Translating the final 12 minutes of the latest set of my favorite political comedian, the magnificent Volker Pispers. Watch him roast German politics down to smoldering embers on the 3sat media archive. It’s all great but before these 12 minutes there are even more ineffable German puns and in-jokes.
The final 12 minutes however go to show: No matter how messed-up the USA may be – they can still serve as a cautionary tale. As a specialist in American studies, I felt it was my civic duty to make this succinct little gem available to you. (There is a lot of irony in there, I’ve considered highlighting it in
crayon colours. But hey.)
It starts at 47:19 of the video clip linked above.
… Nothing can change, ladies and gentlemen. [The German political establishment] is firmly wedded to this capitalist economy. We are sitting in a train that’s speeding into an abyss. If we’re honest, we know exactly what the abyss looks like: It’s the United States of America. The final stage of capitalism. You can go there and inspect it. Not just Manhattan and DisneyLand though. You need to visit the outskirts of New York City or Los Angeles. You won’t come back, but you will learn what’s going on there.
The solidarity of US society has completely eroded. The final stage of capitalism. The rich have entrenched themselves in gated communities, with access codes and guards, they have their own universities, their own hospitals, schools, kindergardens. The middle classes have completely melted away in the last crisis, they now need to work two jobs to stay alive. Starting with the third eight-hour job, they don’t even need homes any more, which saves them plenty of money.
The lower third are completely down in the dirt. They’re either homeless or live in neighborhoods that no police dares enter any more. The only sociopolitical program they have is locking ‚em up. In the USA, more people per 1,000 citizens are in jail than in any other part of the world, including North Korea and China. But even though so many people are in prison in the USA – which by the way is a business model there, you can earn a lot of money owning a private jail. Even though so many are locked up, the main cause of death for young Americans is murder.
Every year, more than 30,000 Americans are gunned down in the streets. That is more than 80 each day. 80 bodies a day – in Iraq, that’s what they call a ‚civil war‘. That’s what it is in the USA, too. The final stage of capitalism is civil war. Only it’s not the poor fighting the rich, but the poor gunning down each other, and with the weapons the rich sold them in the first place. Almost like we Germans do with Africa. That’s capitalism for you: ‚Divide and conquer! Dividend et impera.‘
Five rich families own 95% of all American media. They’ve barbwired the people’s heads so perfectly that they even reject politicians who want to get them health insurance.
And we here in Germany are speeding toward that very erosion of solidarity, the same social abyss. And our own politicians say ‚We can’t stop the train.‘ You might suggest ‚Couldn’t we at least lay the tracks parallel to the abyss? A little course correction?‘ Says chancellor Merkel ‚Nope, there’s no alternative to this direction.‘ Aha. We can’t stop the train, can’t change direction – so why are we voting again? Oh, I remember: We can change the driver. Haha! Funny!
But it has to be said, the media do make an effort. Every four years, they declare it’s a ‚turning point election‘ – on that single track. And if we’re in a really rebellious mood, we change the driver and tell him ‚Stay the course, and step on it!‘
We need to stop that train, see? We need to stop the train and discuss the conditions we truly want to live in. How do we want to live our lives in Germany, in Europe – how should the world go on living? What do we need? What don’t we need? Do we truly need banks with 26% return on equity? Should you be allowed to earn more by owning money than by working? Should there be a private healthcare system and a public one side by side? Allowing some people to get better healthcare cheaper than others who pay more?
All these are legitimate discussions, but you can’t have them while that train keeps speeding. But stopping the train, against the driver’s will – that would mean pulling the cord. And the Germans don’t want that. Those emergency brakes are way too unpredictable. We might spill our coffee, all sorts of things may happen. Better to go down that abyss. At least the Germans know what to expect down there. Besides, 80% of those newspaper readers of course hope they’ll be the ones sitting in that last car that somehow gets stuck back up on that ledge.
Others might ask: ‚But what alternative is there?“ Well. The alternative? The alternative might be a non-interest based economic system? Such models have long been devised by some people. You can find this stuff on the Web. You will need to look it up yourselves though. Google it. You need to google these keywords, you won’t find anything about that in the paper. You will need to read up on it yourselves, by keywords, on the Web. Before even that gets locked down.
Democratic socialism? What about that? Has never been tried. It’s even included in the program of the German Social Democrat party. Only it’s way, way in the back, written in invisible ink. But the word ’socialism‘ is dead, one has to concede that. You can’t make people want that, over here in West Germany. We just can’t free our minds of those horrible images from back when the wall came down. All those people, bowed down with grief, broken by communism, all those slums with tent cities as far as the eye could see, all the way to the horizon… the homeless people in those huge cities, queuing up in front of the soup kitchens forever for a single hot meal a day. People with no healthcare, people without teeth… those horrible images… from the USA. Excuse me, I’ve gotten a little confused. Homeless people without teeth – that was the USA. East Germany was the one with no bananas. Really sorry ‚bout that. Need to stay fair here.
