Franz Müntefering, chairman of the ruling Social Democrats Party and a loyalist of Gerhard Schröder, recently let loose with a much publicised tirade about “anti-social” business leaders who have the nerve to place a priority on making money rather than protecting jobs. His target: foreign investors.
Around the same time the international media picked up on some sinister-looking new union posters that depict American-style capitalists as locusts.
Jürgen Weber, supervisory board chairman of Lufthansa and one of three commissioners at Invest in Germany, was understandably alarmed. “If it turns out that this criticism of capitalism has a fundamental nature, then we don’t need an Invest in Germany organisation any more,” he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
There is of course more to this affair than political histrionics. It occurs within the context of a wider debate raging within Germany about nothing less than its very future and to what extent free-market capitalism should play a role. And Mr Müntefering is not just shouting at the wind; he finds a ready audience in a country that is becoming increasingly frustrated by its economic stagnation and feeling heavy social strain. Polls suggest that two-thirds of the population thinks Mr Müntefering has a point, even while acknowledging that he is probably making it mainly for political reasons.
Yet, although an attack on foreign investors might be politically expedient in the short term, it is hardly economically prudent for a country with an unemployment rate of more than 12%.
Here, the old adage applies: be careful what you wish for because it just might come true. Too much wailing about foreign capitalists and one day Germany might find that these “locusts” have flocked elsewhere – taking with them sorely needed jobs and capital.