Looking back at the 1960s and 1970s, when I grew up in Germany, one of the most striking things was that everyone talked about work and money. The country was infuriatingly materialistic. The old West Germany felt more like an economy than a country. It used to have a proper currency, the Deutschmark, but it lacked a proper political capital. At a time when the British believed in incomes policies, capital controls and state ownership, Germany was as laissez-faire an economy as you could find anywhere in Europe. The Germans were the Americans of Europe, as a friend remarked at the time. Everyone was brimming with confidence and the superiority that comes with the belief that you are running the world’s most superior economy. The 1970s were the heyday of Germany’s social market economy, the economic equivalent of having your cake and eating it.
Unification was supposed to make Germany even stronger. The opposite happened. The country’s political leadership mismanaged unification through forcing monetary union too early, at the wrong exchange rate, and on the basis of West Germany’s high social costs and bureaucratic rules. When I returned to Germany in the 1990s, what surprised me most was not the poor performance of the economy — this I expected. I was most shocked by the extraordinary loss of self-confidence among the political and business elites, combined with a poisonous cocktail of the three big As: anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism.
Until then, post-war German politicians had been adept at keeping such sentiments hidden from public debate. This changed in 2002, when Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, won a general election through a blatantly anti-American campaign.