Quantifying the Public-Elite Divide on Immigration in Europe

The British think tank Chatham House just completed phase two of an interesting study. The first phase polled 10,000 Europeans on a host of public policy issues, including immigration. The top-line result -- a whopping 56% of European oppose further immigration from Muslim countries -- came out in February 2017. That took wind out of the sails of European press commentators, who were busy denouncing Donald Trump's plans to...stop further immigration from Muslim countries.

Perhaps inspired by this glaring disconnect between public opinion and published opinion, Chatham House decided to conduct a follow-up survey of European elites, which it defined as "individuals in positions of influence at local, regional, national and European levels across four key sectors (elected politicians, the media, business and civil society) – with 1,823 respondents (approximately 180 from each country) who were surveyed through a mix of telephone, face-to-face and online interviews."

A few days ago, the findings came out in a report called "The Future of Europe: Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes". The result: Europeans are hugely more skeptical about immigration, especially from Muslim countries, than the elites who govern them. Here are a few charts:

Attitudes 1

Attitudes 2The report concludes: "These views reveal latent public sympathy for the core messages of the radical right on these topics. There are big socio-demographic differences, however, between those who hold such views. Citizens aged over 60 and with a lower level of education are notably more likely to view European and Islamic ways of life as irreconcilable. On some questions, there is also significant support among the elite sample. One possible explanation for such views among the elite is anxiety over the perceived challenge from Islam to liberal values, a concern that has become manifest in debates in France and the Netherlands over moves to impose partial bans on Islamic dress that covers the face. It may also be a consequence of recent Islamist terrorist attacks and of the fears of an increasingly divided society."

A few observations. First, the authors of the report are using the term "radical right" in the sense of "outside the mainstream". That's obtuse. When only 25% of of Europeans think immigration's been beneficial overall, and nearly twice that number think it's harmful, these views are mainstream. The problem is not that voters have been somehow "seduced" into endorsing "radical right" views. The problem is that only the right has taken up mainstream thinking on this issue. The democratic problem is not the popularity of the "radical" right. The democratic problem is the failure of any mainstream party to reflect the views of a majority of citizens in many EU countries. In the long term, this is an unsustainable and potentially dangerous state of affairs.

Second, these numbers reflect the bubble in which elites live. When urban elites (and yes, I include myself) think about immigration, they spontaneously associate it with (1) great ethnic food and (2) the individuals they know who come from these countries. I can't count the number of times I've heard educated, prosperous Europeans (they have a lot of discreet charm, but they're pretty conformist) make exactly these two points at dinner parties. "Oh, there's a great new Ethiopian place which opened up just a few streets away. Yay immigration!" and "The Iranian guy in my physics Ph. D. program is so nice and smart. Yay immigration!" Sometimes, you hear both cliches in one comment: "The nice Iranian guy in my physics Ph. D. program brought in a delicious lamb dish for us all to share last week! Yay immigration!"

Unless they actually live in run-down, gritty areas of German or French cities (spoiler alert: they don't), these urban elites will be unfamiliar with the nastier realities of immigration. There is no chance of them living next to a run-down high-rise which is taken over by immigrants and turned into a garbage-strewn sinkhole of bottom-barrel prostitution and drug-dealing (g). Nor do they live in streets where spontaneous mobs of clan members beat and terrorize police and bystanders (g). Nor is anyone going to build refugee shelters (g) in the high-rent inner-city neighborhoods they love. If any of these things do happen, our urban elites will discreetly move to more prosperous surroundings, without ever admitting exactly why (not enough dog parks...need more room for the kids...a friend of mine told me about this great place that just came on the market...)

Some form of this divide has, of course, always existed. However, it seems to me that it is growing rapidly now, and that the willingness of elites to frankly acknowledge the divide -- much less actually do anything to bridge it -- is steadily decreasing. That spells trouble, methinks.


