are very rare, probably because of the language barrier and more restrictive immigration laws, combined with a lower overall attractiveness of the country to foreigners. Furthermore, the old fashioned German universities require a "Habilitation" before someone can teach; this is an additional thesis and exam after the doctorate that doesn't exist in the US. There are however quite a few foreign students and post-docs in Germany.

Generally speaking, the average American Ph.D. is less capable and less broadly educated in their field than the average German Dr.rer.nat. Specialization occurs earlier in the US, the time is shorter and many more people of only medium talent pursue a doctorate. Most Ph.D.'s become college teachers with minimal research tasks; such teaching jobs are much rarer in Germany.

The US university system is very prestige oriented; whenever you state your degree, you immediately add the name of the school where you obtained it. The better universities can afford to maintain high entry requirements, while schools lower on the list have to take all students they can get. By contrast, the German university system is largely homogeneous and degrees are perceived to be equivalent.

Health and health insurance

It seems to me that while the average American is much more health conscious than the average German, the average German is actually healthier.

The first thing every visitor to the US notices is the immense number of astoundingly obese people. There is a huge obsession with fat-free foods, to the extent that people happily eat sweet desserts as long as they are fat-free. Americans seem to be eating constantly: in the car, at the movie theater, at work, while watching TV; more often than not, it is fast food or snacks. In many poorer neighborhoods, the only nearby store is a neighborhood convenience store which typically sells potato chips, coke, snacks, bread and peanut butter but little to no vegetables, fruit, milk or other fresh foods. In Germany, the schedule of three meals a day is still more strictly followed and groceries are much more common than convenience stores.

Many Americans take food supplements and vitamin pills daily, something that Germans sometimes find mildly amusing: "Just eat your vegetables!" Germans are very picky when it comes to non-natural ingredients in their foods. Injecting milk cows with synthetic growth hormones (as is common in the U.S.) would be completely out of the question there, and Germans deeply dislike and fear all genetically modified foods, while the average American couldn't care less.

Americans smoke a lot less than Germans and virtually all public spaces except bars are smoke free. People generally look down on smokers as losers. Americans also exercise more, typically in fitness centers, which again many Germans find slightly suspect because of the closeness to body-building, which is generally considered to be utterly ridiculous.

To be fair: nowhere will you see more drunken people in public than in Germany.

The US media commonly report that high tech and critical medical care is more advanced in the US than in any other country, that hospital equipment is generally more up to date and that new and experimental treatments are adopted earlier. I used to believe this as well, but recently I received a message from a surgeon who has worked in Germany and in the U.S., saying that these differences are, for the most part, non-existent.

The treatment of chronic and mental diseases and rehabilitative care is much more advanced in Germany. This is also the area where the lack in health insurance of a large proportion of the US population has the most severe effects; if you suffered a heart attack, you can easily get a free triple bypass, even if you are an undocumented Mexican without health coverage, but American health insurance policies contain only minimal coverage for mental diseases. There are virtually no treatment options for uninsured people with chronic diseases or long-term mental health problems short of Social Security disability benefits.

The system of health insurance in the U.S. is completely broken; this is obvious to anyone who looks at it. It persists in its current form because of the systemic corruption in US society that I describe elsewhere. Most people get health insurance through their employer. Employers are not required to offer this benefit; smaller ones don't. (Exceptions: in Hawaii all employers must provide coverage, and in Massachusetts everyone must carry health insurance.) Coverage rarely includes medicines or dental care. Often it is provided by "HMOs" which means that one is severely restricted in the choice of doctors, treatments and hospitals. If you lose your job, you need to start paying the full insurance premium yourself; if you can't afford that, all coverage is lost at once. Insurers can and do reject people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or asthma. Public hospitals must treat critical conditions of the uninsured; afterwards they send out inflated bills, resulting in a huge number of personal medical bankruptcies. The retired are covered by a single-payer system called Medicare. They can freely choose doctors, at least among those who accept the rather low Medicare reimbursements. There is a completely separate system for veterans: they are treated for free in government-owned hospitals that are not open to the general public.

To me, the obvious solution to this mess is to scrap the whole patchwork and extend Medicare coverage to everybody, paid for by an additional tax on employers and employees.

In Germany, everybody is covered by health insurance. Employers pay half of the insurance premium of their employees, which is a fixed percentage of the salary (so that high earners subsidize the others); the government pays the full premium for the unemployed. Coverage includes dental care and medicines (subject to some copayments) and is provided by Krankenkassen, half-private non-profits whose rates and reimbursements are very similar. Patients can freely choose Krankenkassen, doctors and hospitals. Retirees receive the same coverage. The rich and the self-employed are allowed to leave this system and can purchase private insurance (which usually pays higher reimbursements and is therefore preferred by doctors and hospitals). Civil servants (Beamte) are required to carry private insurance; the government then pays half of their care.