President Gauck, I’d like to talk about the economy. What do you think: Could it be that for 50% of all US citizens today, the standard of living as enjoyed by East German citizens 30 years ago would be heaven on earth? Including the educational opportunities for their children? What do you think, Mister Gauck: are today’s Greek pensioners better off or worse than East German pensioners were 30 years ago? Wouldn’t that make an interesting discussion.
But you can forget about it. I realize that. As soon as you say „socialism“, some German will say „But what are the employers going to say about that?“ And that is a good question. The Germans have jobs they can’t live on, but they can still lose them. Then they still won’t be able to live but won’t even have jobs any more. When you’re in the Colosseum, at least you want to feel like you belong. Your actual function has ceased to matter. In the end, the addage ‚whatever creates jobs is social‘ simply means that you can feel needed somehow. Even if you’re just the fodder for the lions.
We are governed by fear, ladies and gentlemen. By fear. How do you make people buy into a braindead Ponzi scheme like that state-sponsored ‚Riester pension fund‘? By scaring them with the ‚pension gap‘. This has been done systematically. The pension gap is a chimera, because the redistributive model is the only one that makes sense, and it’s just the sensible system to have for the majority of the population. And it can’t fail, as long as you don’t destroy it on purpose. Pension funds are the ones that can fail. Completely! Everything you could possibly save up can lose all of its value. Nobody knows what things will be like in 30 years. Even squirrels recover only 30% of the nuts they hide! And they are not even obstructed by financial advisers.
But ‚redistributive‘ simply does NOT mean you pay amount X into the system and get it back later. That’s the first thing you need to get your head around. ‚Redistributive‘ means: Whatever we earn this year, all of us combined, is redistributed. Not reconstituted. We distribute what we earn. To those who earn it, and to those who are still too young, and to those who are already too old.
Because we all depend on each other. The chief surgeon can only start operating once the cleaning lady has scrubbed the theater.
So. In this system, if all are lucky, they get to live ‚til they’re 80. They benefit from education for the first 20 years, then they support the system for 40 years while they’re strong, and then they benefit again for their remaining 20 years, getting their pensions. And if we all live ‚til we’re 90, we just add a few years to each phase. And we can debate who gets what for how many years and what not. Some are maybe stronger and enjoy working for 45 years. Because they can, and have fun.
And others may be done already after 35 years, because maybe they aren’t that healthy. Why should they get lower pensions than the others? Do you have children? Do you withhold food at the dinner table when their school grades drop?
What kind of disgusting social ideas do people have around here? If we share a common destiny and our society is based on mutual solidarity, then redistribution is the only thing that makes any sense. And to those who say ‚but today there are seven pensioners for each given earner, this can’t possibly work out!‘ I simply reply: ‚A single one of today’s earners is seven times more productive than those from 30 years ago!‘
The only thing is that today, the surplus earnings are no longer paid out in the form of wages but siphoned off by the rich as interest and dividends. Ladies and Gentlemen, 40% of all the money we earn goes straight into the pockets of the propertied classes in the form of interest, dividends and rent. The share left over for the working masses gets smaller year after year. That’s what is truly crazy about this system. If everybody contributed, that wouldn’t even be a problem. But nothing of these 40 siphoned-off per cent gets paid into the redistributive system.
And then there’s the doctors, who have their own pension scheme, and the architects who have theirs, and the lawyers and the tax counselors and the CPAs. All who earn just a little bit more have long since split off of the community of mutual solidarity. Only 27% still pay into the redistributive social systems. Like those lucky guys mentioned earlier, with wages only just above benefit level. Of course it can’t work if then 80% of the people come along and want their benefits.
But if everybody pays up, the system is perfect. Because it cannot fail! There may be good years where everybody has a little more. And there may be bad years where everybody has a little less. But we all will always have something. And of course you would need to educate the pensioners about the fact that there may be some bad years. Not even 70-year-olds have a claim to eternal growth.
But even if I explained all that a hundred times, you would just go home and read one single newspaper article about ‚The Pension Gap! The Pension Gap!‘ And then the Germans get scared their Government might collapse. That’s what they also use to scare us with, you know, new political parties. ‚Oooh, all these small new parties! Weimar Republic! What if NO government can be formed?! That would be worse than a shitty government!‘ Newsflash: it is impossible to have no government. Some incompetent sod will always remain in some sort of power.
Then of course, the Germans are scared they might die out. Wouldn’t that be terrible. ‚Ooooh! One day there may only be 40 million of us left! How could the world go on?‘ Do you know how many Norwegians there are? They’re already on the Red List.
Each year, Europeans are polled about their happiness and general satisfaction and how well they feel treated by their state. And each year, the same three countries turn out to be the most satisfied: Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Those are the ones with the lowest populations and the highest personal tax rates. The ones with the biggest redistribution of wealth and income. The very thing we Germans fear the most makes people happy and satisfied. Break a leg!
But the Germans are scared of extinction. And all the Africans have chimed in already. ‚What’s the point if there are no more Germans?‘ In fact the Germans don’t know what they should be more afraid of. Extinction? The pension gap? A failure of government? Al Quaeda? What might be the worst fate that ever could befall us?
I can tell you:
The worst thing that could ever happen to us Germans would be extinction while there’s still some pension money left!