Piercing the Shields of Icelandic Homosexuals

Sadly, the late website Stuff White People Like (dogs, roller derby, TED talks, the World Cup, black music that black people don't listen to anymore) lives on only as a kind of never-updated Internet ghost ship. If it were still active, one of the best candidates for a new entry would be testing medieval weapons. The internet now abounds with videos of middle-aged white men testing out halberds, cross-bows, murder holes, and various other instruments of medieval mayhem. As a middle-aged white male, I confess to scoping a few of these with interest: The ancient way sing in my blood, as well!

Here's a recent video from Hurstwic, a Massachusetts-based martial-arts school which specializes in recreating weapons and battles described in Icelandic Sagas: 

As the video amply shows, these white people are Not Screwing Around -- there are interviews with Icelandic professors and other Icelanders, in an attempt to recreate conditions as faithfully as possible.

A recent video was a bit more unpreposessing. Here, we see Steve the Beer-Guzzler shooting arrows at Doug, Merciless Conqueror of the Sprinkler System, who attempts to protect himself with an authentic Icelandic shield: 

Hurstwic comments: "We’ve been curious about swimmers using their shields to protect their backs (such as Björn in Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa)."

I looked up this saga on Wikipedia, where I stumbled across this startling revelation:

It is notable for a passage that appears to describe a man being found to possess primitive pornography; a woodcutting depicting anal sex between two men.

Þess er nú við getið að hlutur sá fannst í hafnarmarki Þórðar er þvígit vinveittlegra þótti. Það voru karlar tveir og hafði annar hött blán á höfði. Þeir stóðu lútir og horfði annar eftir öðrum. Það þótti illur fundur og mæltu menn að hvorskis hlutur væri góður þeirra er þar stóðu og enn verri er fyrir stóð.

Translation:

Now it is mentioned that an item was found amongst the possessions Thordur left behind at shore, an item that was no more friendly. It was two men, and one bore a blue hat on his head. They were leaning over and one was looking over from behind the other. This was considered a terrible find and all were agreed that both parties seen standing there were in a bad position, but the one in front a much worse position still.

Well, I suppose that depends on your preferences, doesn't it? In any case, this proves the pen really is mightier than the sword. Thordur the man is long gone, but 'Thordur the Shirt-Lifter' (forebear of Tom of Finland?) will never be forgotten.

I can't find any attempts by these groups to authentically recreate Thordur's Woodcut. Maybe I'm searching the wrong websites.


German Word of the Week: Hä?

Ahh, German women. What can you say about them? On average, they tend to be clean, orderly, practical, tallish, amply-chested, of normal weight, with shoulder-length straight hair, and less heavily-tattooed than their sisters to the North, at least for now. They also really like to attach tiny stuffed animals to the zippers on their backpacks.

There, was that inoffensive enough? 

But enough of flimsy stereotypes and ignorant generalizations. One thing that German women, and only German women do, is say "hä?". The sound of this is about halfway between the English "heh" and "Hey!". It's an exclamation, said as a reaction to something the woman finds distasteful or implausible. It's universally accompanied by an unflattering grimace. Its meaning is basically: WTF?

But good writer not tell, he show.

So here's a hä? caught in the wild. This is 2 seconds from a recent commentary by German TV host Anja Reschke:

We'll ignore the substance, as we so often do on this blog. What's important is that Reschke has just summarized an argument she disagrees with, and inserted her very own hä? to show her disgust. Let's have a closer look at that expression:
Hae

The hä? is the German answer to American vocal fry -- a speech pattern that is almost exclusively female. I've only ever seen men do it when imitating women.

The hä? seems to be unique to Germany. In fact, it's one of the first thing people notice about German women, once they get to know them well enough to see them drop a hä? Once, at a party, I had the chance to watch a French man react to his first hä?, which was delivered with gusto by a sozzled German co-ed.

He instinctively backed up and dragged me with him, saying: "Oh my God, she's about to throw up!"


Cities Which Don't Punish Human Nature

Dutch pissoirs, which reduce problems with public urination. Some of them even retract into the ground outside peak hours. There are many of these in Germany as well.