Statistically the US fares worse than Germany: infant mortality is about 40% higher (mainly because of the high teenage pregnancy rate and because many poor people with high-risk pregnancies never receive any prenatal care), life expectancy is roughly the same in the two countries while total per capita health care expenditure is about 60% higher in the US than in Germany.

There's actually way more in the original link, so if that got you interested click it and keep going.
 

Orignal Earl

Diamond Member
Oct 27, 2005
8,059
55
86
If there is one thing I have learned on this forum it's if the thread shows (Anycountry>USA)..in any way...then the only result is going to be thread failure
 

yllus

Elite Member & Lifer
Aug 20, 2000
20,577
432
126
If there is one thing I have learned on this forum it's if the thread shows (Anycountry>USA)..in any way...then the only result is going to be thread failure

Those people are generally filtered out of my threads by the need for them to indulge in a long read before they can start acting silly.
 

thraashman

Lifer
Apr 10, 2000
11,034
1,389
126
There are flights leaving for Germany right now.

And here we see the problem within the US. Someone points out how another country does something better or more efficiently than the US, and instead of saying "we can do better, let's get to work!", someone inherently says "well if they're so much better than get out and move there!!!1!oneoneone!!"

One thing I definitely like for sure is the German system that makes it more possible to have more than a 2 party system.
 

yllus

Elite Member & Lifer
Aug 20, 2000
20,577
432
126
One thing I definitely like for sure is the German system that makes it more possible to have more than a 2 party system.

There is a huge downside to that, though - in Israel and to a lesser extent in Germany, small extremist parties can exert incredible influence on the reigning government because they're needed to keep a coalition together. I actually have grown quite fond of first-past-the-post.
 

cybrsage

Lifer
Nov 17, 2011
13,021
0
0
His subjectiveness is colored by his desire to have the worst possible healthcare available in the US forced up everyone. Once I saw that (hidden near the end), I realized his conclusion was drawn before he looked at anything else.

Interesting read, though...I did not know Germany was so oppressive on individual rights.
 

Apple Of Sodom

Golden Member
Oct 7, 2007
1,808
0
0
I love this.
"... in Germany, you first need a three year apprenticeship to become a car mechanic, then you need to be employed as car mechanic for three years, then study many months to pass an exam... The same is true for many other trades, e.g. shoemaker or plumber."

I know this really great shoemaker, but he hasn't passed his three year apprenticeship to do a job that small children in China do. Should I report him to the SS or allow him to continue making shoes?!?!?
 

techs

Lifer
Sep 26, 2000
28,561
4
0
There is a huge downside to that, though - in Israel and to a lesser extent in Germany, small extremist parties can exert incredible influence on the reigning government because they're needed to keep a coalition together. I actually have grown quite fond of first-past-the-post.

This is what I fear is happening in America although with our system of government the "small" extremist party needs to be big enough to either have 40 Senators or the Presidency in theory. In actuality what the tea party has done is enforce its will on the much larger, more moderate Republicans in the House and in effect are attempting to disable most of the functions of government. Its the 1930's Germany in the US at this point.
 

thraashman

Lifer
Apr 10, 2000
11,034
1,389
126
His subjectiveness is colored by his desire to have the worst possible healthcare available in the US forced up everyone. Once I saw that (hidden near the end), I realized his conclusion was drawn before he looked at anything else.

Interesting read, though...I did not know Germany was so oppressive on individual rights.

http://www.photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html

Germany ranked 25
United States ranked 37.

Admittedly, these numbers are from 2000, the most recent time I find that the WHO did this ranking. I'd find it hard to believe the U.S. health system has improved since then.
 

spacejamz

Lifer
Mar 31, 2003
10,696
1,295
126
From the article:

"it is not uncommon to meet people who work two 40-hours-a-week jobs (in the US)"

maybe one full and one part time, but I have to call BS on this statement.

US restaurants close annoyingly early? Don't most sit-down restaurant close around 10 or 11 and many fast food ones are 24 hours??

American customer service is better because we have 1-800 numbers to call? does the author not know that most of these calls get routed to India or somewhere else so you can speak with 'Bob'? or is Germany's customer service that bad?

There are alot of iffy things the author states which makes you wonder about the rest of the article....
 

BoberFett

Lifer
Oct 9, 1999
37,563
9
81
The guy seems woefully ignorant about some things.

