And that is expressed here today in galloping energy prices, slumping growth and serious existential worries. And, of course, Europe is also at its limit: “The energy conflict threatens to destroy European unity,” says Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency IEA.
On a reporting trip through the German economy, we collect scenes of the threat. There is the master baker from Beelitz, who pays 48 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity, 1300 percent more than before. There is the machine builder Trumpf, who paid for the laying of two main lines in the plant, which lead to different substations. There is the washing park in Cottbus, where most customers only order the cheap standard wash. There is the Douglas chain with CEO Tina Müller, which only gets 60 percent of the agreed volume from some large manufacturers because there are no raw materials and preliminary products from Asia.
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And then there are politicians who return sobered from meetings with craft businesses: “It feels like there’s a radicalization of people I never thought of,” says one. Minister Robert Habeck promises help to small and medium-sized businesses: “The energy cost subsidy is coming.” But there is also an extra burden called the gas levy.
Ulrich Dietz, founder of the Stuttgart IT company GFT, articulated the criticism from business circles in a conversation with my colleague Martin Buchenau. He criticizes that Germany has become a “don’t give a shit” nation, to a certain extent based on an old, modified spontaneous saying: “functional, dysfunctional, don’t give a shit”.
Dietz finds that we simply put up with intolerable conditions like this: “Whether you’re sitting in a plane and not being given any information for two hours as to why you’re standing on the runway. Whether trains simply break down or there are permanent construction sites on the roads where no work is done for weeks: somehow nothing works properly in this country anymore.”
The indifference is “intolerable,” says the entrepreneur, who also says: “Made in Germany is becoming less and less valuable.”
The digitization of the administration is not progressing, we are caught in political “activism” and “in a federal structure, one blames the other”. His suggestion: if necessary, a gas price cap by the state.
It is the weaknesses mentioned, the general geopolitical situation, but also the worsening mood that is leading to bleak growth prospects for the “land at the limit”. The Handelsblatt Research Institute (HRI) assumes that the Republic is at the beginning of a recession, with three weak quarters in a row. Because of the good first half of the year, the economy will still grow by 1.4 percent in 2022, but there is a risk of a decline of 0.4 percent in 2023. Handelsblatt chief economist and HRI President Bert Rürup: “This crisis is making the vast majority of residents poorer.”
However, this crisis is also making some companies richer, in sectors such as mineral oil, shipping, building materials and software. This is where large oligopolies operate, who only know competition from hearsay and, as freeloaders with a net-profit philosophy, use general inflation to put a shovel on it themselves, which further fuels price increases. We name the examples for the software industry in a report.
The Microsoft group, for example, is conspicuous, having increased the price for the Office package 365 by up to 25 percent. “I can’t get away from Outlook or Teams, so Microsoft can raise prices more easily than other providers,” says the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a German industrial group. “On the record” goes Stephanie Riesebeck from the IT user association Voice: “I have the impression that inflation comes in handy for providers as a reason for significant surcharges.”
Monopolies, once established, are also exploited, from Gazprom to Microsoft. I dealt with such phenomena and the new accumulation of power in the private and state economy in the book “The Monopoly in the 21st Century”, which will be published next Wednesday.
The Federal Ministry of Economics is reacting to the ubiquitous monopoly with the draft of a “Competition Enforcement Act”, about which State Secretary Sven Giegold is now providing information. In the future, the Federal Cartel Office should be able to fix remedial measures after sector inquiries, such as mandatory open standards, effective complaints management or the organizational separation of company areas, up to and including unbundling.
Merger control is also to be strengthened, advantages from antitrust offenses are to be skimmed off more easily and the EU’s “Digital Markets Act” is to be enforced. It is time to rediscover the strategic means of competition that made this republic great after 1949.
The containment of monopolies and quasi-monopolies is part of a jerk program, as ex-Federal President Roman Herzog called for 25 years ago. The necessary turn to renewable energies is an approach to which the “Wirtschaftsweise” Monika Schnitzer in the Handelsblatt refers: “The current crisis will lead to a significant increase in efficiency in the German economy.”
In Japan, for example, after the oil crisis in 1973 and Fukushima in 2011, technical savings measures that were previously not worthwhile suddenly paid off. The petrochemical sector shrank, the electrical and automotive industries boomed. Schnitzer says: “When I speak to entrepreneurs, I regularly hear that it’s impossible to save even more energy, but I don’t think so.”
We look up at the roofs of German office blocks and factories and we see shingles or concrete, but almost no solar cells.
A speech by Prime Minister Jair Lapid at the United Nations in New York has received a great deal of attention and criticism in Israel. He advocated the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on condition that it be peaceful: “Peace is not a compromise, it is the bravest decision we can make.”
According to the head of government, a majority of Israelis are in favor of a two-state solution: “I’m one of them.” But a future Palestinian state “must not become another terrorist base.”
These are new tones in a dispute that has continued to escalate in recent years, partly due to the hard-line policies of long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is aiming for a comeback in the November 1 parliamentary elections. We remember Albert Einstein: “The purest form of insanity is to leave everything as it is and hope that something will change.”
My cultural tip for the weekend: “Business for Kids” by Alexander Hagelüken. It is an easy-to-understand introduction to economics by a knowledgeable author who educates children aged 13 and over about complex things such as money, work, trade, business and the climate. This somewhat different school primer is on the shortlist for our “German Business Book Prize”, as is “The Hydrogen Transition” by Monika Rößiger, the careful, rock-solid, insightful penetration of a future market by a science journalist who warned about climate change as early as the 1990s.
For the first time, we will also award an undoped audience prize for the Business Book Prize, and you are welcome to participate. We present all titles in the current weekend issue, on the website and briefly in the morning briefing. So: What do you think is the best business book of the year? Which title should get the reader’s prize? Here you go directly to the vote.
And then there’s SAP billionaire Hasso Plattner, 78, who attracted attention as a patron and urban designer in Potsdam with real estate projects, the Museum Barberini and a T-Institute. For years, Brandenburg’s capital has surpassed itself in new productions of Prussian Baroque. And buildings that were somehow reminiscent of real socialism became the spoils of dredgers. The old “Café Minsk”, once a German-Belarusian restaurant in the GDR, was left to rot for 25 years. At least it hasn’t been eliminated like the architecturally bold swimming pool next to it.
Plattner, of all people, has now revived the café ruins as the “Das Minsk” museum. The bar can also be used by the public without buying a ticket, you can see half of Potsdam, and some will say that an administration sometimes needs an entrepreneur who can show you how it’s done.
Perhaps Plattner followed an idea of Robert Allen Zimmerman, alias Bob Dylan, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature: “What does money mean anyway? A person is successful when they do what pleases them between getting up and going to bed.”
I wish you a successful weekend just doing what you enjoy.
It greets you cordially
Hans Jürgen Jakobs
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