This is one of the reasons Northern Europe has the most livable cities in the world -- because they are easy to live in. In so many other cities, if you have to take a leak, this begins a desperate search for nearby cafes. The cafe owners are well aware you might just want to piss there, and will be guarding the bathrooms like hawks. Wait staff apparently go through a rigorous training program to detect and deter bathroom walk-ins. Some of the cafe owners decide to profit from the situation, locking their bathrooms (or stationing a beefy Slavic chambermaid in front of the entrance, which amounts to the same thing) and charging you 50 cents.

So what do you do? You do what any normal male human would, you find a secluded spot, and bleed the lizard. 

The typical response to public urination outside Northern Europe is camera surveillance, increased police patrols, Draconian penalties, and/or public humiliation. This might be necessary to protect sensitive buildings, but it also applies to even relatively harmless pissing beside a garbage dumpster. There are no public bathrooms even in the areas where people are constantly drinking and walking. The city is designed in such a way as to make it impossible to follow the law, and then, when people predictably don't, the law is made ever more intrusive and coercive. No account is taken of human frailty or weakness.

This is not to say that public urination isn't a problem. Rampant public urination is nasty, unhygienic, and fosters a dangerous sense of social decay. Many states are too disorganized or underfunded to even address a relatively insignificant problem like this, and it shows.

The Dutch, with their pragmatism, simply build human frailty into their calculation. They understand that it's humiliating to citizens and visitors to make them run an obstacle course or fork over money just because they have to pee. This is just another way in which Dutch cities aren't designed to extract the maximum amount of cash and work from the people who live in them, but to actually offer them safe, comfortable, affordable places to work, play, and live. People like getting high and are gonna do it anyway, so in the Netherlands, they can if they want. People like screwing and are gonna do it anyway, so in the Netherlands, they can pay for sex. People are gonna need to pee, so let them do it in comfort and privacy. 

It's all so simple, once you think about it.


One Chart to Rule them All

Many thanks to Marek M., who pointed me to this chart based on a report provided by the German government to the Bundestag on 15 December 2016 (pdf, numbers from p. 245).

This is it -- the one chart everyone needs to see before forming an opinion about immigration to Germany. The One Chart to Rule them All.

The brown line is the number of deportations from Germany in a year. The blue line is the number of illegal entries.

Illegal entries and deportations

Just let that sink in for a minute. 

Now, a few brief comments.

First, the notion that the 2015 influx is just a blip which will work itself out in the long run is false. In the mid-1990s, German policymakers suddenly decided that they would no longer try to actually deport all the people who entered Germany illegally. Starting in 2009, they essentially gave up on the idea of deporting any more than a tiny fraction of illegal immigrants. Even before the migrant influx of 2015, Germany as a whole was only managing to deport about 10% of all the people in Germany who had already been denied asylum

Second, this breakdown in law and order is a result of many thousands of individual choices by actors in every single branch of the German government.

State governments. Organizing and enforcing deportations is the responsibility of individual German states, so the overall total abdication of deportations is a reflection of policy changes in all 16 German states. Some are much more dedicated to enforcing the law than others, but overall, the trend is downward.

Immigration bureaucrats. The individual decision-makers at immigration agencies can invoke dozens of exceptions to permit people who have already been denied asylum to stay in Germany. They can recognize a special exception for family members, or because of medical problems, or find that conditions in the immigrant's homeland are too unstable, or simply decide not to 'enforce' an existing immigration order.

By far the most common technique they apply is Duldung (toleration), in which someone who has no legal right to be in Germany is allowed to continue staying here as a matter of toleration -- basically, the administrator uses his or her discretion to decide that if an illegal immigrant isn't causing a significant problem or has some argument why he should be allowed to stay, he will be permitted to stay in Germany for a temporary period, which can be renewed indefinitely.

Bureaucrats all over the world, like most people, have a noticeable preference for deciding cases in such a way as to create as little work for themselves as possible.