"The degree of economic freedom is higher in the US, mainly because of the lower level of regulation. In the US, if you have an idea for a new business, you have to convince a specialized high-risk investment fund ("venture capitalists") to invest in your enterprise in return for a share of the business and the profits; in Germany, you have to convince a bank to provide an unsecured loan, which is much harder."
 
Last edited:

Matt1970

Lifer
Mar 19, 2007
12,320
2
0
I do not understand why Progressives keep comparing us to Germany. They tax just about everyone near 40%, anything over 50K/year is taxed at 42% (anything over 250K is 45%) and thier corporate tax rate is only 15%.
 

Matt1970

Lifer
Mar 19, 2007
12,320
2
0
you cannot shop or open your shop at night or on weekends; (the Sunday prohibition is justified with vague Christian rules and with the supposed need to keep a day for the family -- brothels are of course open for business on Sundays and holidays)
freight trucks cannot be driven on Sundays or on holidays, not even on Saturdays in the summer
men have to do at least one year of mandatory military or social service (this was ended in 2011)
your current address has to be registered with the authorities at all times, even if you are a German living outside of Germany (while Americans are often outraged by this requirement, every American with a driver's license, and that means everyone, has to register a current address with authorities; furthermore, personal driver's license information is sold to private businesses, something out of the question in Germany)
police can and often do ask for your name and address, especially if you look foreign; if you don't carry ID, they are allowed to take you to the station
everybody must separate their garbage into five piles: glas, paper, packaging, compostable, remaining. Sometimes the garbage police checks that you do it properly!
you must take a large number of classes and obtain a license in order to be allowed to fish or hunt
minors are not allowed in tanning studios
you may not create noise by cutting grass on Sundays
you cannot wear a mask when participating in a demonstration (the Vermummungsverbot; police want to be able to identify you on their video tapes; the prohibition is however widely ignored)
if you die, half of your money goes to your nearest relatives whether you like it or not; you cannot write a will to override it.

Try getting that approved by anyone here in the US
 

Orignal Earl

Diamond Member
Oct 27, 2005
8,059
55
86
I love this.
"... in Germany, you first need a three year apprenticeship to become a car mechanic, then you need to be employed as car mechanic for three years, then study many months to pass an exam... The same is true for many other trades, e.g. shoemaker or plumber."

I know this really great shoemaker, but he hasn't passed his three year apprenticeship to do a job that small children in China do. Should I report him to the SS or allow him to continue making shoes?!?!?

If you were German, you would know those German shoes are going to last you 10 years, and no children were harmed during the process
 

yllus

Elite Member & Lifer
Aug 20, 2000
20,577
432
126
I do not understand why Progressives keep comparing us to Germany. They tax just about everyone near 40%, anything over 50K/year is taxed at 42% (anything over 250K is 45%) and thier corporate tax rate is only 15%.

So what should comparisons be against, only countries that have exactly the same style taxation? The point of learning by comparison is to see what different systems get right and wrong.

Most economists I've read agree that a high person income tax and a low corporate tax is the best model to follow. Canada is headed in this direction as well. The U.S. is quickly becoming the outlier.
 

xj0hnx

Diamond Member
Dec 18, 2007
9,262
3
76
Customer service is far better in the US in virtually every respect. Some examples:

  • Every major business in the U.S. has a toll-free telephone number. In Germany, if you call your cell phone company to complain about a charge, they charge you for the call.
This is 100% accurate, and was infuriating. Calling you ISP to get an issue resolved was like pulling teeth, they just didn't care, and since there was only one ISP it was even worse, they didn't have to care because what are you going to do switch? To who?
 

nageov3t

Lifer
Feb 18, 2004
42,816
83
91
that's rough, perhaps Germany should give the US billions of dollars to rebuild our infrastructure.
 

cybrsage

Lifer
Nov 17, 2011
13,021
0
0
If you were German, you would know those German shoes are going to last you 10 years, and no children were harmed during the process

Then why do Germans buy Chinese made shoes? Are you saying Germans love helping to hurt Chinese children?
 

Hayabusa Rider

Admin Emeritus & Elite Member
Jan 26, 2000
50,872
4,216
126
It's subjective. One thing he seems to do is look at things from a theoretical perspective. Note how he says the President here is weak. In fact Presidents have extra-legal means of influence. By his explanation Obamacare cannot exist, yet it does.
 

woolfe9999

Diamond Member
Mar 28, 2005
7,164
0
0
The author's opinions are subjective, but there is a lot of factual information in there which is very interesting. I actually read this entire thing some time last year. It's not new to the web.
 

ASK THE COMMUNITY