If Bogdan presents you with an obviously fake-looking medical certificate from a notoriously corrupt doctor, you have one of two choices. Either you continue Bogdan's 'tolerated' status, in which case he goes home happy. Or you start a tedious, time-consuming investigation into the genuineness of the certificate. Followed by the tedious, time-consuming, emotionally draining, stressful process of actually getting Bogdan deported. Bogdan has many chances to appeal a deportation order, so the process will take years. During which both Bogdan and his children will set down ever-deeper roots, making uprooting them that much more difficult.

Example: The attempt of police to pick up a rejected Afghan asylum-seeker to deport from a trade school in Nuremburg recently resulted in an all-out riot in which hundreds of the student's classmates blocked a street and threw bottles and even a bicycle(!) at the police, resulting in nine injured police officers:

 

Who wants all that aggravation?

Notice that this bureaucratic inertia results in perverse outcomes: a well-integrated illegal immigrant who admits he could be deported but argues that he should be allowed to stay simply because he's making a contribution will be at high risk of being deported. An illegal immigrant who lies to authorities and manipulates the system (like the Afghan (g) whose deportation caused the riot) will have a greater chance of being allowed to stay, since disproving his bogus arguments and denying his appeals will take so much effort. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

The courts. The German government sometimes passes laws designed to modestly adjust immigration laws to make them somewhat more restrictive. But none of these will have much effect if courts are generous in recognizing exceptions. German courts are notoriously all over the map when it comes to handling immigration appeals; some are soft touches, while others are rigorous. But the highest German courts often hand down decisions based on the German constitution or human-rights treaties which blow massive holes in the legal framework designed to enforce deportations.

One example is the 2013 decision by the German Federal Constitutional Court (g) on paternity questions in immigration cases. German law rather unwisely provides that a father's decision to officially acknowledge paternity of a child cannot be questioned. This law immediately set up a loophole in immigration law: pregnant women could fly to Germany and request asylum. They would immediately be granted temporary asylum based on a provision of German asylum law which extends automatic recognition to all pregnant mothers.

While being cared for in Germany (at German taxpayers' expense), the human trafficker running the operation pays € 5,000 (the going rate, according to reports) to a German male, who then files an official recognition of paternity. Since the child is now the child of a German father, the child automatically becomes a German citizen when born. And the mother automatically gets a residency permit, since it would be inhumane to break up the family. The father could theoretically be required to pay child support, but the ones who participate in the racket are all on welfare anyway, so they are exempt from child-support obligations. Immigration authorities went to court to argue that they should be able to conduct official paternity tests to disprove the claim of fatherhood, but the Federal Constitutional Court rejected their appeal in 2013. Allowing the authorities to contest the fatherhood claim, the Court reasoned, would create an unacceptable risk that the child might end up stateless.

The result? There are now 700 suspected cases (g) of this form of immigration fraud in Berlin alone. According to the investigative report, many of the mothers ended up becoming prostitutes, working for the human traffickers who imported them and financed the fake fatherhood certificates. The report linked to just above profiles a particularly ironic case: the German 'fake father' who claimed he had a child with an illegal Vietnamese immigrant was actually a far-right extremist an prominent member of the extreme-right NPD party. Apparently the prospect of a quick € 5,000 was more important to this neo-Nazi welfare case than protecting the racial purity of the German Volk. Are you as shocked as I am?

The system is completely broken. Only the foolishly honest or stupid actually get deported, the cunning and the criminal get to stay. Further, everyone across the world understands this: if you somehow manage to set foot in Germany and have some reasonable understanding of German law, there is about a 90% chance you will be able to remain in Germany for the rest of your life, regardless of all the carefully-wrought provisions of German law.

UPDATE: I updated this post on 7 June to reflect that the chart itself is not actually contained in the report, and that the numbers on which the chart is based appear on p. 245 of the linked document.


Mass Immigration as a Threat to Civil Liberties

Lobograph

The German journalist Sascha Lobo looks (g) at all the fatal terror attacks in Europe between 2014 and 2017 using a very restrictive definition and finds that all of them were Islamist in nature. But even more telling, all 24 of the attackers were known to the authorities as being violent and/or radicalized. Some were even under surveillance. (See above graph).

Naturally, he attaches some relevant caveats: we don't know exactly how many attacks were thwarted, security agencies are overburdened, it's nearly impossible to determine which potential attackers will follow through on threats and which won't.

But German and French politicians have used the threat of terror attacks to pass legislation that reduces civil liberties for everyone. The French state of emergency seems to go on indefinitely, and Amnesty is complaining about the severe restrictions it places on the right to protest. Germany is passing or trying to pass laws to allow government spy viruses, more video surveillance, and the storage of telecommunications data of every single German. Lobo notes:

I'm still not sure why saving the data of my telephone conversations with my wife is supposed to help fight terror, when attacks are almost always carried out by Islamists who are already known to law enforcement. I'm still not sure why my fundamental rights should be attacked and undermined, when someone like Anis Amri can move about freely gathering weapons and talking excitedly about terror attacks, as the authorities were fully aware.

Once again, this point was made almost a decade ago in Christopher Caldwell's book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. As he says on page 11, a major theme of the book is that European responses to the problems caused by mass Muslim immigration often result in the erosion of freedom of all Europeans: "immigration exacts a steep price in freedom".

A few examples:

  • Singling out Muslims for eavesdropping would seem like racial profiling, so the "path of least constitutional resistance" (as Caldwell puts it) is to pass laws allowing eavesdropping on everyone.
  • In Sweden, a cabinet minister proposed that all young female children be checked for genital mutilation, even though this practice is limited almost exclusively to Somali immigrants.
  • Practically the only remaining supporters of blasphemy laws are Muslims who want to be able to use them against people who ridicule Mohammed.
  • Everyone who wants to visit a synagogue in Europe must pass through security checkpoints, even though the threat to Jews and Jewish institutions comes overwhelmingly from Muslims. I couldn't get into a single French synagogue when I last visited Paris because there weren't enough staff to monitor visitors.
  • Cities all over Germany are installing surveillance cameras and passing alcohol bans in certain public gathering-places which have become scenes of frequent dust-ups between young men. 90% of these fights are between immigrants. But everyone, including law-abiding Europeans, is now denied the chance to enjoy a frosty one while sitting on a bench in the town square, watching the sun go down. Another one of life's little pleasures circles the drain.

The list goes on and on. Much of the quality of life of Europe is built on social trust and shared values, implicit social agreements which never needed be written down. This fact also made it easy for Europe to maintain law and order with extremely light-touch policing.

But once you import a large enough number of people who either do not understand or do not accept these tacit rules of behavior, life loses many of its little charms. More and more things which used to be regulated by unwritten agreement now have to be regulated by written law, and enforced by the state -- equally against all citizens, not just the tiny minority which caused the problems.

Caldwell's 2009 continues to reads like a screenplay for the next 10 years. And probably for the decade after that.


Do We Still Need Arte? Or License Fees?

Holger Kreitling in Die Welt has an amusing article (g) on Arte, the joint French-German public television channel. Arte is conceived as highbrow television, broadcasting classical concerts, operas, political debates, and documentaries on everything from Claude Sautet to Heidegger to the Thirty Years' war to Bolivian street artists to (as Kreitling puts it) obscure Slovenian bread-making techniques. It is financed by compulsory TV fees (administered by a company called the GEZ in German), yet never attracts more than a tiny fraction of highbrow viewers. As Kreitling notes, a member of the German or French urban haute bourgeoisie is required to announce his social position by declaring either that he has no television, or if he does, that all he watches is Arte. But even for all its failings and occasional pretentiousness, Kreitling still likes it.

And so do I. The only problem is the political programming, which is tiresomely left-wing. There's nothing more superfluous than holding a "theme evening" on Trump's first 100 days on Arte. Every person watching Arte already despises Trump, so all of the Trump-critical documentaries and interviews will have no effect. That's true of all the debate and political programming as well. I am not happy to pay mandatory licensing fees to sponsor the same old debates by the same aging hippies about "the future of ecological Europe" or what have you ("Red Danny" seems to be on every second time I switch to Arte), but I think there's a good case to be made for challenging music and arts programming. I don't have kids but I'm happy to pay taxes for schools because that's part of a healthy and thriving society. People who find classical music and museums boring should still pay taxes to keep them going for the same reason.

But the money should come from general taxes, not the outdated TV licensing fees that so many countries, including Germany, still use as a funding model. There is already a growing revolt against these fees (currently € 17.50 a month), which even includes prison martyrs (g) -- people who refuse to pay the fees on principle and who are eventually sent to jail to serve time as a result. Technically, you don't have to pay the fee if you don't own a TV or radio or any comparable device, but the regulations on this point are baffling to most mortals.

There is endless online debate (g) about how far the government can go to determine whether you are receiving any form of broadcast programming which would trigger the fees. If Agents of GEZ™ knock at your door, which they are wont to do, do you have to let them in? The GEZ itself is a massive and expensive government bureaucracy as are all the myriad public television stations which it finances. This is the point where GEZ-defenders will step in and say "but it's not technically a government agency!" They're right, the GEZ is more of a Quango, but nobody really cares about this distinction. The bottom line is if they determine you have to pay the fees, and they don't, they will sic a team of lawyers on you, and you might well end up in prison.

All this money and bureaucracy might be OK if you got a BBC from it, but Germans definitely don't. The quality of the public television programming in Germany is the target of near-universal scorn. Everyone hates something about public TV: The urban haute bourgeoisie hates the folk-music and Schlager festivals and the exploitative shows made to compete with private-TV soap operas and scandal-fests. Conservatives hate what they see as the stifling one-sided political correctness of news coverage and talk shows. Everyone (including me) considers the vast bulk of German TV drama or comedy shows unwatchable.

It should come as no surprise 70% of Germans oppose the TV license fees (g). Seventy percent. That's a pretty high number in a democracy. Granted, when entrenched bureaucratic and governmental interests favor a policy -- and they most certain favor a continuation of fee-based public TV -- that policy can go on forever in Germany. Just think of the Euro, which was introduced over the opposition of 3/4 of the German population. Currently only the right-wing AfD party has staked out a clear position (g) in favor of abolishing the TV fee. Once again, the German "opinion cartel" funnels voters to the right wing: If you are one of the 70 percent of Germans who opposes the TV fee, the AfD is the only party which openly shares your view.

Fee TV is a zombie policy. You can either wait until it falls apart, or you can drive a stake through it now. Knowing Germany, they'll probably opt for the former. It'll be a pretty ugly process.


In Which I Admire Millions of Tiny German Lawsuits And Annihilate Several Canards About the Law

The U.S. is famous in Germany for its 'runaway' juries which hand down zillion-dollar lawsuits against poor defenseless companies. Yet, as I told my dumbfounded students, Germany is a far more litigious society than the USA. In fact, according to a book-length 1998 study, Germany is the most lawsuit-happy country on earth:

Country Cases per 1,000 Population

• Germany 123.2
• Sweden 111.2
• Israel 96.8
• Austria 95.9
• U.S.A. 74.5
• UK/England & Wales 64.4
• Denmark 62.5
• Hungary 52.4
• Portugal 40.7
• France 40.3

My German students were dumbfounded by this fact. Most of them got their image of the world from the mainstream press. And, as usual, German journalists tended to obsess over the real or imagined failings of other countries, while remaining ignorant of what was going on in their backyard.

But aside from the good clean fun of this tu quoque response, it's interesting to think about why Germany is so litigious. I think there are 4 main reasons:

  • Legal insurance (Rechtschutzversicherung). Millions of Germans have legal insurance policies that pay for lawyers both to file claims and defend against them. This insurance is affordable because litigation costs in Germany are low. Legal insurance is actually an excellent idea, every country in the world could benefit from widespread legal insurance. What it means in Germany, though, is that if you have a policy, you don't have to think twice about filing a lawsuit. Granted, the lawyer is not supposed to file if you don't have a claim, but many do anyway. Legal insurance also provides a lifeline for many small-time lawyers -- they can patch together a decent livelihood by having a constant docket of 40-50 small time cases going on at any time. None of these cases will generate a huge verdict, but a steady stream of small payments is enough.
  • Lawsuits are a fact of life. Nobody really takes them seriously. If your landlord hikes your rent, you use your legal-insurance lawyer to fight it. The landlord uses their legal-insurance lawyer to defend. After all, if you don't sue, you'll certainly have to pay the extra 10% in rent. If you do sue, you might end up with a discount. The landlord would probably do the same thing in your position, and knows this.
  • Close neighbors make bad blood. Germany is a small country packed with people. Everything you do in public is going to have some effect on your neighbors. If a potted plant falls off your city balcony, it's going to hit someone or something below. If your cat likes to relieve themselves on your neighbor's lawn, they're going to notice. And might just take lethal action. Your barbecue smoke is going to trigger someone's asthma 5 houses down. The list goes on and on. Every German state has a long, complex "neighbor law" (here's the one (g) for my state), and many lawyers do nothing else. And once again, these petty squabbles are going to end up in court because it's so easy to go to court because of legal insurance. 

And finally, no lawsuit is too tiny. As Wagner once said, a German is someone who will always do something for its own sake. Which means Germans will file a suit over anything. Why, here's a story (g) from the excellent criminal-defense blog lawblog. Two retirees went fishing for deposit bottles in Munich, a favorite pastime of poor Germans, or just ones who need some way to fill their days in the fresh air.*

They approached a large man-sized glass-recycling container, whipped out their grabbers, and started fishing around inside the container. Recycling containers are supposed to be reserved for bottles which don't have a deposit on them, like wine bottles. But many people don't care or don't know how to tell a deposit from a non-deposit bottle, and just toss everything in.

Sure enough, our two hunters found 15 deposit bottles with a total value of € 1.44. Two other Germans, who were certainly feeling very German that day, called the police and reported the bottle-fishers for theft. Wait, what? Two people minding their own business, helping recycle glass, augmenting their puny incomes, harming nobody, and their fellow Germans report them to the cops? Welcome to Deutschland, my friends.

Now German prosecutors are obliged to investigate every credible accusation of crime that comes to their attention, the famous "Principle of Legality"**. This they did. The first thing they had to determine was what the value of the theft was. Technically, this was a theft -- once you throw a glass bottle into a recycling bin, it becomes the property of the recycling company. So you might think that the amount of the theft was the deposit value of the bottles. But no! It turns out that the recycling company does not separate out deposit bottles from other ones. Scandalous, I know. So all the bottles just get melted down. The prosecutor asked the recycling firm how much value the bottles would have as recycling material, and the firm said: basically, it's too small to even put a number on.

At this time, the prosecutor chose to halt the proceedings (einstellen) based on the idea that there was no public interest in prosecuting the offenders. The writer at lawblog thinks this was the wrong reason to stop the prosecution -- he thinks a better theory is to deny the people had any attempt to commit theft, because they had no intent to take possession of the bottles -- their ultimate goal was simply to transfer them to a different owner. 

Be that as it may, the main thing to notice here is that several different government employees spent hours of their time and used considerable resources to investigate an accusation of a crime which, at the very most, involved the lordly sum of € 1.44. It's probably only a slight exaggeration to say that the German state spent 1000 times more money investigating the theft than it was actually worth in the first place.

Now, am I going to snigger about this? Of course I am, and so are you. But at the same time, I'm not going to go too far. The most important thing to keep in mind about high numbers of lawsuits is that they are an important sign of social health. In the vast majority of societies, lawsuits are prohibitively expensive and courts are woefully underfunded and corrupt, so nobody trusts them. Germans and Americans trust courts to usually resolve legal disputes in a fair and equitable manner, otherwise they wouldn't seek them out so often. They're right to do so; both the USA and Germany have exceptionally fair and efficient legal systems, despite their imperfections. A fair, professional, and generally non-corrupt legal system is one of humanity's most important achievements, full stop. Most countries don't yet have one. If you happen to live in a country which does, take a moment and thank your lucky stars. 

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